FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's just a little more than a week until Opening Day on March 29, and the Twins were hit with some adversity this week with the announcement of Jorge Polanco's 80-game suspension for the use of a performance-enhancing drug.Polanco was one of the club's better players
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's just a little more than a week until Opening Day on March 29, and the Twins were hit with some adversity this week with the announcement of Jorge Polanco's 80-game suspension for the use of a performance-enhancing drug.
Polanco was one of the club's better players in the second half, and he was looking to solidify himself as the starting shortstop of the future, but now some of that is in doubt. There are plenty of ripple effects in the organization because of the suspension, which leads us right into this week's Twins Inbox:
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and manager Paul Molitor both said on Monday that it's an opportunity for Eduardo Escobar to provide a boost at shortstop, much like he did late last season at third base when Miguel Sano missed nearly 40 games with a left shin injury. Escobar is expected to be the Opening Day shortstop, and Ehire Adrianza will serve as his backup. Adrianza is a much better defender than Escobar, but Escobar provides much more power offensively.
Falvey cautioned not to assume that the Twins will fill Polanco's spot with another infielder, but Erick Aybar's chances of making the roster did see a boost because of the suspension. The suspension opens a 40-man roster spot that can be used on a non-roster player such as Aybar.
As for Nick Gordon, the club's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, he has to perform well at Triple-A Rochester, but the 22-year-old could make an impact earlier this season than originally expected. Gordon was impressive offensively this spring before getting reassigned to Minor League camp on Sunday. But he needs to continue to work on his defense at short.
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Gordon moved around between second and short this spring, as the Twins want him to remain versatile, although Falvey said Monday he still sees Gordon as a shortstop. Minnesota didn't know Polanco was getting suspended until Sunday, but Gordon has yet to reach Triple-A, so Escobar and Adrianza were always going to be ahead of him on the depth chart.
The Twins still aren't looking to extend James Dozier this spring, but Polanco's suspension could change their long-term outlook on their middle-infield depth going forward. But some of that could depend on how Polanco fares upon returning from the suspension. Falvey, though, said Monday this doesn't change the organization's overall view on Polanco, who is under team control through 2022. Right-hander Ervin Santana was suspended for the same substance in '15, but he returned just as effective and didn't see his standing within the organization change.
The additions of Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn could change things for Trevor May, as the Twins now have more rotation depth. Jose Berrios is coming off a strong year and appears to be on the ascent, while Santana is likely to return by early May after his finger surgery. Kyle Gibson is the fifth starter, and he has the most to prove, especially to show his big second half wasn't a fluke.
Of course, injuries happen, which could open a spot for May, but he also has other competition such as Adalberto Mejia, Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves in the Minors. May, 28, still has the stuff and the build to be a starter, but he's going to have to earn his way back into the rotation this season, once healthy. And because of the rotation depth, there's a chance he could return to the bullpen, where he had success in 2015.
Falvey said on Monday there remains no update on when MLB's investigation into Sano's alleged sexual assault will conclude. The Twins are hopeful it'll be resolved before Opening Day, and they have prepared contingency plans in case of a suspension, but there's still no official timeline.
In one of the rarest events of Spring Training, Byron Buxton did get caught stealing against the Pirates on Monday, but it was a close play, and Buxton thought he was safe. He went 29-for-30 on stolen-base attempts last year, only getting thrown out when he overslid the bag in Baltimore. Buxton is making it a point this spring to be even more aggressive on the bases, so look for him to increase his stolen-base total this year.
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.