Minnesota Twins 2017 Season Review: Infield

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25: Brian Dozier
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25: Brian Dozier /

With the season completed, it’s time to look back on the 2017 Minnesota Twins season. Let’s take a look at the team’s infield.

The Minnesota Twins have completed their season, and it’s now time to take a look back at what was an exciting ride for Twins fans!

Puckett’s Pond staff are reviewing the 2017 Minnesota Twins season. This is the second installment of our position reviews. Be sure to check out our review of the catchers. Here is a look at the 2017 infield.

First Base

Starter: Joe Mauer

Ever since he signed his 8 years and 184 million dollar contract it seems Joe Mauer has been the center of Twins fans’ frustrations. Especially since concussions force him to switch from catcher to first base.

2017 was a season where it seemed the “old” Mauer that fans initially grew to love was back at the ballpark. He hit .305/.384/.417 and maintained an .801 OPS, making this the first season since concussions forced him out from behind the plate that Mauer has hit above .300.

Mauer also performed defensively right alongside some of the best first basemen in the game. According to UZR, Mauer is ranked as the best first baseman in the majors at a 7.1 UZR. That and the eye test has many petitioning for Mauer to win the American League Gold Glove award for first basemen this season.

Backups: Kennys Vargas, Miguel Sano

Something that helped Mauer have a renaissance season was the increased rest he was given. That opened up more time for other Twins players at first base.

Kennys Vargas was given the the most opportunities on Mauer’s rest days. Even after a season of being up and down between the Twins and Rochester, Vargas still logged 30 starts at first base. At 27 it is hard to determine just what might Vargas’ role be with a major league team in the future, but in a limited role this season he was able to show some good flashes with his bat. The switch-hitter hit .253/.314/.444 and added 11 home runs.

Outside of Vargas and Mauer, four other Twins saw time at first base, but none of them cracked more than 10 games. Those final guys were Miguel Sano, Chris Gimenez, Mitch Garver, and Ehire Adrianza.

Second Base

Starter: Brian Dozier

Dozier’s great season may be muted a bit by his slow start. Twins fans are likely getting used to his slow starts and torrid second halves, but it does make us lose sight a bit of how valuable he is to the team. This year in the first half Dozier hit .242/.328/.417 with 13 home runs, and in the second half, .304/.394/.591 with 21 home runs.

In August, Dozier became very locked in, as he hit .309/.407/.600 with 17 home runs from the start of the month until season’s end. Dozier’s OPS was incredible as well at 1.007. That finish put Dozier as the 3rd overall second basemen according to WAR and the home run leader among the position as well.

Dozier didn’t grade out well as a defender with some of the metrics we have available to us. His UZR was -2.7 on the year. It does seem Dozier does have the flair to occasionally make a dramatic catch and throw that wows us, but may not be as consistent as would be hoped for.

Backups: Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza

It is almost unfair to even say there were backups to Dozier at second base because he dominated playing time at the position, which is expected from one of your star players. He started 151 games for the Twins, leaving 11 other starts for other Twins to fill in.

Utility infielder, Eduardo Escobar, was able to capitalize on 7 of those starts. Ehire Adrianza and Niko Goodrum took the other 4 starts. Goodrum didn’t get a lot of playing time in the majors this year accumulating 17 at-bats but only getting one hit in those at-bats.

Third Base

Starter: Miguel Sano

What may always be hard about looking back on the 2017 Twins is asking what could have been if Sano could have been healthy for the playoffs. August 19th was the last time we saw Sano before he went on the disabled list.

Up until that point, Sano was turning in a very solid season. He hit .264/.353/.507 with 28 home runs. Between Sano and Dozier there was a real wonder if one of the two may be able to eclipse 40 home runs. Sano was recognized for his performance as he was named to the All-Star team and also was given the opportunity to compete in and take second in the Home Run Derby.

What will continue to be a question for Sano is whether he can keep his strikeouts in check to not be just a good power hitter, but also a good average hitter. Sano ended 2017 with 173 strikeouts, and while that is very high it may just be the bad the comes with the good of Miguel Sano.

Backups: Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza

With Sano going out with injury, Escobar took over for Sano and almost caught him in games started at the position. Escobar picked up 77 starts at third base and performed better than can be expected of a bench, utility player taking over for an All-Star.

From the point when Sano went down through the end of the season, Escobar hit .256 with 10 home runs. That figured into his season-long numbers of .254/.309/.449 and 21 home runs. 2017 was a great example of how Escobar is maybe not a player you want as a starter but is a very valuable utility infielder to have come off the bench, fill in on rest days, or even for a starting players DL stint.

Ehire Adrianza also filled in for 6 starts at third base. Partial games at the position when to backup catcher Chris Gimenez and Danny Santana. Honestly, I almost forgot Santana started the season with the Twins before being designated for assignment and traded to the Atlanta Braves.

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Starter: Jorge Polanco

Polanco, due to being out of minor league options, was given every opportunity to prove his ability to be a major league shortstop. Coming into the season there was a lot of question marks concerning the defense of a left-side of the infield that featured Sano and Polanco. They both performed better than expected and provided some stable defense for the Twins.

Polanco’s bat shocked Twins fans in many ways. Through June he was a very serviceable shortstop. Then in July, he hit a horrendous slump, collecting only 2 hits in the whole month. If Polanco still had options, he likely would have been sent to the minors, but since he was out of options, he stuck around with the Twins. Come August, they would be glad he was still on the roster.

There was a stretch of August where it looked like Polanco may flirt with batting .400 on the month. He did bat .373/.412/.686 with an OPS of 1.099. This stretch and the hole left by Sano’s injury opened up a place for Polanco to bat in the middle of the lineup for the rest of the season. Polanco doesn’t currently challenge the top shortstops of the game, but his performance this season gives the  Twins options on what to do going forward with their middle infield talent.

Backups: Ehire Adrianza, Eduardo Escobar

Adrianza’s name has been linked with every position around the infield. He filled a super utility role for the Twins, spending most of his major league opportunities at his natural position of shortstop. While Adrianza came to the Twins with a highly regarded glove, his bat filled in nicely when Polanco’s wasn’t going.

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In the month of July, as Polanco was unable to buy himself a hit, Adrianza in 9 starts hit for a .355 average. That is some impressive output from a bench player that was there mainly for his fielding versatility. Adrianza went on to finish the season with a line of .265/.324/.383. We must not forget that the Twins other utility player, Escobar, also found himself with 12 starts at shortstop.