2021 is pretty well wrapped up and done for Twins fans. Many have packed it in, so the fun part now is watching some of the young guns get their shot. Maeda likely missing all of 2022 was just another blow the Twins did not need, so where is the hope for next year?
Let’s begin with the two who rose to stardom this year, at least in Minneapolis, scratch that...at least in Target Field. Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. Kirilloff will be 24 next season. Wrist surgery cut his rookie season short, but he will continue to play a big role for the Twins whether it’s at 1B or in a corner outfield position. This year he battled this injury since May and finished his season .251/.299/.423 with 8 HR in 215 AB. The hype for this guy has been constant. It’s part of the reason Eddie Rosario was not needed on this team, so hopefully, 2022 brings Twins fans a healthy Alex Kirilloff.
Trevor Larnach was one of the most predictable callups ever. He filled a need and struck out a ton. In 260 AB he went .223/.322/.350 with 7 HR. This is his mantra though - big hit or strike three. We saw it at Oregon State, in the minor leagues and now the big league level. He needs more control at the plate though, or he will not be successful. This style of play apparently is only acceptable from Miguel Sano. Larnach whiffed on or looked at strike three more than 100 times in his 79 games with the big league club. He does fill a need in a corner outfield spot, and his defense is adequate.
Next, let’s talk about the Twins baby Jesus, Royce Lewis. He tore his ACL in February, and not that he was going to be the Twins starting SS this year, Twins signed Andrelton Simmons to a 1-year, $10.5 million contract in the meantime. Lewis is the Twins top prospect. When he returns to play again, because of the 2020 COVID season, it will have been two years since he played professional ball. The 22-year-old who was the first overall pick by the Twins in 2017 is a five-tool player - hits well, has power, speed, good fielder and strong arm. In his 2019 season he spent time in low and high A and AA. Lewis can play all over the field, but the Twins hope to solidify him at SS. His speed will make him a base-stealing threat, something Minnesota has not been overly acquainted to in the past couple decades. His nine-month ACL recovery takes him to the end of 2021. Because of his lack of experience at the big league level, hopefully, Twins fans will get a taste of Royce Lewis in 2022 if all things go according to plan.
When the Twins traded Jose Berrios, I have to admit, I was not thrilled. Not because I am a huge Berrios fan, but because with this Twins pitching staff, coupled with a few decent signings, I still just didn’t see how the Twins could possibly succeed in 2022 without him. This being said, both the Berrios trade and Cruz trade ended in the Twins favor. Like Lewis, Austin Martin, who we got in return for Berrios, is another 22-year-old SS who has seen AA time. The best thing about Martin is he knows how to work the strike zone. The guy puts the ball in play, uses the whole field and has good control at the plate. While it may be hard to solidify a defensive position for Martin down the road, if La Tortuga can play all over the field, I’d say there will be opportunity for Austin.
Simeon Woods Richardson was the other piece of the Berrios trade. The right-handed pitcher is someone to keep an eye out for. He was drafted when he was only 17, and now at 20 years old he is the perfect pitcher to develop. He has a bigger frame at 6’3, 210lbs and he throws a mid-90s fastball. Development, development, development. Let’s see what the Twins pitching staff could do for Woods Richardson. Likely his velocity could tick up a bit, and he could be very successful down the road.
We saw him earlier this week. We saw him in the Olympics. We saw his success already with the Saints. While Joe Ryan recorded the loss in his Twins debut, that really didn’t have much to do with him. Brent Rooker had two hits in the game, and those were the only two hits by Minnesota. Ryan gave up one home run, and that would be the game. Twins lose 3-0 Ryan tabbed the loss. In his major league debut against a pretty poor Cubs team, Ryan struck out 5 and gave up 3 hits in 5 IP.
Ryan’s low 90s fastball does a good job of finding the spot which is not what you almost ever see with harder throwers, making it, some argue, more effective. In this case, I think it’s what we will find. His command and deceptive delivery will make for a fun September and beyond for Twins fans, hopefully getting to see him start a few more times in 2021. The Nelson Cruz trade was the best thing that could have happened for Ryan, now seeing big league batters on a team only looking to next year.
Fun fact, Ryan has the same birthday as Royce Lewis. It’s June 5th. Royce is three years younger though. Oh, also Joe’s mom’s name is Terry. He’s meant to be in Minnesota.
Another arm in the Cruz trade was Drew Strotman. The RHP immediately made some starts with the St. Paul Saints. His ERA ballooned a bit with his new team, but he is a strikeout pitcher with above-average velocity on his fastball.
Saints starting pitcher Jhoan Duran with his 100+ mph fastball has been on everyone’s radar for a while now. In an ‘Ordinary World’ (bad joke) he would be already pitching for the Twins as a starter or reliever, but injuries and the COVID season have held him back. The Dominican-native standing 6’5 was one of two players the Twins got in return for Eduardo Escobar. Better developing his curve and having more command with his heat could result in Duran being a force for the Twins. An elbow strain and trapezius (traps, back of neck, upper shoulders) issue kept Duran from a successful 2021 season, limiting him to only 16 innings with the St. Paul Saints.
Soon to be 23-year-old, yes another RHP, Jordan Balazovic has been working his way up the Twins farm system. The 6’5 Canadian was drafted by the Twins in 2016 and plays for the Wichita Wind Surge. He’s a strikeout pitcher with a mid 90s fastball. His command is what can take him to the next level. He throws strikes. While his 2021 AA numbers are nothing to write home about, he is still considered a top 5 Twins prospect.
Lastly, Jose Miranda, my guy. Why? Because he hits for contact. The guy hits the ball. He is batting .331 with the Saints and was batting .345 with AA Wichita. Combined he has hit 25 home runs in 2021. He’s doing it right. The 23-year-old Puerto Rican can play all over the infield and is the perfect utility player for the Minnesota Twins. He has predominantly been at 3B with the Saints. Maybe later this month he will get his shot against big-league pitching. He will. He should. I hope.
These are a few of the prospects to watch for.
As we look ahead to the rest of September, it’s exciting. The Twins have Buxton back, Polanco is hot and we could actually see an optimistic end to the season.
The young players in the system, combined with Buxton, Arraez, Polanco and dare I say it, Sano, the Twins could yet again have another solid offense in 2022. STAYING HEALTHY and properly developing some of these young assets will be key.
We will talk about the pitching rotation another day....
Side note: For anyone wondering why it’s called the ‘farm system’ it’s because these young players are being groomed for the top level. Just like cows/calves are groomed and cared for, to make it to the top level, aka my belly. Seems morbid, but it’s true. Cows live a good life though. Look at the beautiful Illinois calves frolicking in the pasture in the photo with this story. Picture courtesy of my sister, Katie.