What are the Twins’ options to replace the injured Jorge Polanco at second base?

What are the Twins’ options to replace the injured Jorge Polanco at second base?

Jorge Polanco’s recovery from the left knee injury that caused him to miss the final 37 games of last season has progressed more slowly than anticipated this spring, and the Twins’ second baseman, who will change start the season on the injured list. How long Polanco will be out remains unclear, but the Twins are preparing to begin the season without their longest-tenured player.

Polanco is hard to replace. Even in a down season in 2022, he hit .235/.346/.405 for a 117 OPS+ that ranked third among American League second basemen, behind All-Stars Jose Altuve and Andrés Giménez. He led the Twins with 64 walks and tied for third with 16 homers despite missing time, and only Luis Arraez and Carlos Correa posted a higher on-base percentage. And he was Minnesota’s MVP in 2021.

Still, the Twins are relatively well-equipped to replace Polanco in the short term, thanks to the veteran depth they spent throughout the offseason. And if his absence extends well into the season, requiring a long-term replacement, some of the Twins’ best prospects are small players with second base skills.

Polanco will make $7.5 million this season in what is the final guaranteed year of an extension signed in the spring of 2019. His contract also includes a $10.5 million team option or a $1 million buyout for 2024 which you will be if you register at least 550 plate appearances. this season. And if that 2024 option is exercised or vests, the Twins will then have a $12 million team option for 2025.

With so much travel this season for Polanco and the Twins, and so little certainty for the 29-year-old’s knee seven months after the initial injury, let’s take a look at their short- and long-term options to replace him if necessary . .

Now: Nick Gordon

Polanco played his final game last season on August 27, and Nick Gordon took over as the second baseman. Using him primarily at second base again to start this year would have domino effects elsewhere as Gordon is slated to be a key part of the outfield and certain hitting mixes, but for now, it’s the most logical and direct to replace Polanco.

Gordon, a left-handed hitter, could form the strong side of a platoon at second base, suiting up mostly against right-handed hitters against whom he hit .289/.329/.465 last season. And the Twins have just added a pair of veteran right-handed hitters capable of handling second base and knocking around left-handed pitchers as part of a potential platoon with Gordon.

Now: Kyle Farmer

Acquired by the Reds in mid-November as a potential placeholder for the starting shortstop, Kyle Farmer has experience playing all over the infield and has been getting reps at second base this spring. He hit .259/.316/.400 with an 89 OPS+ the last two years, which would be average down average production every day for Polanco, but that included a solid .286/.350/.528 against lefties .

Gordon facing the right and Farmer facing the left is a classic platoon formation. But it only works if Farmer doesn’t need to back up shortstop and third base, since he’s No. 2 on the depth chart at both positions. Correa rarely gets days off, but Jose Miranda’s sore right shoulder could mean Farmer will be needed at third base. If that happens, the Twins have another similar second base platoon option.

Now: Donovan Solano

When the Twins signed Donovan Solano to a one-year, $2 million-per-week deal in spring training, they projected him to contribute primarily as a first baseman and designated hitter, but the 35-year-old was a Silver Slugger-winning second baseman for the Giants in 2020 and has logged more than 3,000 career innings at the position.

And the left-handed hitting part of the platoon is exactly why the Twins targeted Solano in the first place. He has hit .321 against lefties since 2019, including .300 or better in all four seasons. His power is minimal, but “Donnie Barrels” is a high-contact, line-moving hitter, and assuming he hasn’t lost more than a step defensively, he’d be an ideal platoon partner for Gordon.

Later: Edouard Julien

Polanco’s absence opened the door for Edouard Julien to start at second base in a series of early spring training games, and the 23-year-old impressed before leaving camp to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. He was optioned to Triple-A St. Louis. Paul before returning from the WBC, though that wouldn’t prevent the Twins from keeping him on the Opening Day roster.

Julien is an extremely promising hitter, combining elite plate discipline with 20-homer power, but he has yet to play a Triple-A game and is generally viewed as somewhat of a stretch defensively at second base. Julien will absolutely be a factor if Polanco misses months rather than days or weeks. But other than that, Gordon, Farmer and Solano are good enough that they’re unlikely to rush him to the majors.

Much later: Brooks Lee, Royce Lewis, Austin Martin

This trio held three of the top five spots on my list of twins published in January — Julien has since moved up a notch or two after ranking at No. 6 — but each of them is not ready and/or not in able to enter the top- formation of the league yet. However, all three prospects could emerge as second base options in the second half if Polanco is still out. And all would be in play for 2024 and beyond.

Perspective no. 1, Brooks Lee played in college and likely profiles best as a third baseman in the majors, but second base is also a solid fit. He’s only been undrafted out of Cal-Poly for nine months and only has 31 professional games under his belt, so Lee definitely needs some time to develop in the high minors. But many Twins officials have suggested a 2023 debut is realistic.

Perspective no. 2, Royce Lewis is on track for a midseason return from his second torn ACL in as many years, so he’s no immediate help for the Twins. But he certainly looked big-league ready last year between knee surgeries, including an impressive 12-game debut for the Twins. Correa’s presence means Lewis will move from shortstop and his skills will be very well placed at second base.

Perspective no. 5, Austin Martin has played primarily shortstop and center in the minors, but many evaluators have felt that second base is his best long-term fit since 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 could require surgery.

Big picture

If the Twins are confident Polanco will be back at some point in April or even May, they can feel good about turning to a combination of Gordon, Farmer and Solano to hold down the fort. Anything beyond that and Julien could enter the picture. And in 2024, if the Twins decide to move on from Polanco, they have plenty of second base options in Julien, Lewis, Lee, Gordon and Martin.

However, they would like Polanco back in the lineup as soon as possible.

(Jorge Polanco featured photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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