Twins Success Dependent on the Oft-Injured Staying Healthy in 2021

Photo: Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins will start reporting to Fort Myers for Spring Training on Thursday. On paper, this is a team that should rack up a bunch of wins and compete near the top of the American League throughout the 2021 season. If the Twins are going to reach their potential, however, they will need historically injury-riddled players to remain healthy.

Outside of Nelson Cruz at DH (who is 40 years old) and Max Kepler in RF, there really isn’t a regular starter in the Minnesota batting lineup who hasn’t battled injuries in recent seasons.

The chart below shows games played for every individual season since 2017, by all of the projected Twins’ starting fielders. Nelson Cruz was left out as the DH and the Twins don’t have a regular right fielder until they call up Alex Kirilloff in late-April. It’s also worth noting that Mitch Garver didn’t see regular playing time in the majors until 2018.

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Jorge Polanco, Andrelton Simmons and Max Kepler are the only projected lineup regulars who have played over 75% of their teams’ games since 2017. Both Kepler and Simmons dealt with injuries during the shortened 2020 season, however.

Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton

Without seeing the future, these two guys have the most concerning injury history. Josh Donaldson has just one healthy season in his last three and Twins President, Dave St. Peter, sounded cautious when projecting optimism for Donaldson’s health going into 2021 on KFAN earlier this week. His calves should keep you up at night, as a Twins fan.

Obviously, we all know Byron Buxton’s history with injuries. His body is made of glass but he plays baseball like a bull in a china shop. He’s participated in about 50% of his games since 2017, so flip a coin and tell me how 2021 goes…

If healthy, these two guys + Andrelton Simmons will make Minnesota one of the best defensive teams in the American League. Unfortunately, their injury history tampers that excitement. As long as Simmons doesn’t have to race to 1st base too often… he and his ankle should be fine, given the history we see above.

Best Case

If the best cased scenario plays out for the Minnesota Twins and their health in 2021, then this lineup and defense will carry them to an AL Central crown.

There isn’t a pitcher in the MLB who wants to face Kepler, into a healthy Donaldson, into Cruz, into Polanco, into a healthy Sano and there aren’t very many balls that would get past or land between Donaldson, Simmons, Buxton and Kepler.

I have a hard time not seeing a healthy Minnesota Twins as one of the most fun to watch throughout the league in 2021.

Worst Case

The worst case scenario for this Twins lineup would decimate our 2021 odds of making the playoffs out of a tough division. It’s not that difficult to imagine a scenario where Donaldson’s calves aren’t healthy from Opening Day, Byron Buxton misses half the season, Simmons debut is ruined by bad ankles and Miguel Sano hurts himself swinging or celebrating too hard.

Minnesota had one of the best pitching staffs in the MLB last season but that’s not expected to be the case in 2021. It’s certainly not seen as a group that will carry this Twins team to an AL Central crown.

If this team is hampered by major injury issues throughout the season, they’ll be in major trouble.

Something in between

Most likely, 2021 will play out somewhere between the best and worst case scenarios listed above. But the Twins, more than just about any team in Major League Baseball, will need players with injury-riddled pasts to remain mostly healthy and contribute to their lineup in big ways.

So, pray to whatever god you prefer or knock on whatever hardwood you have available… that our Minnesota Twins remain healthy in a 2021 season where fans are desperate for some local team success.

Speaking of fans, it’d be really nice to get them back in the Target Field stands. Contact your governor if you agree.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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