Talent behind and in front of the core could prove vital
Every contending team in Major League Baseball is built upon a nucleus of talent. Whether assembled via free agency or the draft and minor league pipeline, a core group gelling together is a must to compete for the Commissioner’s Trophy.
For the Twins, that core largely consists of: Jose Berrios, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Taylor Rogers, and Kenta Maeda (I’ll place Mitch Garver in the “undecided” category). It would have included Eddie Rosario, before he became the rare Cleveland free agent addition.
In a certain sense, that foundation will determine the general trajectory of the ‘21 squad. If solid, the team has a chance at greatness. If they stumble? The White Sox might indeed be nipping at MN’s heels—or worse.
However, if the Twins have their sights set on something bigger than a playoff berth in ‘21 (like, you know, maybe a victory?), it’s going to take significant contributions from—in the parlance of noted honky-tonk musician Mark Chesnutt—both “old flames and new names”.
The Old Flames
Nelson Cruz (age 40 season): As Rocky Balboa once enunciated, “time takes everyone out…it’s undefeated”. Boomstick is hoping to stave off that prophecy for one more trip around the baseball circuit.
Josh Donaldson (35): When healthy, there’s no qualms about the Bringer of Rain’s ability to create precipitation. But nagging—perhaps chronic—calf injuries make prolonged health difficult for the corner infielder.
J.A. Happ (38): Rich Hill—Fernando Rodney—Ervin Santana—Bartolo Colon. The Falvine has a history of taking fliers on aging hurlers. Some worked out, some haven’t. Flip a coin on Happ.
Andrelton Simmons (31): While not all that aged in baseball terms, he somewhat is for a player known for defensive wizardry at potentially baseball’s most demanding non-catcher position—SS. Lingering ankle injuries further complicate his crystal ball.
Michael Pineda (32): Like Simba, “it’s not the years—it’s the mileage”. Between injuries and suspensions, Big Mike has struggled to put 150+ inning seasons on his resume. When healthy, he’s a solid third starter—if not sometimes a #2 when totally locked in.
The New Names
Luis Arraez (24): Though it seems like the little spark plug has been around for quite some time, he still has a lot to prove. Loads of potential, but not yet fully realized.
Brent Rooker (25): Looks to be a lock for the Opening Day roster and has shown raw power at every level in the minors. Fans should quickly see whether or not his fractured forearm from September of 2020 is now fully operational.
Alex Kirilloff (23): Struggled mightily in Spring Training and won’t make the starting 26 because of it. Yet, still profiles as Rosario’s heir apparent out in front of the bleacher seats.
Ryan Jeffers (24): Will his surprisingly strong ‘20 showing put him on equal ground with Garver? Or was it a small sample size anomaly?
Jorge Alcala (25), Randy Dobnak (26), Lewis Thorpe (25), & Devin Smeltzer (25): A quartet of young arms entering the “prove it” stage. Alcala has shown flashes of ace reliever dominance, while the latter three are looking to latch onto a lower rotation spot or discover bullpen niches of their own.
Here’s hoping that the core guys hold up over a full campaign and give the club a fighting chance. If that transpires, the sprinkled-in geriatrics and youths should be able to all make large impacts.