Welcome to the third installment of the Best Twins Position Players Since 2000.
The first time around, we covered #20 to #16, which was a healthy mix of throwbacks and more recent contributors. Then, Nos. 15 to 10, which included four players who are on the Twins’ current roster.
If you’re worried about recency bias, I have two things for you. First, don’t forget that this list starts in 2000. Secondly, that was the last list. This one should make you happier.
If you would like to read the explanation of criteria for the ranking, follow the above link to Part One.
No. 10 - A.J. Pierzynski, 1998 to 2003
- Line of .301/.341/.447 with Twins
- All-Star in 2002
As much as Twins fans enjoyed booing A.J. Pierzynski throughout his tenure as an opposing player, he was the 10th-best position player to suit-up for the Twins so far this century.
Pierzynski was first called-up in 1998 but only logged 133 plate appearances over his first three years in the league. In 2001, Pierzynski was a huge part of the Twins’ turnaround as they managed their first winning record in nine years.
In 2002, A.J. made the All-Star Game. And this wasn’t a he-made-it-as-the-Twins-sole-representative situation, a la Matt Lawton or Ron Coomer, but he was named alongside Eddie Guardado and Torii Hunter. The Twins won the division title that year, and Pierzynski finished with a line of .300/.334/.439.
However, his non-All-Star campaign in 2003 was Pierzynski’s best season with the Twins, despite making the All-Star team the year prior. The Twins won their second consecutive A.L. Central title and A.J. hit .312/.360/.464 with 11 home runs and his third-straight season with 30-plus doubles.
That off season, Pierzynski was traded to San Francisco in one of the better trades of the modern era. The Twins got back a pair of future All-Star pitchers in Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser, who was a serviceable starter for about a season and a half in a Twins uniform. Pierzynski had a single mediocre season for the Giants before signing with the Chicago White Sox in free agency and having several successful seasons there.
No. 9 - Jacque Jones, 1999 to 2005
- Line of .279/.327/.455 with Twins
- Hit 132 home runs in Twins uniform
After a partial season with the big club in 1999, Jones became a full-time player in 2000. Manager Tom Kelly experimented with him in a variety of places in the batting order, even putting the free-swinging outfielder in the leadoff spot at times.
It was more of the same in 2001, with Jones usually batting in the No. 6 spot or lower, but he received a handful of starts as the No. 1 hitter as he improved his plate discipline ever so slightly.
In 2002, Ron Gardenhire took over the manager’s chair and Jones took over the leadoff spot. He had a career year in his age-27 season, breaking out to the tune of .300/.341/.511 with 27 home runs and 37 doubles. It was the start of a strong four-year run for both Jones and the Twins, as Minnesota won back-to-back-to-back division titles before winning just 83 games and finishing third in the A.L. Central in 2005.
Jones left in free agency the following winter and signed with the Chicago Cubs, where he had a single solid season before his power dropped off precipitously. He was traded to Detroit and scuffled through a 2008 campaign split between the Tigers and Marlins.
His swan song was a 2010 season spent with the Twins’ Triple-A club in Rochester, including an exhibition game appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals as the Twins soft-opened Target Field. If you were there, you no doubt remember the roar of the crowd when Jones took the field. He might be No. 10 on this list, but he was No. 1 in the crowd’s hearts on that night...
No. 8 - Cristian Guzman, 1999 to 2004
- Line of .266/.303/.382 with Twins
- Led MLB in triples three times
- All-Star in 2001
Cristian Guzman flew through the lower rungs of the New York Yankees minor league system as a glove-first, speedy shortstop and co-headlined the Chuck Knoblauch trade along with starting pitcher Eric Milton.
After his acquisition, Guzman played the 1999 season at Double-A New Britain. He continued his modest offensive production, putting up a line of .277/.304/.352 while hitting 29 doubles and stealing 23 bases.
This was enough for the Twins, who had won 70 games in 1998, to skip Guzman past Triple-A and onto the big club in 1999. The 21-year-old shortstop hit just .226/.267/.276 in 456 plate appearances and the Twins stumbled to a 63-97 record.
Thee following year, Guzman and the young Twins each took mini steps forward, with Guzman leading the league with 20 triples. Then, by 2001, the Twins won 85 games and were in the division race until the final two weeks of the season. Guzman broke out, hitting .308/.346/.507 in the first half of the season and earning a spot on the American League All-Star team. After missing a month due to injury, Guzman finished the season strong.
But that was the high point for Guzman. As the Twins ascended, winning three consecutive division titles from 2002 through 2004, Guzman plateaued at a (barely) sub-All-Star level, hitting .272/.303/.379 over his last three seasons in Minnesota, averaging only seven home runs, eight triples, and 26 doubles per season during that stretch.
An All-Star berth, three MLB triples crowns and the starting shortstop on three division-winning clubs easily gets Guzman into the top 10.
No. 7 - Denard Span, 2008 to 2012
- Line of .284/.357/.389 with Twins
- Finished sixth in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 2008
- Led league in triples in 2009
Denard Span was a late first-round pick as a high-schooler in 2002. He spent the better part of six seasons working his way through the minor leagues, showing little pop but strong on-base skills and solid defense.
Span made his Twins debut in 2008, bursting onto the scenes partway through the season with a .294/.387/.432 line over 411 plate appearances after a strong start to the Triple-A campaign.
That Twins club won 88 games but missed the postseason. In 2009 and 2010, however, Span became a major part of back-to-back A.L. Central-winning teams, leading the league in triples in 2009 while posting a Mauer-esque on-base percentage of .392. While he took minor steps back offensively in 2010 and 2011, he bounced back in 2012 — just in time to see the rest of the team falter in a miserable 66-win season.
Span was ultimately traded to Washington, but was one of the best players on two division-winning teams and finished his five seasons in Minnesota with a strong .284/.357/.389 line.
No. 6 - Michael Cuddyer, 2001 to 2011
- Line of .272/.343/.451 with Twins
- All-Star in 2011
- Appeared at every position except catcher and shortstop
Michael Cuddyer was a first-round draft pick in 1997 out of high school in Virginia. He largely dominated the minors, hitting .301/.395/.560 in his second go-round at Double-A, earning a call-up to the big club in 2001.
Cuddyer returned to Triple-A in 2002, but a line of .309/.379/.594 and 20 home runs in only 339 at-bats convinced everyone that he belonged in the major leagues, despite some stumbles in his first few dozen games in the bigs.
Finally, Cuddyer became something resembling a regular starter in 2004, although it was more as an everyday utility player than anything else. Think the early version of Ben Zobrist, but without the defensive excellence.
Cuddyer was supposed to be the third baseman of the future, but glove issues forced him to second base. Still, his glove wasn’t good enough and his strong arm was wasted at the keystone sack, so he was moved to right field. Injuries to Justin Morneau shifted Cuddyer to first base a few times in the middle of his Twins career, and he spent the majority of his time between RF and 1B in the latter years of his time in Minnesota.
Cuddy played a big part in the 2006 division-winning season, hitting 24 home runs posting a line of .284/.362/.504 for a 96-win club. As the Twins faltered the next two years, so did Cuddyer. Then, in 2009, Cuddyer broke out with a career-high 32 home runs and hit .276/.342/.520.
The first three years at Target Field saw his on-base and power numbers suffer slightly, but he finished his time with the Twins with a bang, making his first-ever All-Star team in the midst of a .284/.346/.459 season for a team that struggled mightily with injuries.
Cuddyer left for Colorado, where he made his second All-Star team and won a batting title and Silver Slugger in his age-34 season, putting up a career-best OPS of .919. After three seasons with the Rockies and one year with the New York Mets, Cuddyer called it a career and is currently an advisor in the Twins front office and a 2017 inductee to the Twins Hall of Fame.
Next up, the top five players from 2000 to present day...