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How the Twins built the “Bomba Squad”

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Twinkie Town is proud to present “Behind the Bombs: The 2019 Minnesota Twins story”

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we near the close of the regular season for the most prolific home run-hitting team in baseball history, let’s take a look at how the Bomba Squad was assembled. I’ve built an interactive timeline using time.graphics.com to give a visual representation of how it all came together over the years, and below it you’ll find some words written about each event. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only considered those with more than 10 home runs in this study.

In the timeline below, you can click on each event to see the exact date and how long ago it was that it happened. You can also zoom in, zoom out, and click and drag to pan to a different area of the timeline.

October 1, 2007: Bill Smith hired as GM

While Bill Smith was widely unpopular as the GM of the Twins, he definitely would end up doing his part in building the Bomba Squad. This is particularly ironic considering the focus put on contact hitting and contact pitching by the Smith-era Twins.

July 6, 2009: Jorge Polanco signed as an amateur free agent +22 HR

The starting shortstop for the Bomba Squad was the first of the team to be brought on. He signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic the day after his 16th birthday, and was in the majors for good by the end of 2016.

July 11, 2009: Max Kepler signed as an amateur free agent +36 HR

Our favorite German outfielder signed with the Twins at age 16 for $800,000, a record signing bonus for a European-born player. He would reach the bigs for good by the end of 2016.

October 9, 2009: Miguel Sano signed as an amateur free agent +30 HR

Miguel Sano, at age 16, signed with the Minnesota Twins over many potential suitors. He received (at the time) the second-highest signing bonus ever for a Dominican player, at $3.15 million. While his struggles since then have been well-documented, Sano has been legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball since the beginning of July, when he mastered some swing changes he and hitting coach James Rowson had been working on in-season.

June 8, 2010: Eddie Rosario drafted in the 4th round +31 HR

The Twins hit on Rosario in the 4th, but had whiffed on Alex Wimmers (1st round), Niko Goodrum (2nd), and Twinkie Town favorite Pat Dean (3rd). Interestingly, Ryan LaMarre was drafted in the 2nd round by the Reds and Sam Dyson in the 4th by the Blue Jays. Rosario would be a major league fixture by the end of 2016.

October 7, 2011: Bill Smith fired as GM

After a 99-loss season, Smith was fired. However, instead of moving forward, the Twins hired....

November 7, 2011: Terry Ryan re-hired as GM

Former GM Terry Ryan! Smith’s tenure began when Ryan stepped down, and was really more of an extension of Ryan’s era than anything. After Smith was fired, Ryan stepped back in to continue the pre-sabermetrics era of Twins baseball.

June 4, 2012: Byron Buxton drafted with the 2nd overall pick +10 HR

Terry Ryan did play a part in building the Bomba Squad, drafting Byron Buxton with the 2nd overall pick he inherited from Smith. Later in the same draft, Ryan was able to nab key 2019 pitchers Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, and Taylor Rogers. Buxton has struggled with injuries ever since he reached the majors, but is a fantastic player when healthy.

June 7, 2013: Mitch Garver drafted in the 9th round (Kohl Stewart 1st, Ryan Eades 2nd, Stuart Turner 3rd, Stephen Gonsalves 4th, Aaron Slegers 5th, Bryan Navarreto 6th, Brian Gilbert 7th, Dustin DeMuth 8th) +30 HR

While it is impressive that Ryan was able to get Mitch Garver in the 9th round in 2013, it may be more a testament of Garver’s hard work and progression than Ryan’s drafting abilities. The Twins drafted Kohl Stewart in the 1st round that year, Stephen Gonsalves in the 4th, and Aaron Slegers in the 5th. Aside from these middling “successes”, the Twins added a pu-pu platter of Ryan Eades, Stuart Turner, Bryan Navarreto, Brian Gilbert, and Dustin DeMuth before drafting Garver. Garver was the third catcher taken by the Twins in the draft.

July 18, 2016: Terry Ryan fired as GM

After only reaching .500 once in four seasons, Ryan was fired in the midst of a 103-loss campaign.

October 3, 2016: Derek Falvey hired as Executive VP and Chief Baseball Officer

The Twins looked outside the organization for a new perspective on how to run a baseball team. This is the date that really put the Twins on the path that led them to where they are today.

November 3, 2016: Thad Levine hired as GM

Another fresh face to the organization, Levine was hired as Falvey’s running mate out of the Texas Rangers organization

November 30, 2016: Jason Castro signed as a free agent +12 HR

Jason Castro was the first big signing of the new era, signaling a focus on sabermetrics within the Twins organization for the first time. He was signed largely because of his great advanced-statistic pitch-framing numbers. Although he has struggled at the plate for much of his Twins tenure, he has had a bit of a renaissance this year.

December 2, 2016: James Rowson hired as hitting coach

James Rowson was hired out of the Yankees organization to replace Tom Brunansky, who did not improve the team’s hitting numbers over his few years. Ex-Twin player Brunansky was also a remaining artifact of the Ryan-Smith Twins, who often hired people “known by the organization”. Rowson was also the first big hire for Falvey-Levine, as they had inherited a manager and pitching coach. His effect on the Twins has been very noticeable, and hopefully he’ll be around for awhile.

October 25, 2018: Rocco Baldelli hired as manager

After a surprising playoff run in 2017 that saved Paul Molitor his job, the Twins flopped in 2018 and gave the front office the opportunity to put someone in charge who would share their ideas. Enter Rocco Baldelli, who embraces sabermetrics and is the furthest thing from a stubborn “good ol’ days” baseball guy.

November 26, 2018: C.J. Cron claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay +24 HR

After a career season in which he hit 30 home runs, the Rays puzzlingly dropped Cron to the waiver wire. The Twins were quick to scoop him up, and his success last year has carried over to this year. While he has struggled with a nagging injury, he has been great when healthy.

December 6, 2018: Jonathan Schoop signed as a free agent +22 HR

Jonathan Schoop was signed to fill Brian Dozier’s shoes, and he has done a passable job. Overall, he has been an above-average (105 OPS+, 100 is average) batter and an excellent fielder. He is not the most popular Twin, due to his extreme streakiness and propensity for padding his batting stats in blowouts (as well as the existence of Luis Arraez), but his quick turns and cannon arm have produced many double (and a couple triple) plays.

January 2, 2019: Nelson Cruz signed as a free agent +37 HR

Probably the best free agent signing in Twins history, Nelson Cruz has been the best hitter in an excellent Twins lineup. Signed at an affordable price because of his advanced age, Cruz has not slowed down. His signing after Schoop and Cron signaled a commitment to the long ball for the 2019 Twins, and it has definitely paid off. In addition to his big bat, Cruz has also provided excellent leadership for the young Twins.

February 25, 2019: Marwin Gonzalez signed as a free agent +15 HR

The last piece of the puzzle, Gonzalez signed during spring training. While he struggled out of the gate, Gonzalez has been excellent for the better part of the season. His outstanding versatility has also been a huge help to the Twins as they have struggled with injuries all season. Furthermore, the former World Series champion is always cool under pressure and provides some more experience and leadership to add to Cruz’s.

Overall, the Bomba Squad has been an astounding 12 years in the making, and it has definitely been worth the wait. It’s interesting to see how Smith and Ryan gathered some parts, shiny or not, and the Falvey-Levine partnership has added to them and assembled a rocket ship. While a possible juiced ball has obviously played a part this year, every team has played with it and the Twins were the ones to rise to the top. I think that James Rowson’s effect can’t be emphasized enough, as well as the organizational focus that Falvey and Levine have instilled from bottom to top.

Poll

Which administration was more important in assembling the Bomba Squad?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Falvey/Levine/Rowson/Baldelli
    (572 votes)
  • 12%
    Smith/Ryan
    (85 votes)
657 votes total Vote Now