Twins season awards

Most Valuable Player: Jorge Polanco

The Twins infielder was named an All-Star after a hot start to the 2019 campaign but was average in the second half. In the shortened 2020 season, Polanco slumped, and the front office lost trust in his defensive abilities at shortstop. So, the Twins signed Andrelton Simmons to take over at short and slid Polanco over to second base.

Polanco was awful in April, logging a .555 OPS in 23 games. But on May 7, Polanco went 2 for 3 with a double and a home run in a win over Detroit. It began a streak of four contests with multiple hits. He never looked back from there. Playing in 152 contests, Polanco set career highs in home runs (33), RBI (98), slugging percentage (.503) and OPS+ (125). He led the Twins in hits (158), dingers, doubles (35), stolen bases (11), slugging percentage, runs scored (97) and total bases (296).

Among batters who played at least 75% of their games at second base, only Toronto’s Marcus Semien and Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe had more home runs and a better slugging percentage than Polanco.

Gold Glove: Andrelton Simmons

Look, the Simmons signing didn’t end well for Minnesota. Since 2000, only five hitters with 450+ plate appearances logged a worse OPS than Simmons (.558). Although he didn’t pack his bats when moving to Minnesota, Simmons brought his glove. As of Aug. 22, Simmons had posted the ninth-highest mark in the SABR Defensive Index among all AL fielders, and the sixth-best of all shortstops in baseball. Simmons was also awarded the highest dWAR on the Twins by Baseball Reference (2.2). Outfielder Byron Buxton is still an elite defensive player, he just didn’t play enough games to qualify for our prestigious award.

Cy Young: Caleb Thielbar

José Berríos was traded at the deadline. Michael Pineda was injured for much of the year. Taylor Rogers was shelved for the season in late July. That leaves Tyler Duffey and Thielbar as the top two finalists for the Twins’ Cy Young. We’re giving the nod to Thielbar, and we’d be lying if we said the storyline had nothing to do with our voting. Thielbar, a native of Northfield, Minn., debuted for the Twins at age 26 in 2013. He pitched 109 games for Minnesota from 2013-15 and registered a 2.74 ERA and 3.36 FIP. Despite the solid numbers in the big leagues, Thielbar was designated for assignment and didn’t sniff an MLB mound again until he completed the comeback and pitched for the Twins last season. In 2021, Thielbar proved he was more than a good story. He logged a 3.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 1.172 WHIP and career-best 10.8 K/9 in 59 appearances (64 IP). A pitcher’s record doesn’t mean much in today’s game, especially for a reliever, but Thielbar’s perfect 7-0 record in ’21 will look great on his baseball card.

Best Offseason Move: Re-signing Nelson Cruz

Bringing back the veteran slugger on a one-year deal worth $13 million was an easy decision for Minnesota. Although re-signing Cruz didn’t result in a division title, it did help the Twins build for the future. Minnesota flipped Cruz to Tampa Bay ahead of the trade deadline for prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. While Strotman struggled with Triple-A St. Paul (7.33 ERA), Ryan showed promise in the big leagues. On Sept. 22, Ryan whiffed 11 batters in five innings of work. He’ll head into spring training as a contender to win a spot in the 2022 starting rotation.

Worst Offseason Move: Matt Shoemaker

The Twins agreed to a deal with Shoemaker just a few days before the team reported to spring training. The experiment did not go well. Shoemaker dazzled in his first outing, holding Detroit to one run over six innings, but he allowed five or more runs in five of his 11 starts and was demoted to the bullpen. In what would be his final Twins appearance, Shoemaker coughed up eight runs on seven hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings. He was designated for assignment and, later, released by Triple-A St. Paul on Aug. 2.

Rookie of the Year: Bailey Ober

Ober, a 12th-round pick by Minnesota in 2017, made his MLB debut May 18 in a home game against the Chicago White Sox. He served up a pair of home runs and allowed four runs in four innings. He was sent back to Triple-A a few days later. However, on June 6, the Twins needed another starting pitcher. Ober was much better this time around, whiffing four hitters and holding Kansas City to one run on five hits in four innings. He stuck with the Twins rotation for the rest of the season.

In 20 starts, Ober showed incredible control and the ability to mow hitters down. He posted 96 strikeouts and 19 walks in 92 1/3 innings -- adding up to a 5.05 K/BB ratio, the best mark for any Twins rookie (minimum 60 IP) and the ninth-best K/BB for any rookie since 1920. Like Ryan, he’ll compete for a starting role next season.

Can’t Wait For: Jose Miranda

In a rather lost season for the Twins, it was fun to track the eye-popping numbers Miranda posted all summer long. The slugging infielder went from the Twins’ No. 18-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline on opening day to where he currently stands at No. 8, even after all the trades Minnesota made to boost its farm. Miranda batted .345/.408/.588 in 47 games with Double-A Wichita, was promoted to Triple-A in late June, and went on to hit .343/.397/.563 in 80 contests with the St. Paul Saints. He collected 184 hits -- 19 more than any other player in the minors -- and led the Twins organization in batting average (.344), doubles (32), home runs (30), runs scored (97), RBI (94), slugging percentage (.572) and OPS (.973). Josh Donaldson has the hot corner locked down, but manager Rocco Baldelli shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot for Miranda’s bat in the lineup at some point next season.

Low Point: Eighth consecutive extra-inning loss

Remember when Minnesota couldn’t win a game in extras? It lasted nearly two months. The Twins lost their first eight extra-inning contests of the season, and all ended in the 10th inning. On May 22, the Twins went into the 10th inning tied with Cleveland at 3. In the top of the 10th, infielder Josh Donaldson lined out to center field. Max Kepler whiffed. And when Twins baserunner Luis Arraez moved to third on a wild pitch, Miguel Sano went down on strikes. Cleveland walked it off in the bottom half of the inning on a moonshot by Cesar Hernandez, and the Twins lost 5-3. Minnesota was now in last place in the AL Central and 10 1/2 games out of first place. Morale was depleted.

High Point: Jorge Polanco’s walk-off winners

One bright spot of the season was Polanco’s oddly consistent late-game heroics. He tallied not one, not two … but five walk-off plate appearances in 2021. In order: a hit against Chicago (May 18), home run vs. Detroit (July 11), sacrifice fly to beat Tampa Bay (Aug. 15), extra-base hit vs. Cleveland (Aug. 16) and a single to take down Cleveland (Aug. 18). Just more reason why he was named our Twins MVP.