As manager for the Minnesota Twins, Rocco Baldelli has tried to remain relatively consistent with his lineups. Although shuffling has been necessary due to injury or ineffectiveness, nothing was more certain than Luis Arraez's batting leadoff last year. In 92 of the 144 games he appeared, it was Arraez stepping into the box first.
We know that Alex Kirilloff is all but ticketed to start at first base now, but we have yet to see who will replace Arraez in the lineup. A potential candidate could be slugger Byron Buxton, which may be where Baldelli starts. Although Buxton doesn’t have the on-base prowess of a prototypical leadoff man, checking in at just .316 over the past four seasons, an additional 30 at-bats should be valuable for one of the team's best hitters.
There is something left to be desired from Buxton atop the lineup if he’s going to hit for power, however. In a breakout of long balls, Buxton blasted 28 a year ago. Leading off, plenty of those will wind up being solo shots and limit run production potential. He also has significantly dialed back stolen base attempts in recent seasons, creating less noise on the base paths. While not attempting to take Buxton out of the equation entirely, a recent acquisition could be the best bet.
Enter Joey Gallo.
The former Texas Rangers star would love to throw away his 2022. From flopping in New York to only a mild production boost with the Dodgers, there is nothing pretty about his career low 79 OPS+. It shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that Gallo may find it again with Minnesota, and despite being known for his power production, he will rely upon plenty in the field. Baldelli could also peg him as his leadoff hitter, and a greater swing in styles seems unfathomable.
In 2021 with the Rangers, Gallo led the league in strikeouts. His 111 walks also led the league, and to quantify how little batting average matters, his .199 was coupled with a .351 on-base percentage. As a first-time All-Star in 2019, Gallo posted a .389 OBP, which Arraez only surpassed during his rookie season that same year.
Along the same lines as Buxton, it may seem counterproductive to put Gallo’s home run prowess in the leadoff spot. Ideally, you’d like him to hit with runners on base and drive them in, but he could provide those opportunities for the likes of Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Alex Kirilloff. By leading off Gallo, Minnesota would have one of its best on-base threats stepping in early, and combining that with the threat of a home run immediately puts pressure on an opposing pitcher.
Last season Gallo never hit at the top of the lineup for the Yankees or Los Angeles. In fact, across his 752 career games, he has never made a start while batting leadoff. Conventional wisdom says to hit someone like Gallo in the heart of the order or down near the seven-spot. Minnesota has been progressively managed and worked with new initiatives under this regime, however, and a change like this could make some sense.
If I were betting on it right now, I’d still lean towards Buxton being the first batter for the Twins on Opening Day. I don’t think it should be a shock to see Gallo get his first start there this season. However, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it became something of a trend.