With a month and change of the 2019 MLB season in the record books, the Minnesota Twins find themselves atop the AL Central, four games ahead of Cleveland. Obviously, the team’s hot start was completely expected by every analyst and fan and nobody should pay the slightest speck of attention to it... who am I kidding. While we fans may have thought the Twins would be atop their division at this point in the year, I doubt any of us expected Minnesota to have played as dominantly as they have, earning the second-best record in the American League (and third-best in the majors) through May 7.
This dominance has required a complete team performance day after day, and as such, some players have put up very impressive stat lines through this point in the season. Although fan voting for the All-Star Game has not yet begun, it’s evident that several Twins have begun to make a case as among the best in the major leagues this season. Subsequent months will reveal whether their trends are sustainable - those of us who remember Chris Colabello can attest to that - but they can certainly be classified as players to watch moving forward.
Heading into the 2019 season, Jason Castro was the starting catcher, Willians Astudillo the do-it-all fan favorite, and Garver the young guy with a better bat than glove. Well, that “better bat” has demolished American League pitching. Appearing in 19 of the Twins’ first 34 games, Garver is batting .367 with a .424 OBP, .783 slugging percentage, and 1.207 OPS - all of which lead the team by significant margins. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaderboards, those numbers would (respectively) rank second, eighth, second, and third in the entire MLB. His wOBA (.495), wRC+ (216), and OPS+ (215) would also rank second across the majors, in each case behind Cody Bellinger and ahead of Christian Yelich. (Fine - his OPS+ would tie with Yelich. So it’s not that impressive.)
Mind you, neither Castro (.965 OPS, 155 OPS+, 154 wRC+) nor Astudillo (.327 AVG, 130 OPS+, 125 wRC+) have been slouches. But Garver, who started the season out of the local spotlight, is continuing to bat his way into it.
Polanco has spent most of this season batting second, the new location for the best hitter in the lineup, and he has hit up to those expectations. Among qualifiers, Polanco leads the Twins in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, and OPS+ (.317/.392/.603/.995/163), and the last three of those statistics rank 10th in the majors. If you prefer advanced stats, his 161 wRC+ also slots 10th across all MLB qualifiers, and his .413 wOBA is tied with Javier Baez for ninth.
Polanco’s overall talent as a player has not gone under the radar of statheads, as his bWAR of 2.2 is the seventh highest in the league, while his fWAR - slightly lower at 1.7 - ranks slightly lower: tied for eighth. (Sorting Fangraphs by oWAR only, Polanco drops to 11th - with 11.4.) It’s evident that Polanco has become a bona fide star at shortstop, something we perhaps should have foreseen five years ago with his promotion from A-ball.
While Eddie Rosario was the Twin most of the fanbase thought should have made the All-Star Game last year, Berríos was named to the squad and pitched a scoreless, hitless fifth inning. Having officially taken the mantle of “Twins’ ace,” Berríos has played up to expectations, posting a 2.53 ERA over a league-leading 53.1 innings through eight starts. His improved arsenal has resulted in plenty of retreating batters, as Berríos has sent 51 batters back to the dugout without their putting a ball in play, a 24.5% K-rate. Combine that with Berríos’ constant refusal to walk batters - a 3.9% walk rate and 1.350 BB/9 - and you get a pitcher who does not put men on base, as seen by a 0.919 WHIP which ranks eighth in the majors.
Cruz has served exclusively as a designated hitter this season, and he has hit up to that designation. The 38-year-old veteran has batted .292 with
eight [EDIT: one less than eight] home runs, putting up an OBP of .380 and slugging .566, good for a .946 OPS and 151 OPS+. While that stat line may not be among the top of the leaderboards, it’s an impressive one, and a selection-worthy one if sustained.
Others to Watch
While these players may have less chance of making the squad, and there’s certainly no way every player I’ve mentioned will make it, they’ve also put up impressive numbers in some area and should be watched further:
- Eddie Rosario - 12 HRs, .543 SLG, .811 OPS
- Jake Odorizzi - 2.78 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, 26.6% K-rate
- Martin Perez - 1.258 WHIP, 2.83 ERA, 1.64 ERA as a starter
- Taylor Rogers - 1.72 ERA, 31.0% K-rate
- Ryne Harper - 1.98 ERA, 0.878 WHIP
It shouldn’t be long before MLB opens All-Star voting. Whether the Twins on the ballot make it up the voting leaderboards or not is still to see... and there’s plenty of baseball to be played until then.