Minnesota Twins: Grading each Infielder’s 2021 Season

Minnesota Twins second base Jorge Polanco is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a three run home run against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Twins second base Jorge Polanco is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a three run home run against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Since I started writing at Puckett’s Pond, I’ve concluded every season by grading each Minnesota Twins player’s individual season performance. In each of the past two seasons, I’ve had the ability to give out solid grades, but this year, very few people are going to earn passing marks.

The first group we’re going to look at is the largest group: the infielders. This position group was arguably the strongest for the Twins all year, and their grades will reflect that. The unquestioned team MVP will be found here, so that helps the overall GPA.

Of the 14 players to play infield for the Twins this season, only five didn’t play enough to earn a grade: J.T. Riddle, Tzu-Wei Lin, Nick Gordon, Travis Blankenhorn, and Alex Kirilloff. Gordon and Kirilloff both obviously played enough to earn a grade, but technically played more in the outfield, meaning you’ll see them on the next list.

The grade earned is based on two categories: production and expectations. For example, Nick Gordon performed a little bit worse than Max Kepler, but will earn a higher grade because he had extremely low expectations. Injuries will also be a factor too, as Mitch Garver was one of the team’s best hitters, but playing in 68 games drops his grade.

There are 11 players here, and we’ll get to all of them, splitting them into groups. Catchers first, corner infielders next, middle infielders last. Let’s see which members of the Minnesota Twins’ lineup performed best.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver tags out Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Corey Dickerson during the sixth inning at Target Field. (Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Minnesota Twins Catchers

Mitch Garver:

Mitch Garver entered 2021 with something to prove after a rough 2020. He may not have played the games we were hoping for, but 13 homers in 68 games and a .256/.358/.517 slash line is one of the best from the catching position.

If Garver returns for the 2022 season, the Twins will be getting back one of the ten best offensive catchers in baseball off a very good shortened campaign. Injuries knock his grade down a notch, but this was a solid year. Grade: B-.

Ryan Jeffers:

As much as Garver bounced back in 2021, Ryan Jeffers dropped off. Following a very good 26-game debut where he slashed .273/.355/.436, his 2021 followed up with a .199/.270/.401. He improved on defense, and his power is legit (14 home runs), but he needs to get on base more and strike out WAY less.

He’s still just 24 and technically was above average analytically at his position, so we’re not panicking like we are for other players (Max Kepler, what is the deal?). He should bounce back in 2022, but for now, he earned a tough grade. Grade: C-.

Ben Rortvedt:

Raise your hand if you thought Ben Rortvedt would play 39 games for the Minnesota Twins…yeah, that’s what we thought. Ben Rortvedt was the Twins’ top catching prospect out necessity rather than skill (though he is a capable defender) and that showed clearly in 2021.

Rortvedt slashed .169/.229/.281, numbers which finished either second to last or last on the team. He was very solid in Triple-AAA, and with more seasoning could be a good backup in the future. He just wasn’t ready for this year. Grade: D-.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins second base Jorge Polanco hits a three run home run against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Minnesota Twins Middle Infielders:

Jorge Polanco:

What an incredible year for the longest tenured member of the Minnesota Twins. Jorge Polanco raised the stakes both offensively and defensively in 2021, putting together career-best numbers at a new position and setting career highs in homers, RBI, slugging %, and OPS+.

He’ll finish in the Top 15 of the American League MVP race and he proved that he’s the true cornerstone for the franchise (though Buxton would take that title with an extension). He’s still just 27, and after tempered expectations from 2020, he’s earned a great grade. Grade: A.

Andrelton Simmons:

I’ve made my disdain for the Twins’ shortstop remarkably clear, but now I get to grade his performance. His .558 OPS was the second-worst of any player who played 40 or more games for the team and he actually earned a -0.1 oWAR at his position. That’s basically impossible at shortstop if you’re an everyday player.

His defense makes me pause before giving him an F, because after a rough start to 2021 he turned himself back into a great defender. If there was a Hall of Fame for defenders alone, he’d have an argument, but that alone doesn’t save him from a failing grade. Grade: F.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins first baseman Miguel Sano connects for a single against the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Minnesota Twins Corner Infielders

Luis Arraez:

Considered one of the Twins’ better long-term pieces, Luis Arraez has seen his play decline in each of his three seasons in the league. Take a look at his slash lines since entering the league:

  • .334/.399/.439, 124 OPS+
  • .321/.364/.402, 113 OPS+
  • .294/.357/.376, 105 OPS+

His defense has improved significantly, but that consistent drop is worrisome for the Twins. Arraez hits for average well and gets on base. That’s it. His value is tied to him being a .300 hitter who gets on at 37% clip. If he’s not doing that, he’s not an everyday player (the Twins have him in the right role).

He had a good season, i’m not denying that. A 3.4 bWAR buoyed by improved defense, a 36% on-base clip, and a still good batting average earns him a good grade, but this downwards trend is worrisome. Grade: B+.

Miguel Sano:

If you asked about Miguel Sano‘s grade a few months ago, it would have been a clear cut F, but Sano bounced back strong. His batting average and strikeout numbers weren’t great, but any year you finish with 30 homers and above average OPS+ is a good year in my book.

He’ll only be paid $9.25 million next year, and if he can match those numbers again, he’s a quality first baseman (especially with defensive improvements). This was was Sano’s healthiest season of his career and his third-best numbers wise, so it’s hard to give him anything less than a B. Grade: B.

Josh Donaldson:

Now if you’re a Twins fan who believes Josh Donaldson is paid too much money (you’re not entirely wrong), you think Donaldson had an awful year. I hate to break it you though: he didn’t. It was actually very solid.

Donaldson’s slash line of .247/.352/.457 was the fourth best on the team (Buxton, Garver, and  Polanco had better, even though Polanco had a worse OPS). His OPS+ was very good (second on the team) and he finished third in homers and RBI while staying healthy for over 80% of the team’s games.

If you’re being realistic about Donaldson’s expectations, he did exactly what he was paid to do, and he stepped into a leadership role after Nelson Cruz was traded. Donaldson was unspectacular, but very solid. Grade: B

Willians Astudillo:

It feels really good to say I confidently believe Willians Astudillo is done in Minnesota. Astudillo put together the worst season of his career in 2021, slashing a ghastly .236/.259/.375 over a 72 game stretch, the most games he had ever played in his career. The only thing he can hang his hat on is that he kept his strikeouts low, but that’s about it.

Even his prized defensive versatility disappeared, as the Twins stopped trying to make him into a catcher and kept him at third (where he was awful) and first (actually solid). My expectations were low for him, but his awful year on offense was only surpassed by Andrelton Simmons, and he didn’t play defense like Simmons. Grade: D-

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