Twins flex roster depth in Spring Training

March 26th, 2021

Dare we say: This Spring Training might almost have been described as uneventful for the Twins. The offense slumbered for much of it, the pitching staff was largely set from Day 1, and Minnesota should finish with a relatively middling record in the Grapefruit League standings.

This time of year, uneventful isn't a bad thing.

The Twins are days away from achieving their primary goal of Spring Training: making it through the month and a half of camp with their entire projected Major League roster healthy. There were a handful of minor issues along the way like Caleb Thielbar's back strain, Jorge Polanco's left adductor tightness and, more recently, Mitch Garver's bruised finger, but the 2021 Twins look to be no worse for the wear -- and still feature healthy versions of both Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson.

With Alex Kirilloff, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, having been optioned off of the roster and Randy Dobnak established as the winner of the final bullpen spot, the competition for the open left field spot remains the only major question on the position player side -- and strong springs from both Brent Rooker and Kyle Garlick appear to have the Twins well covered there.

What else happened to the Twins this Spring Training? Let's take a quick look.

Best development: Rotation depth impresses

Despite Matt Shoemaker's extensive injury history and a late start to J.A. Happ's camp due to a positive COVID-19 test, the entire starting five of Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, Shoemaker and Happ appears to be in good shape. Importantly, so are depth starters Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe, who have turned heads with stuff that could leave the Twins seven deep in quality starting arms.

Dobnak's work to add horizontal break to his slider appears to have paid off with a sharp uptick in strikeouts during Grapefruit League play, which helped him win the final spot on the pitching staff, while Thorpe's strength work over the offseason has paid off with added velocity on his fastball, complementing his well-rounded offspeed arsenal. The Twins have had to rely on pitching depth in each of the last two seasons -- and this time around, they have plenty of it.

Unfortunate events: Lewis tears ACL

Royce Lewis, the No. 1 prospect in the organization, was excited to make a splash in big league camp this spring after he worked on his swing and approach to better drive the ball hard to all fields at the alternate training site last season. Instead, his season ended before it even began when his physical upon entry to camp revealed a torn right ACL.

The 21-year-old shortstop will be sidelined for the entire season, meaning that he'll have gone more than two years without seeing live action by the time he returns to the field around Spring Training 2022. This was supposed to be an important year of development for Lewis, whose raw physical tools didn't translate well to the stat sheet in '19 before he rebounded with an MVP showing in the Arizona Fall League. Instead, he'll have to wait to prove that his performance can match his prospect pedigree.

Player who opened eyes: Thorpe

This is expected to be a prove-it year for Thorpe, the former top pitching prospect out of Australia who has struggled to a 6.14 ERA in his transition to the big leagues.

So far, so good.

Thorpe openly acknowledged that he had been "foolish" and "lazy" previously in his career, not putting in his time in the weight room while falling into a bad place, both mentally and physically. He vowed to change this offseason and sought out the help of a personal trainer who worked with Thorpe six days a week to improve the left-hander's strength and stamina. The 25-year-old's fastball is now touching 93 mph -- well up from his 89.7 mph average last season -- and his fourth Minor League option should give him another chance to show the Twins what he's really got, even if he won't be on the Opening Day roster.

Wow moment: Kirilloff homers off of the batter's eye

Kirilloff only knocked four hits in Spring Training before he was optioned off of the Major League roster Tuesday, finally ending the camp-long debate as to whether or not the Twins would hand their Opening Day left field job to the highly-regarded prospect. One of those four hits reminded Twins fans of what they have to look forward to when he makes it to Minneapolis sometime this season.

Facing a tough left-hander in Eduardo Rodríguez, Kirilloff crushed a curveball an estimated 420 feet off of the batter's eye in straightaway center field at Hammond Stadium, showing off the power that could combine with his touted hit tool as a formidable middle-of-the-order presence in the Twins' lineup for years to come.

In case you missed it:

Lewis can talk your head off about anything and everything, on and off the diamond. It takes a lot to get Kirilloff to crack a smile. Trevor Larnach is a quieter, intense student of hitting. How did the Twins' top three prospects grow closer during a season at the alternate training site? Read more >>