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Twins Expect Leadership from Donaldson

 

The Minnesota Twins start spring training in Fort Myers later this month with considerable attention focused on third baseman Josh Donaldson, the $92 million free agent the club recently signed. Expectations are in place, and not just on the field.

“For Josh, it starts with his play on the diamond but…what he brings off the field is going to be equally important. Much like Nelson Cruz did a year ago,” Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners.

Veteran DH Cruz was a clubhouse leader on last season’s team that won 101 games on its way to the AL Central title. Now Donaldson adds more leadership and offensive power to a lineup that hit a MLB record 307 home runs in 2019.

Donaldson, 34, struggled with injuries in 2018, but played 155 games last season with the Braves. He was named National League Comeback Player of the Year after hitting 37 home runs, with 94 RBI, 96 runs scored, 100 walks, and a .379 on-base percentage and a .900 OPS, per statistics provided by the Twins.

He finished fourth in league walks and was one of only two players in the majors with at least 30 doubles, 35 home runs, 90 RBI, 90 runs scored and 100 walks. He was second among all MLB third basemen with 15 defensive runs saved (per FanGraphs), trailing only the Athletics’ Matt Chapman (18).

Since 2013, Donaldson ranks second in the majors in Wins Above Replacement, trailing only Mike Trout of the Angels, according to both FanGraphs (40.6 to 62.6) and Baseball Reference (43.6 to 61.5). During that seven season period he ranks seventh in the majors in walks (541), 10th in home runs (209) and runs scored (617), 11th in RBI (608), extra-base hits (430) and slugging percentage (.520), and 13th in OPS (.895).

“He’s been one of the elite third basemen in the game,” St. Peter said. “He plays a great defense (and) he had a really strong offensive year in Atlanta bouncing back from a year of injuries. I think we’re confident we’re getting a great player.

“We (also) like the intangibles that Josh brings. He brings, I think, an intensity. He brings an urgency to his game that we think can be a very positive thing for our club—particularly young players in…modeling some of those things that may be difference makers for our team.”

St. Peter expects the presence of Donaldson will give manager Rocco Baldelli even more flexibility in making out his batting order. Depending on the game, Donaldson could hit anywhere from two through five. “I think for the most part that’s where Rocco sees it,” St. Peter said.

Miguel Sano (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

The arrival of Donaldson is all but a no-brainer in strengthening the club’s infield defense because erratic third baseman Miguel Sano will now be the regular first baseman. Sano has previous experience playing first and will work with various instructors in spring training including coach Tony Diaz. Twins Hall of Famer and former first baseman Justin Morneau is likely to be an instructor, too. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Justin spend a fair amount of time with Miguel early in spring training,” St. Peter said.

Sano, 26, has struggled with his weight in the past and with injuries. “He’s in great baseball shape,” St. Peter said. “He’s ready to roll. He’s healthy, and I know he’s very excited to be in Fort Myers.”

Sano, who the Twins signed this winter to a new three-year contract worth $30 million, hit all 34 of his home runs last season after May 1. That was the sixth most in the American League following that date.

Worth Noting

The Twins have a pending trade to acquire starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, according to multiple reports. The 31-year-old native of Japan pitched for the Dodgers last season, compiling a 10-8 record and 4.04 ERA.

St. Peter said earlier in the week three of the team’s five starting pitching spots appear committed to Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey. Presumably Maeda could now fill a fourth spot, with several other candidates competing for the fifth during the season including Michael Pineda and Rich Hill who won’t be available early in the year.

It wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if with more frequent off days early in the season, manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson decide to use a four-man starting rotation for awhile.

Today’s composite 247Sports 2020 college football recruiting rankings have Minnesota’s class No. 36 in the nation. Big Ten West Division rivals ahead of the Gophers are No. 20 Nebraska, No. 25 Wisconsin, No. 33 Purdue and No. 34 Iowa.

Gophers point guard Marcus Carr had 10 assists last night, more than the entire Badgers team in Minnesota’s impressive 70-52 win over Wisconsin. The Big Ten victory improved Minnesota’s chances of earning an NCAA Tournament invitation in March.

Last Sunday’s Super Bowl prompted dedicated Gophers basketball fan Steve Hunegs to email Sports Headliners regarding Minnesota’s January 28, 1990 upset win over coach Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers at Williams Arena. That game 30 years ago was played on Super Bowl Sunday with No. 21 ranked Minnesota defeating No. 12 Indiana, 108-89. The surprise Gophers, coached by Clem Haskins, went on to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Millions of American workers ditched work this Monday following the Sunday Super Bowl between the Chiefs and 49ers. Last Friday “The Rundown” by Jeff Crilley (using information from a survey by Kronos Inc.) projected over 17.5 million workers to miss work Monday. About 11 million would use pre-approved time, with millions more calling in sick or just not showing up for their jobs.

Minnesota Wild president Matt Majka is the latest guest on “Behind the Game,” the Twin Cities cable TV program co-hosted by Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. “Behind the Game” episodes can also be viewed on YouTube.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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