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Second baseman – Edouard Julien, Fort Myers (47 games), Cedar Rapids (65 games): Drafted out of Auburn in 2019, Julien didn’t make his pro debut until this season because of an injury he sustained while playing for Team Canada. Although there wasn’t much power early on, the native of Quebec City sprayed the ball all over the field for Fort Myers – batting .299 with 41 runs scored and 24 RBIs over 47 games. But after being promoted to High-A at the end of June, the 22-year-old tapped into his power stroke and launched 15 dingers and 16 doubles in the final 65 games with the Kernels. Julien also worked 110 walks in 112 games while showing the ability to handle three positions in the infield and left field.

“Another guy with an interesting intro to pro ball, [Julien] underwent Tommy John surgery before he ever really got here. He blew out his elbow playing for Team Canada,” Hassan said. “But he’s got a really intriguing set of skills that he showed us right away, and with his versatility, he’s going to be someone who could move quickly.”

Third baseman – Jose Miranda, Wichita (47 games), St. Paul (80 games): The 23-year-old out of Puerto Rico really put it all together this season and was named the organization’s Sherry Robertson Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Player of the Year. Minnesota’s eighth-ranked prospect posted a combined .344/.401/.572 slash line while setting career highs with 30 home runs, 32 doubles, 97 runs scored and 94 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A. He was named the system’s Minor League Player of the Week four times during the season (May 16, June 6, June 27 and July 4). He made his Triple-A debut on his birthday and promptly mashed a trifecta for the Saints.

“I’m not sure you could have a better season than the one Jose just had. One of the best all-around years I’ve ever seen in the Minor Leagues,” Hassan said. “We’re really proud of the progress that he made. He just dominated the strike zone, was really tough to strike out and just started driving the ball really well.”

Shortstop – Jermaine Palacios, Wichita (110 games): After being signed by the Twins in 2014, Palacios was traded to Tampa Bay in 2018 as part of the Jake Odorizzi deal. The 25-year-old opted for free agency in November 2020 and was signed back by Minnesota in February. And it’s been a welcome reunion for both sides as the Venezuela native appeared to regain his form at the plate – batting .259/.340/.439 with a career-best 19 taters in 110 games at Double-A – after a couple of down seasons in the Rays system. Palacios also sparkled at short for the Wind Surge, posting a .962 fielding percentage there.

“He was here my first year and then we traded him, but it was nice to be able to get him back,” Hassan said. “He really took a step forward with the bat this season. He showed some power and that defense at short we already knew about. He really put himself on the map with his performance.”

Palacios’ blasts second homer
Jun 18, 2021 · 0:38
Palacios’ blasts second homer
BJ Boyd, Wichita (66 games), St. Paul (26 games): Signed as a free agent out of the Independent League at the end of May, the 28-year-old made an immediate impact. Boyd hit .291/.349/.484 with 16 dingers, a pair of triples, 16 doubles, 73 RBIs and 67 runs between Double-A and Triple-A. The 2012 fourth-rounder was also a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts. He is currently a free agent.

Trey Cabbage, Cedar Rapids (40 games), Wichita (68 games): The 2015 fourth-round Draft selection of the Twins has shown steady progress every season since joining the organization, and that trend continued with his best pro campaign this year. The 24-year-old played his way to Double-A while posting career bests in average (.264), on-base percentage (.346), slugging (.535), home runs (27), total hits (102), total bases (207), RBIs (82) and runs (61). On Nov. 7, Cabbage elected free agency and was signed by the Angels on Sunday.

Mark Contreras, Wichita (19 games), St. Paul (95 games): Another player who has been in the Twins system his entire career, the 2017 ninth-round Draft pick out of UC Riverside put together his best performance in 2021. Working his way to the Minors’ highest level (where he stuck for most of the season), the 26-year-old posted a .251/.338/.485 slash line while setting career highs with 20 homers, 30 doubles, 74 RBIs, 72 runs and 43 walks.

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“He’s a guy that we know very well. He played his way to Triple-A this year and really solidified himself as an everyday player at that level,” Hassan said. “We always knew about the defense, and he can play all three spots in the outfield, but his bat caught up this year and that was good to see. He does a lot of things well and he’s set himself up for the future.”

With 2 hits, 3 RBI and a homer to tie the game, Mark Contreras is tonight’s @Enbridge Player of the Game! pic.twitter.com/8u31cZVa4v

— St. Paul Saints (@StPaulSaints) September 8, 2021
Right-handed starting pitcher – Louie Varland, Fort Myers (10 games, eight starts), Cedar Rapids (10 starts): The St. Paul, Minnesota native was named the Jim Rantz Award winner as the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound hurler went 10-4 with a 2.10 ERA between Low-A and High-A. The 28th-ranked Twins prospect posted a 1.09 WHIP and a .214 average-against while whiffing 142 and walking 30 over 103 innings. The 2019 15th-round Draft selection led all Minnesota Minor League pitchers in strikeouts, wins and ERA.

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“He really worked his butt off in 2020 [during the lockdown] and came back throwing harder than we’ve ever seen. He just put together an incredible year,” Hassan said. “He improved as much as any pitching prospect we had in the system. He really missed a lot of bats, showing incredible maturity, just really proud of him.”

Left-handed starting pitcher – Andrew Albers, St. Paul (18 games, 17 starts), Minnesota (five games, three starts): The veteran who last played professionally in 2017 made his return to affiliated ball this year and proved to still be a serviceable option. The southpaw spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he posted a 3.88 ERA and punched out 88 while walking 11 over 102 frames. The 26-year-old also made three spot starts for the Twins, appearing in 19 big league frames over five games in The Show.

Relief pitcher – Jovani Moran, Wichita (20 games), St. Paul (15 games), Minnesota (five games): The organization’s 25th-ranked prospect played his way through three levels to make his Major League debut. He worked around two hits and a pair of walks while fanning two in 1 1/3 shutout frames on Sept. 12 against the Royals. The 24-year-old posted the best K percentage in the system (31.6) and the second-best WHIP (0.89) over 67 1/3 frames at Double-A and Triple-A. In 35 Minor League games, the left-hander notched a 2.41 ERA, a .124 average-against and struck out 109 while walking 32. In eight big league innings, Moran fanned 10.

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“He was just in attack mode this year, and he missed a ton of bats,” Hassan said. “He threw more strikes overall, we saw his stuff really tick up as well, and he just did an incredible job of punching batters out and limiting damage if we brought him into a high leverage situation. Just impressive all around and it was exciting for us to see him make his Major League debut.”

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Right-hander John Gant has signed with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball, as first reported by Daily Sports in Japan. The team has not yet formally announced the agreement, but sources confirmed the deal to MLBTR. It’s a one-year contract.

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Gant, 29, elected free agency early in the offseason after the Twins passed him through outright waivers. The longtime Cardinals righty landed in Minnesota (alongside minor league lefty Evan Sisk) via the deadline trade that sent J.A. Happ to St. Louis.

The 2021 campaign was something off a mixed bag for Gant. Although he posted a plenty respectable 4.09 ERA in 110 innings, he also logged the second-lowest strikeout rate (18.7%), the highest walk rate (14.5%) and the lowest average fastball velocity (92.4 mph) of his six-year Major League career. He’d have been arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter had the Twins opted to keep him on the 40-man roster.

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While Gant has never been a dominant strikeout arm or a pinpoint command specialist, he still carries a very solid 3.89 ERA through 372 2/3 Major League frames. He was particularly effective out of the St. Louis bullpen from 2019-20, pitching to a combined 3.43 ERA with a near-identical 3.44 FIP through 81 1/3 frames. He fanned 23.6% of his opponents against a 12.4% walk rate during that time, adding a hearty 49% grounder rate as well.

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Gant has worked as both a starter and a reliever in his big league career thus far, with a good bit more success in relief than out of the rotation. The Fighters, however, could potentially deploy him in the rotation. Former big leaguers Drew VerHagen and Robbie Erlin both made some starts for the Fighters this past season — the former more effective and more heavily used than the latter — but both became free agents at season’s end. Gant is the second former big leaguer to join the Fighters late this week, as they announced a deal with infielder Arismendy Alcantara earlier today.

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins made their first offseason move to address their significant need in the starting rotation by agreeing to a one-year, $4 million deal with veteran right-hander Dylan Bundy on Wednesday evening with an $11 million club option for the 2023 season.

The deal also includes a $1 million buyout of the club option, meaning the 29-year-old will be guaranteed $5 million over the course of the contract.

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Bundy is expected to slot immediately into the Twins’ starting rotation plans for 2022. Though he pitched to a 6.06 ERA with 84 strikeouts and 34 walks in 90 2/3 innings for the Angels last season, Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey indicated that the club hopes to get Bundy healthy from the shoulder injury that ended his ’21 season and recover the performance that led to his garnering down-ballot Cy Young Award votes in ’20.

“He’s a guy who we liked — a number of years ago tried to acquire via trade — and even back in his Baltimore days,” Falvey said. “We feel like, with a full offseason and a good plan going into Spring Training, this is a guy we think has real bounceback ability and a guy we’ve always liked.”

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Bundy carries a career 4.72 ERA across parts of seven seasons with the Orioles and Angels, but Falvey noted that the Twins like the characteristics and some untapped potential in Bundy’s high-spin four-seam fastball and slider. The latter carried a 50 percent whiff rate in 2020 that he unlocked to some extent that year, when he posted a 3.29 ERA in 11 starts as part of the shortened season.

Bundy alone doesn’t come close to fully addressing the Twins’ rotation needs, as he now enters a mix that involves Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe. Free-agent starting pitchers have quickly come off the market amid the recent signing frenzy, including Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Alex Cobb, Jon Gray, Alex Wood, James Paxton, Steven Matz and Marcus Stroman.

As the free-agent market has quickly shifted around the Twins, Falvey noted that the club has been more focused on laying the groundwork for future trades to acquire pitching, especially considering its relatively strong farm system and redundancy around the Major League roster.

“At this point, nothing to report on that front,” Falvey said. “But I do think there’s been a lot of work put into that. Obviously, the pitching market and really, the starting pitching market as much as anything has been the most aggressive market here in the early going of the offseason. That’s something we’re still keeping an eye on.”

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Falvey didn’t set a specific number as to how many pitchers the Twins were looking to add ahead of Spring Training, but he did again emphasize a focus on depth in the group via both Major League and non-roster additions to endure the needs of a full season.

He also noted that part of the eventual solution will be in the development of their top internal pitching prospects. Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, Cole Sands, Drew Strotman, Chris Vallimont and Josh Winder are all on the 40-man roster, while top-10 organizational prospects Matt Canterino and Simeon Woods Richardson also likely to enter the conversation soon.

“We need to remain focused on free-agent acquisitions, trade, and then really a lot of focus on internal development, too,” Falvey said. “Once you get to that Double-A, Triple-A level, we’re hopeful those guys become part of the equation here next year soon.”