Report from The Fort: Out of Left Field
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsThe English language is full of idioms that have a relationship to baseball. “Out of left field” is one of them. It essentially means “crazy” or at least “unexpected” but its origin is debated. Some point to an early New York ballpark that had a sanitarium beyond the left field wall. Others think it labeled the kids or fans that purchased a (cheaper) ticket to watch Babe Ruth in left field at Yankee Stadium. Except that Ruth played in right field. While they were out in left field. [sad trombone sound]
Today, its usage transcends the sport, so much that almost nobody recognizes it as being attached to baseball. Honestly, before this minute, have you ever even tied it to baseball? Or wondered where it came from? I hope not, because I’m about to use it both figuratively and literally….
We got some news out of left field today.
Due to the financial and team-control benefits of limiting a player’s service time, most of us expected #1 Twins prospect Alex Kirilloff to start the season in AAA-St. Paul, and get promoted to the Twins sometime in late April. By doing so, the team would be able to push off his free agency for a year so they would have control over him through 2027 instead of 2026.
Which naturally raised the question: who would be playing there in April? Presumably, left-handed batting Jake Cave and right-handed batting Brent Rooker would make a capable platoon. But when Luis Arraez reported to camp and talked about becoming accustomed to left field, Twins fans were reminded that he started in that spot eighteen times his rookie year , which was more than he played any other position other than second base. Given that he’s so valuable in the lineup, perhaps he would get most of the April at-bats?
If that’s the plan, there’s some news out of left field. It doesn’t sound like the Twins are planning on investing a lot of spring training time in teaching Arraez that position. Manager Rocco Baldelli talked about seeing a lot of his players, particularly Arraez, play in different positions. But he also indicated he would be almost exclusively in the infield. “He's going to play mostly in the infield,” stated Baldelli. “He's probably going to split between second and third while in the infield. There's a chance he could get a few innings at short or even at first base, but that's not a priority.”
This isn’t because the Twins don’t want to find a spot for Arraez in the lineup. That much Baldelli made abundantly clear. “Louie’s going to get a ton of at-bats this year and do a great job,” Baldelli emphasized. “He’s certainly a guy we want in the lineup.”
Ok. But where? Is he regularly displacing Jorge Polanco at second? Josh Donaldson at third? Nelson Cruz at designated hitter? It sounds like the plan is to have him move around, and maybe move some other pieces around? “With our roster looking the way it does, we may ask a few guys to do some different things,” Baldelli explained, and then started listing some examples. “Miguel [Sano} is going to get some work at third base, in addition to first base. [Polanco] is going to get some work at shortstop, in addition to second base. Kirilloff is going to play first base and corner outfield.”
Hold it. Who? Yep, Kirilloff was casually mentioned with several starting lineup players. Does he actually have a non-zero chance to make this roster, regardless of the future financial implications? For what it’s worth, during a discussion about the evils of manipulating player service time yesterday, Donaldson was asked about Kirilloff’s situation. He walked a tightrope.
“I think Thad, and the relationship I have with Thad and Derek, is that they want to have the best team out there. That’s going to be for them to answer,” he replied. But it’s clear what Donaldson, a team leader and veteran, thinks should happen. “I’ve seen Alex for a short time as far as being at the alternate site. I think the kid is really good. I think he has a bright future ahead of him. What they do is what they do. I don't know who everybody is gonna be on our roster at this moment. But I would assure Twins fans that everything I’ve seen, Derek and Thad want to put the best team out there.”
We hope so. Donaldson (and I imagine, a large chunk of the MLB Players’ Union) are watching.
So are we. And wondering. From left field.
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