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Twinkie Town Roundtable: Which Twins player would you consider the biggest underdog in team history, and why?

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Our writers weigh in

Minnesota Twins v. Detroit Tigers Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This week’s question is related to our theme across the SBNation network of sites, “Underdog Week.” I asked our writers “Which Twins player would you consider the biggest underdog in team history, and why?”

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Joseph7823

Even though this answer might be warped by recency bias, I believe that Randy Dobnak is the biggest underdog in team history. I bet you guys all know the story already, but for those who don’t, he basically started out 2019 as an Uber driver, and he played baseball part-time in an Independent league. The Twins game him a contract, he rose to the big leagues, he performed well enough to earn of start in the playoffs, and the rest is history. I don’t know if this answer is too lazy and not thought out enough, but in my opinion, he is the biggest underdog in team history.

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Marea

I don’t know that he’s the biggest underdog in Twins history, but he’s certainly my favorite: Nick Punto. I loved watching him successfully pull off a suicide squeeze or take a head-first dive into first base. He didn’t have the best offensive numbers, he spent a good amount of time on the IL, and struggled to find a regular defensive home. But he was the heart and soul of the piranhas, and played crazy good defense as one of the best utility guys the Twins had ever had. I love that he went on to play for some really great teams after his time in a Twins uniform, and that he was able to celebrate a World Series victory in 2011 with the Cardinals. He just seemed so genuinely in love with the game and happy to be on that field, helping in any way he could.

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Bob Engvall

In keeping with this week’s “most underrated theme” I’d like to offer a case for Lyman Bostock. Most young Twins fans may never have heard of him, but a quick look at his wikipedia page will get you the facts you need, and, I think, will make you wish you would’ve seen him play. Bostock was tragically murdered early in his career and after he had left the Twins via free agency for the Angels, so his career was ended brutally and brutally short.

When Bostock was a Twin, Rod Carew was our star, chasing .400 and getting much deserved media attention. But Bostock was also a budding star, on a mediocre (at best) team. Another reason, I’d place him as underrated, was because of what he meant to his teammates. He was a beloved player, and apparently, a really genuine and decent fellow.

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Brandon Brooks

Well, you could go with a guy like Matt Magill, who made the majors after being drafted 937th overall. But even that late of a selection requires that a team sees some level of value in you. For that reason, I’d have to point to a crop of undrafted free agents who made their way to the Twins in one fashion or another — Randy Dobnak is the the best example of late, but I’ll throw it back even further. You could look to Mike Redmond, who wasn’t drafted, debuted at 27, ultimately won a World Series with the Marlins, and was the backup catcher for three Twins playoff teams. But if I had to pick one player, I’d throw out Dan Gladden’s name. The story goes that he was undrafted and wound up literally begging the manager of the A-ball Fresno Giants for a chance to play organized ball. Fast-forward a bit, and he’s part of a select group of Twins with a pair of championship rings, and has been a radio voice for the team for 20 years and counting.

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James Fillmore

Matt LeCroy. One, because he was a “catcher” who couldn’t throw worth a dang; at one point, with the Nationals, an opposing team stole so much on him it made manager Frank Robinson cry when yanking LeCroy from the game.

Two, because of a fluff piece some local TV station did on Twins players and their superstitions. LeCroy said, with a straight face, that the day after any Twins win he and Mike Redmond would swim the Mississippi to the Metrodome. The reporter actually bought it for a few seconds until LeCroy started laughing. In real life, his superstition was banana-mayonnaise sandwiches.

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TJ Gorsegner

I can’t believe no one else went this direction: Devin Smeltzer. Not because of anything he’s done in his (relatively short) professional baseball career, but the fact he has one at all, after overcoming childhood cancer. When you take a guy who underwent weeks of chemotherapy and invasive operations at nine years old, its a miracle that they are able to participate in sports at a high level, let alone the making an MLB Debut just seven years after his cancer went into remission.

If you want someone with a longer Twins career, I’ll go with any of the Cuban players of the 1940’s-1960’s. The most noteworthy of this group would be Tony Oliva, Camilo Pascual, and Zoillo Versalles. The Twins/Senators were among the biggest employer of players from Cuba in this period, and as the leagues were just being integrated, it was a big deal. Calvin Griffith may have done poorly in race-relations, but his father did great things for Latino baseball players.

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Late addition:

John Foley

No list of Twins underdogs can be complete with including the great Johan Santana. It’s hard to think of him as an underdog now – but when he started out, he was the epitome of underdog. Santana first started his path in organized ball as an outfielder in the Astros Venezuelan amateur training academy in 1995. He was quickly converted to the mound and signed officially with the Astros as a 16-year-old, for just a $15,000 bonus. After four minor league seasons, Santana had reached only the Class A Midwest League, where he posted a 4.66 ERA. The following offseason he was selected second in the Rule 5 draft by Miami, who traded him AND $50,000 to the Twins for minor league righty Jared Camp (who never reached the majors). Santana spent 2000 and 2001 in mostly mop-up duty for the Twins big club, posting a combined 5.90 ERA and walking 4.86 batters per nine innings. Never viewed as a top prospect, Baseball Prospectus said “his likely career is as a lefty specialist” before the 2002 season.

Santana began 2002 in Triple A, where he honed what would become his vaunted changeup under Bobby Cuellar’s tutelage, and the rest, as they say, is history. Recalled to the majors for good later that 2002 season, Santana would go on to become the Twins’ unlikely Ace and post the following numbers for six more seasons in Minnesota: 93-41 W-L, 3.22 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.31 FIP, 141 ERA+, 35.8 bWAR

From 2004 to 2006, a credible case can be made that Santana was the best pitcher in baseball and he took home two American League Cy Young Awards in 2004 and 2006. In 2005 he finished 3rd in the voting, although there is a good argument to be made that he should have won three Cy Youngs in a row. As we know now, Santana’s success likely priced him out of the Minnesota market for a long-term extension and he was somewhat unceremoniously traded to the Mets in the 2007-2008 offseason.

By almost any measure, Santana turned into one of the best pitchers in franchise history. Had injuries not cut his career short, Santana was on a Hall of Fame path. The five-year peak from 2004-2008 is among the best ever, never finishing lower than fifth in the Cy Young Voting. Not bad for an underdog signed for a $15K bonus and a scout’s projection as a likely lefty specialist.


Do you agree with any of our answers in particular? Or disagree? Or are there any obvious answers we missed? That’s what the comments are for!