Twins relying on this key trio to power success in '24

February 18th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Perhaps there’s still a finishing move out there for this Twins roster, but as manager Rocco Baldelli stood and gave his season-opening speech to his clubhouse on the day of the first full-squad workout at Hammond Stadium (with Edouard Julien tasked with holding his coffee cup) the vast majority of the group that will aim to take the next step was assembled around him.

The message is always about winning. Last year, they found something tangible to back up those words. But that doesn’t mean anything is a given this year, as they aim to be the team that makes the best adjustments, perseveres most effectively -- and takes that next step.

“Yeah, we’re going to take a lot from what we built and what we achieved last year, but it doesn’t get us anywhere this year by itself,” Baldelli said. “I used a little, ‘Rub a little playoff dirt on your arm just to remember what you learned, but then you’ve got to move past it.’”

It’s been a mostly quiet offseason for these Twins, with the departures of Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda and Jorge Polanco ringing louder than any of their arrivals. But for them to take that next step, they feel a big chunk of the answer is right in front of them: For their stars to be better positioned for star-like seasons.

, and all enter this camp coming off healthy, mostly normal offseasons for the first time together. They’re all looking at normal spring buildups.

The significance of that is not lost on them.

"Last year, all of us dealing with injuries probably limited who we wanted to be throughout the season," Buxton said. "For us to come in healthy and everybody being on that same page, have the same itch to get to the World Series and get that ring that we all want is special. It’s something fun and exciting to look forward to.”

Last year, as the Twins surged to their first AL Central title since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and won a playoff series for the first time since 2002, Buxton was held to DH-only duty by continued knee pain and didn’t meaningfully factor into the playoff chase and postseason. Correa was a shell of himself until the playoffs as he dealt with plantar fasciitis. Lewis, limited by his second ACL recovery and a hamstring strain, played only 58 games.

Correa didn’t have a contract negotiation to worry about this offseason. Lewis finally used his offseason to build -- not to build back from injury. Most significantly, Buxton is finally pain-free. They only appeared in 13 starting lineups together last season, none of which represented all three at close to full strength.

“The best offseason acquisition we can make is putting Byron Buxton back in center field,” catcher Ryan Jeffers said. “That gives the team so much flexibility to do a lot more with the DH spot, matchups and stuff like that.”

Coupled with the breakout success of Julien, Matt Wallner, Louie Varland and others that served as one of the most outstanding rookie classes in club history in ‘23, the Twins see a clear foundation on which to build momentum -- if only they can stay healthy.

“It's a team that's very young, but got enough experience last year for us to believe that we can do it against any team,” Correa said.

The health question looms large, particularly with Lewis and Buxton, of course. They’ll also count on improved health and/or performance from Anthony DeSclafani and Chris Paddack in the rotation. That’s always the concern, and that will continue to serve as the Twins’ biggest barrier to the success they can see on paper.

In that regard, they’re off to as good of a start as they could have hoped. According to Baldelli, there are no noteworthy injury concerns to start camp aside from Josh Winder (slowed by an offseason scapula stress fracture), with only a handful of pitchers perhaps tracking a matter of days behind.

The long road begins here -- and the path forward is clear.

“When this group is healthy and performing the way we believe it can, we feel really good about the talent that’s in the room,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “Now, they want to go and try to earn it. That’s the feeling I get in talking with the guys. They’re ready to go out on the field and push it.”