By: Jena Smart
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called ‘life.’”
Anyone in the state of Minnesota can tell you what those words mean, along with music lovers all around the world. Prince struck a chord when he wrote those lyrics, and we feel the vibrations, especially now as we experience the COVID-19 pandemic. While quarantine keeps us at home, it gives us the time to take a look at the Twins’ 2019 season, 2020 Spring Training, and what to look forward to when the 2020 season starts- whatever form it takes and whenever that may be.
The 2019 season brought a lot to the game of baseball. For the Minnesota Twins, it came with some setbacks: star-player injuries and suspensions; but also, some bonuses: Nelson Cruz entered the 400 home run club, the rally squirrel (we still love you, T.C. Bear), and the first clinch of a division title since 2010.
The season came to an end in the ALDS, when the New York Yankees swept the Twins in three games. It was not pretty, but Minnesota sports fans are used to seeing a taste of the playoffs before we’re knocked out. Although the Twins’ postseason run was cut short, I can’t complain. They finished the regular season with a record of 101-61. Not to mention, they broke the record for most home runs in a season, blasting 307 bombs and getting the well-deserved nickname of the Bomba Squad. I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of them.
The offseason was productive for the Twins. We said goodbye to familiar faces, hello to a few new ones, and re-signed ones that you know and love. Solid first baseman C.J. Cron became a free agent, and second baseman Jonathan Schoop now plays for the Tigers. Catcher Jason Castro signed with the Angels back in January.
For pitchers, the Twins re-signed SP Michael Pineda (two year contract), RP Sergio Romo (one year), RP Trevor May (one year),and SP José Berríos (one year). The Twins added two new faces to their pitching staff, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda. The Twins got Hill from free agency, but got Maeda through trade with LA.
While the Twins received Maeda, catching prospect Jair Camargo, and cash considerations, the Dodgers got rising-star pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, minor leaguer Luke Raley, along with a pick in the 2020 draft. This was a significant trade that had sent Twitter into a meltdown, as it was around the time of the Mookie to Los Angeles trade, and the almost-trade of Ross Stripling and Joc Pederson going to the Angels. It was a hectic 72 hours.
New additions to the team include starting pitcher Homer Bailey (acquired from Oakland) and third baseman Josh Donaldson (acquired from Atlanta). We saw the re-signing of infielder Miguel Sanó, and relief pitchers Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers. The Twins also had a number of minor league contracts signed in late January – early February.
Additionally, the Twins added a new full-time assistant strength and conditioning coach. Her name is Andrea Hayden, and she’s made league history. In an article posted by Do-Hyoung Park (who covers the Twins for mlb.com), it is stated that Andrea has “a great personality, great knowledge in her field, and she has adapted to the Major League clubhouse … effortlessly,” according to manager Rocco Baldelli. Hayden wears our colors; she is prepared to walk through the season (well, when it continues) with our players, keeping them in top shape and looking out for them. With the season up in the air, we know one thing for sure: Andrea Hayden is a Minnesota Twin.
Who doesn’t love Spring Training? The dust that has gathered is starting to fall away, we hear the glorious sound of a well-placed pitch finding its home in the glove of a catcher, and for fans fortunate enough, they get to travel to a sunny, warm state to see their team play.
The Twins’ 2020 Spring Training (well, what we had of it) record concluded at 7-8, leaving them exactly five games behind Grapefruit-League leaders, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Twins placed prospects like second baseman Travis Blankenhorn, pitcher Dakota Chalmers, and pitcher Jhoan Duran on the 40-man roster, giving them a chance to play with the Twins and other prospects. Because of Spring Training being cut short, we didn’t get to see these prospects truly thrive and show CenturyLink Sports Complex what they can bring to the team. As of now, they are back with the Twins’ minor-league affiliates. I hope we get the chance to see them at Target Field soon.
2020 Season – What To Look Forward To
The Twins were supposed to spend their Opening Day at the Oakland Coliseum. As a true creature of superstition, I was excited to see what the season had in store, because in ‘91 when the Twins won the World Series, they played their first regular season game at the Coliseum. However the MLB decides to continue the season, I know that the Twins have something special in store this year.
Our starting pitching rotation has increased in power. Rich Hill is currently dealing with recovery from an elbow surgery, but is projected to be ready to pitch by June. Michael Pineda has 39 games left on his banned substance suspension, which would have had him out until late May. The Twins still have the dominant José Berríos, whose overall ERA in 2019 was 3.68. With the addition of Kenta Maeda and Homer Bailey, along with the return of Odorizzi, the Twins starting rotation has names that will make you look twice.
Our relief pitchers are also strong. Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Sergio Romo are just three of the many names that you’ll be looking out for when the 2020 season starts. Those three are all in for a stellar year. Maybe that’s just my prediction, but the weather in Minnesota tells me it’s more than just a hunch.
With the free agency of C.J. Cron, we will most likely see Miguel Sanó or Willians Astudillo taking over first base. Our infield still has the talents of Jorge Polanco, Ehire Adrianza, and Marwin González. The addition of Josh Donaldson brings even more excitement to the start of the season.
The return of Byron Buxton was just on the horizon before the season was postponed, and it made the news even harder to take. His 2019 season was cut short due to a labrum tear in his shoulder, requiring surgery.
With the return of Buxton, it means the return of (what I call) The Outfield. Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler are all amazing players in their own, individual ways. But whenever they take the outfield together, magic seems to happen. Call it cliche, but it’s true. In 2019, Kepler had 281 total chances and 277 putouts, while Rosario had 221 total chances and 208 putouts. Kepler’s range factor for 2019 was 1.92 and Rosario’s was 1.53. I have a feeling that the 2020 season is going to show us a side of these three that we haven’t seen before. Hopefully, quarantine has not put a strain on Buxton’s rehabilitation program.
The 2020 season also brings the return of utility player Willians Astudillo, aka La Tortuga. Astudillo is a fan favorite, bringing skill to every position he plays. He gives his all, no matter where he is: behind the plate, first base, second base, third, left field – it doesn’t matter. He plays with the same amount of heart each time.
On paper, the Twins look to be in for a stellar year. 2019 saw Nelson Cruz hit 41 HRs, 108 RBIs, and he had an OPS of 1.031. The second-highest OPS belonged to catcher Mitch Garver, with .995. Garver had 31 HRs and 67 RBIs. Those two players are just the surface of the depth that the Twins have. When it comes to fielding, Astudillo had a range factor of 4.89.
We can talk numbers and stats all we want, but we can see a similarity to what’s projected and what’s happening. If the Twins keep going in the right direction, they will make their good team great, and their playoff hopes will be more than hopes.
Baseball is emotional, just as it is physical. I know that this postponement of the season has been hard for both players and fans, but each day is a day closer to the return of baseball. What a sweet day that will be.