In each of the past two winters, right around the turn of a new year, I've put together series of lists ranking the top 20 Minnesota Twins players and prospects in terms of their specific asset value to the organization. (See: 2018 and 2019.)
It's a fun exercise and prompts some interesting discussions, so let's do it again as 2020 gets underway.
First, here are the parameters and stipulations:
- Things that are factored into these rankings: production, age, upside, pedigree, health, length of team control, favorability of contract, positional scarcity (within the system, and generally).
- Players are people. Their value to the organization, and its fans, goes well beyond the strictly business-like scope we're using here. But for the purposes of this list, we're analyzing solely in terms of asset evaluation. Intangible qualities and popularity are not factors. (Sorry Willians.)
- The idea is to assess their importance to the future of the Minnesota Twins. In this respect, it's not exactly a ranking in terms of trade value, because that's dependent on another team's situation and needs. (For instance, Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade, Jr. would be more valuable to many other teams than they are to the Twins, who are rich with short-term and long-term corner outfield depth.)
- This is a snapshot in time. Rankings are heavily influenced by recent trends and where things stood as of the end of 2019.
- Current major-leaguers and prospects are all eligible. The ultimate goal here to answer this question: Which current players in the organization are most indispensable to fulfilling the vision of building a champion?
Let's start the countdown.
TOP 20 MINNESOTA TWINS ASSETS OF 2020 (16-20)
20. Ryan Jeffers, C
2019 Ranking: NR
An early example of positional scarcity playing a role in these rankings. There are better Twins prospects than Jeffers who will not appear on this list, but his presence in the system is especially vital. The 2018 second-round draft pick is a 22-year-old catcher who has already reached Double-A, hitting at every level. Folks in the know rave about his defensive skills, and pitch-framing especially.
Thus far Jeffers has done nothing but validate the team's belief in him. A catcher who shines both ways is among the game's most coveted assets. Luckily, the Twins already have one of those in place at the major-league level, which is one of the only reasons Jeffers is even this low. (Spoiler: Fellow high-grade catching prospect Ben Rortvedt didn't make the Top 20, but is a short step behind Jeffers and is definitely an honorable mention.)
19. Eddie Rosario, OF
2019 Ranking: 8
I found Rosario's 2019 campaign a tad disappointing, despite the precedent-shattering HR and RBI totals, and I know I'm not alone. But we shouldn't be totally consumed by recency bias in evaluating him. The prior two years he was the team's second-most valuable player behind Brian Dozier (per fWAR) and I hope we can all agree his practical impact in 2019 was greater than OBP/defense-hampered metrics suggest. (To what extent is debatable.)
The fact remains: Rosario has yet to put together a completely transcendent season, and he's now 28 with two years of team control remaining. His expected salary via arbitration in 2020 (~$7-9 million) is reasonable – hardly a bargain. Rosario absolutely a guy you like to have around, but with all the corner outfield depth, and crystallizing deficiencies to accompany his almost unparalleled "unstoppable when hot" dynamic, he slides down in this ranking.
18. Michael Pineda, RHP
2019 Ranking: NR
Two years of team control at an extremely reasonable cost. When signed, I estimated that Pineda's newly minted contract will be looked back at as the best one executed by Minnesota's front office this offseason, and that's why he ranks here despite the evident drawbacks.
Yes, he'll miss ~12% of those two years due to suspension. But this might actually be beneficial in terms of workload management, and Pineda's established high-end performance level in the rotation is critical for the Twins. His injury history can't be ignored, but the mix of ability, recent health record, and contract appeal make him an essential short-term fixture.
17. Nelson Cruz, DH
2019 Ranking: NR
Cruz has some major things working against him on a list like this. He's 39. Offers zero defensive value. Nagging wrist problem lingers as a concern. Only under contract for one more year. As you zoom out to the big-picture view, the designated hitter's significance diminishes. But when it comes to 2020 – a critical year brimming with opportunity – few figures on the roster loom larger.
Cruz was one of the best hitters in the American League this year. The two players ahead of him in wOBA were Mike Trout and Alex Bregman, who finished 1-2 in the AL MVP voting. Even with his circumstantial detriments, Cruz's elite hitting ability and elder statesmanship – in a clubhouse where he's older than the manager – are irreplaceable at this moment.
16. Tyler Duffey, RHP
2019 Ranking: NR
There are a lot of players on this year's list who were not on last year's. (This speaks to both the volatility of pro baseball and my general ineptitude in such endeavors.) I don't think any newcomer would've ranked lower last year than Duffey, a 28-year-old failed starter who was failing to catch on as a reliever, and nearly out of options.
In 2019, he completely flipped the narrative. Suddenly, the tantalizing upside that long intrigued onlookers surfaced. Armed with a 94 MPH fastball and a harder, sharper version of his ever-impressive breaking ball, Duffey became an overpowering force in the late innings. Over 57 2/3 innings with the Twins, he posted a 2.50 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 12.8 K/9 rate while holding opponents to a .201 average. His 5.86 K/BB ratio ranked 14th among MLB relievers.
Duffey is entering his first turn at arbitration and has three years of team control remaining. This puts him solidly ahead of the similarly impactful Trevor May, who is one year from free agency and a narrow miss in the Top 20.