An injection of talent and new ideas has fueled the Twins to a hot start and one of the best records in MLB. It might be hard to pick just one, but let’s try: Which new addition to the Twins has made the biggest impact in 2019?
First take: Michael Rand
The candidate list is almost as long as the 2020 presidential hopefuls. Manager Rocco Baldelli has pushed a lot of the right buttons so far; the Twins haven’t lost more than two consecutive games all season. Pitching coach Wes Johnson is doing big things with the staff.
Martin Perez has been a revelation in the starting rotation, while Blake Parker has helped hold the bullpen together.
C.J. Cron hits the ball hard and far, plus he gets a glove on pretty much everything he can see at first base. Jonathan Schoop has been very good at second base. Marwin Gonzalez is heating up.
But the individual I would pick is Nelson Cruz. Sure, the offense has kept humming along even while he’s been sidelined with a wrist injury for a few games. But he’s been everything advertised at the plate (seven homers, .862 OPS) and in the clubhouse.
More than that, he takes the pressure off a lot of the rest of the lineup.
Columnist Chip Scoggins
Cruz would be my choice if picking a player. His veteran leadership has helped create a positive, confident vibe in the clubhouse, in addition to his production as a hitter. But I’ve been impressed with Johnson, who leads a group effort of the analytics staff and coaches in implementing changes that have helped the pitching staff perform above expectations. Johnson helped Perez and Jake Odorizzi increase their velocity by making changes in their delivery. He has supported Perez in adding a cut fastball, which has become a dominant pitch for him. Johnson was viewed as an unconventional hire because he came directly from the college ranks, but his deep background in analytics and new-age methods have paid dividends.
Rand: Johnson is an interesting pick, and he might be my runner-up — though I wonder if that would be giving Baldelli too little credit? He’s the one, after all, who sets the day-to-day cultural tone that empowers Johnson to do his job.
Regardless, it’s telling that there are six or seven viable choices. Last year’s additions were largely flops (a reminder hammered home this week when the Twins designated Addison Reed for assignment).
Maybe Derek Falvey and Thad Levine learned from 2018?
Scoggins: Baldelli certainly deserves credit for the fast start because, you’re right, he’s responsible for setting the tone on a daily basis. He’s also made changes in routine and rest that are difficult to quantify but probably benefit player performance to some degree. The clubhouse chemistry just feels totally different this season. Winning helps, obviously. But Falvey and Levine learned a lesson last year about the importance of finding the right veteran personalities when constructing the roster.
Rand: And I’ll say this: I don’t recognize this Byron Buxton fella. Looks sort of like a player I saw the last few years, but this new guy might be the biggest upgrade of all.
Final word: Scoggins
Yes, this organizational cornerstone player looks like he’s starting to figure things out as a hitter. Now the other cornerstone player is back with the team so it’s time to see what Miguel Sano can deliver.