Some Twins tidbits after a quiet Winter Meetings

December 10th, 2023

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Now that Shohei Ohtani has come off the board with his record-setting contract to join the Dodgers for a reported 10 years and $700 million, the rest of the market -- and the Twins -- should be able to unstick and get moving in the coming weeks.

That was part of the hold-up for the Twins at a very quiet Winter Meetings for the organization, during which we got some injury updates and big-picture thoughts but not a ton else while the team waited for potential trade partners’ needs to become more clear. We did learn other little nuggets and notes, though -- and in the absence of other places to put them, let’s empty the notebook here.

Lewis will continue working at shortstop
At the end of the 2023 season, the Twins made clear their intent to move forward with as their everyday third baseman, but president of baseball operations Derek Falvey also noted at the Winter Meetings that the Twins will keep Lewis working at shortstop to keep the position in his skillset.

“You'll see Royce playing short in Spring Training,” Falvey said. “You'll see him playing short in early work and taking a bunch of ground balls there. We just want to make sure it stays in his mix, but we don't think it rules it out down the line. We just have to assess that every year.”

Falvey said Lewis being the starter at third base wouldn’t prevent him from being a backup to at shortstop if needed, and this also isn’t any indication of the Twins feeling iffy about Correa at all. Falvey noted the Twins feel that Correa’s ankle and foot are both in “a good place” and that they remain fully committed to Correa as their shortstop without any doubt.

Player dev coaching tree remains fruitful
The Twins did experience an important departure during the Winter Meetings, when Minor League pitching coordinator Justin Willard left the organization for the same post with the Red Sox -- but, at this point, they’re plenty used to that.

In fact, Willard is the third member of the Twins’ pitching development apparatus to earn positions outside the organization in the last three years, joining J.P. Martinez (Giants assistant pitching coach) and Zach Bove (Royals assistant pitching coach) -- and that’s not to mention Pete Maki, Willard’s predecessor in the position, who now serves as the Twins’ pitching coach.

“If you’re on this side of the table, it’s an unfortunate one, but it’s also you’re proud of these guys,” Falvey said. “I mean, we’ve had a run of a few different pitching coordinators and key pitching people find Major League jobs elsewhere. That’s a cool thing.”

Falvey said the Twins are “getting close” to announcing their plans to fill the role, expressing confidence that they’d built enough depth within the group to continue to backfill following their frequent departures -- which continue to be a tacit endorsement of the Twins’ developmental methods and philosophies.

Gordon, Miranda could have new opportunity
With the Twins likely looking at payroll restrictions, they might have to skew younger and rely on less certain pieces from within their organization -- which could give a new opportunity for and , both of whom once appeared to be key pieces but struggled with both underperformance and injury in ‘23.

Miranda will focus more on first base than on third (that’s Lewis’ job now) and will have to prove that he could, perhaps, be a right-handed platoon bat opposite -- maybe akin to the role played on last year’s roster. If Gordon can find his bat again, he could be part of the answer in the outfield, whether in a corner or center.

“When [Gordon] got that run [in the past], when he got a little time, he had the ability to impact us,” Falvey said. “Unfortunately, he dealt with the injuries last year. But I think if that happens again, we can see a little bit of what we saw a couple years ago.”

Kirilloff to focus primarily on first base, less in outfield
Though Kirilloff came up through the Minors as an outfielder and maintained left field as part of his big league skillset, manager Rocco Baldelli said that the Twins will turn Kirilloff’s focus more toward first base in ‘24 and beyond.

They kept Kirilloff out of the outfield in ‘23 more for the health-related reasons that led to his offseason right shoulder surgery, but Baldelli said they simply see a better fit for Kirilloff in general in the infield -- even as the corner outfield depth remains unproven, with Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach serving as the primary options opposite Max Kepler.

“I think he's likely more of a first baseman now,” Baldelli said.

Balazovic to remain as full-time reliever
will be out of Minor League options when he arrives at Spring Training in February, and though the right-hander was once one of the organization’s top starting prospects, Baldelli confirmed that Balazovic will remain a reliever as he looks to crack the Opening Day roster.

He got off to a slow start last spring due to the fractured jaw he suffered in an altercation in Fort Myers, Fla., and he did have some success in the Majors before regressing to a 4.44 ERA in 24 1/3 relief innings for the Twins before finishing the season in the Minors. Out-of-options players generally have a leg up in roster battles, as they would have to be exposed to waivers to land back in the Minors.

“I think our view with the best way to get Jordan to be the most effective pitcher with where he's at with the pitch mix and otherwise is to have him in that ‘pen role,” Baldelli said. “Could that be a multi-inning ‘pen role? I don't think we're going to rule that out, but he'll come in competing as a reliever.”