There have been plenty of reasons for Minnesota Twins fans to celebrate in the early months of summer -- 56 wins, a league-leading 166 homers and a hot new nickname -- the "Bomba Squad." Now taking a breather at the All-Star break, Minnesota comfortably sits with a 5 1/2-game lead over rival Cleveland in the American League Central. The division is far from clinched, but we think the Twins deserve to sit back and collect a few accolades for their performance so far in 2019. Read on:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - JORGE POLANCO
The Twins’ farm system is full of talent in the middle infield with prospects like Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon and Wander Javier, but Polanco looks like he’ll hold onto the starting job for a long time. His five-year extension signed before the season began is looking better and better. Through 85 games this season, Polanco ranks fourth in the American League with 183 total bases and fifth in batting average (.312). He leads the Twins in hits (111) and triples (5), ranks second in doubles (23) and has already tied his career best with 13 homers. Polanco became the third Twins shortstop to be named an All-Star starter, joining Roy Smalley (1979) and Zoilo Versalles (1963). It’s safe to say he’s making “The Leap.”
CY YOUNG AWARD - JAKE ODORIZZI
Odorizzi’s first season in Minnesota was mostly a disappointment. His walks were up (3.8 per nine innings) and he posted a career-worst 4.49 ERA despite allowing just 1.1 homers per nine frames. This season has been a completely different story. Odorizzi owns a 10-4 record, 3.15 ERA and career-best 9.7 K/9 in 88 2/3 innings, numbers that earned the veteran his first career All-Star nod. The Twins have won 12 of Odorizzi’s 17 outings this year, and they’re 5-1 when he posts a quality start. And if you’re wondering who won the Odorizzi trade, the prospect the Twins swapped for the right-hander -- shortstop Jermaine Palacios -- was just sent back down to Single-A ball in the Tampa Bay organization and is batting .183/.258/.261 in 47 games this season.
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TOP ROOKIE - LUIS ARRAEZ
Called up for the first time back in May after appearing in just three games in Triple-A, Arraez came out swinging. He hit .375 in 10 games before heading back to Rochester. With the Twins decimated by injuries, Arraez returned on June 16 and looked even better at the plate, kicking off his second MLB stint with an eight-game hit streak. He's now batting an eye-popping .393/.453/.524 with a .976 OPS in 26 games for the Twins while flashing a little unexpected power, too. Arraez, who turned 22 in April, entered the season as the Twins' No. 18 ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. Although at this point, he's not really a prospect anymore.
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COMEBACK PLAYER - BYRON BUXTON
If the Twins' decision not to call Buxton up last September led to any angst between the two sides, he isn't letting on. After losing all but a handful of games to injury last season Buxton has returned with a vengeance in 2018. The fourth-year center fielder is hitting .253/.316/.502 with nine home runs, 12 stolen bases and a career-high 24 doubles, numbers that might have earned him an All-Star nod had he not been hit on the wrist by a pitch last month. The 25-year-old's career trajectory is once again on the rise, and the Twins are rising with him.
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TOP PROSPECT – TRAVIS BLANKENHORN
It’s only fitting that the Bomba Squad’s minor league player of the year (so far) is the organization’s leader in homers. Calling Blankenhorn’s start to 2019 a “breakout year” would be an understatement. Coming off a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw him post just a .686 OPS last year at High-A Fort Myers, Blankenhorn has clobbered a combined 17 homers for the Miracle and Double-A Pensacola. Promoted to Double-A on April 25, Blankenhorn ranks third in the Southern League in homers (16) and total bases (143) and fifth in batting average (.298) and slugging percentage (.520) -- despite playing about 15 games less than most of the category leaders. Blankenhorn, selected in the third round by the Twins in 2015, was ranked as Minnesota’s No. 28 overall prospect at the beginning of the season. But it looks like he’s found his big-league swing at age 22.
UNSUNG HERO - TAYLOR ROGERS
Google the words “Twins” and “bullpen,” and you’ll find countless articles about trade pieces Minnesota can -- and possibly, should -- target to bolster its bullpen. In fact, you can check ours out here. Rogers is by far the hero of a unspectacular but also rather “unsung” bullpen that ranks sixth in the American League. Rogers leads all Twins relievers in ERA (1.82), strikeouts (51) and saves (12). He’s allowed just two earned runs since May 31, a stretch of 12 appearances and 17 innings pitched. Even though Rogers won’t be in Cleveland this week, those are All-Star numbers.
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TOP NEWCOMER - C.J. CRON
For the second straight season the Twins' brain trust attempted to pounce on a Tampa Bay Rays castoff. A year after striking out with Logan Morrison, the Twins struck gold with Cron. After hitting 30 home runs for the Rays in 2018, the sixth-year slugger is up to 17 homers in 78 games, third on the team. He's hitting .266/.326/.495 with a .821 OPS, pretty solid numbers for a guy who was designated for assignment in November.