MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins entered Spring Training with their 26-man roster mostly set, with only one relatively significant decision to make before breaking camp for Opening Day, which was originally scheduled for March 26 in Oakland. As the end of Grapefruit League play neared, that battle for the fifth rotation spot appeared to have a front-runner -- as did two less significant decisions at the periphery of the roster.
It might be time to hit the reset button on all of those.
The lengthy delay to the season caused by the ongoing pandemic of novel coronavirus could add more intrigue to all three of the following roster battles once baseball resumes. In two of those cases, the Twins' decisions were likely to be the product of injuries, and the relatively short period of time remaining before the originally scheduled Opening Day -- which should no longer be factors whenever things start back up.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at where those competitions stand.
The final rotation spot
There appeared to be some emerging clarity in the race for the Twins’ final rotation spot, but expect that roster battle to get really, really cluttered again whenever the season resumes, which is unfortunate for Randy Dobnak, whose stellar spring performance gave him strong momentum over Jhoulys Chacín heading into the final week of Spring Training.
For one, No. 10 prospect Lewis Thorpe had been cut from the competition because he likely wouldn’t have been ready to fully ramp up for Opening Day due to a personal leave of absence from spring camp, but that’s no longer an issue. Devin Smeltzer struggled in the spring as he integrated his new slider into his arsenal, but he’ll now have plenty of time to feel out the pitch and have it more ready for a postponed Opening Day.
If the delay stretches long enough, Rich Hill might just get healthy and eliminate the opening altogether, as the veteran left-hander’s stated recovery timeline from an offseason “primary repair” procedure on his left elbow was expected to have him ready sometime in June.
The final bench spot
This, too, is a spot that had some clarity before the delay once again plunged it into uncertainty. As the original Opening Day neared, it appeared less and less likely that Willians Astudillo would win the final bench spot over LaMonte Wade Jr. or Jake Cave, as the Twins were likely in a position where they could have used a true fourth outfielder due to Byron Buxton's uncertain status for Opening Day and Marwin Gonzalez's measured acclimation back into outfield play following offseason surgery on his right knee.
But now, all this time before the start of the season should give both Buxton and Gonzalez plenty of time to get fully healthy to play the outfield, which would render the services of a fourth outfielder less critical. At the same time, if the eventual regular-season schedule were to be condensed with fewer off-days, the services of a third catcher like Astudillo could become more important to keep the backstop rotation fresh.
The back of the bullpen
Entering Grapefruit League play, most of the Twins' bullpen picture appeared settled behind Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May, Sergio Romo and Zack Littell, leaving two spots up for grabs between Cody Stashak, Fernando Romero, Matt Wisler and some swingman-type options who could provide bulk innings when needed. That picture, too, appeared much clearer towards the end of camp due to Stashak's phenomenal spring alongside customs issues that prevented Romero from entering the United States for camp.
There might not actually be too much about this battle that changes between now and the eventual start to the season. Stashak showed in late 2019 and this spring that he appears ready to be a quality MLB reliever, while that final spot could still go to one of the candidates for the fifth rotation spot -- especially if Hill is healthy in time to eliminate that battle altogether. That could be a nice landing spot for Dobnak or Smeltzer, who pitched quite effectively in a swingman-type role down the stretch last season.