Minnesota Twins: Grading each Outfielder’s 2021 Season

Minnesota Twins outfielders Nick Gordon, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler celebrate after a win over the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Twins outfielders Nick Gordon, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler celebrate after a win over the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports) /

Since I started writing at Puckett’s Pond, I’ve concluded each season by grading every 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.

I wrapped up the grades for the infield last week, with 5 out of the 9 players earning a B- or higher. The outfield grades won’t be nearly as kind. Similar to in the infield grades, there were a couple players who were ineligible. We kept Gilberto Celestino off this list because he only played in 23 games and Nelson Cruz because he didn’t finish the year with the team.

As for the rest of the players, there was a similar grading system to the one used on the infield. The same injury deductions that dinged Mitch Garver will also get Byron Buxton (though it will be to a lower extent). Expectations were taken into account as well, so Rob Refsnyder will be boosted here while Max Kepler won’t be.

It’s time to grade the outfielders for the Minnesota Twins.

Because there are nine players and only Buxton played one primary position, they’re all lumped into one group and sorted by who played the most games this season. We’ll start off with the only one who played in over 100 games, Max Kepler.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins right fielder Max Kepler slides into third base against the Kansas City Royals (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Minnesota Twins Outfielder Grades

Max Kepler:

First the good: Max Kepler proved once again that the power is still there. In 121 games, Kepler managed 19 homers, tied for fourth on the team. His glove was really good in right field, he finished with second-most steals on the team, and he started heating up a little bit when he was able to stay healthy at the end of the year.

Now the bad: Kepler posted the worst slash line of his career, with his batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS career lows. His slugging percentage wasn’t much better, finishing as the second lowest mark. His defense in center field took a big drop as well, as he’s usually a solid replacement for Buxton.

Kepler is working through the mechanics of his swing again, as it’s changed quite a bit from the 2019 form that saw him finish 20th in MVP voting in 2019. If he doesn’t put together a season closer to that in 2022, it may be time to realize that 2019 was an outlier, not the mean. Grade: C-.

Trevor Larnach:

Despite not getting the call until May and being sent down in mid-August, Trevor Larnach played the second-most games of any outfielder. Given his performance, Larnach probably wasn’t ready to be “the guy” in left field just yet.

Larnach slashed just .223/.322/.350 despite a scorching hot stretch in late-June to early July that saw him reach .260/.394/.442 at his best. Larnach was a good defender and did manage 7 home runs, but the Twins and their fans definitely expected more from the top young prospect. 2021 will be a good first run, but I’d expect better than this year’s awful performance in 2022. Grade: D.

Jake Cave:

Jake Cave has to have some kind of dirt on the Minnesota Twins’ organization, because otherwise there’s no way that Cave should have played the third-most games on this team. In 76 games, .189/.249/.293 and posted a .541 OPS. That’s truly atrocious

To put it into perspective, the Twins haven’t had a player post an OPS lower than .600 and play in more than 50 games since Danny Santana did it in 2015. The Twins have to realize that the Jake Cave show has run its course. The outfielder is turning 29 this offseason and should be non-tendered to free up a roster spot for the team, as he isn’t worth the expected $1.1 million in arbitration. Grade: F.

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Minnesota Twins shortstop Nick Gordon runs to third against the Detroit Tigers (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports) /

Nick Gordon:

Nick Gordon is essentially the anti-Max Kepler. Gordon came into the season as a bust, a Top 5 pick who wouldn’t amount to much as a big league player. He leaves 2021 as a versatile utilityman who the Minnesota Twins can play almost anywhere.

In the minors, Gordon played second base and shortstop, but in 2021, Gordon played every single position outside of first base, pitcher, and catcher. His bat was just solid, but he was great in clutch situations and still has room to grow with more time. The utility duo of Luis Arraez and Nick Gordon can be a really solid one. Grade: B.

Byron Buxton:

This season was another long episode of “imagine if this guy was healthy for a full year” for Byron Buxton. Over 61 games, Buxton posted career best numbers in 2021, slashing .306/.358/.647 and 19 home runs. That’s truly incredible. If Buxton had played at the same pace, this is what his stat line would have looked like: .306/.358/.647, 52 HR, 87 RBI, and 24 SB. Wow.

If Byron Buxton could sustain this over a full year, he’d already have earned a massive payday from the Minnesota Twins (that he probably still deserves). Unfortunately, the team is hesitant to dole out money to a player who misses a lot of games. It brings his grade down a bit too. Grade: A-.

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Minnesota Twins right fielder Alex Kirilloff hits a single in the seventh inning. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports) /

Alex Kirilloff:

The Minnesota Twins’ other rookie prospect performed far better than Larnach did. Alex Kirilloff’s season was cut short by injury, but in his 59 games he made a solid impact. Kirilloff slashed .251/.299/.423 with 8 homers and 34 RBI. His defense at first was actually pretty good too.

Even though his bum wrist hampered his ability, he still showed the Twins and the fanbase what the future could hold at the position. I’m beyond excited to see him in 2022, and this season offered hype for the future. Grade: B.

Brent Rooker:

Yet another prospect who will be losing his rookie eligibility next year, Brent Rooker suffered through a down year in 2021. Rooker did a good job as he always has mashing homers, but he didn’t do a lot else.

His defense was bad, he hit .201, and he got on base just 29% of the time, and he simply didn’t look good after his injury in 2020. Rooker will be 27 by the time the next season starts, so he needs to prove he can provide real value in 2022 if he wants to stay on this team and earn a better grade going forward. Grade: D.

Rob Refsnyder:

Grading the 51 games Rob Refsnyder played in for the 2021 season has to be looked at differently than everyone else on the list. Refsnyder was a lowly minor league signing from the preseason, at actually provided useful depth in a year when the team needed a lot of it. He wasn’t exceptionally good, but he passes expectations so he passes here. Grade: C.

Kyle Garlick:

The last player on this list, Kyle Garlick barely played in enough games to be eligible, but he had a forgettable year either way. Bringing him up to start over Larnach was a mistake and set him behind. He did have some fun memories, but it’d be a surprise if he was back next year. Grade: D+.