The 2021 season for the Minnesota Twins has been one of disappointment, heartache and angst. The team came into the year anticipating big things, as they had a lineup with proven talent, a pitching staff with proven veterans and a bullpen stocked with arms that have had closing success in the past. Over the past few months, injuries and underwhelming results have derailed any and all hope that the team had for postseason success, and the Twins find themselves in the middle of what could be described as a massive, albeit short, rebuild.
What potentially defines this rebuild as massive and short at the same time is also something that is somewhat unprecedented in professional sports, since the two words rarely go hand in hand. When a team rebuilds, they typically go all-in towards younger players that will eventually come into the league and produce but rarely are they so close to playing. The Twins, however, are a rare case, as both their pitching and hitting are about one or two years away from coming in together and making an impact. While I will go into more detail after the 2021 season (stay tuned for that in the fall and winter), I do want to dive deeper into one of the reasons behind that quick turnaround rebuild: Jose Miranda.
Signed out of Puerto Rico in the second round of the 2016 supplemental draft for a $775,000 slot, Jose Miranda struggled to hit in his first year within the Twins’ system. It was his first real exposure to professional hitting, and it showed, as this was the year where he had his highest K%, striking out 16.9% of the time with an 83 wRC+. However, not much will be made of this, as he was 18 years old, and the Twins saw something in him.
Miranda saw his power numbers soar, as he finished at the top of the Appalachian League in home runs hit, and posted his highest yearly slugging percentage prior to the 2021 breakout. He made massive gains in his strikeout rate as well, almost cutting it in half, as it dropped down to a mere 9.5%. With a .283/.340/.484 line, he was one of the most improved players in all of the Twins’ minor league system.
Miranda aggressively made his way through both A ball and High-A ball in 2018, and he demonstrated good bat-to-ball skills in both leagues. Combing for 133 hits over 552 plate appearances, Miranda showed an ability to make good contact and put the ball in play, though in hindsight that ability was also his weakness, as he rarely waited for his pitch to make the pitchers work the count. He flourished with a swing happy approach to hitting and barreling the ball, which is fine when you’re getting on base; as he advanced to High-A, he began seeing better placed pitches and starting missing those barrels and posted the highest groundball rate of his career.
As of one of the few organizational prospects with third base eligibility, Miranda was someone that I felt the Twins were going to take their time developing. After all, they had the promising Miguel Sano over there, while Luis Arraez could give him days off. In Miranda, they had someone with good contact skills, above-average power, and the ability to be a playmaker in the field.
— Alexis Farinacci (@AlexisFarinacci) July 27, 2019
All they needed was the right development, but it seemed that his 2019 was a lost season of treading water. While he did improve somewhat in High-A ball, he really didn’t excel at anything, as he finished with underwhelming numbers all around. Finishing with a .252/.302/.369 line and only eight home runs, Miranda seemed to be going through the same motions and not growing at all. His low strikeout rate continued due to his inability to wait for preferred pitches, and thus, despite his good-looking swing, wasted his at bats. Something had to change. With no other real third base prospects in the system, the Twins signed Josh Donaldson in the offseason to take over third base duties.
Miranda came into the 2020 year looking to build on a disappointing previous year by losing lost weight and increasing his agility. He attributed some of his sloppy 2019 season to his physical makeup, and made a deliberate effort to improve that before anything else. In the end, though, the pandemic took over the world, and the Minor League Baseball season was canceled. He worked with staff during the summer of 2020, as he was left off of the Minnesota Twins’ Summer Roster, and instead worked instructionally with the team to develop his game.
Last season with the Twins’ developmental team, they encouraged Miranda to be more disciplined at the plate and cut down his free swinging ways. They wanted him to make the pitcher work to attack him, not the other way around. It turns out that it was that previous over-aggression that actually led to his low strikeout and walk rate after all, but also to his low power numbers, since he wasn’t doing anything when he did swing. It’s hard to know exactly how good and how much he grew during the 2020 “season” since there were no real games and there was minimal video of anything that he did. As with any prospect on any team, stories of their accomplishments were likely over-hyped and under-hyped to fir the narrative they saw fit.
At the end of 2020, Miranda was Rule-5 Draft eligible as he was never added to the 40-man roster that season. No team claimed him and he remained a member of the Minnesota Twins. I noted about a year ago that he was surging upward at the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he finished with a .302/.377/.472 line and had seven extra base hits (albeit six of them were doubles). While I didn’t believe in him as much as I guess I should have in the past, I should have trusted my own way of thinking, as I’ve always believed that doubles are a precursor to future power. However, there was a lot more than that which helped attribute to his success.
What we’ve seen so far this year is one of the greatest minor league seasons in Twins’ history. He is tied for first of all Twins prospects in home runs (25), second in runs batted in (72), and leads everyone in batting average (.337) and hits (138). On top of that, he has the most of all Twins prospects in games played (98), plate appearances (457) and at bats (410). It’s essentially quality and quantity. So how is he doing this?
This was something, as mentioned, that was preached last year in an attempt to help take Miranda to the next level. He is now making pitchers work to get him out, which can be hard to do for young hitters so confident in their abilities and eager to prove themselves.
— Sully Engels (@sullyengels) May 16, 2021
He has such a great feel for pitching at the plate as he’s able to barrel the ball all over the strike zone.
— Tom Froemming (@TFTwins) June 30, 2021
By waiting, he’s made those pitchers pitch to him, and the results have shown. Look at the tables below, noting the differences over his last two seasons of games played.
Here is one example of how it pays to be patient. By free swinging at whatever the pitcher initially has to offer, the batter puts the hurler in control of the situation, leading the hitter to swing outside of the zone, off-centering their shifted weight and making contact that they shouldn’t. Instead this season, he’s making the pitcher work, and it’s paying dividends. It looks like he’s getting more favorable pitches later in the count, subsequently making the pitcher put the ball where he (Miranda) wants them. Even when he’s behind the count, you can see that he’s grown in his ability to see pitches as he’s still hitting the ball quite well. He’s developed in maturity and physicality. On top of that, here are some numbers over his entire 2021 campaign.
These are his personalized stats as of games concluded on August 26, 2021. The part that really gets to me is at the bottom of the chart, where he is mashing against pitchers that are older than him. And while that doesn’t necessarily translate into every pitcher of age being superior, it does mean that he’s holding his own against pitchers with experience. That being said, everything on that chart shows that he has made considerable strides in his development and approach and is having the year of his life. Other things of note, in 2021 Jose Miranda has:
- hit three home runs in a game once and two home runs in a game twice
- thirty-six multi-hit games
- ten three-hit games
- hit into only one double play
Jose Miranda is a strong dude. Here’s his 11th-inning home run from tonight, the 10th homer he’s hit in 37 games with the Saints and 20th overall on the season. pic.twitter.com/JvDq3fJT1X
— Tom Froemming (@TFTwins) August 12, 2021
There is a chance that they call him up in September to see what he can do against major league pitching.
2022 and beyond
Overall, you would be hard-pressed to find another prospect whose stock has risen as much as Miranda’s. While some of that has to do with how uninspiring his last professional season was, a lot of it has to do with the changes that he has made at the plate. As mentioned, patience has seemingly been the key to his success, as it gives him the time and advantage of utilizing his great bat-to-ball skills at the plate. It would be unfair to assume that this trend will continue once he arrives in the big leagues. We have seen prospects enter the majors and struggle right away, but some of that can be attributed to their lack of consistent development through games last season.
This year, Miranda is getting that development by playing in those competitive games and the results have been fruitful. While the numbers have been good, the difference between Triple-A and MLB pitching is still quite vast, so regression is more than likely to occur. The key will be for him to trust himself enough to follow through on patiently waiting for his pitch. Typically, but not always, veteran pitchers will begin to throw fastballs at newcomers to see what they can do with them. Once it’s been established that they can hit them, pitchers then adjust to him by throwing their secondary pitches and see if he will chase them or wait for better pitches. It will be up to Miranda to realize that not every pitch is something that needs to be attacked and that better pitches are coming later. He has taken steps forward and needs to remember to be true to himself.
It’s hard to speculate the plans of the Twins. Next season, Minnesota is set to pay Donaldson $21.75M, making it difficult for him to be benched. He was initially signed to help them compete, not rebuild. There’s a chance he could slide over to be their designated hitter and give Miranda a shot. There’s also a chance they trade Donaldson in the offseason to a contending team. My belief is that after seeing what Miranda can do this September (I think he will get some MLB at bats), the decision on what they do with Donaldson will signal their intentions with Miranda. While he has played some first base, second base and shortstop in 2021, the end goal is likely at third base, where Donaldson currently resides. Keep an eye on the Twins and any offseason moves because shortstop is a free agent gold mine this year and Donaldson should spark some interest from teams needing a power bat.
All that being said, it’s fair to say that Jose Miranda has done his part to make the Twins believe in him going forward.
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.