The Best Minnesota Twins Of All Time

In their 60th season, The 2020 Minnesota Twins have put together arguably their best single-year roster of all-time. In light of such a promising team, I thought it would be fun to construct the ultimate active roster from Twins history. To do this, a few decisions needed to be made. First, I used accrued WAR as a Twin to rank and choose players at each position. There are some questionable inclusions (Looking at you Scott Baker and Eric Milton), but ultimately it’s a fairly accurate roster of the best Twins of all-time. Additionally, I was constructing an active roster and therefore needed to include the appropriate ratio of hitters and pitchers as well as a realistic combination of backup positional players. For a player to be considered at a position, I required the majority of their appearances for the Twins to be at that position. Next to each name is their accrued WAR as a Twin. Without further ado, here is the team:

1. Lineup (9)

1. 2B Rod Carew – 63.8

Leading off and at second base is the Twins’ all-time leader in batting average (0.334) and on-base percentage (0.393), Rod Carew. The first 12 years of his hall-of-fame 19-year career were with the Twins. In addition to an MVP award, five other years in which he finished top-10 in MVP voting, and a Rookie of the Year award, Carew was selected to the All-Star team all 12 seasons he was with Minnesota. No other Minnesota Twins player has accrued as much WAR in a Twins uniform as Rod Carew has.

2. C Joe Mauer – 55.3

In the two-hole is hometown hero and most recent Twins legend, Joe Mauer. The St. Paul native All-State basketball player and future quarterback for Florida State elected to play baseball instead upon graduating high school. He was drafted first overall by the Twins in the 2001 draft and spent all 15 seasons of his big league career with Minnesota. During that time, he received an MVP Award, six All-Star selections, three Gold Glove Awards, five Silver Slugger Awards, and three Batting Titles. In addition to his MVP Award in 2009, Mauer finished inside the top-10 in MVP votes three other times between 2006 and 2010. At one point the Joe Mauer craze was so tantalizing that the team was even able to market his sideburns. In August of 2006, the Twins held “Joe Mauer Sideburn Night,” in which fans were given synthetic sideburns with double-sided tape to slap on during the game and match Mauer’s famous look.

3. RF Tony Oliva – 43.1

Batting third is the beloved Cuban outfielder, Tony Oliva. Oliva was not only an exceptional hitter, but a wonderful ambassador to the team and the league for 15 years as a member of the Twins. “Tony-O” lit the world on fire as a rookie with 32 home runs and 94 RBIs and a .323/.359/.557 slash line, running away with the Rookie of the Year Award and finishing fourth in MVP voting. When his career was all said and done, Oliva finished with eight All-Star team selections, three Batting Titles, and a Gold Glove Award. Oliva is a member of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame, has had his number six retired, and has a statue of himself erected outside of the Twins’ ballpark Target Field.

4. 1B Harmon Killebrew – 53.7

Batting cleanup is the 12th-most prolific home run hitter in the history of the major leagues. With nearly twice as many home runs as any other Twins player in history, Harmon Killebrew belted 573 Bombas during his 21-year career (84 of which came with the Senators). The Hall-of-Famer slugged over 40 home runs in a season eight different times. He held a stretch of nine-straight years hitting at least 25 home runs, eight of which were over 30, and six of which were over 40. As a Twins player, Killebrew finished inside the top 15 in MVP voting nine times, inside the top-10 on six different occasions, and won the MVP award once. “The Killer” was elected to 13 All-Star teams, led the American League in home runs six different times, and led the American League in Runs Batted In three different times. In terms of traditional lineup construction, Harmon Killebrew is the quintessential four-hitter.

5. DH Kent Hrbek – 38.6

Following Killebrew in the lineup is Kent Hrbek, the Twins’ second-best first baseman of all-time according to WAR. Another Minnesota native, Hrbek championed the definition of a warrior in the middle of the Twins’ lineup and at first base for 14 years. In each season but his first and his last, Hrbek appeared in over 100 games. During his rookie season, he was selected to the All-Star team and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. A few years later, in 1984, Hrbek finished second in MVP voting. His true claim to fame as a Twins legend came as a member of World Champion 1987 and 1991 teams.

6. CF Kirby Puckett – 51.1

Behind Hrbek is his former teammate and fellow two-time World Champion, the beloved and late Kirby Puckett. Puckett spent all 12 years of his career with the Twins after being drafted third overall in the 1982 draft. He was selected to 10 All-Star teams, won six Gold Glove Awards, six Silver Slugger Awards, won a Batting Title in 1989, and was the American League runs batted in leader in 1994. Perhaps no moment in Twins history is more iconic than the Hall-of-Famer’s 11th-inning walk-off home run to force a game seven of the 1991 World Series. Perhaps no picture in Twins history is more iconic than Puckett rounding the bases with his fist pumped in the air after hitting that home run.

7. LF Bob Allison – 30.6

Bob Allison quietly slots into the seventh spot. The former University of Kansas baseball and football player signed and played with the Washington Senators for three years before the expansion to Minnesota. Initially a right fielder, Allison moved over to left upon the emergence of fellow all-timer Tony Oliva. Allison was a staple in the lineup, hitting at least 20 home runs in seven of the Minnesota Twins’ first eight seasons between 1961 and 1968. During that same time period, he failed to play 130 games just once.

8. 3B Gary Gaetti – 27.2

At third and batting eighth is Gary Gaetti. Gaetti homered in his first major league at-bat in 1981 for the Twins and would ultimately spend the first 10 years of his career in Minnesota. Between 1986 and 1989, Gaetti won four straight Gold Glove awards. He also had three top-25 finishes in MVP-voting during that time and two All-Star team selections. Gaetti was a pivotal member of the World Champion 1987 team. In the first game of the ALCS against the favored Detroit Tigers, Gaetti homered in his first two plate appearances, and would ultimately be awarded MVP of the series.

9. SS Roy Smalley – 20.8

Tune into Fox Sports North these days to watch the Twins and you might catch Roy Smalley providing game analysis as well as broadcasting the occasional game. The Twins traded for the University of Southern California alum in 1976, his second year in the league. He played shortstop for the Twins until they traded him away in 1982. After bouncing around to a few teams, he ultimately returned to the Twins in 1985 for the final three years of his career. As a Twin in 1979, Smalley was elected to the All-Star team and finished 16th in MVP voting after playing in all 162 games.

2. Starting Rotation (5)

1. Bert Blyleven – 49.1

The opening day nod goes to the Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. Half of Blyleven’s remarkable 22-year career was with the Twins. 149 of his 287 career wins were with Minnesota, and nobody has thrown more strikeouts in a Twins uniform than Bert Blyleven. He has the third-most innings pitched in team history at 2566.2 and is 18th in earned run average at 3.28. Counting only full seasons as a Twin, the only time Blyleven failed to pitch 200 innings was his rookie season, and he routinely eclipsed the 250 mark. In the 1987 World-Series-winning postseason, Blyleven won two games in the ALCS against Detroit and one in the World Series against St. Louis. Lately, you can catch Bert alongside Dick Bremer as a Twins color-commentator on Fox Sports North, a job he has done since 1996. Many fans have shown up over the years with signs saying “Circle Me Bert,” hoping to be recognized on live television by the legendary pitcher. Fellow all-timer Johan Santana even joked about the “Circle Me Bert” fanaticism on Twitter:

2. Brad Radke – 45.6

Following Blyleven is Mr. Reliable, Brad Radke. In Brad Radke’s entire 12-year MLB career with Minnesota, he failed to start 25 games only one time (21 starts in 2002). Otherwise, Radke provided a consistent presence in the rotation for over a decade, earning him 148 total wins in his career. In 1997, Radke went 20-10 with a 3.87 ERA over 35 starts and 239.2 innings. He finished third in the Cy Young race and 25th in MVP-voting. The following year, in 1998, Radke was selected to the All-Star team.

3. Johan Santana – 35.8

Outside of Torii Hunter, there is nobody I pretended to be as a kid in my backyard in the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series more than Johan Santana. A true underdog story, Santana wavered between pitching and playing outfield after being discovered and was ultimately acquired by the Minnesota Twins via the Rule 5 Draft after being left unprotected by the Houston Astros. The rest, as they say, is history. Santana would go on to have a wonderful 12-year career in the majors, the first eight of which were with Minnesota. Between 2002 and 2008, Santana averaged nearly 28 starts per season, posted a 2.92 ERA, and had a record of 90-41. He finished top-10 in Cy Young voting for five straight seasons, winning the award twice. During that time he was also a three-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and finished inside the top-10 in MVP voting twice. He’d ultimately play four more seasons with the Mets after leaving Minnesota, but has since been seen around the Twins clubhouse in a mentorship role within the organization.

4. Jim Kaat – 30.6

Fifteen of Jim Kaat’s remarkable 25 years as a big leaguer were spent within the organization. In the 12 years between 1961 and 1972, Kaat averaged approximately 15 wins on 230 innings pitched. Even excluding his two years as a Washington Senator, nobody has come close to his 189 wins in a Twins uniform. During this stretch, he was selected to two All-Star teams and was awarded the Gold Glove for 11 straight years. In 1966, Kaat went 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA over 41 starts. These days you can occasionally catch Kaat broadcasting Twins games on Fox Sports North alongside long-time broadcaster Dick Bremer.

5. Frank Viola – 27

Bringing up the caboose of the rotation is Frank Viola. In his rookie year with the Twins in 1982, Viola started 22 games. Over the next six years, he would start at least 30 games in all six years, posted a 3.75 ERA and 100 wins, and finished inside the top-10 in Cy Young voting three times. In 1988, Viola won the Cy Young award with a 24-7 record and a 2.64 ERA. Perhaps his biggest claim to fame was being awarded the MVP of the 1987 World Series for winning two of his three starts against the St. Louis Cardinals.

3. Bullpen (8)

1. Jim Perry – 26.3

Only three other players have won more games in a Twins uniform than Jim Perry. Over his decade with the Twins between 1963 and 1972, Perry totalled 128 wins and a 3.15 ERA. He had two All-Star team selections and two top-10 finishes in MVP voting. In 1970, Jim Perry won the Cy Young Award with a 24-12 record and an ERA of 3.04 over 40 starts and 278.2 innings.

2. Dave Goltz – 24.5

Dave Goltz had a nice eight-year stretch with the Twins between 1972 and 1979. For six straight years between 1974 and 1979, Goltz started at least 24 games in each season, posting a 3.40 ERA and winning 87 times. In 1977, Goltz finished sixth in Cy Young voting after recording 20 wins over 39 starts with an ERA of 3.36.

3. Kevin Tapani – 19.1

Another important name in Twins sports history, Kevin Tapani was a pivotal member of the World Champion 1991 crew. In his seven seasons with the Twins, Tapani recorded 75 wins with a modest 4.05 ERA. However, across his 34 starts in 1991, Tapani went 16-9 with a 2.99 ERA. He recorded a win in game two of the 1991 World Series against the Braves.

4. Closer Joe Nathan – 18.4

The honorary closer of this hypothetical team will be given to the Twins’ all-time leader in saves, Joe Nathan. Following the 2003 season, the Twins traded star catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants and acquired failed-starter-turned-reliever Joe Nathan. Over the next seven seasons, Joe Nathan would dominate out of the Twins bullpen to the tune of 260 saves and a 2.16 ERA. In addition to his four All-Star team selections, Nathan finished inside the top-10 in Cy Young voting twice and inside the top-20 in MVP voting twice.

5. Scott Baker – 15.8

The Twins drafted Scott Baker out of Oklahoma State in 2003 and he reached the majors just a few short years later in 2005. Baker picked up 66 wins with a 4.15 ERA over seven seasons and 159 starts with the Twins. Between 2008 and 2010, Baker pitched three straight seasons of more than 10 wins and less than 10 losses. Baker was an important middle-of-the-rotation piece for a competitive Twins team in the second half of the 2000s.

6. Rick Aguilera – 15.5

Before there was Joe Nathan, there was Rick Aguilera. Prior to Nathan’s 260 saves as a Twin, Aguilera held the record with 254. During his 10 years with the club, Aguilera posted a 3.50 ERA to go along with those 254 saves. When his career was all said and done, Aguilera joined the 300-save club with 318 career saves. Aguilera is another member of the ring-bearing 1991 team. He recorded three saves in the ALCS against Toronto as well as two saves and a win in the World Series against Atlanta.

7. Eric Milton – 14.7

The Twins acquired 22-year-old Eric Milton in a 1998 deal that sent fellow all-timer Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees. Milton would make his major league debut just a few short months later and would ultimately pitch for the Twins for six seasons. During that time, he went 57-51 with a 4.76 ERA. In 2000, 2001, and 2002, Milton won 13 games, 15 games, and 13 games respectively. In 2001, he was also selected to the All-Star team.

8. Dean Chance – 13.1

Dean Chance is the last pitcher to make the squad. The former Cy Young Award winner made the most of his three short seasons with the Twins. He was selected to the All-Star team in 1967 and finished the season with a 20-14 record and a 2.73 ERA over 39 starts and 283.2 innings. He followed that season up with a 16-16 record and an ERA of 2.53 over 39 starts and 292 innings in 1968. He accrued 5.9 and 6.2 WAR respectively in those two seasons. All in all, Dean Chance won 41 games with the Twins while posting an incredible 2.67 ERA.

4. Backups (4)

1. C Earl Battey – 17.6

Earl Battey was a member of the inaugural 1961 Twins and would ultimately spend eight years with the team (one as a Washington Senator). During his time with the Twins, Battey won two Gold Glove Awards and was selected to four All-Star teams. In 1963, Battey finished seventh in MVP voting after playing 147 games as a catcher and hitting with a .285/.369/.476 slash line to go along with 26 homers and 84 runs batted in. From 1960 to 1965, Battey caught 125 or more games for six straight seasons.

2. Infielder Chuck Knoblauch – 38

Chuck Knoblauch’s seven seasons with Minnesota started off with a bang as a rookie in 1991. He won the World Series and was given the Rookie of the Year honors. He hit .281 with 25 stolen bases and 50 runs batted in over 151 games. Knoblauch would ultimately be selected to four All-Star teams, receive one Gold Glove Award, and two Silver Slugger awards as a member of the Twins. In the 1991 playoffs, Knoblauch hit .326 between the ALCS and World Series with five runs batted in, six stolen bases, and seven walks. Knoblauch would ultimately win three more rings with the Yankees in 1998, 1999, and 2000. However, Twins fans might remember Knoblauch for tricking Lonnie Smith in the eighth inning of a 0-0 game seven of the 1991 World Series. Knoblauch’s fake attempt to start a double play seemingly caused Smith to stop running as he rounded second, only allowing him to reach third instead of scoring, where he would ultimately be stranded.

3. Outfielder Torii Hunter – 26.4

I, as Torii Hunter in my childhood backyard, have hit more walk-off grand slams in game seven of the World Series than I care to admit. I was introduced to the sport and the Minnesota Twins through the lens of watching Torii Hunter track down baseballs in center field and crush home runs from the middle of the lineup. I watched, star-struck, as Hunter defied physics in the 2002 All-Star Game when he lept up over the fence in right-center and robbed Barry Bonds of a home run. During this 12 years with the Twins, Hunter received seven straight Gold Glove awards, two All-Star Selections and a sixth-place finish in MVP voting. Hunter helped lead a Twins team that won the AL-Central title four out of five years between 2002 and 2006.

4. Utility Cesar Tovar – 25.9

The Venezuelan-born Cesar Tovar was the ultimate utility man for the Twins for eight years between 1965 and 1972. For seven of those seasons (excluding his rookie year), Tovar played in at least 134 games and routinely logged innings at every position except for first base and catcher. During this stretch, he finished top-25 in MVP voting for five straight seasons between 1967 and 1971. In 1970, Tovar hit .300, 36 doubles, 13 triples, 10 home runs, and only 47 strikeouts to 52 walks over 726 plate appearances across 161 games.

Finally, enjoy this video featuring some of our above legends that was shared on the jumbotron as part of the Twins’ 2020 home-opener shenanigans:

  
Zach Boeder is a high school math teacher that has a passion for sports and data journalism. Zach received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches in Saint Paul and Lives in Minneapolis with his partner Sarah, their dog Dozier, and cat Remy. Zach plans to argue for a very long time that "2020 would have been the Twins' year if baseball hadn't been shut down."

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