Gordon heads to Minors for more reps

Notes: Arraez ready at first; Ryan pitches USA to gold medal game

August 6th, 2021

HOUSTON -- There could be a super-utility role in the Major Leagues in 's future, but to get him there, he'll need some more time to hone his skills in the Minors on an everyday basis.

According to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, that's why the 25-year-old Gordon was optioned to Triple-A St. Paul before Thursday's series opener against the Astros as the corresponding move for 's activation from the 10-day injured list. Refsnyder started in center field and batted fifth in Minnesota's lineup at Minute Maid Park.

The 30-year-old Refsnyder has certainly earned this additional opportunity with his .321/.371/.500 slash line and two homers through 18 games earlier this season after working with Minor League hitting coach Matt Borgschulte to revamp his swing ahead of an opportunity at the big league level with Minnesota due to a rash of outfield injuries.

He carried that through with a 14-for-36 (.389) performance in a 10-game rehab assignment with St. Paul, including three doubles, three homers and a 1.187 OPS.

But the move had as much to do with the Twins seeking a consistent opportunity for Gordon as it did with getting Refsnyder back on the roster, Baldelli said.

"Nick really does need to go play a lot and really rack up some at-bats and make up for some lost time," Baldelli said. "He's done a great job at the Major League level. He's handled himself great. He's responded to a lot of different things we've thrown at him exceptionally well."

Gordon was hitting .250/.301/.333 while mostly playing center field -- for the first time in his professional career -- in 37 games with the Twins. He readily took to the new position, which certainly bodes well for a possible future as a big league utility man. The next step for that, though, is gaining more comfort elsewhere on the diamond.

Baldelli said that in chatting with Triple-A manager Toby Gardenhire, the hope is that Gordon will play every day with a renewed focus on shortstop and third base. He'll also start to get looks in left field, since opportunities in center field at the big league level will likely be slim once Byron Buxton's broken hand heals.

"If he can play center field, I think he can play left field," Luis Arraez said of Gordon. "So he's a player, man. I love Nick. He's a really good guy. He plays hard every day, too."

Baldelli was complimentary of the quality of Gordon's at-bats, but considering he missed the entire 2020 season due to COVID-19, he also has to make up for those lost reps -- and those reps were likely going to be difficult to find at the big league level, considering Minnesota's glut of corner outfielders and Josh Donaldson's consistent manning of third base.

"Logging those innings and just being on his feet and playing every single day is going to bring a ton of value to him and help him continue to develop as a player," Baldelli said. "He's a good player, but he's still a young player, and there's still a lot of room to grow there."

Arraez ready at first base if needed
When Arraez got injured at the end of July in Chicago, Baldelli took the opportunity to mention that the Twins had actually been in the process of readying the 24-year-old to play at first base when needed, too.

According to Arraez, that hasn't manifested in any extra work at first base to this point, but rather, a communication to him that he might be needed at the position in an emergency. The Twins are covered there with Brent Rooker, Miguel Sanó and Willians Astudillo on the roster, but in the aftermath of Alex Kirilloff's season-ending wrist surgery, having Arraez as an option certainly can't hurt, either.

"The more versatile Luis can be, especially in the infield, the better he can help us going forward," Baldelli said at the time.

Arraez only has one game of experience at first base -- he remembers that it came at age 16, when he played in the Dominican Summer League -- but he does own a first baseman's mitt (which Astudillo has been known to borrow). He's not expecting to need it for now, but he's ready to move over there if needed.

"If I play third, I can play first base," Arraez said.

Arraez said he owns gloves for first base, second base, third base and left field -- but he's not looking to add catching to his versatility.

"Never," he said quickly.

Ryan pitches Team USA to gold medal game
Much of the United States (including Baldelli) was asleep when right-hander Joe Ryan pitched Team USA to the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics early Thursday morning, but the Twins' skipper is eagerly awaiting the return of the newly acquired right-hander, who arrived in the organization as part of the Nelson Cruz deal with Tampa Bay.

The United States will face host nation Japan in the final at 5 a.m. CT on Saturday in Yokohama, and Ryan guaranteed them a medal and the berth in that game by allowing one run over 4 1/3 innings in his semifinal start against South Korea, the defending Olympic gold medalists.

Ryan, 25, also pitched the U.S. to victory in their Olympic debut on July 30 with six innings of one-run ball as the No. 1 pitcher in the American starting rotation. Right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson, acquired by the Twins as part of the José Berríos deal with Toronto, is also on the U.S. team.

"I look forward to connecting with those guys when they return," Baldelli said. "Like I said, I shot [Ryan] a note. We’re obviously on different time zones and it’s not going to be the easiest thing to get ahold of guys, but I just wanted to connect with them quickly, let those guys continue to do their thing and then talk to them when they get back."