You couldn’t ask for a better start to the Twins’ 60-game season, leading the American League at 10-2 overall, winning three out of four from AL Central rival Cleveland at home and posting the seventh-most runs per game and allowing the third-fewest runs per game in the major leagues. It’s clear the Twins are one of two or three favorites to win the World Series.
Still, this hasn’t been a big surprise.
When MLB decided to allow teams to have 30-man rosters and a taxi squad to open this season because of the coronavirus, it gave the Twins a real advantage.
There aren’t many clubs that can say they won 101 games last season and also have one of the two or three best farm systems in the majors.
And when the front office went and made a number of key veteran additions in the offseason — including pitchers Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, and Tyler Clippard, third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Alex Avila — the team became arguably the deepest in baseball.
After the Twins’ 5-2 victory at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the club’s No. 4 RBI man is reserve outfielder Jake Cave, who scored the first run of the game.
Utility man Marwin Gonzalez is No. 2 on the club in batting average at .310 after going 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored against the Pirates. Avila has hit .250 with one homer and two RBI in only 12 at-bats.
But the pitching depth is even more evident.
With Bailey and Hill going on the 10-day injured list — and both are expected to return soon — the team has had to turn to young fill-in starters.
But unlike other clubs, the Twins have pitchers such as righthander Randy Dobnak (who started and pitched six shutout innings Wednesday) and lefthanders Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe ready to pitch after several successful starts last season.
Thorpe has made three appearances and one start this season, posting a 3.12 ERA over 8⅔ innings, while Dobnak has been one of the most surprising pitchers in baseball with a 0.60 ERA over 15 innings and four starts.
And on top of that, the team will get Jake Odorizzi — their best starter in 2019 — back off the IL soon, and Michael Pineda will be back with the club Aug. 31 after serving a 36-game suspension.
It’s incredible how this front office has turned the Twins into a contender not only for this season, but for years to come.
They haven’t even had to tap into top prospects such as infielder Royce Lewis, outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach and pitchers Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran as yet, but their time is coming.
The last time the Twins had this much depth was the early 2000s, when you had pros such as Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie and Brad Radke with the big-league club and minor leaguers such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Johan Santana coming up to join them.
Learning from Dad
Cave has to be one of the best trade-value pieces picked up by the front office in recent memory.
The Twins traded pitching prospect Luis Gil to the Yankees for Cave in 2018. Gil has shown flashes of talent in the Yankees farm system, with a 2.72 ERA between low-A and high-A ball last season and 123 strikeouts over 96 innings.
But in three seasons with the Twins, Cave has hit .259 while posting a .329 on-base percentage with 76 RBI and 84 runs scored in 168 games. He can play every outfield spot and has done a great job backing up Byron Buxton in center.
Cave told me during spring training that his father, Bryan Cave, was a great influence on him and helped him develop into the player he is now.
Bryan Cave has been the head baseball coach at the Apprentice School in Virginia for 46 years and has posted a 734-495-1 career record.
“My dad asks me questions, still to this day,” Jake said. “We live near each other and there’s a [batting] cage in between us. He’ll meet me in there and we’ll get the balls out and the tee and we’ll just hit. He’ll toss to me, work the machine for me, throw me a little BP if I need it. We really won’t breakdown mechanics or anything that much.
“We’ll just talk baseball and talk hitting and if there is something that he sees, he’ll point it out and if he’s right, I’ll be like, ‘Wow, you’re right.’ And then there will be times with a drill where he’s like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I’ll explain to him and then he can go to his guys and bring stuff back to them, too.”
There’s no doubt college coaches are getting a lot more recognition from MLB clubs, including the Twins bringing in pitching coach Wes Johnson before last season directly from a similar position at Arkansas. That had never been done in MLB history, but Cave said you can see changes happening in the relationship between colleges and the pros.
“I have a good friend from the Yankees organization, Danny Borrell. He was the pitching coordinator for them and now he’s the pitching coach at Georgia Tech,” Cave said. “They want to be competitive, they have a lot of money they can put in their organization, so why not use all the technology and all the resources you can and vice versa with Wes coming from Arkansas? They obviously had an unbelievable baseball program, they had a lot of means to figure stuff out. So when they talked to Wes, he knew everything the Twins wanted to do. It’s cool to see that.”
• Former Gophers pitcher Max Meyer, who was selected No. 3 overall in June’s MLB draft, was named the No. 42 prospect in baseball by MLB.com on Wednesday. Meyer still isn’t on the Marlins’ 40-man roster after the club dealt with several players testing positive for the coronavirus, so it might be difficult for him to break into the majors this season. Meyer did get a $6.7 million signing bonus. … Also on the MLB.com list was former Twins pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, who was traded to the Dodgers in the Maeda deal, at No. 94. The Twins had four prospects on the list: Lewis (No. 10), Kirilloff (No. 35), Larnach (No. 91) and Balazovic (No. 97).
• Good news for the Timberwolves: The Brooklyn Nets have won their first two games in the NBA bubble in Florida, meaning the Wolves are almost certain to get the Nets’ pick in the NBA draft, which was lottery-protected.
• Because former Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Knicks, the club should be off the hook for the final year of his five-year, $40 million contract he signed in 2016. The Knicks also signed Thibodeau to a five-year deal.