The end is in sight. While I'll have one eye on Caitlin Clark and her Iowa Hawkeye team's amazingness the next six weeks (hopefully), it's great to see Spring Training starting this week. Much speculation has been made about the roster, so I'll add my read on how I see things shaking out. Here goes:
Offensively, I see the Opening Day roster as:
Group A: C - Jeffers, Vazquez
Group B: 2B/SS/3B - Polanco, Correa, Miranda, Farmer, Gordon
Group C: 1B/LF/RF/DH - Kirilloff, Gallo, Kepler, Larnach
Group D: CF - Buxton, Taylor
They'll move around, of course, but this provides a framework. The other three position players on the 40-man roster and healthy are Julien, Wallner and Celestino. If one of the guys in Group B gets hurt, the door opens for Julien. If a Group C player gets hurt, the door opens for Wallner. If a Group D player gets hurt, it could be Celestino, but with Gordon's (and even Gallo's) ability to play CF, it could mean either Wallner or Julien, so that Celestino stays in St. Paul.
If a catcher gets hurt, they have to make a corresponding 40-man move, but they have Wolters, Sisco and Greiner in St. Paul and Paddack and Canterino (and maybe Lewis) as possibilities to go on the 60-Day IL. And hey, it's a catcher. If they get hurt, it could well be the 60-day for him anyway!
I didn't mention Lewis, but momma always said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." When Lewis is healthy, something will have happened to provide a spot for him. And if not, awesome! As for other prospects not on the 40-man, they'll take a number and get worked in as spots become available. And spots will become available. Injuries happen. So does suckitude.
On the pitching side, the starting pool looks like:
Group 1; Ryan, Gray, PLopez, Mahle and Maeda as the intended starting five.
Group 2: Ober, Varland, Winder and Woods Richardson are all on the 40-man and have made starts in the majors, so any are options to step into the rotation when one from Group 1 goes on the IL. Otherwise, it's assumed they'll start in St. Paul. They're listed in the order of when they made appearances, so that may be a clue as to the order.
Group 3: Paddack can go on the 60-man as needed, but it's assumed that he'll get starts at some point.
Group 4: Dobnak, Rodriguez and Sanchez are also in St. Paul, but not on the 40-man. I think they'll churn through Group 2 before going here, but they are available if needed. By the time it gets to these guys, at least one of the injuries will likely have been of the 60-day variety, creating another spot on the 40-man.
Group 5: Balazovic and Headrick are two guys on the 40-man that I'm guessing they aren't ready to move them to the pen yet. With great starts, they could theoretically move to the back of Group 2.
The bullpen looks like:
Group 6: Duran, JLopez, Jax, Alcala, Thielbar, Moran, Megill, Pagan as the assumed bullpen. Alcala, Moran and Megill have options.
Group 7: Sands and Henriquez. Sands only pitched in relief in August and September, but it was usually multiple innings. That could be a sign of moving him to the pen full time. Henriquez bounced back and forth between starting and relieving, and I wonder if he might move to relieving full time as well. They could join Alcala, Moran and Megill on the St. Paul shuffle. Conceivably, either of these could bump one of the guys in Group 5, particularly given that they are viable multi-inning guys.
Group 8: Coulombe, DeLeon, Ortega are three guys not on the 40-man, but who have major league experience. Once Canterino goes on the 60-day IL, any of these could be added to the 40-man in his spot.
With that in mind, several observations:
I really like the flexibility they have created on the position player side. I also don't trade Kepler, unless it's for a right-handed hitting 1B or OF, but that's just tinkering. If it was going to happen, it would have happened earlier.
Groups 1-3 make 10 starting pitchers that I can feel good about as options. And Group 4 is a nice group to have in St. Paul, hopefully beating down the door with good performances, and otherwise providing enough starts to keep the prospect pipeline flowing.
I've been one of the group wishing they would have signed a Fulmer-type for the bullpen. As I play this out, I'm not that sure it's a big deal. He'd add another player to Group 6, but it feels like they have enough options to not worry about that.
Pagan deserves his own observation. Folks want him gone. I see one of two things happening. Best case scenario is that he pitches like he did the last couple months and earns his keep. But I think he'll be on a relatively short leash. Consider last year -- when Duffey and Smith stunk and they had other bodies available, they cut bait and DFAed both. What was different about Pagan was that he had another year of control, so there was hope of a turnaround. Now that he's in the last year of control, I think his leash will be much shorter.
I think this is a playoff contender. From what I gather, this group is WAY deeper across the board than Cleveland or Chicago.
Ace/Schmace. I hate the articles debating what classifies as an "ace" and how an "ace" is needed in the playoffs, but here's the way I view it:
Are any Twins starters Hall of Famers? No.
Are any of them Sure-Fire Top 10 (or 15) MLB Starters, or however you want to define this "Ace" term? Probably not.
BUT, and I've got a big but(t), I think that any of the guys in Group 1 or Group 3 can pitch like an "Ace" on any given night and even for an extended run. Consider Maeda's 2020, for example. And if the Twins have made it into the playoffs, it's likely because at least one has been pitching like an "Ace," so I'll take my chances.
I'm sure we're biased and have rose-colored glasses on Ober, Winder, et. al, but if you look at the depth charts of other teams, there's very few that have the kind of depth we, both in the top five and particularly in the top 10. Goodness -- we just waived A.J. Alexy and he shows up as the No. 7 starter on one list for The Team That Shall Not Be Named.
What did I miss?
Besides noting that we're at T-minus 44 days and counting to Opening Day.
I believe that injuries to outfielders could be greatly reduced if the outfield padding at Target Field were replaced with high tech padding.
One option would be to replace the existing padding with much thicker padding that has a layer of low density foam on the outside (facing the players) and thicker densities closer to the concrete wall. I have a mattress that came in a box that has this arrangement and believe that this approach could be adapted to baseball to cut the trauma from hitting the wall by 80% or more.
Or the Twins could borrow from Hollywood stunt people and use technology based on the air bags and crash mats that lets stunt people fall from high places without injury. https://fall-pac.com/news/fall-protection-for-stunt-men/
Based on some rough math, I believe that for $500,000 of R&D, $1 million of manufacturing cost and $500,000 of installation costs, the Twins could have an outfield wall that could cut the injury rate by more than 50%, perhaps more than 90%. This would be peanuts compared with the loss of value if Buxton gets injured on the current wall. To me this is a lot like adding roll cages to race cars -- a small cost for a lot of safety.
What value of WAR will be lost if Buxton gets injured by the wall? And I firmly believe that Royce Lewis would not have been hurt at all last year by his wall collision if the high tech wall had been in place.
One small side benefit would be a slight home field advantage -- balls that hit the padding would tend to stick and die there, not bounce back into the field of play. The Twins players would develop expertise in dealing with that. Players from other teams would have to learn how to adapt, like with the ivy at Wrigley. Another side benefit would be that players could be more aggressive when they are near the wall, knowing that it is by far the safest wall on the planet.
I believe that eventually all teams will have this. Why not get out in front of it and maybe even develop some patents to make other teams pay to get it?