For the first time in Twins history, the two top players in the minor league system are from Minnesota.
Matt Wallner of Forest Lake is the minor league player of the year and Louie Varland of Maplewood is the pitcher of the year, for the second consecutive season.
Both started the season at Class AA Wichita before ascending to Class AAA St. Paul. They also made their major league debuts, and then some, in September.
"The Minnesota connection is just wild to me," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That part of it is cool."
Baldelli would know. He spent one year playing for the Red Sox, close to his native Rhode Island. He remembers how hectic that can be with family and friends always coming to games and asking for tickets.
Varland got his first major league victory in Wednesday's 10-1 season finale in Chicago, going five shutout innings. Wallner contributed an RBI single as the Twins finished 78-84 and in third place, 14 games behind first-place Cleveland in an American League Central they led for much of the season.
The potential of rookies like Varland and Wallner, though, provides some hope for next season and beyond.
"[I] really am hoping they establish themselves and become big parts of what we're doing moving forward," Baldelli said.
Wallner played collegiately at Southern Mississippi. The 39th overall pick in the 2019 draft was a top clutch hitter in the Twins' system this year with 95 RBI. In all, he hit .277 with 32 doubles, four triples, 27 home runs, 90 runs and a .953 OPS in 128 minor league games. He homered in the All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium, and went 13-for-57 with two home runs in his 18 major league games.
"It's been, I think, a good year overall," Wallner said. "So I was able to kind of basically stay healthy the whole year, and that was the biggest accomplishment, honestly. But just made some adjustments coming in and was able to kind of stay steady throughout the year."
Varland stuck close to home for most of his life. He went from North St. Paul High School to Concordia of St. Paul, the Twins taking him in the 15th round of the 2019 draft. In the minors this year, he was 8-5 for a 3.06 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 146 strikeouts (the most in the Twins' system). He joins Jose Berrios as the only pitcher to win back-to-back pitcher of the year awards.
In five major league starts, the 24-year-old Varland managed a 3.81 ERA with 21 strikeouts.
"I tried a lot of different things early on. I think by the end now, I'm a better pitcher now than I was at the start of the season," Varland said. "I've improved, I'm happy with the season, and I'm ready for the offseason."
Both will have the benefit of major league experience to guide their offseason work. And both are certainly eager to keep developing. Wallner has high standards for his play, often critiquing his own swing or approach even when he has multiple RBI in a game. Varland is always quick to point out the other successful young pitchers in the Twins' ranks, naming Cody Laweryson, Brent Headrick and Simeon Woods Richardson as players who deserved the award.
While Wallner and Varland are proud Minnesotans who have played for the hometown crowd at Target Field, there might be just one area where the state pride has to reckon with reality. Wallner will spend his next few months in Mississippi, away from the snow and cold.
"It's easier than Minnesota in the offseason for me," he said with a grin.