With the addition of Josh Donaldson, the Twins have completed a nine-man lineup that’s historic in its potential. All nine players projected to be in the Opening Day lineup had on-base-plus-slugging numbers above .800 in 2019, led by Nelson Cruz’s 1.031.
Considering the average American League player managed only a .762 mark, the Twins figure to have a chance to challenge the franchise record of 939 runs they scored last year. Donaldson (a .900 OPS) is effectively replacing C.J. Cron (.780), and Luis Arraez (.838) is taking over full-time for Jonathan Schoop (.777), giving the Twins nine hitters who rank among the most dangerous at their positions.
And while Donaldson, who came to the Twins via the free-agent market, will attract the most attention once the season begins, and Cruz was voted the Twins’ MVP after signing a free-agent contract of his own, the genesis of the rest of the lineup is what made those expensive signings possible. The other seven hitters, plus projected Opening Day starter Jose Berrios, were all originally drafted or signed by the Twins.
“It’s a tribute to the Minnesota Twins’ development and scouting departments, going back several years,” General Manager Thad Levine said. “Signing free agents is a supplemental strategy, employed with, you hope, some precision as you reach the point of [postseason] contention. But that approach is only worthwhile or fiscally viable if you have been effective in developing a nucleus of talent” worth supplementing.
In affording Donaldson and his $21 million annual salary, Levine said, “we are reaping the benefits of a lot of hard work by the people who identify and develop talented players who reach our team organically, through the minor league system.”
It’s a long process. Even the newest and youngest members of the starting lineup, 22-year-old second baseman Arraez, has been in the pipeline for more than six years, since signing as an amateur in 2013.
Catcher Mitch Garver was drafted in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, and the first round of the 2012 draft brought the Twins center fielder Byron Buxton and All-Star righthander Berrios. Left fielder Eddie Rosario, still only 28, was drafted two years before that, and the summer of 2009 brought the Twins three international players — Dominicans Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco, plus Max Kepler of Germany — who have all signed contracts that will take them into their 30s.
It will be the most homegrown Twins lineup in at least 15 years.
Graterol to bullpen
The Twins have pictured hard-throwing righthander Brusdar Graterol in their pitching rotation practically since he signed a contract in 2014. It’s looking less likely that it will ever happen.
That’s because Graterol, who pitched 10 games in relief last September for the Twins, will continue to train for a bullpen role, the team has decided. Levine told mlb.com on Monday that the 21-year-old Venezuelan will focus on one-inning assignments this spring.
“He’s a competitive advantage, and he can get big-league hitters out,” Levine said. “Now it’s up to us to try to put him in the best position to be able to get as many of them out as he possibly can without sustaining a risk of being injured.”
Graterol — the first Twins pitcher to throw 100 miles per hour in the major leagues since 2009 — missed the 2016 season and most of 2017 after undergoing elbow surgery, and he has never pitched more than 102 innings in a season. Levine told mlb.com that Graterol could still wind up as a starter, but the team is clearly intrigued by how he can help the big-league team now. Perhaps he eventually becomes a closer instead of an ace, the thinking goes.
• Pitching coach Wes Johnson has held in-person workouts with several of the pitchers on his staff this winter, and will continue that practice next week.
Johnson joined rookies Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer, plus veteran righthander Tyler Duffey, in Houston earlier this month to monitor their preparations for spring training. Next week, the Twins pitching coach is scheduled to join newly signed righthander Homer Bailey in Oklahoma, in order to get acquainted with the newest member of the starting rotation.
• Rocco Baldelli, who last winter traveled to Georgia to meet Buxton and to the Dominican Republic to visit Sano, said he has no such plans this winter. But new bench coach Mike Bell, hired in December to replace new Pirates manager Derek Shelton, visited the Twins manager in Rhode Island to begin planning spring training.
“I tried to get him as many excellent meals as I could in Rhode Island,” Baldelli joked.
• Saturday’s TwinsFest at Target Field is sold out.