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  1. Rocco Baldelli is undoubtedly looking to right the ship this year after two straight losing seasons. Minnesota last appeared in the postseason during the Covid-shortened 2020 season. To chase down Terry Francona’s Cleveland squad, the Twins will need to be better in scoring situations and find greater health. Both things tend to be unrelated on a per-season basis, and there is plenty of reason to believe Carlos Correa can get Minnesota back on top. So, how does the division go? Here’s the way I see it: 1. Minnesota Twins 92-70 (88-74) Last season the Twins were a sub-.500 team, but their Pythagorean total had them at 82 wins. That tends to be more predictive of year-over-year success, and this team is better. Correa is back, and Joey Gallo is a great addition, even if he doesn’t return to career norms as a hitter. Michael A. Taylor is the best backup Byron Buxton has ever had, and Pablo Lopez makes a much more significant difference for this team than Luis Arraez. Minnesota should employ the best defensive outfield in baseball, and they have a chance to show off substantial depth throughout the season. Bailey Ober was the team’s third starter last year and likely will head to Triple-A. Additions like Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano provide flexibility alongside Nick Gordon, and barring catastrophic injuries again this year; the Twins are for real. The club needs both Jorge Polanco and Alex Kirilloff to be healthy, but the level of desperation on both fronts is not substantial, with players like Brooks Lee, Edouard Julien, and Royce Lewis all waiting in the wings. 2. Cleveland Guardians 90-72 (88-74) The Guardians didn’t do much this offseason, but when you’re the reigning champs, can you blame them? They’ve been a pitching factory forever, but while Shane Bieber may still be an ace, neither Triston McKenzie, Zach Plesac, nor Aaron Civale is. They’ve got a good-not-great rotation, and that should be enough to get it done. Josh Bell is a fine addition at first base, but his production has been all over the place every year. I’m not a big Mike Zunino believer, but he probably represents an offensive upgrade behind the dish. Andres Gimenez and Jose Ramirez remain legit, but as always, the outfield should be a concern. Cleveland will give Minnesota a run for their money, but the roster depth matters this season. 3. Chicago White Sox 81-81 (79-83) I want to believe in the White Sox, and ridding themselves of the Tony La Russa plague is a very good thing. Pedro Grifol takes over a roster with upside, but the floor could be very ugly. Luis Robert might have Buxton upside, but he’s yet to find a way to be healthy. Moving Andrew Vaughn into the infield helps, but expecting Andrew Benintendi to replicate a career-best OPS seems lofty. Lance Lynn is a good starter, and Dylan Cease might win a Cy Young, but there’s more than enough uncertainty behind them. Mike Clevinger is cleared, but a health risk, and Lucas Giolito has not been the same pitcher. Liam Hendriks won’t anchor the bullpen any time soon, and clubhouse leader Jose Abreu is now looking to win a World Series with the Astros. I wouldn’t be shocked if the White Sox won the division, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they left it as a two-team race. 4. Kansas City Royals 66-96 (64-98) The bottom two spots of the division could go to either the Tigers or Royals, albeit it would be a shock if anyone else entered that realm. Mike Matheny is out, and Matt Quatraro is in. A change in management may help, but the reality is that talent still needs to improve for this club. Bobby Witt Jr. certainly could be a star, and Brady Singer has come into his own, but there needs to be more around them to make a difference. I’d love to see Zack Greinke reach 3,000 strikeouts this season, and if that’s the highlight of the year, it would be a good one. M.J. Melendez will get run other places as Salvador Perez remains the backstop, but this organization needs more pieces. Kansas City is more ready than the Tigers, but not by much. 5. Detroit Tigers 64-98 (65-97) Last season the Tigers expected more from their up-and-coming prospects. Spencer Torkelson was supposed to be a lock to produce, and Riley Greene needed to be a dynamic outfielder. The former never got going, and the latter got injured before he could. Both should see a rebound in the year ahead. Torkelson is too good not to make adjustments this year. Greene is healthy and has had a strong spring. Detroit will have talent in the lineup as they tour the league during Miguel Cabrera’s swan song, but the pitching is a serious problem. Tarik Skubal is likely out for the year and as good as Matt Manning looked at moments, the ghost of Matthew Boyd is expected to be featured prominently. Detroit should be among the worst teams in baseball, and when you can’t pitch, that should be relatively unsurprising. How do you see the division shaking out? What do you agree or disagree with? Leave COMMENTS below.
  2. Kenta Maeda is roughly a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery after getting the procedure done in September 2021. He reportedly could have returned last season had the Twins been in contention. This assurance suggested that Maeda would be at full strength to begin 2023, but his performance this spring has been far from encouraging. Is Maeda worth worrying about at this point? Maeda has publicly taken any opportunity to get back into the pitching routine this spring, sometimes even taking road trips that veterans usually pass up to make a scheduled start. There have been no reports of lingering issues with the elbow, but the performance so far is worrisome. In four outings, Maeda has thrown 9 2/3 innings and allowed six runs. He has nine strikeouts and seven walks, leading to an unsightly 1.86 WHIP. In addition to the uncharacteristic lack of control, the velocity has yet to return for Maeda. In his Cy Young runner-up 2020, he only averaged 91.6 on the heater. This declined to 90.6 in a less effective 2021. In Sunday’s start against Atlanta, Maeda averaged 89.6 on the four-seam as he allowed five runs in four innings. Typically spring numbers can be tossed aside altogether, especially following a season missed with injury. In Maeda’s case, there could be some slightly bigger red flags, unfortunately. At Maeda’s age, the often-performed Tommy John surgery carries more risk that his arm doesn’t bounce back to pre-injury levels. Maeda was already showing signs of decline in 2021 prior to the injury. He put up a 4.66 ERA in 106 innings pitched in 2021, a far cry from the rotation-leading starting pitcher the Twins were hoping for after 2020. It’s possible the elbow had been barking at him all season, but if any of his struggles were a result of natural decline, the two years off since then certainly wouldn’t help. It is possible that Maeda just has to get some feel back in regard to his command and control. The problem is that at his best, he seemed to use pinpoint accuracy to take advantage of hitters. If that skillset takes time and in-game experience to return, the results in the meantime could get ugly if Maeda is also missing his best stuff. It sets up a difficult situation for the Twins to try to handle. It’s hard to imagine the Twins not slotting Maeda into the Opening Day rotation, but it’s fair to wonder how long he would be allowed to struggle should his spring performance carry into the season. It’s entirely possible this spring is a blip on the radar, but for once the Twins have starting pitching depth. Not only has Bailey Ober staked his claim to a rotation spot, but good performances from Louie Varland or Simeon Woods Richardson in St. Paul could fast-track them back to the MLB after 2022 debuts. Maeda’s contract is also incredibly incentive-laden, particularly based on starts made. It’s safe to assume that given their alternative options for the rotation, the Twins wouldn’t allow Maeda to hit too many of his quantity-related incentives if the quality isn’t there. It’s possible that even if he struggles to return to the rotation he could still provide value out of the bullpen at this stage of his career. Maeda remains a question mark for the 2023 Twins season and carries a fair amount of upside despite what we’ve seen so far this spring. The hope is that he can take a rotation spot on Opening Day and be a mainstay in the upcoming season. With his age, he’s not likely to have a hard innings cap following his elbow surgery and should be able to pitch as his body allows so long as he’s doing so effectively. That being said, it’s safe to say the lack of velocity and control he’s shown so far isn’t what Twins fans hope to see when the games start to count. While the Twins may bet on improvements, don’t expect them to show too much patience given the depth they have and the possibility that Maeda doesn’t have a massive bounce back in him. Does Maeda’s performance so far this spring raise any red flags given his injury and age? Should we wait until the season to have any concerns? Let us know below!
  3. How did last season go? In a surprising breakout year, Cleveland escaped AL Central mediocrity to claim their first division title since redacting their name. It was a tremendous overhaul. With only José Ramírez and Shane Bieber returning as incumbents from that 2018 squad, the Guardians grew organically, promoting young studs like Steven Kwan and Triston McKenzie while riding accomplished breakouts from Andrés Giménez, Amed Rosario, Josh Naylor, Cal Quantrill and Emmanuel Clase—five talented players ripped from other franchises. It was the culmination of Cleveland’s philosophy: always finding quality, never acting satisfied with their current makeup, they dispersed legitimate major-league talent—trades bold to some but standard for them—in order to remain competitive. Few other teams in baseball could thrive after dealing a player like Francisco Lindor. The success didn’t end after the regular season; Cleveland dispatched the Rays before gritting out a wicked five-game series with the Yankees. They lost, but it was a sign that the typically toothless AL Central may have a feisty competitor. What did they do in the off-season? The Guardians capitulated a touch this past winter. Typically abstinent from the free agent frenzy, they added Josh Bell on a significant-for-them two-year deal and called upon the nebulous Mike Zunino to take over catching duties. They made other tertiary deals—talented outfielder Will Benson was banished elsewhere in the state—but those two signings represent the heart of Cleveland’s offseason. And they fit. Boy do they fit. While President of Baseball Operations, Chris Antonetti, pushes back on the notion that the Guardians purposely built their identity on contact and defense, the makeup is suspiciously classic. No team struck out less in 2022; few teams fielded better. If one was to retrofit an 80’s ballclub to the modern game, Cleveland would be the team and the fresh additions fit their mantra perfectly. Anyways, you probably know both of these guys; outside of having a dreadful 2020—and really, who didn’t—Bell has typically been an above-average to occasionally elite on-base threat with fewer punchouts than one would believe given his build and position. He struggled mightily following a mid-season deal to San Diego, but history says that should be a hiccup. Zunino is the fun one. His defense is great, and that’s fine and all, but his anxious bat is the stuff of legends: he has never finished a season with a wRC+ between 87 and 117; whether you get a monkey’s paw curse or a normal, competent bat is up to the stars. Cleveland can afford to only make these moves, though, because they possess one of the most consistent development systems in baseball, constantly churning out quality players will dull regularity. Despite using 17 rookies in 2022, the franchise still claims the 2nd best farm, according to Keith Law. “The Guardians seem to do two things exceptionally well,” he writes. “They have found a ton of talent, notably infield talent, through international free agency, and they have a clear process where they identify college starters with command and good deliveries whom they can help find increased velocity.” 80% of their rotation is homegrown. That shouldn’t even be possible. What should we expect in 2023? You know what’s coming. The Guardians will parade out an endless array of nasty pitchers, often none you’ve ever heard of before, while scrapping out enough late-inning runs to best their opponent. Rinse and repeat for 90-95 wins and they’ll likely earn enough victories to snag another playoff spot. So it goes. If you were so willing—and this author certainly is—there are a few weak spots in their armor, areas of fortune not so likely to repeat. The first of which comes via the baseball law-makers: the new equitable schedule hurts no team more than the Guardians, handing them 14 more games against teams with a winning record (based on 2022 standings, some teams may fluctuate in performance, of course). Cleveland held their own against teams over .500, breaking even with a 34-34 record, good for 7th best in baseball, but a few precious wins shaved off their record could mean a standings slip in a more competitive AL Central, assuming the Twins don’t fall on their face and the White Sox stop eating glue in the corner. It’s still a relatively easy schedule, so this point could prove moot. The second has to do with some of those breakout players from before: popping up the hood on Andrés Giménez’s hitting stats reveal some real rank stuff, stats unfitting in a typical healthy outburst. His .326 xwOBA in 2022 sits near Brendan Rodgers and Trey Mancini—fine hitters, but nowhere close to the Bogaertsian line he allegedly produced. Throw in a hearty BABIP, a poor walk rate, and questionable swing decisions, and his season may end up a mirage. The guy got hit nearly as often as he walked. A fall from grace could puncture an average hitting lineup. Oscar Gonzalez was phenomenal as a rookie, adding 122 wRC+ thump from the outfield with a build reminiscent of Albert Belle… hey! That’s a .345 BABIP and a 3.9% walk rate; we should know better than to trust that. Then there’s Cal Quantrill—the UnQuantrifiable—as coined by the good people at Pitcher List. The angel standing on your left shoulder will point out that his FIP since joining Cleveland is remarkably unremarkable, but the devil on the other side will just as quickly circle his sparkling 3.11 ERA. It’s been long enough that his performance feels sustainable, but, come on, there’s something sinister behind those numbers. Yet, this type of analysis feels far too granular for the Guardians; with Terry Francona helming a phenomenal system of talent, no one player, outside of maybe Ramírez, is irreplaceable or irreplicable. If Giménez busts, they’ll just replace him with Brayan Rocchio or something, shuffle their playing cards, and still spit out competence. It’s how they’ve turned in just one under .500 performance since the days of Shelley Duncan, 39-year-old Derek Lowe, and multiple time All-Star Chris Pérez (2012). So write your hating articles, predict their downfall, but remember that few franchises in baseball have thrived since the start of the 2010s like the Cleveland Guardians. They can develop four 200 strikeout starters and rid themselves of the same arms with no change to their success. That’s a legitimate baseball machine, one to be greatly feared and respected, and the end to their reign does not appear to be near.
  4. Diamond Sports, the parent company of Bally Sports North, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this week. In a statement, they said the regional sports channels would continue to operate, but that might not paint the complete picture of fans' ability to watch games this season. There are long-term ramifications that will impact the way viewers consume sports on television. What's the Problem? Diamond Sports purchased the regional sports networks at a time when customers continue to cord-cut and search for streaming options. With fewer viewers, there is a decrease in revenue from ad sales and cable contracts. Baseball has relied on regional sports networks for decades, but fans aren't paying for traditional cable packages. Some teams lose money annually, which doesn't help Diamond stay profitable. According to the New York Post, Diamond plans to reject the contracts of four teams that cost more to operate than they bring in with cable contracts and ads. Luckily, the Twins aren't among the four teams operating in the red. Currently, the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, San Diego Padres, and Arizona Diamondbacks are the teams most likely to have their contracts rejected due to bankruptcy proceedings. The Padres lose the most money at $20 million annually. Plans have yet to be finalized about how to deal with MLB's archaic blackout restrictions. Currently, out-of-market games can be streamed on the MLB.TV app, but that doesn't help local markets. MLB is losing exposure with cable companies not carrying games and fewer fans attending games. What's the Solution? Major League Baseball has known for quite some time that Diamond Sports was in financial trouble. Last month, the company missed an interest payment of nearly $140 million to creditors. MLB jumped into action and hired former regional sports network executives, so they could take over broadcasting duties if necessary. MLB did try to acquire the rights to all 14 regional sports networks, but Diamond turned down the offer. MLB plans to take over the local broadcasts of the teams being dropped by Diamond and stream games for free in those markets. They will try negotiating with other cable companies for lower contracts, but there is no guarantee that another company will be available on short notice. MLB plans to offer a streaming service for around $15 per month if a deal is reached. Eventually, this time of overarching streaming service is baseball's best bet to help the game to grow in a cord-cutting culture. How will Bally Sports' bankruptcy impact the Twins? Diamond plans to continue broadcasting games for teams earning them a profit, so there will likely be little change to how fans consume games in 2023. At TwinsFest, Dave St. Peter told fans that the issues with Diamond are "not a risk to short-term production and distribution of Bally's broadcasts." The Twins' deal with BSN ends following the upcoming season, so many eyes across baseball will be on the Twins and how they proceed before the 2024 season. Minnesota's current contract is for 12 years and $480 million, which pays the club around $40 million annually. For comparison, the Padres signed a 20-year deal in 2012 with average annual payments in the $50-75 million range. Historically, the Twin Cities has fewer people utilizing cable services, resulting in smaller television deals for the Twins. Minnesota is the only current MLB negotiating with Bally Sports, which can be a commitment for a decade or longer. If BSN isn't an option, the Twins can look to other regional sports networks like Comcast or AT&T. In the next decade, MLB viewership will continue to evolve, and this is one of the first steps in the process. For 2023, Twins fans should be able to continue to watch on Bally Sports North, with MLB providing backup services if BSN fails to meet its contract. How do you plan to watch Twins games this season? Will the Twins find a different network for 2024? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  5. Few players follow a linear path to becoming a big-league regular. Multiple obstacles can hinder a player's development, and every team is still dealing with a lost minor-league season in 2020. Some players might never reach their full potential because of the development lost during the pandemic. However, the Twins have seen three players develop into regular pieces of the big-league roster after the pandemic. Nick Gordon, UTL Gordon was a top-five pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, so some might not call him a development success story because teams expect high draft picks to produce. However, there were points when Gordon's future looked bleak. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster leading into the 2019 season, but that was coming off a season where he posted a .653 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A. Gordon was limited to 70 games in 2019 and saw a power surge at Triple-A with 36 extra-base hits and a .801 OPS. The 2020 season was supposed to be the year Gordon made his big-league debut. Instead, he dealt with a bad case of COVID and gastritis, which caused him to drop weight. Gordon couldn't even train at the team's alternate site because he was attempting to get healthy. Over the next two seasons, there were points where the Twins were likely close to removing Gordon from the 40-man roster. He was entering his mid-20s, and the previous regime drafted him, so this front office didn't have any allegiance to him. It was a low point in his career. Injuries kept the Twins from winning the AL Central in 2022 but also offered Gordon an opportunity to become a regular player. Finally healthy, he posted a 113 OPS+ with 28 doubles, four triples, and nine home runs in 136 games. He showed the ability to play multiple defensive positions, and there may be even more power in his swing. Gordon worked closely with first-year hitting coach David Popkins to combine data and mechanical tweaks to increase his power numbers. Gordon posted a .865 OPS with five home runs and 13 doubles from August 4-September 20, 2022. If Gordon can harness that power, he will be a critical piece to the Twins line-up for years. Bailey Ober, SP For various reasons, Ober has been a unicorn throughout his professional career. The Twins drafted him with the 346th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, so expectations have been relatively low. He's listed at 6-foot-9 and was previously considered a soft-tosser because his fastball sat in the upper-80s. Radar readings have never told Ober's entire story. He is so tall that he releases the ball closer to the plate, which causes some deception for the batter. Ober has a solid four-pitch mix, but everything works off his fastball. Last season, Ober threw his fastball less often (down 9% from 2021) and saw increased use of his slider. His fastball averaged 91.5 MPH, and batters posted a .433 SLG versus the pitch. His slider resulted in 25 strikeouts and a .261 SLG in 69 at-bats. Ober was limited to 11 starts in 2022 because of a groin injury that kept him out of the big leagues from June 1 to September 16. He ended the year with five solid September starts, and the Twins hope he can build off of that in 2023. Many Twins pitchers have been touting high velocities this spring, but Ober's increased fastball velocity is intriguing. So far in spring training, he is averaging over 93 MPH with his four-seamer. This velocity jump will play even better with his length because he releases the ball closer to the plate than other pitchers. Adding velocity (via release extension and/or refining mechanics) is one skill set the Twins have shown the ability to help their pitching prospects to improve their overall pitch quality. Ober's performance has been so good the Twins are considering opening the season with a six-man rotation. He might be one of the team's biggest x-factors if he can stay healthy. Griffin Jax, RP The Twins selected Jax in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the United States Air Force Academy. As a higher draft pick, Minnesota likely hoped Jax would develop into a starting pitcher, and that's how he was used throughout his minor-league career. In 2019, he made 23 starts (127 1/3 innings) between Double- and Triple-A with a 2.90 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and a 94-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He may have been able to break into the big leagues in 2020, but the shortened season didn't allow that to happen. Jax debuted during the 2021 season but struggled to put it all together as a starter. In 18 games (14 starts), he posted a 6.37 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP. He allowed too many home runs (2.5 HR/9) and did not strike out enough batters (7.1 K/9). His strikeout rate had been low throughout his professional career, which is one reason the Twins decided it was time to try him in the bullpen. Entering last season, he had only made ten professional appearances as a reliever. The Twins had a clear message for Jax in his transition: to increase his slider usage by over 15%. His fastball and slider velocity increased by roughly three miles per hour for 2022, and he has been showcasing even higher velocities this spring. Finding dominant late-inning relievers is challenging for a team, making Jax a success story. Who will be the next development success stories in the Twins organization? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  6. Bailey Ober has found himself on the outside looking in regarding the Opening Day rotation. With the additions the Twins have made the last few seasons and the return of Kenta Maeda, the 6-foot-8-inch right-hander seemed to have lost his job. It’s certainly about health more than performance, but Ober’s spring thus far may push the Twins into making a difficult decision. Bailey Ober is the one homegrown starting pitcher the Falvey regime has produced that can be considered anything near “established”. That definition has to be used loosely, as his health has been a significant question mark. Ober’s size and frame have cost him significant time in his six professional seasons, topping out at 108 innings in 2021. It’s those health issues that have factored into the Twins trading for five starting pitchers during the last two seasons. The team’s inability to count on any significant amount of innings is a concern. He’s showing this spring that he’s at 100%, and that could and probably should force the Twins to bring him north with the big league club for Opening Day. His velocity is up, and his offspeed pitches look dominant thus far this spring. With a track record of such a limited workload in his career, it can be argued that healthy innings shouldn’t be burned in St. Paul. So how could Ober find his way onto the Opening Day roster? Injury Opens A Spot It’s worth noting that finding space for Ober isn’t an issue as of now with plenty of spring training time remaining. We can’t forget the injury-riddled 2022 season in regard to the possibility that a starting pitcher could still find their way to the Opening Day IL, including Ober. Many times when we ask where someone fits in, the problem solves itself. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but Ober is insurance for the possibility that it does. He Outright Wins The Job The Twins haven’t alluded to any kind of formal rotation battle going on, but if there was, it would likely be between Ober and Kenta Maeda. We’re talking about a ridiculously small sample of spring training stats, but it would be hard to argue that Ober hasn't looked much sharper this spring. Having only thrown six innings in three outings, Ober has struck out six and only allowed two baserunners with his velocity up across the board. Maeda on the other hand has looked rusty as should be expected following his Tommy John recovery. In his 5 2/3 innings. He’s struck out four and walked five. His velocity continues to sit in the danger zone of around 90 mph. Could the Twins be swayed into going with Ober and pushing Maeda out of the rotation? It’s worth noting that he showed signs of falling off in 2021 before injuring his elbow. Maeda has also pitched effectively out of the bullpen before where his offspeed pitches could be used more effectively. It may be a long shot, but it may be a possibility worth keeping in mind during the last few weeks of spring training. Six-Man Rotation The Twins are considering a six-man rotation more seriously than ever. While it would cost them an arm in the bullpen, the concept makes a lot of sense in order to give an extra recovery day to a rotation full of health-related landmines. The question in this scenario becomes “How long do they stick with it?”. This could also answer itself very quickly due to either health or performance. In this situation the Twins keep all six of their possible Opening Day starters stretched out to ensure they still have five viable arms should one go down with an injury. While it’s a bit unorthodox, a six-man rotation would give an opportunity to start to all six pitchers who at this point are deserving. While Maeda’s spring has been questionable thus far, it’s hard to put much stock in the numbers he’s putting up, and this would give him an opportunity to show what he has left in the tank. It seems to be the best option for all parties involved if the Twins are willing to sacrifice a relief pitcher. How it all will play out remains unclear, but the Twins had a very simple solution to their unusual stash of depth in the rotation, and Bailey Ober has shown up to camp and made it complicated. Should Ober go to Triple-A and wait for an opening in the big leagues? Should he earn an Opening Day spot should his good performance continue? Let us know below
  7. How did last season go? With clowns to the left of them and jokers to the right, the White Sox finished… 2nd in the AL Central—not quite stuck in the middle, but close enough to make the difference negligible. There’s something eternally frustrating about a .500 team; the Lord considers their lukewarm nature repulsive and spits them out of his mouth while we baseball enthusiasts have to sift through mediocrity to properly analyze the roster. It's a movie with brilliant visuals and a meandering plot; a book with an empty subtext. Yes, Dylan Cease is inarguably the best non-Bieberian starter in the division, but what do we make of the likes of Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert? Will inconsistency ever make way for undeniable greatness? The answer, at least in 2022, was no. The team made a solid push for a Wild Card spot but lost eight straight games in late September to seal their fate. What did they do in the off-season? Chicago had a perfectly normal, cromulent off-season. They signed Andrew Benintendi—a sum-of-his-parts outfielder capable of boring production—to a $75 million contract while bringing back Elvis Andrus and acquiring Mike Clevinger on ancillary deals. For Benintendi, the move makes sense; Eloy Jiménez has yet to prove that his defense isn’t an active hazard to his health while the new guy's bat can help add oomph to a lineup losing some lumber. Clevinger can ideally toss about 120 innings, although in a far less efficient manner than he could before his second TJ surgery. Andrus is back because Chicago couldn’t afford to ignore the second base position as a concept anymore. In a vacuum, it’s a fine haul, but it's easy to second-guess Chicago’s strategy. So easy, in fact, that I’ll do that right now. In a division with the consistently-competent Guardians and a Twins team gearing up to earn a playoff spot, Chicago’s moves appear tepid, made to satisfy a bottom line and work as proof that the team is Trying to Win, not an actual attempt to carry out an effective plan. Letting José Abreu walk so that the youngster Andrew Vaughn—he of a 102 career OPS+—could take over first base full-time makes sense, but, man, is it wise to allow the team’s heart to walk without an effort to retain his services? For a franchise that staked its identity in Cuban stars, losing one of the finest players the island ever developed seems guaranteed to make a negative impact. Teams need leaders. To their credit, the White Sox realized this and canned mutually agreed to part ways with manager Tony La Russa. Often criticized, and never appreciated despite a 2021 Division victory, La Russa endured overwhelming negative noise for his decisions. From intentionally walking a hitter in a 1-2 count to being so pissy over his own player hitting a home run that the New York Times got involved, the game seemed to have passed him by, maybe literally. Former Twins draftee and Royals coach, Pedro Grifol, will man the ship now. What should we expect in 2023? The good news for the White Sox is that this is largely the same team that won the division in 2021. The bad news for the White Sox is that this is largely the same team that won the division in 2021. Remaining stagnant only invites atrophy as your competition increases their talent. Sure, they could present new breakout players, but Chicago in modern times has utterly failed to create an environment for internal player development. Their best players are bought, not altered. That may seem like a strange criticism—who cares where you get your players from—but when a team can only capitalize off their most valuable resources, then they aren’t doing their homework. Take a look at the roster: the team is nearly entirely made of 1st-round picks, expensive international signings, trades including significant major-league players, or free-agent acquisitions. Aaron Bummer—a 19th-round pick made nearly a decade ago—may be their only true success story in elevating from the muck. They robbed Cease and Eloy Jiménez from the Cubs and Lucas Giolito from the Nationals, but those were highly-regarded prospects, not invisible potential; those success stories aren’t examples of outstanding talent identification. For a team that refuses to live outside meager means, not finding hidden ability is a death sentence, a ticket to mediocrity that cannot be upgraded no matter how hard they try. That issue shows up in their depth, or, really, a complete lack of it. “[T]he Pale Hose are fairly dangerous if they enjoy a very good injury scenario but fall off very quickly if they don’t,” wrote Dan Szymborski after his ZiPS machine spat out a disappointing projection for the White Sox. Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, Jake Burger, and the inexplicable, unkillable Leury García represent the best of Chicago’s backups. It’s better to leave the topic there. Still, it’s impossible to ignore the talent. Luis Robert Jr. could be a legitimate top-5 center fielder in MLB, Tim Anderson is an All-Star talent, Yoán Moncada probably isn’t as bad as he was in 2022, Lucas Giolito has multiple 4+ fWAR seasons under his belt, Lance Lynn was elite in 2021, and Dylan Cease is a Cy Young candidate. That’s more upside than most .500 teams. But upside doesn’t promise wins, and baseball is a game of depth. Without tremendous, potentially historic injury luck, it’s difficult to see the White Sox maintain their top-tier talent throughout the entire season; those games started by the Davis Martins and Jonathan Stievers of the world appear ripe to tank their season. Whether that happens will be a game of fortune, and Chicago already knows what it's like to be burned by the odds.
  8. Projected Starter: Joey Gallo Likely Backup: Nick Gordon Depth: Michael A. Taylor, Trevor Larnach, Gilberto Celestino Prospects: Emmanuel Rodriguez, Yasser Mercedes, Misael Urbina THE GOOD In many ways, Gallo presents the ideal corner outfield specimen. He's surprisingly fast for his build, bringing the range of a low-end center fielder to left or right (not unlike Max Kepler). He's got an absolute cannon arm, the mere threat of which helps to limit the opposing run game. Most years, he also brings all the slugging prowess you could ask for in a corner bat. In 2021, Gallo launched 38 homers and led the league in walks on the way to an OPS that was 21% above average – despite batting just .199 and also leading the league in strikeouts. That's always been Gallo's game: boom or bust, personified. His ability to bring plenty of boom made him a fairly consistent asset over a five-year span from 2017 through 2021, notching two All-Star appearances and averaging more than 3 fWAR per season. Gallo is a big, strong dude with a ferocious swing. His exit velocities and hard-hit rates consistently rank near the highest percentiles. With this signing, the Twins are clearly hoping to add a game-breaking factor to their offense that was amiss last year when Byron Buxton wasn't on the field. Even if he's the primary starter in left field, as planned in a best-case scenario, Gallo still figures to spend time at other outfield positions and at first base. This will open up LF at-bats against right-handers for Gordon and Larnach, who both probably profile best at this position. Against left-handers, Taylor brings an elite glove and capable bat. Kyle Garlick is also around, and he's a nice depth piece to have on hand for platooning purposes. Don't sleep on Austin Martin to emerge as an option here at some point if he can get healthy. THE BAD Minnesota's depth at the outfield corners is tough to knock. The front office added Gallo on top of what was already a strength. He brings real upside to the lineup if he's consistently playing in left alongside the likes of Buxton, Alex Kirilloff, and others. A more likely scenario has the defensively flexible Gallo frequently backfilling at other positions, which would allow the Twins to showcase their multitude of quality options in left field. Gordon, Larnach, and Taylor would be clear starters on a lot of teams. So, what's not to like? The concern here, I suppose, is the specter of Minnesota sticking with Gallo too long in the event he simply doesn't have it anymore. His 2022 season points toward such a probability; he batted .160 with a 79 OPS+ and 40% K-rate. The slugger struggled both before and after a midseason trade from Yankees to Dodgers. He was barely a replacement-level player. Gallo and the Twins are both banking on a rebound, which is why the two sides agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract. His contract and MLB track record will rightfully earn him some length of leash, and it can be difficult to gauge how much slumping is TOO much for a guy who batted .199 during an All-Star season two years ago. He's still under 30, entering a refreshing change of scenery in Minnesota, and good players have bounced back from worse. At the same time, for boom-or-bust types like Gallo, starting to fall behind major-league pitchers – even a little bit – is anathema. The appeal of waiting out those extended "bust" periods starts to fade quickly when the "booms" are too far and few between. (Just ask Miguel Sanó, still looking for a job at the same age as Gallo.) There's hope that cutting down his K's slightly and benefiting from the shift could get Gallo's batting average back up into an acceptable range (by his standard). But without an obvious injury to blame for last year's drop-off, and with teams already exploring ways to try and stifle him under the new rules, it's not the most favorable of bets. THE BOTTOM LINE Gordon can play several defensive positions. Left field might be the only one where he's truly an asset. It's also where Larnach's glove profiles best. So long as Kepler remains entrenched in right field, these two – along with Matt Wallner, and a handful of defensively ambiguous prospects nearing readiness – must look to left field as one of their best paths to MLB playing time. (Sans DH, which we'll break down soon.) The Gallo acquisition throws another barrier in the way for this group. But given the uncertainties surrounding most of these players and prospects, it's not a bad gamble. "Too much depth" is a problem the Twins, and any team, would love to have. Should Gallo rebound in left field while guys like Buxton, Kirilloff, and Kepler stay healthy and productive enough to keep him from being needed frequently elsewhere, they may find themselves with that happy problem. What a thought. Nothing wrong with dreaming big, so long as you're responsibly planning real-world contingencies. The Twins have plenty in left field. And as we'll see in then coming days, they have them across the outfield. Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base Position Analysis: Shortstop
  9. Projected Starter: Carlos Correa Likely Backup: Kyle Farmer Depth: Nick Gordon, Willi Castro Prospects: Brooks Lee, Royce Lewis, Noah Miller THE GOOD Every projected starter in the Twins infield has been saddled with limitations this spring. All of them, that is, except for the guy whose injury concerns cost him $150 million during the offseason. Correa, currently away from the team for the birth of his new baby boy Kenzo, has looked healthy and unhindered in Twins camp. The ankle issue that cratered contract agreements with the Giants and Mets was always considered more of a long-term concern, but nonetheless it's good to see Correa out running around in games after all the hoopla. Even aside from the health thing, whatever weight you want to assign it, we should objectively expect the 2023 season to be the best of any in Correa's new long-term contract – merely because he's as young as he'll ever be. At 28, the shortstop is still in his physical prime, and hasn't shown many signs of slowing down on the field. The Twins would be perfectly content with a repeat of his '22 campaign, in which Correa slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 homers and was worth 4.4 fWAR. But we know he's got another gear, and saw it truly emerge in the second half, when Correa found his groove and posted an .866 OPS, mixing in many clutch moments that were amiss in the early months. Fast forward to this year: Correa is familiar and comfortable with his new surroundings, settled in for the long haul. If we see the late-season version of C4 from Day 1, he'll be an MVP contender, as he was in 2021. The organizational depth chart behind Correa is quite loaded. I hesitate to call it an embarrassment of riches, but the Twins boast a lot of shortstop talent, and that's a very good place to be. Correa's backup, Farmer, has started more than 200 MLB games at short over the past two seasons. The utilityman Gordon came up as a shortstop, and has played 31 games there for the Twins. Beyond those two, four of the system's top 20 prospects – Lee, Lewis, Austin Martin, Miller – have played shortstop exclusively in the minors. The Twins are obviously hoping Correa sticks at the six-spot for quite a while, but there's no shortage of current or future replacements in the wings. THE BAD There are a few things to note regarding Correa and his future at shortstop. The first is that his defensive metrics dropped off a cliff last year, following a long and very stable run of excellence. It's difficult to know what to make of this, but the stark contrast against all previous seasons is too much to ignore. Even if you think his nosedive in Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and other fielding stats last year was noise, there's reason to believe Correa's biggest strength (his arm) could be neutralized by rule changes that prevent infielders from touching the outfield grass. Playing deep was a big part of the cannon-armed shortstop's edge. The other thing to keep in mind is that the Mets were ready to sign Correa as a third baseman and he was ready to accept the assignment. The idea of life at a new position has already been implanted. He's staying at shortstop with the Twins, but it now feels like an ephemeral arrangement. If the ankle starts barking at some point, or last year's defensive stat trend presages things to come, Correa will likely move off short. That eventuality seems implied in the structure of a contract with steeply declining salaries in the latter years. THE BOTTOM LINE The Twins have one of the premier shortstops in the game, and he's locked in for the long haul. There are a few different factors that make it reasonable to wonder just how long Correa will stick at short, despite his being only 28 years old and one season removed from a Platinum Glove, but that eventual scenario doesn't instill much dread at the moment. This is the strongest position in the Twins organization, featuring arguably their best player and inarguably their biggest concentration of top prospects. Not all of those young talents will stick, of course, but several have a real chance. If Correa puts together a season that convinces the Minnesota brass his tenure at shortstop is nowhere near done, those prospects could easily become the club's most valuable trading collateral for buy moves at the deadline. Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base Position Analysis: Third Base
  10. In an ideal world, every top Twins prospect would reach their full potential and become a star. That obviously doesn't happen, but fans can still look to the minors for hope for the future. Twins Daily's top five prospects face an important development season in 2023 with questions surrounding their future. Brooks Lee: Will he make his big-league debut? TD Prospect Ranking: 1 Lee has been the talk of spring training, with players like Carlos Correa gushing over his performance. Many outlets, including Twins Daily, rank him as the organization's top prospect, and he's barely played 30 games in his professional career. He shot through three different levels during his pro debut and finished the year impacting the Double-A line-up in the playoffs. He's likely heading back to Wichita to start the season, and prospects of his caliber don't necessarily need time at Triple-A. The Twins don't need to rush him to the big leagues, but his performance might dictate a call-up at some point during the 2023 season. Royce Lewis: How will the team handle him when he is healthy? TD Prospect Ranking: 2 Lewis showed flashes of his five-tool talent during his big-league debut, but it was a small sample size before he injured his ACL for the second consecutive season. He should be back by the middle of the 2023 season, and it will be interesting to see how the club treats him when he is fully healthy. Will they treat him like a minor leaguer and make him prove his bat is ready with an extended stay at Triple-A? Or will they immediately add him to the big-league roster when he completes his rehab assignment? Regardless of the team's path, Lewis can boost the line-up in the second half. Emmanuel Rodriguez: Does he have the highest ceiling of any Twins prospect? TD Prospect Ranking: 3 There is plenty of hype surrounding Rodriguez and his breakout performance at Low-A in 2023. As a 19-year-old, he hit .272/.493/.552 (1.044) with five doubles, three triples, and nine home runs. He drew more walks (57 BB) than strikeouts (52 K) in 199 plate appearances. His season was cut short by a knee meniscus injury that required surgery in June. Rodriguez is a long way from Target Field, and he has plenty of development left to make in the years ahead. However, it's hard not to get excited about a prospect of his caliber. If he continues progressing, he can be a top-15 global prospect entering the 2024 season. Marco Raya: Can his body type hold up with more innings? TD Prospect Ranking: 4 Raya is similar in size to former Twins pitcher Jose Berrios, so evaluators tend to question whether pitchers of his body type can hold up to the rigors of more professional innings. Minnesota drafted him in 2020, but he missed the 2021 season with shoulder soreness. He has been limited to 65 innings in his professional career but had a 3.05 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 10.5 K/9. Baseball America ranked Raya as baseball's 53rd-best prospect entering the season, which was his lone top-100 appearance. A good goal for this season would be to crack the 100-inning mark, but the Twins will continue to monitor his usage as he gets closer to Target Field. Edouard Julien: How quickly can he impact the big-league roster? TD Prospect Ranking: 5 Twins fans have seen what kind of impact Julien can have on games earlier during spring training. During the WBC, he will be on Canada's roster with a chance to put his name on the international map. He spent all of 2022 at Double-A, hitting .300/.441/.490 (.931) with 19 doubles, three triples, and 17 home runs. He transitioned that success to the AFL, where he posted a 1.248 OPS in 21 games. The Twins will likely send him to St. Paul, where he will wait for his call-up when an injury occurs in the infield, which should happen before May. What questions do you have about these prospects? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  11. From a baseline perspective, the win total is a point of contention each year. While not predictive of standings in the vein that Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA attempts, over/under win totals attempt to place a value on a team's overall ability. This season Bovada has the Minnesota Twins checking in at 83.5 wins while giving them equal odds (+150) to finish either first or second in the AL Central. Ending with the win total, here are some thoughts on Twins over/under lines being offered for the 2023 season: Byron Buxton HR Total - 27.5 Despite his speed, Byron Buxton’s best swing has always looked like it would produce more of a power hitter than someone that needed to steal bases. We have seen that play out in recent seasons, and despite playing just 92 games last year, he blasted 28 home runs. On a per-game basis, Buxton’s power is in line with Mike Trout and some of the best sluggers across all of baseball. Minnesota would probably like to see Buck reign it in a bit more at the plate, leaning into a higher level of discipline. He will still run into his fair share of long balls, which comes down to the number of games he can remain healthy for. Hoping that this is the season for the fluky injuries to stop; Buxton playing anything north of 100 games should allow him to cruise by his home run total. It’s a risk betting on his health, but give me the over here. Carlos Correa Batting Average - .280 Batting average is not the indication of results that it was once viewed as, but there is still plenty of value to be placed on it. Last season the Twins star shortstop hit .291 across 136 games. That included a significant slump during the middle of the season. He is a .279 career hitter and has hit over .280 just twice in his eight-year career. I don’t think I’d touch this line, but I could certainly see an argument for the over. With the lack of a shift, Correa could see a few more hits fall, and he gets the benefit of a normal Spring Training where he can settle into his new home. Overall, I think Correa’s slash line trends more towards on-base and slugging, so while his OPS should rise, the batting average may fall. Give me the under on this one. Pablo Lopez/Joe Ryan Wins - 10.5 Pitcher wins have very little value in and of themselves, but they will forever remain a tracked statistic. Last year, Rocco Baldelli was hamstrung with regard to how deep his starters could go in a game. That shouldn’t be the case, given the depth he has this year, and that should benefit the pitching staff as a whole. Joe Ryan led the club with 13 wins last year and shows up in this space for 2023. Lopez was reason enough to trade Luis Arraez, and he is coming off a 10-win season of his own. In the Minnesota rotation, both players should be expected to have plenty of offensive backing, and a better bullpen should protect their leads. Eleven wins is a substantial number, but a good Minnesota team should have a couple of double-digit winners. I’m not sure these are the exact two, but I think at least one should get there. I’ll take the over on Lopez and let it be. Minnesota Twins Wins - 83.5 Looking at the division, I think it’s fair to suggest that Minnesota is right there at the top. Cleveland didn’t do much to get better this offseason, and while they are the reigning champs, it may have been more to do with taking advantage of a situation. Chicago still strikes me as the roster to look out for, and while Pedro Grifol is better in charge than Tony La Russa, that may not be enough to vault them up. Even if the Twins can’t grab the AL Central title again, and I wouldn’t bet against that, they should surpass 84 wins. This looks like a group that can fly past 90 and even a disastrous finish, as the walking wounded saw them win 78 last season. The pitching depth is there, and while the lineup looks different, this team is constructed to compete. I’m taking the over. What are your favorite bets or over/under tallies for the 2023 Twins?
  12. Neither is inherently evil, whether it's the pitch clock or your politics. The application of both is where it can get ugly quickly, and things may start to get a little awkward at family gatherings, and yes, I'm still talking about the pitch clock. Love it or hate it, the new rules are here for 2023, and the Twins have built a team that can take advantage of the new era of baseball. With the shift changes, the pick-off rules, bigger bases, and the fact that the full season for an MLB player is roughly 150 games, the Twins used these facts to help coordinate roster moves. The Twins offseason was a roller coaster ride for shmucks like me trying to figure out what was going on with this team. Now that the dust has settled, the picture is more visible. The front office has constructed a team with elite defense and some left-handed bats that can benefit from an open right side for the first time in their careers. Defensively, teams with elite athletes that can cover ground and make superstar plays, rather than having a spray chart in their back pocket telling them where to play to create outs, will benefit the most. Athletes will be back making more outs, not data points. Having an elite defensive shortstop becomes way more attractive now that there will be a premium on being able to range to the left and right and make big-time throws. Now that shortstops can't swing to the other side of second base, we will see Carlos Correa (aka C4) ranging to his left and making that spin throw on the right side of second base a couple of times this year. I'm excited to see shortstops limited in their shifting ability and see some of the most impressive athletes in the world be able to show it off. The Twins get to be, arguably, the biggest beneficiary. The Twins also brought in Joey Gallo, who we have seen with a wider stance, driving the ball to all fields early in spring. Even this tiny sample size is encouraging. With no shift and pitchers not having as much incentive to throw the cutter inside because there is no iron curtain on the right side, we could see Gallo finally flourish. With a simplified Gallo approach, fans may see a fun uptick from your dad's least favorite player (trademark pending). Joey Gallo also fits the mold of the elite defenders that the team has placed a high value on; Michael A Taylor and the already-established Kepler/Buxton outfield combo may be worthy of a Soul Patrol-level nickname. The shift doesn't impact the outfield as much, but it's worth noting that the Twins attacked the defensive side of this team with the thought of improving their offense too, or the banned shift may provide that offensive uptick on its own. Every team in the league has abandoned the idea of a guy playing 162 games. (In 2022, only Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson and shortstop Dansby Swanson played in all 162 games.) The depth and positional flexibility will make Baldelli's job pretty simple (that thought may get the old-timers to sleep at night). The Twins have solid defenders that can play all over. Farmer, Gordon, Solano, Gallo, Kirilloff, Miranda, and Taylor (fans will see him and Buxton in the same outfield) can all play multiple positions. So much tinkering can be done with this lineup and not lose the edge created defensively. There are quality options when a player gets a day off due to injuries, rest, or just putting the best nine out there on a given day. The Twins aren't a finished product as it stands right now. More moves may be coming, but the Minnesota Twins will defend as well as anybody in the league as a unit. Great defense in a pitcher-friendly ballpark has the potential to be a phenomenal winning formula. It's getting to be time for the rubber to meet the road. I'm excited to start seeing the payoff of all the moves and top-tier defense returning in the MLB. There is no doubt in my mind that Twins management took the new rules into account when building an elite defensive ball club for 2023. Regarding the rule changes, you can see the glass half empty or half full, but we should know by now that the Twins front office sees a glass that was made too big. They dealt with reality and facts and used that logic to create a competitive product for 2023. Go, Twins!
  13. Over at Fangraphs, Dan Syzmborski has released his 2023 ZiPS projections, putting the Twins at 80 wins. They are a high variance team without question, and could have looked at adding another bullpen piece, but given the overall success of the offseason, that feels a bit low. I guess having a low floor is not appreciated by ZiPS and as we saw last year, the Twins’ floor isn’t pretty. Same goes for the White Sox who are projected for only 74 wins. Cleveland comes in at 83 wins, and some projections have them closer to 90. They’re new and interesting and clearly on the rise. But are they really that good? The title of this article will tell you what I think, although it should be noted that the Guardians played excellent ball all year in 2022 and bulldozed the Twins and White Sox in September in legitimate fashion on their way to some fun playoff moments. They were also really healthy, but more on that later. The most surprising reason Cleveland may take a step back this year is that their starting pitching has (momentarily) dried up. Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie are both legit and the ace argument could be made for either one, but overall this is a rotation built more on reputation than actual merit, with its combined 2022 bWAR of 12.0 ranking fourteenth in baseball, tied with the White Sox. As another point of comparison from a different era, the top four starters for the 2000 Twins posted 15.6 bWAR en route to a 69-win season. The top two on Cleveland’s staff are amazing and better than anyone the Twins have had since Johan Santana, so don’t confuse my point. But Cal Quantrill is merely a solid number three and was a liability in the playoffs. Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, who both looked like building blocks just a few years ago, have regressed significantly. “But Cleveland always finds pitching.” Yeah we’ve all heard that. But if Civale and Plesac are injured or ineffective, expect to see a lot of Konnor Pilkington, Cody Morris and Xzavion Curry to start the year. Morris looked pretty good last year, and they have good prospects coming, led by Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams. But Espino has already sustained a shoulder injury (not his first) and is doubtful to see the majors this year, while a promotion of Williams would be very aggressive. Morris is also battling an injury. In short, there seems to be a gap between what’s here at the big league level and what’s coming in 2024-2025, which is likely why both ZiPS and ESPN rank Cleveland’s starting rotation below the Twins and White Sox for 2023. Yes, you read that right. As far as the lineup is concerned, the Guardians made a name for themselves last year by spraying the ball around, stealing bases and doing “the little things.” Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, José Ramírez, Josh Naylor, Óscar González and Andrés Giménez represent a solid top six, but they aren’t particularly imposing. They did add a couple of bats this offseason in Mike Zunino and Josh Bell. Bell can hit, and Zunino has a good defensive reputation and impressive power, hitting 31 home runs as recently as 2021. But Bell is also streaky, and Zunino is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome, which has killed more careers than torn UCLs lately. The team hit for a 99 wRC+ last year, so I don’t anticipate this turning into some elite offense even if Bell and Zunino have nice seasons. Frankly, I don’t expect the pitching to do as well, either, even if Zach Plesac is visited by three ghosts and posts a 3.20 ERA in thirty starts. The reason?. Injuries. Injuries happen to teams. There hasn’t been a team or person in history that has been able to figure out baseball injury prevention, and I don’t think the Guardians are the first. You wouldn’t know it, though. Here’s their injury report for 2022: Plesac fractured his pinkie punching the mound, missing a month. González missed a month with a strained abdomen. Franmil Reyes missed a month with a strained hamstring. Naylor missed two weeks coming back from his ankle injury in 2021. James Karinchak missed the first few months coming back from a shoulder injury. Luke Maile missed the first couple weeks of the season with a strained hamstring. Austin Hedges missed two weeks with a concussion. Civale did miss three separate months with various maladies. He was able to return and make a start in their elimination game against the Yankees, but that didn’t go great. All of the above were available for the playoffs, even if Civale wishes he wasn’t. The only one who wasn’t was reliever Anthony Gose, who needed Tommy John surgery. His was the only season ending injury. That is also the only carryover injury certain to affect a player’s 2023 status. That’s it. Cleveland losing Gose was not a major issue for them, as he was a converted outfielder with 27 career innings. By contrast, the Twins fell out of the AL Central race while losing nineteen players to season ending injury. Not all of them were crucial, but too many were. To be clear, Cleveland’s training staff isn’t nineteen times better than the Twins’, and their players aren’t nineteen times less injury prone. They also aren’t nineteen times better at playing through injury, despite what miserable Phil Mackey stans on Twitter might have you believe. Cleveland was projected for 79 wins last year, but being abnormally healthy has a way of beating projection models. Other highly healthy teams in recent memory? The 2022 Orioles and Mariners, as well as the 2021 Red Sox. Any cinderella-type team usually is accompanied by a lack of IL stints, but as the 2022 Red Sox can attest, that good fortune needs to be supplemented with additional talent or things can go south in a hurry. That’s asking a lot of Bell and Zunino. As a baseball fan, I hope Cleveland is just as healthy in 2023, because they’re a good product for the sport and their manager is a lovable legend. But a team having its entire squad available minus one fungible reliever in October is unrepeatable, a scenario about as likely as throwing two perfect games. The Twins didn’t have enough depth last year and it cost them dearly. But they still somehow came into September tied for first. There is year to year variance and then there is one of the most charmed teams in decades winning the lottery and everyone thinking they earned it. As fun as they are and as good as they look in the long-term, Cleveland will be an afterthought while Minnesota and Chicago battle for the division this year.
  14. Projected Starter: José Miranda Likely Backup: Kyle Farmer Depth: Donovan Solano, Willi Castro, Elliot Soto Prospects: Brooks Lee, Jose Salas, Austin Martin, Yunior Severino THE GOOD It already seems safe to say Miranda is either going to be a good hitter or a great hitter. The type of hitting prowess we've seen on display over the past two years doesn't happen by accident. His ability to mix huge pull power with a penchant for going the other way give him a balanced offensive attack that yields consistent results. It's yet to be seen if the run-producing monster we saw in Miranda's scorching June and July as a rookie (.329/.373/.557) was more emblematic of what to expect than his pedestrian August and September (.261/.332/.378) but there's little question the kid is going to carry weight offensively. Defense is another question. Miranda lacks the quickness, agility, and arm strength to be anything resembling a lock to stick at third, as we'll discuss. But he's hardly a lost cause there. He's got a good build for the position and made several slick plays at the hot corner in 2022. Even if he's not long for the position, Miranda provides crucial value to the Twins as long as he can hold his own at third, allowing the team to rotate additional quality bats through the first base and DH positions. This can provide a key competitive advantage that shows up in team results. Do we think it's a coincidence that of the top 10 individual finishers in wOBA at third base last year, nine were in the playoffs? THE BAD As a rookie, Miranda made only 27 starts at third base, compared to 69 at first base and another 20 at DH. That seems telling. It's not like the Twins were abundant in great third base options, giving 131 starts there to Gio Urshela, whom they liked enough to trade for nothing at season's end. When he played third last year, Miranda looked pretty rough, and he's been unable to shake away that memory this spring, with a shoulder injury preventing him from playing the field. That's not considered a long-term concern, but the Twins were already contemplating backup options at third even before this flare-up. Though they let Urshela go, the Twins built out their depth at third considerably over the offseason, acquiring three infielders – Farmer, Solano, and Castro – with significant MLB experience. That said, any of those three would be an average-ish regular at best, so the Twins need to hope their gamble on Miranda pays off, at least for a while. THE BOTTOM LINE Down the line, it sure feels like this position is Lee's for the taking, which is why I have the Twins number one prospect listed in the pipeline picture here despite all of his pro reps thus far coming at shortstop. Martin or Royce Lewis could also be a factor here. Or maybe, eventually ... Carlos Correa? The big question is how long Miranda will provide the luxury of waiting on those promising young infield talents, or Correa's eventual move off short. Will Miranda show enough improvement to convince the Twins he's viable, giving them a competitive edge in the lineup, or will they fall back on a steady-yet-unspectacular backup option? Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base Position Analysis: Second Base
  15. The Twins have played with using a long reliever in the bullpen at times in the last few years and found that the role is inconsistent and sometimes not worth the trouble. In 2021, Randy Dobnak made the team as a long reliever as the team’s assumed sixth starter. The downside became evident almost immediately. When starters exited in a close game, it made more sense to go to a high-leverage reliever to keep the game intact. The Twins almost never found themselves having a sizable lead or deficit when the starter exited. Dobnak would go upwards of a week without throwing a single pitch, and he looked like that was very much the case when he did finally get some action. It can be argued that we learned that a long reliever role can’t be filled by a legitimate starting pitching option, at least not if you want them to develop or be ready to fill in if a member of the rotation goes down. This leaves the role to such a specific type of player that it becomes kind of hard to believe the Twins would actually choose to dedicate a roster spot to such a role. That being said, Rocco Baldelli continues to hint that he would prefer to go this route, so it’s worthwhile to explore some options on who could fill such a role. Cole Sands Sands is already walking the starter/reliever tightrope. The Twins were clear they weren’t planning on anyone making a formal switch from starting to relieving this spring, but Sands was listed as the closest arm to doing so. Sands already holds a 40-man roster spot and has options remaining, making him a prime candidate to serve as a long man on Opening Day. He also made spot appearances in this role in 2022 on occasion. Sands is far from the next man up in the rotation, and for this reason, may serve this role better than someone like Bailey Ober who needs to be ready to fill a traditional starter’s role on a moment’s notice. Sands could use the opportunity to acclimate himself to a bullpen job, which seems like an eventual certainty for his career. He should still be able to provide 3+ innings of work in a pinch as well, which makes him a decent candidate. Randy Dobnak While a long shot, it could once again be Dobnak to fill a long relief role. At this point, he’s buried in the rotational depth chart. He finally appears to be healthy, and while his unbelievable numbers in his debut are unlikely to be repeated, Dobnak could be serviceable and durable, making him a solid fit. The issue of course is Dobnak’s lack of a 40-man spot after being outrighted off the 40-man roster this winter. The Twins can easily make space if they feel he’s the best man for the job. Though the money they committed to Dobnak is inconsequential, they do owe him a few million in the next few years. If he’s in a good place health-wise, the Twins could very well decide to get their money’s worth and see if Dobnak can make a resurgence in a different role. He’s been used more or less as a starter so far this spring, meaning he should be physically capable of filling bulk innings if his previously ailing finger is right. José De León The deepest of sleepers, De León is a former top prospect that was discussed as part of a return for Brian Dozier back when he was in the Dodgers system. Injuries have derailed a once-promising career, but he’s still fighting for a roster spot at 30 years old. De León came out on Sunday and showed that he still had plenty left in the tank, allowing two hits and one run in three spring innings and striking out six. De León may not have a 40-man spot or options, but the right-hander is in a perfect situation with the Twins able to open a spot on the 40-man roster with ease. Rather than putting one of their young arms in an inconsistent role, the Twins could opt for adding a veteran to fill this job while being prepared to cut bait if it goes poorly. Keep an eye on De León’s performance in the World Baseball Classic in the coming weeks as well, as he’ll be departing to pitch for Puerto Rico this week. There are other candidates that could take a long relief role and do reasonably well, but it’s likely the Twins avoid using young prospects such as Josh Winder or Simeon Woods Richardson because of the inconsistency that comes along with the job. Instead expect the Twins to look towards former starters turned relievers or more of the veteran expendable types to fill the role, if the Twins choose to go this route at all. Are there any candidates you’d like to see take the long reliever role? Should the Twins bother using a long reliever at all? Let us know below!
  16. After reading one article on quantum physics, I decided I was prepared to build the first-ever functional time machine. I should have waited and watched how the 2023 Minnesota Twins season played out, but I just had to know now! I worked tirelessly constructing a device that could vault me to October to get a peak at how the season shook out. What I found may surprise some, so without further ado, here are five headlines from the Minnesota Twins 2023 season. Joey Gallo Receives MVP Consideration One of the more highly criticized moves of the offseason was the Twins signing Joey Gallo to a one-year contract. Despite being a two-time all-star for the Texas Rangers in 2019 and 2021, Gallo's career .199 batting average has turned off many of the more "traditional" style Twins fans. However, I am here to tell you that in 2023 Joey Gallo will exceed all expectations and find himself receiving MVP votes at the end of the season. With the new limitations of shifts, Gallo's batting average climbs to .234, and he continues to draw walks at a clip higher than 90% of the league-leading to a .398 OBP. Gallo also belts 38 home runs which are ... second most on the team? Buxton Hammers 40 Bombs Byron Buxton's health has been his Achilles heel throughout his career, playing in more than 92 games only once. However, Buxton's fortune changes in 2023, as he appears in 126 games for the Twins. Even though only 85 of those games are in center field, Buxton has a massive impact on the club, contributing 8.4 WAR. Buxton improves his 97th percentile rank in average exit velocity in 2022, bumping up to the 99th in 2023. Buxton remains one of the most elite power hitters in the game, belting 41 home runs. Pablo López Flashes Ace Potential When the Minnesota Twins acquired López for Luis Arraez in a trade with the Miami Marlins, the thought was that López would best fit the rotation as a number two or three pitcher. Throughout the offseason, he worked on making adjustments to his pitches. He reshaped his slider to become more of a sweeper and worked on his cutter. Both these pitches work very well in 2023 and accompany his elite changeup nicely. His new pitch mix eventually leads López to posting a 12-4 record with a 3.24 ERA. I'm sure this news is music to Twins' fans' ears, but the following headline may be a bit more controversial. Twins Go All in on Gallen at the Deadline When the Minnesota Twins enter the trade deadline in first place in the AL Central for a second straight year, they have to choose an aggressive push, similar to last year, or mainly standing still as they did in 2019. This time, the Twins push every last chip in the middle of the table in pursuit of a championship. On July 31st, they acquire Zac Gallen from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Brooks Lee and Bailey Ober. The Twins use the depth they've built in the rotation and in the infield to acquire the ace they have been waiting for. Gallen gives the Twins a powerful arm they can lean on throughout the playoff push, plus team control through 2025. A Star is Born While the Twins' injury situation in 2023 is much less drastic than in 2022, they still experience some bumps and bruises. This causes prospect Edouard Julien to be called up to the major league club as an extra utility man. Julien continues to display a high-level OBP skill while adding extra power to his profile. He has a stellar campaign and comes in third place in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Gunnar Henderson of the Oriels and Oscar Colas of the White Sox. Unfortunately, due to my lack of knowledge and experience, my time machine only brought me to October 1st, so I could not see how the Twins fared in the playoffs. I can tell you they exceeded regular-season expectations, going 94-68, winning the American League Central, and securing the number three seed in the AL behind the Astros and Yankees. One thing is sure; I am very excited to watch the 2023 Minnesota Twins! What are your bold predictions for 2023? Let me know below! Go, Twins!
  17. Projected Starter: Jorge Polanco Likely Backup: Donovan Solano Depth: Kyle Farmer, Nick Gordon, Willi Castro Prospects: Edouard Julien, Jose Salas, Austin Martin, Tanner Schobel THE GOOD In the 2021 season, his first spent playing second base, Polanco ranked fifth among MLB players at the position with 4.2 fWAR, instantly establishing himself as an elite player at his new infield home. He launched 33 homers, drove in 98 runs, and was an easy choice for Twins Daily MVP. Polanco provided middle-of-the-order production from a middle-of-the-infield spot, which is a recipe for huge value. The Twins will hope to get him back there in the season ahead. Polanco's absence in September last year was jarring: he's one of the few Twins players who has been able to avoid the injured list in his career, ranking second only to Max Kepler in plate appearances for the franchise since 2017. If Rocco Baldelli can reliably write Polanco's name into the lineup on a regular basis, he'll feel confident in what they're getting from second base. Polo's been a good if not great hitter almost every year, including 2022 when he was 17% above average, and he's still not yet 30. His switch-hitting ability makes him an everyday staple. The loss of Luis Arraez during the offseason subtracted a key depth piece at second, but the Twins backfilled with a couple of veterans in Farmer and Solano, who would both be capable if uninspiring regulars at the position should Polanco miss time. Adding to their depth here, the Twins have a handful of near-ready infield prospects who could factor at second base in the short term – most notably Julien, who's seen plenty of time there this spring while really impressing with the bat. Martin and Royce Lewis are also realistic candidates to see time at second this year. THE BAD Polanco's lengthy run of durability came to halt in the latter part of the 2022 season. He didn't play after August 27th, plagued by a nagging knee tendinitis issue he couldn't shake. According to Betsy Helfand of the Pioneer Press, Polanco spent much of his offseason rehabbing the injury. He's been noticeably slow to ramp up in camp. The 29-year-old still hasn't appeared in a spring game, and while that's not quite yet a red flag, it will be a week or two from now. As with so many other players on this Twins team, it is the ambiguity and lack of information around Polanco's health situation that makes it so inscrutable. What was true at first base is also true here: the Twins have enough credible depth to sustain losing their starter, but such a scenario would also entail a huge drop-off in upside. The idea of Alex Kirilloff and Polanco holding down the right side of the infield is exhilarating. Alas, we've yet to see either of them on the field this spring. THE BOTTOM LINE A healthy Polanco is an excellent piece to have at second base. He has played at an All-Star caliber level in two of the past three full MLB seasons and could easily be one of the team's most critical fixtures this year. But the lower-body injuries have clearly taken their toll on Polanco, who's undergone multiple ankle surgeries in the past. He's in his last guaranteed year under contract, and as mentioned, there are several young middle infielders in this system on the rise, so the coming season could be a pivotal one for the longest-tenured Twin's future with the franchise. Catch Up On Our Position Preview Series: Position Analysis: Catcher Position Analysis: First Base
  18. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of analysis of team and player projections here at Twins Daily. Not all of these models are perfect, but it gives fans a sense of reasonable expectations for each player and the team. Some players exceed their expected performance every year, and others struggle to meet expectations. Here are the weakest positions on the Twins roster and how they may impact the club in 2023. 3. Right Field- Projected WAR: 2.7 Max Kepler's name was in the rumor mill for most of the winter, but the Twins seemingly didn't get an offer they liked, so he's set to be an everyday player. There's no question that Kepler is one of baseball's best defensive right-fielders. Last season, Kepler hit .227/.318/.348 (.666) with 18 doubles and nine home runs. Minnesota has other options in right field if the Twins need to use Kepler in more of a platoon role, including Joey Gallo, Nick Gordon, Trevor Larnach, and Matt Wallner. It's an important season for Kepler because the Twins have a $10 million team option for 2024. He'd need to outperform his projections for the team not to buy out his contract for $1 million. Reason for Optimism: There is some optimism that Kepler will benefit from the limits on defensive shifts. He has already picked up a few hits this spring that might have been outs if defenders were allowed to have more exaggerated shifts. This spring, he has already discussed how he won't need to overthink in the batter's box with three infielders on one side of second base. Reports also have him in a good mindset after spending the offseason overseas to mentally reset himself while recovering from a toe fracture. 2. Left Field- Projected WAR: 2.1 Left field ranks close to the top for the Twins in early season projections because Joey Gallo is coming off his worst professional season. In 126 games, he posted a 79 OPS+ with 163 strikeouts. If Gallo can't improve, the Twins have depth in left field with players like Nick Gordon, Trevor Larnach, and Matt Wallner. Out of that trio, only Gordon projects to make the Opening Day roster. Larnach and Wallner will head to Triple-A and need to hit their way back to the big leagues. Other top prospects like Royce Lewis and Austin Martin are options to take over a corner outfield spot later in the season. Reason for Optimism: The Twins hope Gallo has a bounce-back season and can be closer to the All-Star level player he was in the past. FanGraphs projects his OPS to increase by 93 points, which would still be lower than his career mark (.794 OPS). Left field is the easiest position for the Twins players to exceed their expected performance, and it is the position I am least worried about on this list. 1. First Base- Projected WAR: 1.9 FanGraphs recently ranked the weakest positions on every contending team, and first base came out as the low spot on the Twins. Alex Kirilloff is a question mark at first base since he has averaged just over 50 games in the last two seasons. Projection systems won't help Kirilloff because he has tried to play through his wrist injury, and his on-field performance has suffered. The Twins won't rely solely on Kirilloff at first base. Kyle Farmer, Joey Gallo, Jose Miranda, and Donovan Solano can all play first base if Kirilloff is forced to miss time again in 2023. Reason for Optimism: The Twins hope Kirilloff's surgery to shorten his ulnar bone will put him back on track to where he was as a top prospect. Fans have seen flashes of him being an elite hitter, but his wrist injury saps power from his swing. If this most recent wrist surgery is a long-term solution to his wrist woes, he can be one of the club's best overall hitters. Luckily, all the Twins' weakest positions are in corner spots which can be easier to address during the season. As the trade deadline approaches, first basemen and corner outfielders are usually easier to acquire and have lower acquisition costs. The Twins also have multiple top prospects close to the big leagues that can step into an everyday role if the club feels like they are ready. Do you agree with these rankings? Is there a reason for optimism at each of the positions? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  19. Projected Starter: Alex Kirilloff Likely Backup: Joey Gallo Depth: Donovan Solano, José Miranda, Tyler White Prospects: Edouard Julien, Aaron Sabato THE GOOD In an ideal scenario, the Twins would be regularly rotating Kirilloff, Miranda and Solano at first base this year, giving the team a pair of young hitting stars along with a veteran line drive machine, and the ability to optimize against any pitching matchup. Of course, as the strong side of the platoon mix and highest-upside hitter of the bunch, Kirilloff holds the key to that appealing scenario. He's also the biggest question mark on the team in terms of health. But if his second wrist surgery proves effective, as he and the team hope, the 25-year-old has the ability to provide ideal production at first base: mashing line drives all over the field, powering the middle of the lineup, producing runs consistently. We've seen these propensities on display in the majors before, albeit in brief spurts interrupted by recurring wrist problems that completely sabotaged Kirilloff's majestic swing. Getting that swing back on track would be a game-changing development for the Twins. But it's one they've made themselves less dependent on with the additions of Gallo and Solano. These two could form a solid platoon in Kirilloff's absence. Even in a very rough 2022 campaign, Gallo held his own against righties, hitting 17 home runs with an OPS+ of 96; in his career he has an .804 OPS versus RHP. Meanwhile, Solano is a reputed lefty masher, having batted above .300 against them in four straight seasons. Both are considered solid defenders at first. Ultimately, if Kirilloff can't go, the eventuality may well be Miranda as primary first baseman. His defense at third was already questionable before a shoulder injury this spring set him back. It feels like more a matter of when, not if, Miranda will move to first, and depending on how things play out with Kirilloff, Gallo, and Solano, the Twins could be motivated to accelerate that timeline. Not the worst thing in the world. Miranda profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat befitting the first baseman assignment. But it could have negative ripple effects. THE BAD As amazing as it would be to see Kirilloff's swing back in its prime form over a sustained period, that feels like a difficult thing to count on, at least in the short term. To my knowledge, he has yet to even take live BP this spring, much less get into a game, although he's been working in the cages. Phil Miller had an update on Kirilloff in the Star Tribune over the weekend, and it contained some mixed messages. Said Kirilloff: "I still feel it every once in a while, but it's not painful." The "it" in that sentence looms large for a player whose wrist issues have made it impossible for him to swing the way he wants to in the past two seasons. Said Derek Falvey: "He's on track. The plan is, if he's healthy at the end of camp, he's competing for a spot." If he's on track, then wouldn't the plan be for him to firmly make the team if healthy? We're not talking about some unproven minor-leaguer here. This is Alex Kirilloff. It seems ridiculous to be dissecting quotes like this but given the vital importance of AK to this club's outlook, and the dearth of information we've gotten so far this spring, we're left with little choice. Taking all the comments at face value, I'm going to assume Kirilloff is on the unlikely side of being on the Opening Day roster, though I'd love to be wrong. The options behind him are potentially quite compelling, but fraught with downside. Gallo was a star player in 2021, but he was terrible last year, and has played only one game at first base since 2018. Solano has been a consistently solid hitter, but he's 35, and had played zero big-league innings at first prior to last year. Shifting Miranda across the diamond is a decent fallback, but his defense at first base pretty rough as a rookie, and this would also mean needing to find another bat to replace him at third base. A more inviting proposition if it's an ascendent top prospect like Brooks Lee or Royce Lewis than Kyle Farmer. Speaking of prospects, the Twins are conspicuously light at this position. It'd be hard to say they have no first base prospects, because in theory they have quite a few top prospects who could end up there – it's at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, after all. But, notably, none of our top 20 from this year currently play there in any sort of regular capacity. The most prototypical first base slugger in the system is probably Sabato, whom the Twins drafted in the first round out of college in 2020 with hopes he'd rise fast as an impact bat. Things haven't gone exactly to plan, with Sabato's extreme contact struggles negating the value of his standout power and patience, but he's been playing a lot in big-league camp this year and could be an immediate factor at age 24 if he takes a step forward in the high minors this year. THE BOTTOM LINE Rocco Baldelli has indicated that he "expects first base to be a revolving door similar to designated hitter," as Dan Hayes of The Athletic put it. "We don’t have a first baseman,” the manager said earlier this spring. “We have several guys that are going to play first base. We don’t need one guy that’s going to play first base.” They certainly have options, albeit ones with limited experience. (Nick Gordon, owner of zero innings of first base experience at any level, was evidently mentioned as a possibility in the same discussion.) Then again, if Luis Arraez's emergence as an All-Star and Gold Glove finalist at first taught us anything, it's that experience is no prerequisite. Tell em Wash. The upside of this position feels capped without a healthy and thriving Kirilloff (in which case it's sky-high), but the Twins have built in enough floor to maintain a relatively high floor if things go amiss once again with their former number one prospect.
  20. Projected Starter: Christian Vázquez Likely Backup: Ryan Jeffers Depth: Tony Wolters, Grayson Greiner, Chance Sisco Prospects: Chris Williams, Noah Cardenas THE GOOD Acquiring a veteran catcher was a top priority for the Twins this offseason, and they got their guy, signing Vázquez to three-year, $30 million deal as arguably the second-best free agent at the position. The 32-year-old could hardly be described as a star, but that's not what the Twins were seeking: they wanted stability following a season where they enjoyed very little of it behind the plate. Vázquez has had a few standout seasons, highlighted by a 2019 campaign where he slashed .276/.320/.477 with 23 home runs for Boston, but the Twins would be perfectly content with a repeat of 2022: average offense (99 OPS+) and steady defense combined with reliable availability. The Twins continue to believe in Jeffers as their future behind the plate, but the presence of Vázquez means they don't need to entirely plan around that scenario in the short term, which is probably wise given how things have gone for Jeffers over the past two seasons. While the righty-swinging Vázquez doesn't provide a platoon advantage, he's much more capable against right-handed pitchers and should allow the Twins to play Jeffers more to his strength against lefties, against whom he's slashed .263/.344/.450 in his career. Both are considered very solid receivers who pitchers like to work with, giving the Twins a more consistent level of quality behind the plate after Gary Sánchez (still unsigned) caught 714 innings mostly out of necessity last season. THE BAD The Twins really need to hope Vázquez can maintain his record of staying healthy, because an injury could put the Twins right back into a familiar spot of grasping for answers behind the plate. Their depth was so sparse last year that when Jeffers went down for an extended period, they were forced to run out Caleb Hamilton for a few games and eventually acquired no-hit veteran Sany León from Cleveland's Triple-A team. He became more or less the primary starter. Minnesota has built out its experienced upper-level depth a bit with Wolters, Greiner, and Cisco, but those three combined to play four games in the majors last year. Meanwhile, there's no position in the Twins organization with less in the way of immediate pipeline impact. As discussed in this year's top prospect recap, catcher continues to be an area of extreme scarcity in this system. THE BOTTOM LINE The front office desperately needed to strengthen the catcher position this past offseason, and while they did, it could still hardly be described as a strength. Although I guess that depends on your assessment of Jeffers. In some eyes, he could be viewed as one of the best backup catchers in the game – a still-developing impact starter who now has the luxury of coming along slowly with an established vet splitting time. If both guys stay healthy and Jeffers takes that next step, the Twins will have a catching setup that is the envy of the league. The thing is, it's hard to count on that. Jeffers has seen his OPS drop from .791 in a strong rookie campaign to .670 in 2021 to .648 last year, and has struggled to stay healthy. You don't have to squint to see the potential of a two-way asset – I was reminded of his raw power while watching him repeatedly hit absolute tanks in BP last week – but the 25-year-old is already inching toward arbitration without even a 1-WAR season to his credit. Losing either of their top two backstops would force the Twins to delve into their murky depth, and while Vázquez has thankfully been pretty durable in the past, he also turns 33 this season.
  21. It encourages us to give into our inherent bias and forget the things that really matter. There isn’t a lot of drama in “this guy is on the 40-man roster” and “this guy doesn’t have options.” But those are the things that matter, not giving up a grand slam on March third. (We’ll get back to that.) So your best bet for deciphering a roster battle is to start with your assumptions before spring training started, when you were soberly and objectively evaluating the probable 26-man roster. And when I did that (call it version 0.0), here’s what it looked like. (Green means pretty much locked in. Yellow means I think I know? Red means I don’t know.) C Vazquez SP Gray 1B Kirilloff SP P Lopez 2B Polanco SP Mahle 3B Miranda SP Maeda SS Correa SP Ryan LF Gallo CF Buxton CL Duran RF Kepler RP J Lopez DH Larnach RP Jax RP Thielbar Bench C Jeffers RP Pagan Bench OF Taylor RP Alcala Bench IF Farmer RP Moran Bench Gordon RP Megill Let’s walk through the changes that are and are not happening, in order of greatest impact. Donovan Solano is knocking out one of the position players. When the Twins signed Donovan Solano a major league contract two weeks ago, it likely meant one of the position players who has options was doomed. There aren’t that many: Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Ryan Jeffers. Jeffers is a catcher, so he’s safe. We haven’t seen Kirilloff in a game yet, but he’s supposedly on track to return early. Trevor Larnach was scratched from the lineup with a lower body injury last week but is supposed to play left field on Tuesday. But if everyone is healthy he would probably be the odd man out. So we’ll leave him off the roster, and put Kirilloff in yellow to reflect the dual challenges of getting healthy and beating out both Larnach for the last spot. Long relief appears to be a priority. It’s one thing for Twins manager Rocco Baldelli to say he wants to have a long reliever available for most games this season. It’s another to see the organization align to make that wish a reality. We’re seeing the latter. Both Baldelli and Derek Falvey have discussed a group of pitcher that could be available in long relief. This is different than designating a long reliever, like the Twins tried to do with Randy Dobnak two years ago. This means having a pool of arms available so if the long reliever throws 50-70 pitches – or maybe even 30-50 - they can be swapped out with a different option from St Paul for the next game. This gets around a couple of challenges to the strategy. It allows a long reliever to pitch in back-to-back games if necessary. And it limits the impact of last year’s new MLB rule limiting each pitcher to just five back-and-forths to the minors. With more arms you have more options. And the Twins have more arms. Cole Sands and Brent Headrick probably have the inside track because they are on the 40-man roster. Old friends Randy Dobnak and Aaron Sanchez might also be options, though that would require a further roster move. Josh Winder and Ronny Henriquez have also been mentioned by Falvey as options, though both are dealing with potential arm health issues in camp. So we’ll adjust the roster by giving one spot to a long reliever, which crowds the other three guys into two spots. I’m also going to break my rule about overreacting to game performances, and add Emilio Pagan to that group, just because the grand slam he gave up on Thursday gave me a little PTSD. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there might be some injuries It’s early in camp, so I’m not going to adjust the any of the statuses, but we’re all keeping an eye on when we next see Kirilloff, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, and Nick Gordon in a game. There is no indication that they won’t all be ready by Opening Day, so, again, no changes to the chart. But baseball is a “show me” game, and the color on those spots could change in a couple more weeks if we’re not shown something soon. If any of them don’t happen, Larnach might be back on the roster. So here’s the new chart. C Vazquez SP Gray 1B Kirilloff SP P Lopez 2B Polanco SP Mahle 3B Miranda SP Maeda SS Correa SP Ryan LF Gallo CF Buxton CL Duran RF Kepler RP J Lopez DH Solano RP Jax RP Thielbar Bench C Jeffers RP Pagan/Moran Bench OF Taylor RP Moran/Alcala Bench IF Farmer RP Alcala/Megill Bench Gordon LR Sands/Headrick We'll have plenty more chances to overreact before I attack this again. Any new injury is that much closer to Opening Day, as is every game in which one of the regulars doesn't appear. We'll may see some big or clutch performances by Twins players playing in the World Baseball Classis, and their absence will absolutely create opportunities for other players trying to wedge their way onto the roster. So if you're disappointed that there isn't more change, stay tuned. The temptation to overreact and embrace drama only gets more heated going forward.
  22. It’s not exactly a bad thing that the Twins will be looking to usher in a new look given they are coming off back-to-back seasons missing the postseason. Last year, the club was decimated by injuries and the year prior, performance left plenty to be desired. Neither of those teams truly had an identity, and it’s something Rocco Baldelli would probably prefer they get back to. If you’re hoping that Joey Gallo’s signing means Minnesota will blast bombas once again, you’re likely to be disappointed. Sure, the Twins are hoping he can find his swing, but there is positional flexibility and defense to fall back on for the slugger. Carlos Correa returns at shortstop, and while he can manage the lumber, his game is an all around one as well. Nelson Cruz is going to moonlight as a baseball player for the San Diego Padres, and Miguel Sano is still unemployed. The Bomba Squad was a one-time thing, and looking at this roster, the Twins want their strength to be pitching. Luis Arraez was sent to the Miami Marlins for Pablo Lopez, not because the pitcher is an ace, but because he lengthens the starting rotation. Sonny Gray has looked the part of a top arm when healthy, and Tyler Mahle could be more than ready to break out if he’s healthy. Kenta Maeda has previously competed for a Cy Young award, and last year’s Opening Day starter in Joe Ryan may be slated to bring up the rear of the rotation. For the first time in quite a while, the Twins rotation is where much of the investment has been made. Yes, there isn’t a massive free agent contract in the group, but prospect capital such as Chase Petty, Spencer Steer, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand were all utilized to acquire it. Moving on from Arraez wasn’t an easy choice, but the lineup has enough potential to withstand that sort of blow. You can bet that Baldelli is not hoping to win every game 2-1, but this shouldn’t be a Twins team that needs five runs in order to hold things down. Last season, the difference between scoring three or more runs was drastic, and the hope is that tweaks to the defense can help as well. The outfield may be able to lay claim as baseball’s best defensively, and that will only further help whoever is on the mound. Bringing back Correa at shortstop was a must, and while Jorge Polanco is not great in the field, Jose Miranda should be better at the hot corner with Alex Kirilloff possessing Gold Glove ability at first base. Fielding will continue to be an area the Twins look to improve in an effort to help the entire pitching staff. Down the stretch last season, the Twins bullpen made significant strides. Jhoan Duran got all of the praise, but Griffin Jax has emerged as a force, and Jorge Lopez returning to his All-Star form would be a massive high-leverage boost. Both in the starting rotation and the bullpen, Pete Maki is going to feel confident running arms to the mound. Derek Falvey became synonymous with pitching when working within the Cleveland Guardians organization. This may be the first time since he has been with Minnesota where he can feel confident in what the group on the mound has been built as. Not every team is going to have an ace, and although the Twins still don’t, they have as good of a group as anyone could hope for. There are different styles that will trot to the mound, but it would not be at all surprising to see that Twins have the best staff, top to bottom, in the division. Start thinking of nicknames if you must, but this group is going to rely on pitching and defense.
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