Which Twins Will Make the 60-Man Roster?
Image courtesy of © Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsThis Sunday, the Twins will need to submit a 60-person list to Major League Baseball. Only the players on that list will be eligible to play during the frantic 60-game season that begins late next month. That makes for a number of interesting decisions over the coming days, because even in a 162-game season, a team doesn’t usually use 60 players. The Twins will have to select some players to bring along for purely developmental reasons, yet keep enough talent on hand to fill unexpected vacancies.
Of course, a large number of the decisions will be essentially automatic. There are 38 players on Minnesota’s 40-man roster, and all of them are ironclad locks to be among the 60. Michael Pineda, currently suspended, is another easy call, since he’ll finish his carried-over suspension and be eligible to return with a few weeks left in the season. Still, that leaves a lot of talented players who are important to the future of the franchise—and who could be important to the team in 2020—on the edge of the picture.
Let’s run through a few more relatively easy calls. The 40-man roster features three catchers, but the team is likely to carry three more. Juan Graterol, signed as a non-roster invitee over the winter, offers veteran savvy in case of emergency. Ryan Jeffers had an impressive 2019, so much so that keeping him around in case the need arises for an everyday catcher at the last moment makes sense, especially because he’ll be able to continue working on his defense and developing his rapport with key pitchers throughout the system. Ben Rortvedt has neither as high a ceiling nor as short a path to playing time as Jeffers, but he’ll be Rule 5-eligible this winter, so the team needs to evaluate him as fully as possible over the next few months.
Zander Wiel was in the midst of a very encouraging spring training before the world stopped in mid-March. He’s unlikely to hit enough to become a regular, given his lack of defensive value, but he can do so more than well enough to serve as a fallback bench bat option on a taxi squad. Wilfredo Tovar, who’s appeared in the big leagues for cups of coffee in three different seasons, is a fine good-glove, no-hit shortstop, an insurance policy and the kind of player who can facilitate action on the taxi squad via his general competence.
Royce Lewis has such phenomenal upside that not bringing him along, if only on the chance that he breaks out in an unexpectedly brilliant and rapid way, would be silly. Wander Javier has had so much of his career derailed by injuries that he’s no threat to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft this fall, but that only makes it more important that the team finally get him into some form of uninterrupted, supervised, competitive development, a luxury that won’t be available in Fort Myers or anywhere else this summer.
Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach could well be needed, and could even become heroes, for the 2020 team. Both of their bats are MLB-ready; they’re much more desirable as potential replacements if the Twins lose a key hitter to injury than are Jake Cave or LaMonte Wade, Jr. Brent Rooker and Akil Baddoo are both Rule 5-eligible this December, so the team needs to get long looks at them, and their respective profiles make those looks especially valuable and important.
On the other hand, and this is why the calculus will be especially intriguing, the team should (and probably will) keep Gabriel Maciel away from the taxi squad, despite his also being Rule 5-eligible this fall. Maciel is far enough from being big league-ready to be safe from selection, and the team doesn’t urgently need to see him in a competitive setting. Non-roster free-agent signee Lane Adams can do what Maciel would offer, anyway.
Jhoulys Chacín looked unlikely to make the Opening Day roster as a member of the rotation, and looks even less likely to do so now, since Rich Hill seems quite likely to be ready for one of those jobs by the time the season begins. Nonetheless, the team should list him among their 60 eligible players, retaining him as depth and insurance for as long as possible.
Four relievers whom the team signed to non-roster deals this winter look like good candidates to come in as further depth for the bullpen: right-handers Cory Gearrin and Juan Minaya, and lefties Danny Coulombe and Blaine Hardy. Other teams have already had chances to pluck southpaw Andrew Vasquez and righty Jake Reed, but they still seem like solid options to round out the relief corps for the time being.
That leaves just two spots. With the hard-throwing likes of Jorge Alcala and Jhoan Duran already on the 40-man roster, and with guys like Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe around to soak up innings in bulk if needed, there aren’t urgent team needs to weigh for these final spots.
The Twins should use those places on two hurlers who will be Rule 5-eligible after the season. Jordan Balazovic will be protected, no matter what, but the team should still keep him close. He’s the kind of pitcher who can benefit from close instruction and a competitive environment, and who could benefit the other players on a reserve squad by giving them a challenging but conventional opponent against whom to prepare for action.
Bailey Ober will be tougher to squeeze onto the 40-man roster, and might not merit as much. However, he’s another hurler whom the team would do well to evaluate under the most normal conditions possible, and his ability to throw strikes with good extension and a deceptive delivery makes him potentially useful in a huge number of ways.
There will be no conventional Minor League Baseball this year. There might be a dramatically expanded Fall League, but at the moment, even that feels like a pipe dream, given the trends in the spread of coronavirus in Arizona and in Florida, and given the continued fears of a second wave of the disease in the autumn. The Twins can’t count on having any way to evaluate their own talent, other than by keeping them around as part of their 60-player reserve list. That’s why they’ll need to weigh the Rule 5 Draft, but also their medium- and long-term future, as well as keeping the best possible players around in the event of injuries or illnesses that would otherwise threaten a very promising (however bizarre) 2020 campaign.
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