The 2019 Bomba Squad Twins are remembered for a lot of things, not the least of which are their MLB-record 307 home runs and a 101-win regular season.
Within a lineup of steady mashers, three former heralded prospects turned everyday players — all of them who had been with the organization for a decade — took a major step forward that season:
Miguel Sanó shook off a terrible 2018 season in which he hit just .199 to hit a career-high 34 home runs and post a .923 OPS.
Max Kepler, whose steady rise seemed to be hitting a plateau after three similarly decent seasons from 2016-18, mashed 36 home runs, played excellent defense and even garnered two MVP votes.
Jorge Polanco, already established as a solid everyday player, took a leap with 69 extra-base hits and an All-Star nod while going to the plate a staggering 704 times.
Kepler and Polanco had signed five-year extensions (both with varying team options) before the 2019 season, and the Twins had every reason to believe both deals would turn out to be bargains. Sanó signed a three-year extension in 2020.
All three players, signed at age 16 as amateur free agents during maligned former GM Bill Smith's signature 2009 offseason, were in their age 26 season in 2019 and looked like they would be filling three of the top six spots in a productive Twins' lineup for years to come.
But as Star Tribune columnist La Velle E. Neal III and I talked about on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, all three have regressed during what should have been their prime.
Sanó's decline was the most dramatic and publicized. He smashed 44 homers in 808 plate appearances from 2020-2022, but he also struck out a mind-boggling 298 times. A knee injury ended any flicker of a revival in 2022. The Twins are paying him $3 million to not play in 2023, and he hasn't caught on with another team.
Kepler's plummet has flown under the radar but is getting more attention lately as a symbol of a punchless lineup. Since the start of the 2020 season, Kepler is hitting just .217 with a .697 OPS — disappointing for any corner outfielder, let alone someone with Kepler's 2019 credentials. This year, those marks are .189 and .631.
Polanco gets the largest pass of the three. He had a tremendous 2021 season (33 homers, .826 OPS), but injuries derailed him in 2020 and have limited his availability the last two seasons. After appearing in 94% of Twins games from 2019-21, Polanco has appeared in just 59% since then.
The Twins had MLB's second-best OPS in 2019. Since then, they have not ranked in the top 10 and this year are all the way down at No. 21. There are other reasons the Twins' lineup has declined relative to the rest of MLB, but having three core players who should be in their primes all deliver less than expected results is a significant factor.
Here are four more things to know today:
*Things are going great for the PGA as more players talk about the bombshell merger. And by great, I mean not great at all.
*If you think there is too much negative talk in Twin Cities sports, perhaps you will like the Minnesota Aurora. The women's soccer team is undefeated, as will happen when you are outscoring opponents 20-0 on the season.
*Mandatory Vikings minicamp is next week. Deadlines tend to spur action, so let's see what the status of Justin Jefferson and Danielle Hunter's participation is by then — as well as whether Dalvin Cook is still on the team.
*The Twins lead the AL Central by 3.5 games with the same record (31-30) as the Red Sox, the last-place team in the American League East.