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Early candidates for Twins Most Improved Player of the Year

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NO JINX NO JINX NO JINX

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As much as it pains me to say it, we’re almost at the halfway point of the regular season. The Minnesota Twins have been a fun and exciting bunch to watch this year, no doubt, and although many of the players could be considered “most improved” from last year, some have made it more noticeable than others. Let’s take a look at some players that have improved the most since the books closed on the past few seasons.

Jake Odorizzi, SP

So far, Odorizzi’s 2019 campaign has been a pleasant change from his 2018 season. Last year, Odo put up a 7-10 record with a 4.49 ERA in 32 starts. Across 164.1 innings, he allowed 8.3 H/9 and 3.8 BB/9, both above his career average at the time. On the other hand, his K/9 was at 8.9 - the highest since his rookie year in 2014 with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Odorizzi certainly turned a page before this season started. At one point, he was leading the American League in ERA, which is now good for second-best at 2.24 behind Chicago White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, who is at 2.22 right now. Although Ws are not something that is strongly looked at in terms of stats, Odorizzi is tied with Giolito with the most wins in the majors at 10 wins apiece.

Odorizzi, who has started 14 times so far this season, also has improved his rates-per-nine across the board from last year so far. He’s reached 10.0 K/9 right now, along with 6.2 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, and 2.8 BB/9 - all substantially better than his career numbers before this season (8.1 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 3.1 BB/9, 8.3 K/9). Danny Gladden even called him the rotation’s ace during one recent broadcast. The Twins also have confidence behind their arguably best starter this season as they’ve won the past 11 games that Odorizzi has started in.

Compared to last year, Odorizzi has certainly improved and definitely deserves a nod to be in Cleveland for this year’s All-Star Game, and even possibly a start for the A.L. If he keeps up pitching the way he does, he could even get looks for the Cy Young Award for 2019.

Byron Buxton, CF

Buxton’s 2018 season was a bust as he dealt with migraines and a toe injury early in the season, leaving him to sit on the Injured List for some time. The rough start to the season yielded to some time in Rochester. Oh, and by “some time”, I actually mean he spent the rest of the season with the Red Wings. The Twins failed to call him up when rosters expanded in September, which is something that didn’t sit too well with Buxton, and his final numbers in the majors for 2018 was a triple slash of .156/.183/200, along with four RBI in 28 total games. His time in the minors last year resulted in a .264/.322/.433 triple slash with four homers and 14 RBI, along with 11 doubles and a triple.

Buxton was one of a few players that were basically on watch for a break-out season, and personally one whose name I had a question mark next to and watch this year. After he worked out this off-season, Buxton has certainly turned a corner so far. Although he’s had some injuries that required him to be day-to-day, he hasn’t landed on the Injured List yet, an has played in 65 of the Twins’ 70 games so far this season. He’s also posting great numbers, batting .266/.324/.527 with nine homers and 28 RBI. He’s notched 21 doubles already this year - tied for first in the American League and already beating his career-high of 19 back in 2016.

He has 2.8 bWAR to his name right now, and his defense in center field is second to none across the league. With the improvement of his bat, and as long as he continues to bat well and stay healthy, this can certainly be labeled as a successful bounce-back year for the young outfielder.

Jason Castro, C

The resident wet blanket is an easy add to this list considering a torn meniscus held Castro to only 19 games last season, yielding a .143/.257/.238 batting line with a homer and three RBI. His first season with the Twins, he played in 110 games, batting .242/.333/.388 with 10 homers and 47 RBI. He’s known for his defense behind the plate and could simply be a placeholder until Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo take control of catching duties for years to come.

Castro, who is in his last season under contract with the Twins, is already batting slightly better than his 2017 numbers. He’s been able to belt out eight homers along with 19 RBI. He’s not on pace to break his career-high of 18 homers, but could end the season with 12 or 13 dongs if he keeps it up, which would put him in line with his last two seasons with the Houston Astros. He’s also fared slightly better in his triple-slash - .255/.350/.549 - and his OPS is at a career high of .899.

Again, as a defensive catcher, Castro has also been part of the offensive surge in his own right. Many people, including the radio announcers, have said that the early-season three-man catching rotation of Castro, Garver, and Astudillo have helped each with their approach at the plate with needed rest. Although Castro is not at the top of the most-improved list, he has certainly improved from his past two season with the Twins.

Martin Perez, SP

Pérez could be the most-improved player on this list to date. Acquired by the Twins this off-season, many fans were all “?????????????????????????” as the front office pressed that Pérez would be the fifth starter in the pitching rotation. He’s certainly benefited from the addition of pitching coach Wes Johnson, and the addition of his cutter has been a cornerstone to Pérez’s success this season.

Last year, Pérez was with the Texas Rangers and saw action in 22 games, starting 15 times, posting a 6.22 ERA in 85.1 innings. His 12.2 H/9 and 3.8 BB/9 were career-worst along with an almost-career-worst 5.5 K/9. Compare these numbers to 2019 so far, and you wouldn’t have thought they would be from the same pitcher: 4.09 ERA, 15 games (12 starts), 77.0 IP, 8.8 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 4.0 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 (career-best).

Pérez has come down in his last few starts - his ERA before a poor outing in Tampa Bay on May 30 was 2.95 - but if he can start rebounding before the All-Star Break and continue his resurgence as a starting pitcher, he could be considered a miracle in a portfolio for Wes Johnson and the Twins.

Jonathon Schoop, 2B

The Curaçao-born Schoop has been a welcome addition to the Twins this year, being signed as a free agent after making a run in the playoffs with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He didn’t spend the whole season with the Brewers, though, as he was well-known to be a home-grown player of the Baltimore Orioles organization before they decided to sell and re-build. After the season came to a close, Schoop was considered a flop in the trade between the O’s and the Brewers, and rightfully so. He batted .202/.246/.331 for the Brewers after the trade, hitting only four homers and netting 21 RBI in 46 games. With the Orioles last year, he hit .244/.273/.447 with 17 homers and 40 RBI in 85 games.

After playing with 61 games with the Twins so far this season, Schoop has improved his numbers across the board for his triple slash: .257/.309/.482. He’s also contributed to the Bomba Squad by hitting 12 homers and also notching 33 RBI. Like Castro, he’s not the most improved player from last season and not putting up league-leading numbers, but he’s worthy of an honorable mention.

Other Players

Miguel Sano is a player that could have made this list if this season wasn’t such a small sample size yet. He’s only played in 21 games so far, but has hit .253/.341/.608 with seven homers and 13 RBI. Compare that to last year (when he was sent down to Adv. A-level ball) when he hit .199/.281/.398 with 13 homers and 41 RBI in 71 games.

Taylor Rogers could be considered another most-improved candidate, but has had some mixed numbers compared to last year. He has a better ERA so far this year (2.10) against last year’s full season of 2.63 in 72 appearances. His K/9 rate has improved considerably between this season (11.4) and last season (9.9), but both his H/9 rate (8.7) and his HR/9 rate (1.2) have risen since last year (8.7 and 1.2, respectively). His walk rate is the same as last year, which is 2.1. Some of this could be attributed to Rogers being brought into higher-leverage situations. Last year, 31.94% of the time he came into a game last year, he was in a high-leverage situation, which is significantly lower than this year, when he’s been brought into a high-leverage situation 57.69% of the time.

Tyler Duffey may be a name that comes to mind for some fans as an improved player over last season. Duffey has bounced between Rochester and the big-league team this year, but has put up much better numbers compared to last year, when he posted a 7.20 ERA across 25 innings and 19 games. This year, he’s pitched in 16 contests, putting up a 2.29 ERA in 19.2 innings, although he’s been used mostly in low-leverage situations.

If you were tasked with choosing the Most Improved Player on this squad compared to their past few seasons based on their performance so far this year, who would you choose? Anyone from this list? Anyone I totally missed? Talk it out in the comments!

Poll

Who’s your Most Improved Player for the Twins so far this season?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Jake Odorizzi
    (193 votes)
  • 27%
    Byron Buxton
    (85 votes)
  • 0%
    Jason Castro
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Martín Pérez
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Jonathon Schoop
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    someone else, sandwich man (tell me in the comments)
    (15 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now