Gilberto Celestino's career has been something of a tragedy, but the Twins still have time to salvage it
In the 2019 offseason, the Twins had four promising young outfielders in the minors who could reasonably be projected to stick as MLB centerfielders, occupying at least a 4th outfielder role--Misael Urbina, Gabriel Maciel, Akil Baddoo, and Gilberto Celestino.
Urbina (20) is still in the organization, finishing the season at A-ball Ft. Myers. Maciel was claimed off waivers before the 2022 season by Oakland. Baddoo, quite infamously, was taken by the Tigers in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, a fact that Twins personnel and fans are unlikely to forget following his rookie season in Detroit in which he slashed .259/.330/.436 over 124 games splitting time between left and centerfield (though not much griping is heard about him lately, given his struggles in 2022). The team may still come to regret not placing Baddoo on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
In contrast, the 4th player on that list, Gilberto Celestino, was protected from the Rule 5 Draft prior to the 2020 season as a 20-year-old player fresh off of finishing a good year at High-A Ft. Myers (and Cedar Rapids), a similar position to where Urbina is today. However, the timing of that move is meaningful, which will be unpacked shortly.
As a 20-year-old who had not played at AA yet, the case to protect the second piece of the Ryan Pressly trade wasn't strong, but it was still understandable to have a bit of fear of a solid defensive centerfielder being plucked away. After being added, Celestino spent the following season as part of the extended roster during the 2020 shortened and restricted season, not playing any games, but working out with Twins personnel nonetheless. All things considered, not the worst outcome.
The following two years, however, have been no more beneficial to his development. After a string of injuries to Twins centerfielders (and non-centerfielders like Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick that were trotted out in center anyway) Celestino was forced into action in 2021, far before he was ready, leading to some ugly play from a 22-year-old player with no AAA experience and 96 plate appearances above A-ball. He also spent the entirety of 2022 with the big league club, save a week in AAA between Miguel Sano being activated and then placed back on the IL. He led the team in both games played in centerfield and games played in the outfield overall due to injuries in both leftfield and centerfield. However, this again was not an ideal situation for the young player, who slashed an unsavory .238/.313/.302 despite intense BAPIP luck in the opening month of the season while playing average outfield defense.
This blog was originally written under the assumption that Celestino was out of options as of the 2023 season, but I made an important discovery in researching Celestino's situation. He fortunately still has one, as his July demotion only lasted 4 days, short of MLB's 20-day grace period for the option to be used. The misfortune of the Twins roster situation has actually given Celestino another shot at a development year. Had he been in St. Paul much longer, he would be restricted to the MLB team unless the club exposed him to waivers, and I fail to see a world in which a 24-year-old, capable centerfielder with some upside making the minimum would go unclaimed on waivers.
So that brings us to today. At present, he projects on next year's squad as a fourth-outfielder type, alongside hypothetical bench bats Nick Gordon, Kyle Garlick, and Mystery Backup Catcher. However, that bench setup assumes that newly-acquired Kyle Farmer would be starting at shortstop. Should the Twins add a shortstop to start over Farmer, the bench becomes crowded.
Even without Farmer filling a reserve role, Celestino's skills are redundant on this roster as one of three bench outfielders on a team already projected to start four capable outfielders. As the team's seventh outfielder, Celestino is behind Nick Gordon as the primary backup centerfielder and behind Kyle Garlick as the bench righthanded bat. He is not markedly faster than Nick Gordon, so even in a pinch runner role, he is not clearly valuable. His OPS+ was the lowest on the 2022 team among players with at least 80 plate appearances, so he cannot be looked to as a situational pinch hitter, either.
Given this information, should the Twins want to keep Garlick around for a platoon role, Celestino seems to be the odd man out. This would be the best thing for his development, though. In his limited experience at AAA, he has shown promise with an .804 OPS in 220 plate appearances. Giving him a few months (or a full year) to grow in St. Paul would be the best thing for his development as an unpolished centerfielder with above-average but not good upside.
However, in order to afford the team and Celestino this luxury, there needs to be an additional line of defense between Celestino and everyday centerfield work. Byron Buxton's injury is well-documented, and the team has shown an unwillingness to move Max Kepler over to centerfield in recent years (9 innings in CF in 2022). Because of this, the Twins are an injury away from Nick Gordon being the everyday centerfielder and Celestino being the next man up.
If the Twins are serious about giving Celestino the best shot at developing into a solid contributor to the big league team for years to come, there needs to be at least one more centerfield option before turning to the young Dominican, even if just for the first couple months of the season. This could take the form of the coveted righty bat that I gave my opinion on here, such as an everyday play player like Adam Duvall. However, it doesn't need to be that great of an investment. Signing someone at the level of Travis Jankowski, Albert Almora, Brett Phillips, Kevin Pillar, or Adam Engel on a minor league deal would do the trick, providing one extra line of defense between Celestino and the big league squad as even a temporary fill-in should Buxton miss time with injury. Essentially, anyone over the cutoff of the 2022 version of Billy Hamilton will do.
A failure to find one more, even replacement-level, veteran to fill a backup-backup centerfield role may cost Celestino his last chance at incubating at AAA to realize his full hit tool. Forcing him into service for a third consecutive year in a reserve role with only 316 plate appearances between AA and AAA will not allow him to reach his potential. The Twins are fortunate to still have Celestino's third option year, and they should take advantage of it.