Twins Spring Training 2021: Roster Battles, Projections and Predictions
The Roster Outlook Entering Camp
The Twins are building toward a 26-man Opening Day roster. Barring injuries, a vast majority of the jobs are essentially spoken for, leaving only a few true battles to be decided in camp. Here's how the roster shapes up at this time, with three notable openings:
The projection above begs a few questions: Who's starting in left field, and who's rounding out the bench and bullpen? We sorted through these topics in the show.
Who Starts in Left Field on Opening Day?
Candidates: Alex Kirilloff, Jake Cave, Luis Arráez, Brent Rooker, Kyle Garlick
It's widely assumed that Kirilloff will ultimately hold down left field, but probably not out of the gates. The Twins stand to gain an extra year of service time by starting him in the minors, and there's certainly a case to be made the 23-year-old could use a bit more seasoning.
We landed on Arráez as the clear choice here. He's got nowhere else to play in the Opening Day lineup at this point, and the thought of him being on the bench for that momentous occasion is almost outrageous. (Especially against a tough right-handed pitcher.) Arráez played quite a bit of left field as a rookie and has stated his intent to sharpen up there this spring.
It seems likely Arráez will be the semi-regular left fielder early on, at least until Kirilloff arrives. Of course, that outlook can quickly change if someone gets hurt, requiring Arráez to fill in elsewhere. Then, Cave becomes the top candidate, or maybe even Kirilloff, should the Twins set aside service-time concerns or lock him up with an extension.
Who Gets the Last Spot on the Bench?
Candidates: Brent Rooker, Willians Astudillo, Kyle Garlick, Travis Blankenhorn, Nick Gordon
Here's how we see a four-man bench taking form currently:
Something to keep in mind is that, under the assumption Kirilloff starts in the minors, Arráez or Cave is starting in left field. So that theoretically opens up an additional bench spot, but there still might only be one for the taking. MLB removed the roster stipulation of a 13-pitcher limit this year, so it's possible the Twins will carry 14 arms. In fact it's quite likely, I'd argue.
So, let's stick with the idea that one final role on the bench is available. That role could take several different shapes. One might argue in favor of Rooker or Garlick, who offer right-handed bats to rotate with Arráez and Cave in left. There's also Blankenhorn and Gordon, who would provide necessary infield depth if Arráez is starting regularly in the outfield.
Personally, I'm in favor of Astudillo, who brings a versatile right-handed bat as well as useful depth at catcher and third base. (Critically, unlike most others mentioned, there's no need to worry about Astudillo's development being impeded if he rarely plays.)
Who Gets the Last Bullpen Spot?
Candidates: Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, Shaun Anderson, Edwar Colina
As noted in the previous section, the Twins could very well go with a 14-man pitching staff, extending the bullpen to nine spots and adding another opening to the projection below:
One way or another, the team is all but certain to have at least one long-relief, starter-hybrid type arm in the bullpen mix, whether that's Dobnak, Smeltzer, Thorpe, or otherwise. The prohibitive favorite in such a race would be Dobnak, given his experience and track record.
If the Twins go with nine relievers, our panel liked Anderson to win the job, but there are plenty of other contenders, including non-roster invites and – perhaps – lingering free agents yet to be signed.
Which Player in Camp Will Surprise?
There are always at least a few players each spring who go from off-the-radar, or out-of-mind, to center spotlight. Maybe it's the transformed physical shape they arrive in. Maybe it's eye-opening displays in batting practice. Maybe it's huge performances in exhibition games.
On Offseason Live we each put forth a name we expect to generate some buzz in Fort Myers.
- John's Pick: Nick Gordon. An incredibly challenging 2020, which saw him hospitalized for COVID and far away from the baseball field, leaves the former first-round draft pick on a path of redemption as he likely faces his last chance to emerge in the Twins organization.
- Seth's Pick: J.T. Riddle. Keep an eye on this stellar defensive infielder, who could sneak his way onto the Opening Day bench if the Twins go all-in on their commitment to fielding the ball, and value his ability to play anywhere – including short and center.
- Nick's Pick: Aaron Sabato. He's not exactly unknown, as last year's first-rounder and Twins Daily's eighth-ranked prospect, but fans have had no opportunity to get a handle on Sabato yet. He hasn't played in a minor-league game or participated in a spring camp, until now. He was one of the best and most advanced hitters in the 2020 class. I can't wait to see his heralded power first-hand.
We wrapped up the show by attempting to collectively predict the batting lineup Rocco Baldelli will write up for April 1st, against the Brewers and right-hander Brandon Woodruff. We went round-robin, taking turns at each successive spot in the order. This led to some interesting realizations.
(Note: it's since come to my attention that since the Twins are playing in Milwaukee and the designated hitter has been removed from the NL this year, Nelson Cruz will probably not be able to start in their opening series. Lame. Anyway, this analysis still applies with regards to predicting Baldelli's A-lineup.)
Seth chose first, and understandably went with the default at leadoff in Kepler. After all, Kepler has led off nearly two-thirds of Minnesota's games over the past two seasons (63%). But as we continued – Donaldson second, Cruz third – we quickly hit a wall. The cleanup spot that once so reliably belonged to Eddie Rosario is now open, and the best apparent fit to replace him had already been written in at leadoff.
In this our first pass, we went with Sanó at cleanup, Polanco fifth, and then followed with Garver, Arráez, Buxton and Simmons, arriving at this lineup:
But, it didn't feel quite right. So we took another stab, moving Kepler into the cleanup spot and sliding Arráez up to leadoff. This one felt more plausible:
Whether that's how the go-to batting order will look, I don't know. But after working through it in our discussion, I do feel comfortable saying this: Kepler's days as the regular leadoff man are finished. His left-handed power will be needed elsewhere in this lineup, at least until Kirilloff is here.
How do you expect the Opening Day lineup to materialize? Who do you see winning the roster competitions laid out above? Who else might the Twins add before the season starts? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Twins Daily's on-site coverage of spring training will officially commence later this week. John is on the scene and ready to report from the Fort.
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