Bill Smith did plenty of things wrong during his tenure as Twins GM, including questionable decisions on three trades — Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Wilson Ramos — that contributed to the ultimate demise of the franchise this decade. But I’ve come here to praise Smith, not bury him — and the praise has nothing to do with the fact that, you know, the Twins won two division titles and almost won a third in his four season at the helm.
If there is one thing Smith can feel particularly good about from his time as Twins’ GM, it is the work he and his staff did in the international free agent market in 2009. That signaled the start of a re-commitment to international signings, with the Twins putting their money where their mouths were.
In particular, they shelled out close to $5 million combined for three guys who turned 16 that year: Miguel Sano ($3.15 million) as well as Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco ($700K+ each). Kepler and Polanco, in fact, signed on the very same day. (Photo above is of Sano and Kepler in March of 2010).
All three — each of whom is now 23 years old — have steadily made their way through the minor leagues, developing at various stages into three of the Twins’ best prospects. Sano jumped onto the scene in 2015, carrying the Twins’ offense in the final three months and finishing third in the Rookie of the Year chase. Kepler has done the same this year, launching 12 homers in his last 26 games. And the trade of Eduardo Nunez opened up a spot for Polanco in the big leagues recently.
On Tuesday night in Cleveland, they were all in the starting lineup for the Twins — the first time that has happened.
Kepler went 1-for-2 with three walks and a homer. Sano hit a two-run double. Polanco hit two doubles, a night after he had two triples. Kepler batted 3rd, Sano 4th and Polanco 8th.
In the not-too-distant future, all three could form the heart of the Twins’ order. If that happens — if they all not only stick in the big leagues but become above-average to great players — they could very well be part of a core that lifts the Twins out of the muck they’ve been in for much of the past six season.
It’s a mess that Smith very much helped make. But if Sano, Kepler and Polanco help get them out of it, don’t forget that all three of them signed in the same year — and don’t forget who was in charge when the Twins signed them.