Simmons nears arrival; Buxton's lineup limbo

March 2nd, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The Twins could finally have a full spring camp by the end of the week, when the club hopes shortstop will arrive in Fort Myers, Fla., following a delayed departure from his native Curaçao due to travel documentation issues.

The hope is that Simmons could be bound for the United States as soon as Thursday. He'll then need to clear the intake protocol upon his arrival in camp before he can participate in baseball activities with the team. The Twins have been running low on shortstop depth in Simmons' absence because top prospect Royce Lewis underwent surgery to repair a torn right ACL last Friday.

"We think that this is a possibility, and a strong possibility at this point," said manager Rocco Baldelli after the Twins' 6-0 loss to the Braves on Tuesday. "Again, it allows him several weeks of work and at-bats once he gets here, but let’s get him here first and see how he’s doing. He’s been able to work out -- which is good -- but getting our eyes on him will be very, very important."

The Twins signed Simmons to a one-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason to serve as a major defensive upgrade at shortstop, moving to second base and Luis Arraez to a utility role.

Polanco has already gotten plenty of work at second base while non-roster invitee JT Riddle has filled in at shortstop, but with Josh Donaldson finally healthy at the hot corner, Simmons' arrival will give the Twins a first look at the best version of their new infield. There will still be some question, however, as to how long it will take Simmons to get into the same physical condition as his counterparts.

"It's hard to know exactly what a guy has been able to do or not," Baldelli said. "Just simply being on your feet, in addition to the swings and throws and infield work, is a big part of our game. And that endurance factor will certainly come into play. I'm positive he's been able to get quality work in from everything I've heard."

Buxton on the move ... in the lineup
During the 2019 season, was mostly a fixture at the No. 9 spot in the lineup, where he made 71 of his 78 starts. That got a little more flexible last season, when he mostly hit seventh, eighth or ninth but bounced around the lineup to a greater extent -- and that could continue this season.

Buxton hit fifth in the Twins' spring opener on Sunday against the Red Sox, and he moved up to the No. 2 spot Tuesday behind leadoff hitter Max Kepler. This early in camp, there's an element of wanting to get starting players their at-bats sooner in games, but Baldelli said that Buxton's changing profile as a hitter -- including a power stroke that saw him post a career-high .577 slugging percentage last season -- could play into that.

"We started to move him around a little bit more last year, and I would see him continuing to move around," Baldelli said. "Maybe in a similar fashion as last year, but potentially in other spots, too. He’s been a good player for a long time. But he has the ability to do pretty much anything in this game, so I would not want to hold him back or limit him in any way."

Around the horn
• Minor League depth infielder Chris Williams exited in the fifth inning of Tuesday's game with a left shoulder subluxation, Baldelli said. He appeared to sustain the injury during a collision with Braves hitter Austin Riley at first base. Riley's sharp grounder up the middle caromed off the back of Twins pitcher Ian Gibaut, whose throw to first base went wide.

Williams last played for Class A Advanced Fort Myers in 2019. Baldelli said the 24-year-old has a history of similar issues with that shoulder.

Alex Kirilloff has been known far more for his standout bat than his defense throughout his Minor League career, with the sense that he'll likely be an average-at-best defender in a corner outfield spot. You wouldn't be able to tell that from his short stint with the Twins.

Kirilloff played all seven innings of Tuesday's game in left field and made a sliding grab on a sinking line drive off the bat of Ryan Goins in the bottom of the sixth, holding a runner at first base. He also made a sliding grab in right field during Game 2 of last season's American League Wild Card Series against the Astros, robbing Josh Reddick of a hit in the fifth inning.

Up next
has made the last two Opening Day starts for the Twins, but he'll face a stiff challenge this spring from Kenta Maeda, who began last season as the No. 3 starter but emerged as the most effective pitcher on the staff and the AL Cy Young Award runner-up. Berríos is lined up ahead of Maeda in the spring rotation for now, though, and he'll make his Spring Training debut in Wednesday's 12:05 p.m. CT matchup against the Red Sox.