Jorge Polanco’s recovery from a left knee injury that caused him to miss the last 37 games last season has progressed more slowly than expected this spring, and the Twins’ second baseman will start the season on the injured list. It’s still not clear how long Polanco will be out, but the Twins are preparing to start the season without their tallest player.
Polanco is hard to replace. Even in the 2022 season, he hit 0.235/.346/.405 for 117 points per second+ which ranks third among second-most players in the American League, behind All-Stars Jose Altuve and Andrés Giménez. He led the Twins with 64 walks and ranked third with 16 homers despite lost time, and Luis Aries and Carlos Correa scored higher on base. He was Minnesota Player of the Year in 2021.
Still, the Twins are relatively well-equipped to replace Polanco in the short term thanks to the veteran depth they spent all of the offseason stocking up on. And if his absence extends well into the season, necessitating a long-term replacement, many of the Twins’ best prospects are upper minors players with the ability to play second base.
Polanco will make $7.5 million this season in the final year of the guaranteed extension signed in the spring of 2019. His contract also includes a $10.5 million team option or a $1 million buyout for 2024 that is excluded if he records at least 550 plate appearances. this chapter. And if that 2024 option or the Jackets exercise is exercised, the Twins will keep their $12 million team option for 2025.
With so much riding this season for Polanco and the Twins, and so little certainty about the 29-year-old’s knee seven months after the initial injury, let’s take a look at their short- and long-term options for replacing him if needed.
Now: Nick Gordon
Polanco played his final game of the season on August 27, and Nick Gordon took over as the starting second baseman down the stretch. Using him mostly at second base again to start this year will have domino effects elsewhere as Gordon is slated to be a key part of the outfield and designated hitter mix, but for now, it seems like the most logical and straightforward path to replacing Polanco.
A left-handed hitter, Gordon can make up the strong side of a platoon at second base, matching primarily right-handed pitchers, against whom he hit .289/.329/.465 last season. And it so happened that the Twins added a pair of veteran right-handed hitters capable of handling second base and left-handed knockout pitchers as part of a potential platoon with Gordon.
Now: Kyle Farmer
Acquired from the Reds in mid-November as a potential running mate starting shortstop, Kyle Farmer has experience playing all over the field and has landed reps at second base this spring. He hit .259/.316/.400 with 89 OPS+ over the past two years, which would be an average sub-gross production every day for Polanco, but that included a stout .286/.350/.528 for lefties.
Gordon facing right and Farmer facing left is a classic platoon setup. But it only works if Farmer doesn’t need to back up shortstop and third base, since he’s second on the depth chart at both positions. Correa rarely takes time off, but Jose Miranda’s right shoulder could mean Farmer will need to go to third base. If that happens, the Twins will have the option of a similar second base platoon.
Now: Donovan Solano
When the Twins signed Donovan Solano to a one-year, $2 million-a-week deal in spring training, they envisioned he’d pitch mostly as a first baseman and designated hitter, but the 35-year-old was a Silver Slugger-winning second baseman. Giants in 2020 and have logged more than 3,000 career turns in the position.
And the left-handed shooters part of the platoon is exactly why the Twins target Solano in the first place. 321 vs. left since 2019, including . 300 or higher in all four seasons. His power is slim, but Donny Barrels is a high-contact, drive-line hitter, and assuming he doesn’t lose more than a defensive pitch, he’d make an ideal partner for Gordon’s platoon.
Later: Edward Julian
Polanco’s absence opened the door for Edward Julian to start at second base in a bunch of early-spring practice games, and the 23-year-old prospect impressed before he left camp to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Selected to the Triple-A St. Louis Cardinals. Paul before returning from the WBC, though that wouldn’t stop the Twins from carrying him on their opening roster.
Julien is a very promising hitter, combining elite discipline with the strength of a 20 homer, but he has yet to play Triple-A and is generally seen as somewhat of a stretch defensively at second base. Julian would definitely be a factor if Polanco missed it for months instead of days or weeks. But barring that, Gordon, Farmer, and Solano are good enough that his catapult into the big business is unlikely.
Much later: Brooks Lee, Royce Lewis, and Austin Martin
This trio occupied three of the top five spots on a list of potential twins published in January – and Julian has since moved up a place or two past the then No. 6 ranking – but each is not ready and/or unable to advance to the major-line. league so far. However, all three prospects could emerge as second starting options in the second half if Polanco is still sidelined. And they’ll all be in play for 2024 and beyond.
1, Brooks Lee had a shortstop in college and would probably have better profiles as a third baseman in the majors, but second base is also a viable fit. He’s only nine months removed from his Cal-Poly draft and only has 31 professional games under his belt, so Lee definitely needs some time to develop in the minors. But several Twins officials have suggested a 2023 debut is realistic.
Candidate No. 2 Royce Lewis is on his way back mid-season from a torn ACL for the second time in as many years, so he’s of no immediate help to the Twins. But he certainly looked ready for the big league last year between knee surgeries, including an impressive 12-game debut for the Twins. Corea’s presence means Lewis will transition away from the shortstop, and his skills are very good profilers at second base.
No. 5 Austin Martin played shortstop and center field in the minors, but many evaluators felt second base was better long-term fitness going back to his college days. Martin got a lot of reps at second base early in camp and made some great plays, but now he’s out indefinitely with a sprained right elbow ligament that may require surgery.
The Big Picture
If the Twins are confident that Polanco will return sometime in April or even May, they could feel good about switching to a mix of Gordon, Farmer and Solano to hold the fort. Anything beyond that and Julian could enter the picture. And in 2024, if the twins decide to move on from Polanco, they have plenty of second primary options in Julian, Lewis, Lee, Gordon, and Martin.
They certainly want Polanco back in the squad as soon as possible.
(Top photo by Jorge Polanco: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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