The addition of Josh Donaldson means the Twins starting lineup is pretty much set — and could be more potent than last year’s offense that set an MLB record with 307 home runs.
But a lot of that depends on Twins hitters duplicating their 2019 success, which is no easy task. With that in mind, here’s the question: Which projected Twins starting position player has the most to prove next season?
First take: Michael Rand
Phew, there a lot of candidates when you really dig into this. Max Kepler, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano fit into the “prove you can do it again” category.
Donaldson and Nelson Cruz are in the “prove you are worth the money at your age” category.
Maybe Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco are in the “prove you are worth more on the field than as a trade chip” category.
But to me, the starter with the most to prove is Byron Buxton. He needs to prove he can stay healthy and that last year’s .827 OPS wasn’t a fluke.
Phil Miller: Buxton is a good one, but I wonder if he’ll be 100 percent healthy by Opening Day. Having your shoulder sewn up is some serious surgery, and though he’s apparently healing well it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts the season playing part-time.
You lumped Donaldson and Cruz in the same category, but their cases are completely different. Cruz was a relatively small investment that paid off like a lottery ticket.
Donaldson, on the other hand, is a walking rebuttal to the Pohlads-will-never-pay reputation that has dogged the Twins for decades, not that Donaldson cares or even realizes it.
He’s contributed at least five wins per replacement in six of the past seven seasons, though, which is the type of performance the Twins are paying for. But in this century only four players — Adrian Beltre, Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones and Larry Walker — have had more than one 5.0-WAR season after age 34.
Rand: Both of us picked arguably the best two-way players on the 2020 Twins — one who can anchor the outfield and the other the infield.
But I still think the answer is Buxton. Donaldson has three years left on his deal after this one and doesn’t have to be a hero in this lineup. If Buxton doesn’t break through with health and production this year, we will correctly wonder if it will ever happen.
Miller: Amazing to think that we may be approaching a sink-or-swim crossroads with a player who’s still only 26, but you might be right. This will somehow be his ninth season in the Twins organization, and I doubt there has been a more tantalizing talent to wear the uniform.
But the Twins are absolutely teeming with outfielders who appear headed toward big-league careers. They’ve drafted a few, such as Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker and Matt Wallner, traded for a couple such as Luke Raley and Gilberto Celestino, and sent former overall No. 1 pick Royce Lewis to center field during the Arizona Fall League, a precursor, some scouts believe, of a future move. So it’s not like the Twins won’t have any options if he gets hurt again.
Rand: But there’s still a chance for Buxton to consistently prove all the hype is justified.
Miller: I’ll say this: The Twins are a lot more fun when Buxton is healthy.