DENVER – When the Twins clinched their American League Central title with a victory over the Los Angeles Angels last week, it was Edouard Julien who, perhaps fittingly, fielded the final out.
Julien, who struggled mightily with his defense at the beginning of the season, moved forward on a slow roller on the left side of second base and fired a throw to first on the run to kickstart the celebration. In a season the Twins received contributions from many surprise players, especially their rookie class, Julien as a defender helped secure a playoff spot.
The last out, Julien said, was special because Twins minor league infield coordinator Tucker Frawley was at the game. Frawley worked with Julien for years on his defense, giving him practice plans during his minor league seasons and offseasons.
"He was like, 'You made the last out. This video is going to be on repeat,' " Julien said. "It was cool."
At the beginning of the season, Julien's defense was a liability. In June, he had a three-game stretch where he was pulled by the eighth inning in each of them for defensive reasons.
Julien won't fool anyone for a Gold Glove defender, but he has turned himself into a serviceable infielder. For as well as he hits, that's a positive. His defense is rated at one out below average, according to Statcast's fielding metrics. Sports Info Solutions says his defense has been worth negative-three defensive runs saved.
"He can go out and do his job now in the big leagues," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I like what I've seen. He still has a ways to go, just like every one of those guys in the locker room."
In the second half of the season, Julien displayed better range and made more accurate throws. The Twins coaching staff says the credit belongs to the 24-year-old and how he's willing to take ground balls before every game.
"His work ethic is second to none," Twins infield coach Tony Diaz said. "He really works at it. He's really committed. When you couple that type of work ethic with his desire to be good, that's what you get. You get better."
Said Julien: "My biggest mentality when I was young was: 'If you hit, you can hit your way to the big leagues.' I took pride in my hitting ability. Now that I'm over here, I know my defense is much more important, even near my bat. It's just a big thing for me."
Working with Diaz, Julien has worked on his first step and the final step he takes before a pitch is thrown. Those are the little things that add up to more range.
"I've gotten much better if the ball is five feet to me and I'm getting better at the balls 10 feet to me," Julien said. "I just have to keep doing it. Double play feeds, double play turns, all that stuff. I've just been so much better. I'm more comfortable."
With Royce Lewis tending to a hamstring strain and possibly starting as the designated hitter in the wild-card series, Julien will likely start at second base in playoff games against righthanded pitching. A few months ago, that would have been cause for concern.
"Even a few months ago, he was head and shoulders above the defender he was the previous year," Baldelli said. "It started with our player development group. When he first signed, I think there was a lot of discussion about if he was even going to have a position. He went from that to a stage where he was in grind mode."
At this time last year, Julien was preparing to play in the Arizona Fall League. The Twins wanted him to play there after the minor league season ended to receive some additional seasoning with his defense.
Now, one of his defensive plays will show up on the season's highlight reel.
"I thought I felt good back then, in the Fall League, and now I feel even better," Julien said. "I can't even imagine what I'm going to feel like next year or in two years."