Much has been made about the Twins’ defense (or lack thereof) over the last decade or so. While the signing of Andrelton Simmons last season signaled a return to the Piranha values of old, the free agent didn’t exactly pan out for a disappointing 2021 squad. After a busy off-season, have Levine and Falvey put together one of the better defensive squads in the league? Let’s inspect this position-by-position.
This grade is dragged down considerably by backup Gary Sanchez, who is to catching as (White Sox LF) Eloy Jimenez is to outfielding- not only bad, but a hazard to himself and everyone around him. On the other hand, young starter Ryan Jeffers has developed into one of the better pitch-framers in the league, which is hugely valued in today’s game. You’d like to see him throw out a few more runners, but adjusting for that may harm his pitch framing numbers. I don’t put too much stock in passed balls due to the variables involved (pitchers & sample size).
First Base- D
Not looking so good so far. While one could argue Sano was still getting used to the position last year, there is no positive spin I can put on the 4th percentile in Outs Above Average and dead last among qualified first basemen in fielding percentage. He was much better according to my eye test, which gives me hope for improvement, but I’m not holding my breath. Kirilloff only has a little more than 200 big-league innings under his belt at first base so far, but looks the part and has the athleticism to be a great defensive first baseman. It remains to be seen how much time he will get there- I’m literally begging Falvey and Levine to sign Michael Conforto for left field, move Kirilloff to first, and have Sano be the main DH.
Second Base- C+
Another player where my eyes have deceived me, I thought that Polanco was a plus defender at second base last year. The numbers tell a different story, but unlike with Sano, I’m giving Jorge the benefit of the doubt and banking on improvement after his first full year at a new position.
Third Base- C
One of the imports from the Yankees in the Josh Donaldson trade, Urshela has a reputation of being a solid fielding third baseman. The numbers leave a bit to be desired, but Urshela should benefit from playing next to a great defensive shortstop (which he did not have with the Yankees), and can even play some shortstop himself in a pinch.
The crown jewel of the off-season, Carlos Correa is, simply put, as good as it gets at shortstop. He was crowned the best defender in the AL in 2021, winning the Platinum Glove (previously awarded to one of our outfielders). At perhaps the most important defensive position, the Twins are top of the class.
Infield Bench- C
Luis Arraez, like his batting-box comparison Tony Oliva, has had his defensive ability hampered by lower-body injuries for multiple years now. It is clear that he will never be a great defender at any position, but there’s reason to hope that he will be an average defensive utility man. Nick Gordon, the long-time shortstop prospect, should be able to perform well on defense at multiple positions- his fielding percentages here are taken from wildly irresponsible small sample sizes. Additionally, his OAA is brought down from the innings he spent in centerfield last year, a position he learned on the fly.
Left Field- C-
Another pitiful sample size at play here, but Kirilloff was what he was expected to be- a slightly below-average defensive outfielder. He can be expected to hold his own out there. Think of Eddie Rosario- but instead of the astonishing highs and mind-numbing lows, Kirilloff will arrive at the same defensive level through consistent play. Of course, with the guy who plays next to him in the outfield, limited range isn’t too much a concern.
Perhaps the single most impactful defender in all of baseball, I don’t need to tell you just how good the former Platinum-Glover is in the field. He’s breathtaking, and only needs to stay healthy to win an MVP this year. The Twins are stronger up the middle with Correa and Buxton than any team in the league, and the defense as a whole should reap the benefits.
Right Field- A+
We may have doubts about Kepler at the plate, but he is unassailable as a fielder out in right. He’s been deserving of a Gold Glove for awhile now, as he puts to use great reads off the bat to get a good jump and cover his range in right field with ease. He’s also able to play a passable centerfield in a pinch, although with Celestino and Gordon on the roster, I don’t foresee much of that for Max this year.
Outfield Bench- A
More small sample sizes! Nick Gordon, despite never playing outfield in the minors, picked it up on the fly last year and acquitted himself about as well as could be expected. He has the wheels to succeed in center, and spent a little time at both corner positions as well. Celestino, on the other hand, is a career centerfielder who has a reputation of being a stellar fielder, and I’m not going to be swayed from that by his small sample size from when injuries pushed him into action before he was ready last year.
Overall Defensive Grade- B+
This grade is weighted with the Twins’ excellence at the important positions of centerfield and shortstop. Correa should help cover Urshela’s warts and Polanco should see improvement at second base, and the outfield is capable in left and elite at the other two positions. If Gary Sanchez is pressed into regular action at catcher, that would bring this down a bit, but I could see Ryan Jeffers taking 100 games behind the plate this year if he stays healthy. All in all, the Twins’ defense should be among the top handful of teams in the league and is receiving a “GOOD” stamp from me.