Minnesota Twins 2019 season awards

The Minnesota Twins‘ historic run ended in the ALDS, but the 2019 season was one of the ages. Now that the dust has settled, we’re heading to the podium to hand out some awards.

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MVP – Nelson Cruz

Top Newcomer – Nelson Cruz

That Cruz still had it was never really in doubt. Even at 38, the venerable slugger was coming off another season of (close to) 40 home runs along with a .509 slugging percentage when he signed a short-term deal with the Twins last winter, part of the front office’s effort to add a little pop to a roster that had hit just 166 home runs the season before.

They got much, much more than that.

Cruz, who turned 39 in July, flourished in Minnesota, hitting .311 with a .639 slugging percentage – both career highs — with 41 home runs and 108 RBI. Snubbed in the All-Star voting, Cruz went on a tear in the second half, hitting .344/.419/.729 with 25 home runs in 56 games after the break.

Sidelined in early August after rupturing a tendon in his wrist — a catastrophic-sounding diagnosis — Cruz was back after a quick stint on the 10-day injured list. He missed just nine games and came back better than ever, hitting .349/.413/.619 with nine home runs in 32 games the rest of the way.

The winner of “Most Valuable Twin,” as well as awards for community service and hustle at the team’s annual awards show, Cruz was by all accounts an invaluable presence in the clubhouse. He had a positive influence on Miguel Sano, who revitalized his career with a big season of his own, and has made clear his desire to stay in Minnesota for as long as the front office will have him.

The Twins are expected to pick up his contract option for next season.

Rookie of the Year – Luis Arraez

Twins hitting coach James Rowson, the architect of the Bomba Squad, dubbed Arraez “Little Tony Gwynn” during the season. It’s easy to write such praise off as hyperbole — Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer after winning eight batting titles — particularly in the case of a rookie second baseman who entered the season as the Twins’ 17th-best prospect per MLB Pipeline. That site also declared him “not too far behind” top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis in that regard earlier this year. A few months later he’s well ahead of both.

Signed as an international free agent in 2013, Arraez lost the 2017 season, his first in Fort Myers, to a torn ACL, but bounced back the following year, reaching Double-A. He joined the shorthanded Twins in May this year after hitting .342 in 38 Double-A games to start the season. Arraez was a revelation at the plate, hitting .375/.467/.383 in 10 games before heading to Triple-A. He returned 16 games later and never left, hitting .344/.399/.439 in 92 games as a rookie. It marked the highest batting average for a Twins rookie (minimum 100 plate appearances).

Maybe that nickname isn’t as outlandish as it sounds.

Cy Young – Taylor Rogers

The Twins sent two pitchers to the All-Star Game, sure, but while starters Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi faded down the stretch, Rogers anchored the bullpen all season. Rogers took over for Blake Parker as the Twins’ closer early in the season and was one of just six AL pitchers to post 30-plus saves this season.

Rogers’ 30 saves were the most by a Minnesota reliever since Glen Perkins had 32 in 2015. He’s also just the ninth Twin to record 30 saves in a season (and the 24th time overall).

Baldelli’s most reliable option out of the bullpen for most of the season, Rogers finished the season with a 1.00 WHIP and a .225 opponent batting average, while finishing 16th amongst all relievers with 90 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 69 innings.

Mr. Unexpected – Mitch Garver

The most productive Twins catcher since Joe Mauer moved to first base, Garver came out of nowhere in his third MLB season to become a key member of the Bomba Squad. A respectable hitter in his first two seasons with the Twins, Garver hit a whopping 31 home runs (the most in franchise history for a catcher) in just 311 at bats in Year 3 after hitting just seven homers total in his first two seasons. Mike Trout — the official leader, Garver didn’t play enough to qualify — led the league with 10.44 AB/HR. Garver finished the season at 10.03 after missing time with an ankle injury early in the season and splitting time with veteran Jason Castro throughout.

Comeback Kid – Miguel Sano

The early returns on Sano, looking to rehabilitate his career after hitting just .199/.281/.398 in 71 games with the Twins and spending time in Fort Myers last year, weren’t great. His age-26 season started with a cut on his heel and an absence that stretched into mid-May, while the Twins spent much of June retooling the once-fearsome slugger’s swing on the fly.

It worked out better than anyone could have imagined. Sano, who entered July hitting .214 with 12 home runs, reemerged in the second half, hitting 21 home runs in 65 games after the All-Star break. He finished the season hitting .247/.346/.576 with career-highs in home runs (34), runs (76), RBI (79), walks (55) and slugging percentage.

Can’t Wait ‘Til Next Year – Brusdar Graterol

Another international free agent, Graterol advanced through the Twins’ system rapidly after losing the 2016 season to Tommy John surgery. He impressed at Single-A Cedar Rapids in 2018, before moving quickly to Double-A, where his fastball was clocked at a tantalizing 103.8 mph.

Graterol moved to the bullpen in Triple-A before making his Twins debut Sept. 1. At just 21 years old, he became the youngest player to pitch for the Twins in nearly 30 years.

His stuff was as-advertised. Graterol’s first batter went down on four pitches, clocked at 99.6 mph, 99.3 mph, 99 mph and 98.5 mph. He made 10 appearances throughout September, before getting his first taste of the postseason, a one-inning outing during the Twins’ loss to the New York Yankees in Game 1.

Whether he starts 2020 in Rochester or Minnesota, Graterol’s development will be one of the biggest Twins stories of the next few years.

Best Moment – Sept. 14: Sano powers the Twins past the Indians with a grand slam

They’ll go down in history as one of the greatest home run-hitting teams of all time, but the Bomba Squad struggled to capitalize with the bases loaded. They hit just two grand slams all season — last in the majors — and hit .217 as a team with the bases loaded. Sano vented some of that frustration during the second game of this doubleheader, uncorking his first career grand slam with the game tied in the eighth inning. The win pushed the Twins’ lead in the AL Central back up to 5 1/2 games with just 14 games to play.

Biggest Win – June 18: Kepler walks off the Red Sox in the 17th inning

The Twins had already opened up a 10-game lead in the division heading into the second game of this three-game set with the Boston Red Sox at Target Field. And while their resume to this point included series wins over the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays, there weren’t many contenders on the list.

They probably opened a few eyes with this victory, which featured only one Twins home run. Starter Michael Pineda went six innings, allowing just five hits and an earned run, and while the Twins hit just the one homer, they kept things interesting throughout. Max Kepler tied things up with that home run, a solo shot in the 13th, then walked off the Red Sox in the 17th, smacking a single with the bases loaded.