Post-Hype Prospects Fueled Minnesota's First Half Success

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was the official midway point of the 2024 Twins season. While the club’s overall shouldn’t be a surprise, some factors that led to this streaky first half seemed to come out of nowhere.

Many probably expected top-level play from star sluggers like Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis, mixed with whatever the club can get from a healthier Byron Buxton. Those factors were forecasted for the most part.

The surprise is the stellar production the club has received from former prospects who have entered their prime years after experiencing some adversity early in their careers. José Miranda, Trevor Larnach, and Willi Castro are either 26 or 27 years old and were touted as prospects earlier in their 20s. Each went through various growing pains, whether it was a health malady (Miranda and Larnach with the Twins) or poor performance (Castro with the Detroit Tigers). But now they have found, or even re-found, their groove for a competitive team in 2024.

Their success hasn’t just been surprising. It’s also been the fuel for a Twins team that finds themselves on pace for around 90 wins. So what stands out about their performances, and what can we expect from them going forward?

Let’s start with Miranda, who burst onto the scene with a mostly-strong rookie campaign in 2022. That year, he went through a little bit of a roller-coaster season where he underwhelmed in his first stint, went red-hot for about two months, and then slowed down come September. Miranda’s sophomore season in 2023 was almost a complete wash. He could never get on track, likely due to a shoulder injury that hampered him for nearly the entire season.

This year, he has a resurgent .293/.339/.495 slash line with eight home runs and a plethora of clutch hits. Miranda has delivered in some of his team’s biggest moments, with a .942 OPS in medium-leverage spots and .780 OPS in high-leverage. There isn’t one specific measure that has been drastically altered in his underlying numbers. Still, last year, the shoulder injury exacerbated his perceived weaknesses (hard-hit rate, chase rate, etc.). He still presents some challenges in those areas, but his metrics grade them closer to the league average than in the league’s cellar. That lifted tide has propelled his game to 1.4 Wins Above Replacement already, putting him on pace to finish comfortably above league average by the end of the year.

Miranda’s bat also blends exceptionally well with Larnach’s role on this team. That’s not to say the two should be considered strict platoon partners, but their mirrored production is complementary.

Larnach is a 2018 first-round pick who also struggled to establish himself as an MLB regular until this year. However, the team’s renewed faith in the slugging outfielder has rewarded them. Larnach owns a strong .255/.304/.433 slash line, splitting most of his time between left field and designated hitter. He has stood out against right-handed pitchers, where Larnach has been roughly 12% better than league average, which explains his almost exclusive usage in that regard.

Another interesting wrinkle to his game may be nothing but delving into small sample sizes. Still, he seems to thrive in vital spots in the lineup. Larnach has a .780 OPS as the team’s leadoff hitter and a monstrous 1.100 OPS when hitting in the third slot or as the cleanup hitter. Time will tell if that is a consistent home for him or an interesting pawn for in-game substitutions. Regardless, the Twins will gladly take the production for now.

Castro has been an enigma for this Twins team, and his versatility has been the most valuable piece to their puzzle. He has bounced back from a brutal first three weeks of the season and has played in every game this season, including 20 or more starts at third base, shortstop, center field, and left field. Castro should add second base to that list in the next week or so. His season has already been worth 2.8 WAR, coming off a quietly strong 2.5 WAR campaign in 2023.

Castro has played fluidly at his defensive homes, and his .274/.359/.455 slash line has been roughly 34% better than league average. He’s been a steadying presence for manager Rocco Baldelli, whether that’s penciled into the leadoff spot in the lineup against lefty starters or as a sparkplug in the 7-hole.

On April 24, Castro found himself in a pretty deep hole after 22 games played. He had a brutal .169/.276/.262 slash line, and he was leading the league with a 36.8% strikeout rate. But since that day, he’s been one of the better players in the American League, hitting .307/.385/.514 (152 wRC+). That’s sixth-best in the league and puts him in the same conversation as superstars such as Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, and Jose Ramirez, who are all locks to make the All-Star team. If Castro keeps this up for another three weeks, he could find himself on that same roster for the midsummer classic, which is almost unheard of for someone who signed a minor-league deal a year prior.

Time will tell if these three players can maintain their torrid pace. But if they can, and if a few more key players can rise to meet them at that level, they could further propel the Twins into second-half success.

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