Grading the Outfield
Nelson Cruz: A+
Yes, Cruz was strictly the designated hitter for the Twins, but we’re going with his primary position during his career, which now has 401 home runs over 15 seasons in the majors. The impact Cruz had on this team transformed it into the Bomba Squad and after crossing the 40 home run mark for the fourth time in the past six seasons, it’s a lock that the Twins will exercise their 2020 option for the 39-year old this winter.
Max Kepler: A
Much like his contract counterpart, Polanco, Kepler took his money and had a breakout season in 2019. As the anchor at the top of the Twins lineup against right-handers, Kepler exploded for 36 home runs and 90 RBI. These numbers could have been even better had Kepler’s nagging shoulder not flared up in the final weeks of the season. Regardless, the Twins have their right fielder for the foreseeable future.
Byron Buxton: B
Let’s talk about the positives with Buxton. The 25-year old came of age at the plate in 2019, notching career-highs in batting average (.262), slugging percentage (.513), OPS (.827) and doubles (30) while recording a career-low strikeout rate (25%) to go with his Gold Glove caliber defense.
The issue with Buxton is his ability to stay healthy. Getting hit by a pitch in June and suffering a concussion were bad luck, but a full sprint into the wall in Miami that cut his season short may mean he must change his style to be the outfielder we expect him to be.
The numbers for Rosario look great as he hit a career-high 32 home runs and enjoyed his first 100-RBI season. A deeper dive shows a lack of plate discipline that proved costly at times as he chased 46.3% of pitches that were out of the zone. The good news was that Rosario made contact with 75.3% of those pitches, but that number may not be sustainable moving forward.
Jake Cave: C+
For most of the season, Cave deserved a D as he struggled at the plate and kept making mental errors in the outfield (such as the one that cost the Twins a run in Game 3 of the ALDS). Once Buxton went down, however, Cave turned it on by hitting .304 with a .940 OPS in his final 37 games. He probably won’t be an everyday outfielder, but if he limits his mistakes, he’s not a terrible option on the bench.