Who should bat leadoff for the Twins?

The Twins have options at their disposal.
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Say what you want about their pitching, but the Twins lineup should have plenty of pop in 2019.

Between Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, C.J. Cron and (a hopefully healthy) Miguel Sano, you're talking about four guys who should be able to put up at least 20-25 home runs.

But probably the bigger question is, who will lead off and set the tone for the lineup? With spring training games underway, the Twins have plenty of options available.

Jorge Polanco

With Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer no longer with the Twins, Jorge Polanco is probably the obvious choice. 

He's a prototypical leadoff hitter: solid plate discipline, hits for average and has speed even though he's stolen just 19 bases in the past two seasons.

Here's what leadoff hitters did last season, compared to Polanco, via Baseball Reference.

  • League average: .260/.333/.419
  • Polanco: .288/.345/.427

He's also a switch hitter but he hit much better against right-handed pitching than left-handed hurlers.

  • Polanco vs. RHP: .317/.387/.457 
  • Polanco vs. LHP: .233/.259/.369

So it probably wouldn't be wise for him to be leading off against a southpaw.

Eddie Rosario

This might come as a surprise to some, because Rosario has been the most consistent hitter in the Twins' lineup over the past few years.

However, did you know the reigning AL MVP, Mookie Betts, was the leadoff hitter for the world champion Boston Red Sox last season?

It's rare for leadoff hitters to win the award, but more and more teams are using power hitters at the top of the lineup.

Fransico Lindor, who finished sixth in MVP voting last year, was the Cleveland Indians' leadoff man.

Rosario bopped a team-leading 24 home runs in 2018. And in the past, the Twins haven't been afraid to use their biggest bat in the leadoff spot, a la Dozier.

The biggest reason against Rosario is probably his on-base percentage. He's always been a free swinger and has never walked more 35 times or posted an OBP above .330.

Max Kepler

Kepler's spent the majority of his Twins career in the middle-to-bottom of the Twins lineup.

Even though his sub .230 batting average might scare you off, he made huge strides at the plate in 2018. His 71 walks was the most on the team and he cut down his strikeout rate significantly.

  • Strikeout rate in 2017: 22%
  • Strikeout rate in 2018: 17%

Like Rosario, he has pop in his bat. Kepler had 20 home runs and 54 extra-base hits last year.

After being downright abysmal against lefties in his first two seasons, Kepler finally made solid contact against them in 2018

  • Batting average vs. LHP in 2016-17: .177
  • Batting average vs. LHP in 2018: .245

A .245 average against lefties isn't anything to write home about but that's a 68-point improvement, very deserving of a tip of the cap.

Byron Buxton

Honestly, no thanks. 

The Twins shouldn't rush him. Let him bat ninth or somewhere in the back of the order and build confidence, and then maybe he can be the leadoff hitter in the future.

What do the league's best look like?

As we mentioned above, more thump is being put into the top of the order. 

In the middle of the season last year, Sportster ranked the best leadoff hitters in the game and the names at the top are big boppers.

  • 10. Whit Merrifield, Royals 
  • 9. Brett Gardner, Yankees 
  • 8. Jose Peraza, Reds 
  • 7. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
  • 6. Adam Eaton and Trea Turner, Nationals 
  • 5. Alberto Almora Jr., Cubs 
  • 4. Dee Gordon, Mariners 
  • 3. George Springer, Astros 
  • 2. Francisco Lindor, Indians 
  • 1. Mookie Betts, Red Sox

The top three guys on this list combined for 92 home runs.

Guys like Gordon and Eaton will always have a place in the lineup, but when teams have tremendous depth in the lineup, like the Twins appear to have entering 2019, it's worth a shot to throw a bigger bat at the top of the order. 

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