In case any of you have been living under a rock, the Twins front office actually did something and signed a new starting shortstop in former Angel Andrelton Simmons. Simmons carries with him a reputation as one of the best defensive shortstops of the past 20 years, which represents a significant upgrade over Jorge Polanco’s middling-to-poor defense at the shortstop position.
The Twins have been a generally poor defensive squad for the past few years, and haven’t really been elite for a long time now. However, that started to turn around last year, and with this signing, I fully expect the Twins to be one of the best defensive teams in the league in 2021.
Remember when Josh Donaldson signed here, and we were all excited because he not only represented a dramatic defensive upgrade over Miguel Sano, but his increased range would also help cover for Polanco’s weaknesses? The acquisition of Simmons may have even greater butterfly effects. Not only are you replacing a below-average defender at the most important infield position with an elite one, but you are also (reportedly) replacing a below-average second baseman with a shortstop who should be able to acquit himself well with the lesser demands of that side of the diamond.
Yes, according to reports, Polanco will be sliding over to second base, with Luis Arraez used in a Marwin Gonzalez-esque role. His bat in this role will certainly be an upgrade over Marwin’s. It remains to be seen how his glove will hold up in extended time at other positions, but he certainly seemed willing and able to give left field his all when he was thrown out there periodically in 2019.
So, let’s assume the team starts the year in good health (*knock on wood*). Here’s the defensive lineup.
C- Ryan Jeffers (great) or Mitch Garver (average)
Ryan Jeffers was, for my money, the Twins rookie of the year last year. He started out in the minors with a bat-first reputation, but the Twins have developed him wonderfully into an elite pitch framer. Mitch Garver has also come a long way to simply be average.
1B- Miguel Sano (at least average)
Sano is actually somewhat of a question mark at first base. Last year, his athleticism translated very well, although he was prone to some positioning and mental errors, especially on balls between him and the second baseman. He rated at 1 out above average according to baseballsavant.mlb.com, and stands to see some improvement in his second year at the position.
2B- Jorge Polanco (?)
I already spoke on this somewhat above, but I have pretty high hopes for a healthy Polanco at a less demanding position. We will see.
3B- Josh Donaldson (great)
Known quantity. Just needs a calf transplant.
SS- Andrelton Simmons (elite)
LF- Alex Kirilloff? (?)
Left field isn’t really set in stone at this point, and the in-organization options such as Kirilloff or Brent Rooker (sorry, Jake Cave) are generally unknown quantities defensively. Rooker and Kirilloff don’t project to be elite, but we really don’t know whether that means they’ll be above-average, below it, or awful.
CF- Byron Buxton (the best)
Pairing Buxton with Simmons and Jeffers gives the Twins perhaps the best group of up-the-middle defenders in the entire league (not to mention elite pitcher defense from Maeda or Berrios). He is the single biggest defensive difference-maker in baseball.
RF- Max Kepler (elite)
Kepler has often been displaced by Buxton’s frequent injuries, but few men play a better right field than the young German. Especially in Target Field, right field can be a very tricky position, but Kepler handles it with great skill.
All in all, for the first time in many years, the Twins will field a defense that any pitcher would love to have behind him. It should be a joy to watch the highlight factory that will result from having Buxton and Simmons on the same field, and with those two surrounded by mostly plus defenders, it’s really an embarrassment of riches.