The Twins’ latest trick was winning a game Thursday with a two-out, ninth-inning home run from a guy who might have been close to a demotion. The homer beat a team that had not blown a late-game lead all season and gave the Twins a win for the first time when trailing after seven innings.
Kennys Vargas’ winner was the second-most surprising dramatic home run of the day, ranking behind Joe Mauer’s two-out, game-tying home run in the eighth.
The Twins finished their four-game duel with the St. Louis Cardinals, AKA The Best Team In Baseball Under FBI Investigation, with two victories, a 36-30 record and a pretend playoff spot in late June. Just as important, there is no way for the Cardinals to hack into Terry Ryan’s three-ring binder.
If the Twins keep this up, soon there will be calls to trade a few of their many estimable prospects for “veteran” help to make the playoffs.
If Thursday’s playoff-quality victory proved anything, it would be that the Twins would be wise to continue investing faith and time in their best young players.
A year after looking precocious, Vargas often has looked lost, but he can do what many fundamentally sound, experienced players cannot — hit a mistake over the fence.
Sixteen at-bats into his big-league career, Byron Buxton has two hits. He’s also covered more ground at Target Field than Kentucky bluegrass.
The Twins demoted Danny Santana when he began taking defensive at-bats, but he’s still the best big-league-ready shortstop in the system and should be recalled as soon as his mind clears.
Eddie Rosario lacks the raw speed and power of the Twins’ top position-playing prospects, but he has shown savvy beyond his years.
Miguel Sano is the Twins’ best power-hitting prospect since Justin Morneau, and could outperform any slugger the Twins might consider acquiring in a trade.
The Twins’ flaws are a shallow lineup and a shallow bullpen. Both could be fixed from within.
Ervin Santana will be back within three weeks, meaning one of the Twins’ current starters could become bullpen help. Top prospect Alex Meyer has been adapting to a bullpen role. And for perhaps the first time in franchise history, the farm system is filled with power relievers.
Let these young players learn to win, or even lose, together, and the benefits will be seen in the future.
There is one nagging problem with the Twins’ best prospects migrating to the big leagues all at once. Sano has been exclusively a third baseman this season. Trevor Plouffe has excelled at the position this season.
The Twins could trade Plouffe for pitching help and install Sano at third, but this team would be better with both in the same lineup.
So where else can Sano play?
Put him in left, and you have to bench Rosario. Mauer, the first baseman, is a $23-million-a-year player with a no-trade clause and, even after his home run Thursday, a can’t-trade stat line. The fan base has gone from wishing he would play every day to wishing he wouldn’t.
Make Sano a designated hitter, and you displace Vargas.
Handling the Sano/Plouffe decision will be the biggest challenge of the season for Ryan and Paul Molitor.
Sano is a remarkable talent. Plouffe is a former first-round draft pick who has developed into a fine player and team leader. Trading Plouffe this summer might cost the Twins a playoff spot, since there is no guarantee that Sano is ready to take good at-bats against big-league pitching or to field proficiently in a pennant race.
My imperfect solution: Overload the roster with talent. Call up Sano when he proves ready, and be happy to have a power bat on the bench when Sano and Vargas don’t fit into the same lineup. Go ahead and move Sano around to keep him in the lineup five or six times a week.
If Sano doesn’t thrive under that plan you can always send him back down, but as Vargas proved Thursday, you should always bet on, and be patient with, raw talent.