Twins

Manuel Margot's Role Is Evolving

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins’ fourth outfield spot was one of the big question marks over the offseason, a position Michael A. Taylor filled last year. The Twins intended Taylor to be a fourth outfielder and the primary backup for Byron Buxton in center field in case Buxton needed to miss a significant amount of time. Last year was Taylor’s best season since 2017. He hit .220/.278/.442 with a 96 wRC+ (league average is 100) and a career-high 21 home runs a season ago.

When the Twins couldn’t re-sign Taylor, the team acquired veteran outfielder Manuel Margot from the Los Angeles Dodgers for infield prospect Noah Miller. Margot’s job was simple: hit at an above-average clip against left-handed pitchers, steal some bases, and be available to fill in center field for stretches if Buxton got injured. However, Margot’s first two months of the season couldn’t have been much worse. He slashed .204/.269/.259 with a 56 wRC+, stole just three bases, and played only three games in center field through May 31.

Margot is a career 90 WRC+ hitter, which didn’t set a precedent for high offensive production. Still, with how minimal his role felt on the team, calls for him to be designated for assignment weren’t unreasonable for a guy Minnesota only has under team control for this season. After trading for him in February, the Twins have been patient with veterans and weren’t ready to abandon the veteran outfielder. Margot rewarded them for their patience by picking up his offense production and evolving his role in Minnesota.

He broke camp as the team’s fourth outfielder. Margot has a .280 career average against left-handed pitchers, and the Twins can use him as a late-inning replacement. However, things changed for Margot by the end of May. Matt Wallner hit .080/.273/.240, and Minnesota sent him to Triple-A, and Trevor Larnach or Alex Kirilloff didn’t grab hold of the everyday left field position. Therefore, Margot went from being a corner outfielder to a more consistent everyday player. However, that wouldn’t have come to fruition if he didn’t start to get it going at the plate.

When the calendar flipped to June, so did Margot’s production. He’s slashed .429/.500/.714 in 7 games since June 1. Over his last 20 games, Margot has a .919 OPS and only 4 strikeouts. Margot’s recent surge can be seen as a cautionary tale for fans who want to dump a player after a rough start to a season. Now, he must show that this current run of success can be sustainable.

One reason to think Margot can keep this stretch of good hitting going is that he can make more solid contact lately. Before June 1, Margot had an 87.9 MPH average exit velocity. In the last 7 games, Margot has logged an 89.4 MPH average exit velocity. This season, his 88.1 MPH average exit velocity is just below the 88.5 MPH league average mark. However, Margot hasn’t ever been a masher. He’s more of a slasher who prioritizes gap-hitting over launching the baseball.

There is some room for skepticism after Margot’s recent run. He’s posting a 167 wRC+ over his last 20 games. That would put him inside the top 15 wRC+ leaders during that span. Based on Margot’s career track record, it’s tough to see him carry out this consistent production level throughout the rest of the season.

Margot definitely doesn’t have Taylor’s power from a year ago. A solid contingent of Twins Territory wanted the team to retain Taylor as the backup center fielder. Based on last season’s numbers and the uncertainty of Buxton’s health, it seemed like a no-brainer.

There were reports that the Twins were open to a reunion with Taylor but couldn’t find common ground on salary. Despite the mutual interest in his return, there still was no guarantee that Taylor would have repeated his production from 2023. Twins fans who aren’t pleased with Margot’s production probably wouldn’t be much happier with Taylor. He signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is hitting .200/.246/.254 with just one home run through 50 games.

Even if he hadn’t been as productive offensively a year ago, Taylor had value as a plus defender, with a plus-8 outs-above-average (OOA) clip as an outfielder in 2023. Conversely, Margot has a minus-2 OAA rating as an outfielder. It felt like the Twins quickly abandoned the Taylor replacement role, with Willi Castro and Austin Martin taking most of the non-Buxton starts in center field.

It’s been a complicated run with Margot in Minnesota. He’s been nowhere near the fielder the Twins hoped he could be. He also hasn’t been a difference-maker on the basepaths. Therefore, Margot’s bat must continue to stay hot by his standards. It’s unlikely he stays at the current pace he’s on when you consider his .690 career OPS. Margot needs to hover around league-average production and avoid bottoming out like he did for the first 8 weeks of the season. If he does that, there isn’t anyone on Minnesota’s roster who’s taking that spot away from him.

Margot has proven to be a better option in 2024 than Taylor. Derek Falvey and the front office can only take so much solace in that, but they avoided making the backup center field position worse. They still could have found a better upgrade from Taylor in last season’s free-agent market. Harrison Bader signed a 1-year, $10.5 million contract with the New York Mets, and he currently has a .685 OPS and a 100 wRC+. But for the $4 million price (and an infield prospect) of Margot, the Twins still got a serviceable major-league player.

Like the 2024 Twins, Manuel Margot has had an up-and-down first 67 games of the season. A recent hot stretch has helped the team fill the empty extra outfielder role that Taylor occupied a season ago. Even if Margot doesn’t keep this production up throughout the rest of the season, the Twins will ride this hot stretch while it lasts.

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