A Crowded Twins Outfield Dilemma – When Baseball Returns

Brent Rooker, Minnesota Twins Spring Training, March 3, 2019 - photo credit Bryan Green on Flickr

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease in North America (and the world) has thus far postponed the 2020 major and minor league seasons with the potential of even cancelling them altogether. Before I go any further, I want to point out how serious the virus is and that the loss of health, employment and lives are the most important things happening in the world. That being said, for the point of this piece, I will be discussing the Minor League Baseball implications of a non-existent season and what that means going forward.

If there is no baseball in 2020, which I believe will be the case, there are some serious repercussions before we move forward. First and foremost, baseball is a money-making sport, and not all owners are created equally in the wallet. Some franchises are very rich and can afford to spend money on players in free agency. Other teams don’t have that luxury and either pinpoint their big acquisition or spend as little as possible. All owners will be losing money this year, and will probably be looking to keep as much of it as they can in 2021. One such strategy would be to hold back prospects in order to gain an extra year of control over their minor league contracts. I think we will see a) many prospects therefore held back in the minor leagues, thus delaying their debut in the majors and b) owners wanting to play their bigger named players under contracts to get more value out of them.

Where does this leave the Minnesota Twins? They look in line to compete in 2020, and if a season does begin, they’ll likely be near the top of the standings with regards to winning a division and probably even the American League. They’re that good on paper, and therefore already have the talent required to be successful.

Which brings me to their farm system. Already loaded with talent, and one of the best in all of baseball, the Twins have a lot of their own highly ranked prospects with an ETA of 2020 or 2021. Will an entire year away from baseball cause all of those ETA’s to be pushed back at least half a year? Will the Twins, known for years as tight spenders and saving money (as a small market team), hold back their ready prospects to earn an extra year of control?

I recently posted a question on Twitter, asking people’s opinions on what the Twins will do with their soon to be crowded outfield:

I got some interesting responses, but a lot of them had to do with Byron Buxton and him not living up to his full potential. As a fantasy player, he was someone owners drooled about with five-tool potential. However, in his four years since being called up, he’s only once had a relatively healthy season.

With an upcoming arbitration case pending, would the Twins decide to move on? Could they re-sign him while they keep their prospects down and then attempt to trade him for pitching? Before those questions get answered, the Twins would need to look in the mirror and see if what they have waiting in the wings can be as good, if not better than what they have. Near the top of their prospect food chain are the following players.

Brent Rooker, OF/1B

Rooker has been known for his raw power. Like I’ve said before, his glove and footwork are a work in progress, and that might make him a negative in the outfield. I’ve thought of him as their next DH, and I stand by that notion. His bat is ready and he doesn’t have much else to prove behind the plate. He could easily step in and be a bench bat who comes in late in games, or gives Nelson Cruz a night off. Either way, he is ready and can be an asset for the Twins whenever baseball resumes.

Trevor Larnach, OF

Larnach had arguably the best season last year by any offensive Twins‘ prospect in terms of growth and production. He showed patience at the plate all year and was able to tap into his lower body power to drive the ball far. His extra base hits should really be considered an indication of power down the road. While he did well in 2018, it was 2019 that was his coming out party, and I believe the Twins want to keep the ball rolling. He’s arguably their best prospect asset with regards to a trade for a specific need, ideally starting pitching. He could bring in someone to help them down the stretch if need be.

Alex Kirilloff, OF

Kirilloff finished off 2019 with a bang and entered Spring Training with the confidence and work ethic needed to succeed at the major league level. Even management has said that he looks poised to be a major league player. They experimented with him at first base last season and planned on finishing that development this year. Could that be his saving grace to remain with the Twins‘ organization? Time will only tell, but we’ve never seen Miguel Sano play first base consistently and don’t know how that will go. I do think experience at the corner infield spot is key.

When it comes down to it, the likeliest scenario I see is for the Twins to keep their minor league players down on the farm until they officially gain that extra year of eligibility and control. It only makes sense for a smaller market team to do so. As a result, the players mentioned above, and all others within the organization, need to be re-evaluated with regards to their rankings. Sure, the talent is there, and it’s not going anywhere, but the time from which that talent can be used on a major league level will undoubtedly be compromised. That being said, someone within the organization will get moved. There are just too many players with potential here and not enough spots to play. My pick would be to trade away Byron Buxton, preferably to a team that feels that they can capitalize on his potential. His injuries have plagued the Twins in the past.

My order of call ups are also as follows for both scenarios:

Baseball begins in 2020

Trevor Larnach – beginning of 2021
Alex Kirilloff – mid 2021
Brent Rooker – late 2020

Baseball begins in 2021

Trevor Larnach – mid 2021
Alex Kirilloff – September 2021
Brent Rooker – May 2021

Dave Funnell covers the Minnesota Twins minor leagues for Prospects1500. Located just south of Toronto in the city of Hamilton, he's an hour away from Buffalo (and the Bisons). He's been a fan of baseball his entire life and doesn't have a favorite team, which hopefully gives way for objectivty in analysis. Dave is in multiple keeper fantasy baseball leagues and is active on Twitter at @sportz_nutt51.

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