Twins look for Larnach to regroup at Triple-A
Versatile Gordon returns from Minors ready to contribute, show off his abilities
MINNEAPOLIS -- Pressed into extended action out of necessity earlier this season, Trevor Larnach was accelerated up to the big leagues and showed off a combination of tape-measure power and a keen eye at the plate.
But in there, too, was a young hitter who missed an entire season of competitive action in 2020 and essentially skipped over the Triple-A level altogether before the Twins needed him. That element of the 24-year-old's development showed in his recent struggles in the big leagues, which culminated on Monday with him being optioned to Triple-A St. Paul for more consistent at-bats.
Nick Gordon was recalled from the Saints in a corresponding move.
"I had a very good conversation with Trevor about a lot of different things, and he was very receptive to a lot of what we were talking about," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Disappointed, of course, but he came here and competed, I think, very well. I think that he hasn’t had much experience at the higher levels of Minor League Baseball, but we had no fear of bringing him here and challenging him."
Larnach had initially responded well to that challenge, with three homers and an .845 OPS in 20 games in May, but he slowed down considerably as pitchers adjusted to him. He logged a .198/.285/.281 line and only six extra-base hits since July 1.
The one-time No. 3 prospect in the organization owned the highest whiff rate on the team, unable to connect on 39 percent of his swings. Larnach struggled mightily with strikeouts as a result, with a 41.6% strikeout rate since July 1 that ranked highest among all qualified MLB hitters in that span.
"Major League Baseball, it's a very challenging league," Baldelli said. "It's highly competitive. Every player here, at one point or another, sees things they have never seen before and is competing at a level they have never been asked to compete at before."
That comes as less of a surprise when you consider that Larnach had essentially skipped Triple-A and the fact that opposing pitchers attacked Larnach and fellow rookie Alex Kirilloff with heavy reliance on offspeed and breaking pitches, something Baldelli pointed out when they first arrived in the Majors.
In fact Larnach saw the third-highest percentage of non-fastballs among all hitters to see at least 1,000 pitches this season, behind only Shohei Ohtani and Jorge Soler.
Larnach is still regarded as an important cornerstone of this franchise's future. He just wouldn't have had the consistent opportunities to work through these issues with the Twins, considering the presence of corner outfielders Brent Rooker and Max Kepler on the roster, as well as the expected return of Byron Buxton within the next week or two.
With this stint in Triple-A, Larnach will still be able to see advanced pitching in a lower-pressure setting for the first time in his career as he regroups his approach, which could help considering how introspective and perfectionist he can be with his self-evaluation.
"There is that added anxiety that comes along with trying to compete at this level, and going through ups and downs," Baldelli said. "I think that's clearly something that everyone has, even if it's not becoming an overwhelming-type thing. So, yeah. Being able to breathe, being able to relax and not have that added burden, I think, can help."
Gordon back, ready to contribute
When Gordon was sent to Triple-A St. Paul on Aug. 5, Baldelli noted the organization hoped to get the rookie more comfortable playing multiple positions, including shortstop, third base and corner outfield in addition to his established success at second base and in center field.
Gordon arrived in Minneapolis on Monday with three starts at shortstop, one at third base, one at second base, two in center field and one in left field under his belt -- and that could pave the path to more playing time for the 25-year-old.
"I think it opens up some things with Nick," Baldelli said. "I think when you have a player that can play all over the place, the opportunities generally will find him, whether they’re starting a game or getting in a game or something along those lines."
After the former No. 5 overall Draft pick overcame prolonged health issues with gastritis and COVID-19 to show that his body could hold up this season, Baldelli indicated that Gordon's skillset could lend itself to a future super-utility role. Gordon said that there was no positional emphasis communicated to him when he went to St. Paul -- just that he'd be playing all over the diamond.
"Whatever I’m needed to do, as long as I get a chance to get on the field and show my abilities, show my talents," Gordon said. "I have no other wishes. Help the team win and whatever is needed from me, I’ll do it to the best of my ability."
This will be a particularly significant stretch for Gordon because he used his final Minor League option this season and will thus need to be ready to break camp with the Twins next spring. He'll have a month and a half to continue making his case -- and his added versatility will surely help.
"There are a lot of guys that we’re going to be looking to get some at-bats, but Nick is certainly going to get his share regardless of what goes on," Baldelli said. "Getting him here to the big league level again, I think, is a good thing for him. I think we can find ways to get a lot out of him and to use him out there."