Dan Szymborski is a baseball thinker who created the “ZiPS” projection system, which now is published annually for all 30 teams at FanGraphs. His article on the Twins alone could spawn quite a few columns, and perhaps it will. We also could use it as a way to talk about the White Sox, the AL Central at large, the state of pitching, the Twins’ approach to competitiveness in a era that hinges on Byron Buxton’s availability….
For those unfamiliar, ZiPS is a system of projections (short for sZymborski Projection System) that uses past baseball stats to figure out things like how a player should be expected to improve – or decline – as he ages and gains MLB experience. What do his past stats portend for his future? What have similar players at his stage gone on to do historically? How important are those data points and, importantly, how much can we trust the inputs to give us a reliable output, i.e. a projection? MLB dot com has called it one of the most accurate (public) projection systems in the industry.
So what does ZiPS tell us about the Twins this year? Here are my first 5 thoughts on ZiPS 2022.
5 - Jose Miranda will hold his own.
This particular projection system has already compared him with Mike Lowell, which you might consider pretty lofty praise for a guy who popped up on prospect radars just this past year, albeit with an incredible bust-out performance across two levels of the minor leagues, where he more or less proved over six months that he was better than the competition. ZiPS forecasts a .272/.316/.432 batting line for rookie Jose Miranda, which would look good at second base if the Twins move Jorge Polanco to shortstop. Or it would look good splitting time with Josh Donaldson at third base and then roving around a couple other positions on an as-needed basis a la 2021 Luis Arraez. For garbled stats enthusiasts, that OPS+ of 103 ties him with Alex Kirilloff for eighth-best hitter on the 2022 Twins, according to ZiPS.
I’ll note here that I’ve heard mixed reviews of Miranda’s glove, quickness and arm, making it far from a sure bet that his impressive bat will find a home somewhere on the diamond that will make fans happy in his debut campaign. Still, skipping over the words “impressive bat” in that sentence would be a mistake. You like good hitters. You like players who have a recent demonstrated history of skill improvement. Hire for that and hope for the best. (Player development side note: If only teams could start with a superstar fielder at every position and teach him to hit like an above-average regular at his given position… alas.)
I had a chance to meet and chat with Miranda this past summer once he was promoted to Triple-A St. Paul. He hadn’t done a whole lot of hitting in 2019, mostly in High-A Fort Myers. Then he spent 2020 sitting out the year, as most minor leaguers did, and working on his body while at home, he told me. That first-step quickness is important for him, and just generally shedding any possibility of getting labeled as a guy who will need to maintain his fitness to make a go as a big leaguer. It would also theoretically help him to settle in at one defensive position, and if he’s going to be turn-of-the-century Mike Lowell, then maybe third base makes the most sense long term. I’ll hold off assessing that glove and arm until I’ve seen him more for myself, because scouting reports can change and so can players.
One thing I found particularly impressive about his breakout 2021 campaign in the minors was the reason behind it. He didn’t just wake up and start hitting. His stats page makes it look like he did, but the truth is that he always could hit. Or rather, he always could make contact. In sort of a Willians Astudillo way, if you threw a pitch within the confines of either batter’s box, Miranda had the coordination to put a piece of his bat to that baseball. That’s a great starting skill. But once your opponents know that you can do that — and they understand that you’ll have a tough time putting any power behind pitches way off the plate — without the discipline to take those pitches you become an easy out. Miranda heard that scouting report about him from his coaches or others in the Twins organization, and to his credit he internalized it and got better. A lot better.
The former free swinger narrowed his sights and shrunk his Swing Zone, according to what I’ve heard. This summer, he came out swinging, only this time it was mostly at pitches he could punish. He hit .345/.408/.588 over 47 games in his first real taste of Double-A, which earned him that promotion to the Saints. On his 23rd birthday, he played his first game at Triple-A and it went all right for him. In six trips to the plate, he had 5 hits, three of them went over the fence, he scored four times and drove in 6 runs in a 15-4 Saints win in Lowertown St. Paul. Tidy little debut, I guess.
After that mediocre opening he played out the string with the Saints for 80 games and hit .343/.397/.563. This is why the ZiPS bot loves him. The system’s creator concluded that “given his straight-up performance, he really ought to be considered one of the team’s top prospects.”
What would you do with this type of player?
4 - Speaking of strong hitting infielders…
The post’s depth chart views Jorge Polanco as the regular starting shortstop, and as currently constructed, I’d guess that the Twins roster might agree. But they won’t have to start the season with only the guys they’ve got in the room right now (err – have locked out of the room, to be more precise). They’ll be able to add a shortstop once player movement is allowed to begin anew. And while there are several big names still available I do think the consensus among fans right now seems to be that the Twins will get a glove guy and hope things work out better than they did in 2021 with Andrelton Simmons.