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Mining the Minors: Twins’ offensive depth extends into Triple-A

The Twins’ historically good offense leads the league in nearly every statistical category. For any offense to produce at that level, it needs production from all parts of the lineup, and the Twins are certainly getting that. The depth of the Twins’ offense, though, may be unrivaled.

On any given day, the Twins post a lineup that isn’t just deep 1-9, but has multiple potent hitters on the bench. In Thursday’s game against Seattle, for example, the Twins had 35 home runs on the bench (Eddie Rosario, Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano).

There isn’t a single position player on this year’s squad who’s having a down year, so there simply isn’t room to put every dangerous bat in the lineup. Choosing which players to sit each day is obviously a first-world problem for manager Rocco Baldelli, and in many ways it’s not a problem at all. Because he has confidence in every position player, Baldelli can rotate all of them in and out of the lineup, giving regular players more rest than they might otherwise get on an average team. Rest and recovery is a clear point of emphasis for the organization , and if the extra rest helps the offense stay healthier come September and October, it’s an advantage for the Twins.

What’s perhaps even more remarkable is that the offensive depth extends well into Triple-A. In reality, the Twins aren’t just deep 1-12, they’re deep 1-20. By my count, Rochester has eight players who are performing well offensively and could theoretically fill-in and produce at a decent level in the big leagues. At least two of these players would be in the big leagues on almost any other team. The rest would be at least in the conversation on average or tanking teams. On the Twins, though, they simply can’t crack the 25-man roster.

Over the course of a long season, some of them will surely come up, at least in September. Of the eight players mentioned here, we’ve already seen three play well in the majors this year before getting sent down due to roster crunches. Here’s a look at the position players in Triple-A making a push to be added to the big league roster, should an injury occur.

Jake Cave, OF

Twins fans know Cave well, of course. After coming over from the Yankees during spring training last season, he was very good in 91 games with the Twins while filling in for Byron Buxton. The lefty slashed .269/.316/.481 in the majors last year, while showing an ability to play all three positions. He started the year with the Twins this season, spending most of April and the first part of May on the big league club, before Miguel Sano’s return squeezed him out of a roster spot.

Cave is a quintessential fourth outfielder. He has defensive flexibility, speed, and power. I’d venture to guess he’d be on a major league roster for all but a handful of organizations. With Marwin Gonzalez on the roster and Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario all having outstanding years, there’s simply no room for Cave right now. In Triple-A, he’s proving last year was no fluke. In 31 games, he’s slashing .306/.358/.532 for the Red Wings. Cave is likely first in line to get a roster spot if any position player other than a catcher goes down, due both to his track record and Gonzalez’s ability to fill in anywhere on the field.

Willians Astudillo, C/1B/2B/3B/LF/CF/RF

Like Cave, La Tortuga provided the Twins with a lot of value before getting sent down when the Twins needed another bullpen arm. He started off red hot at the plate, but cooled down once opposing pitchers figured out how to pitch him. Because Astudillo swings at almost everything (and almost always puts the ball in play), he’s susceptible to pitches out of the strike zone—especially down and away. Although he still wasn’t striking out, he was making a lot of weak contact in May that resulted in too many lazy fly balls. Overall in the big leagues, he’s slashing .250/.273/.357 this season.

Astudillo’s value, though, comes in his defensive flexibility. Players like Gonzalez and Ben Zobrist of the Cubs are incredibly valuable because they can play nearly anywhere on the diamond. Astudillo, though, has the unique ability to play anywhere on the diamond, including catcher. Now, he’s not an above average defender at any position, but he is serviceable. When he’s on the big league roster, he also makes it easier for Baldelli to insert Garver as a DH on days Jason Castro is catching, though unlike Ron Gardenhire, Baldelli’s shown a willingness to do that even with just two catchers on the 25-man. Nevertheless, as far as third catchers go, La Tortuga is about as valuable as they come. He’ll certainly be back up at some point. By the way, since being demoted to Rochester, he’s slashing a cool .550/.545/1.000.

Luis Arraez, 2B/SS/3B

Arraez came up for two weeks and played extremely well with the big league club, slashing .375/.467/.583 and playing solid defense around the infield. The 22-year-old has hit at every level, and even though it’s a tiny sample size, he showed no signs of being overmatched by big league pitching.

It’s long been assumed Nick Gordon is the second baseman of the future for the Twins, but Arraez may have surpassed him. With Jonathan Schoop a free agent at the end of the year, Arraez is making a strong case to be the 2020 opening day 2B. In 13 games for Rochester, he’s slashing .327/.390/.385. Before that, he slashed .342/.415/.397 in 38 games with Double-A Pensacola. In 2018, he hit .310/.361/.397 across High-A and Double-A. Arraez has flown a bit under the radar during his ascent through the minor leagues, but his stellar big league debut has certainly changed that. He appears to have a bright future with the Twins, and probably isn’t done contributing this season.

Nick Gordon, 2B/SS

Where does Arraez’s arrival leave Gordon? Still just 23, Gordon is looking to recover from a difficult 2018 season that saw him drop in prospect rankings. Across Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .248/.298/.355. This season, he’s battled injuries early, but played well when healthy. He’s currently hitting .296/.331/.470 for Rochester, and appears to be past the injuries that hampered him in April.

Other than last season, Gordon has a track record of consistency, and currently has a career batting line of .274/.328/.380 while being one of the youngest players at each level. It would be too reactionary to discount him simply because he had a down year last year. There are questions about his range at shortstop, but as shifting continues to evolve, range is arguably a bit less important than it was in the past. If Gordon continues to hit well at Triple-A, it will be good for the Twins for two reasons: First, they’ll have the confidence to call him up should injuries arise. Second, it would increase his trade value approaching the trade deadline. With the Twins looking to add arms and Arraez’s emergence, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Gordon moved as part of a prospect package.

Brent Rooker, LF

After a bit of a slow start and a minor injury, Rooker has been crushing the ball of late at Rochester. Since coming back from injury on June 1, the former first round pick is hitting .381/.552/.548 in 58 plate appearances. Overall, he’s slashing .273/.381/.500. This is who Rooker is—a corner outfield masher with a refined approach at the plate. He’s willing to take a walk, and when he does swing, he looks to do damage.

He did a lot of damage in three years at Mississippi State, including a historically good junior year that convinced the Twins to take him in the first round. Since then, he’s moved from rookie ball to Triple-A in two years, hitting well at every level. With a wealth of experience for a young minor leaguer, Rooker has the makeup to step into a big league lineup and continue to hit. He’s stuck behind perhaps the best outfield in baseball, but he’ll get his chance at some point, maybe as a September call-up. Right now, he’s likely behind Cave in the outfield pecking order.

Zander Wiel, 1B/LF

Wiel has a similar profile to Rooker—a power hitting corner outfielder/first baseman. Both Wiel and Rooker can play first base and the outfield, but Wiel has played almost exclusively first base this year. On the season, the Vanderbilt product is hitting .251/.338/.463. The OPS of .801 is solid, but not spectacular, for a first baseman at Triple-A, and it would take a rash of injuries for Wiel to get a shot in the big leagues this year for the Twins. If a couple of Twins’ corner infielders did go down, though, Wiel could provide some production in the big leagues.

Jordany Valdespin, 2B

Valdespin has an interesting story. Unlike the other players on this list, who are mostly in their early to mid-20s and still at the prospect stage of their careers, Valdespin is 31 and has played parts of four seasons in the big leagues, most recently with Miami in 2015. Since then, he’s bounced around Triple-A, the Mexican League, and played 2018 with Lew Ford and the independent Long Island Ducks, where he slashed .338/.399/.487 and was named Baseball America’s Independent Leagues Player of the Year. So far in Rochester, he’s hitting .306/.355/.456. Valdespin almost certainly doesn’t have a future as an everyday player in the big leagues, but if the Twins need short-term infield bench help he’d be a solid veteran they could call on.

Willin Rosario, C/1B

As if Jason Castro, Mitch Garver, and Willians Astudillo wasn’t enough catching depth, the Twins also have Willin Rosario stashed at Triple-A. Rosario, who’s caught 323 games in the majors, is slashing .299/.321/.500 for Rochester. He’s fourth on the depth chart, so it would take an injury to at least one, and possibly two of the first three catchers for him to get a shot, but as far as fourth-string catchers go, you could do a lot worse than Rosario.

 





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