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2020 vision: Predicting Twins' Opening Day look

@dohyoungpark
January 14, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins made their big splash by reportedly agreeing with Josh Donaldson on a four-year, $92 million contract, resolving one of their final major roster questions as they look ahead to 2020. Three months ago, Minnesota's projected roster was also particularly riddled with holes on the pitching side.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins made their big splash by reportedly agreeing with Josh Donaldson on a four-year, $92 million contract, resolving one of their final major roster questions as they look ahead to 2020.

Three months ago, Minnesota's projected roster was also particularly riddled with holes on the pitching side. That's no longer the case. Though the Twins did not secure any big-name starting pitchers off the free-agent market, they did make several impactful additions to the Major League group -- including a few familiar faces -- to mostly fill out the roster they should bring north from Spring Training for Opening Day.

With the first workouts of Spring Training less than a month away, let's take an updated look at how the Twins' roster could look when they take the field at the Oakland Coliseum for Opening Day on March 26. Keep in mind that roster construction this season will come with the added wrinkle of an expansion to 26 players through Aug. 31, with a cap of 28 players for the final month of the regular season.

Catcher
Locks: Mitch Garver, Alex Avila
Possibility: Willians Astudillo

There's no question that Garver will be the Twins' starting catcher following a breakout 2019, during which he led the Major Leagues by hitting 30 of his 31 homers as a catcher and posted the highest slugging percentage (.630) for any backstop in club history. Minnesota also addressed its vacancy at backup catcher in early December by signing the lefty-hitting Avila to a one-year, $4.25 million contract.

It remains to be seen how much of the workload Garver will bear behind the plate. Despite the slugger's historic numbers in 2019, manager Rocco Baldelli made it evident in his first season as skipper that proper rest and recovery were a priority, and nowhere was that more clear than at catcher, where Garver (73 starts) engaged in a hefty timeshare with the departed Jason Castro (72 starts).

First base

Locks: Miguel Sanó, Marwin Gonzalez
Possibilities: None

With Donaldson serving as a defensive upgrade at the hot corner, Sanó should slide across the diamond to serve as the everyday first baseman for the first time in his career. Sanó has appeared at first base in 31 games through his five Major League seasons, but he said that he has been taking ground balls at both third and first this offseason, continuing his work from last season, in order to be ready to play wherever the team needs him. The multipositional Gonzalez is likely to be the primary backup here.

Second base
Locks: Luis Arraez, Ehire Adrianza
Possibility: Nick Gordon

There's little question that the starting role will belong to Arraez, who burst onto the scene with quality at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie in 2019 and immediately led the Twins in batting average (.334) and on-base percentage (.399).

Behind him, Adrianza avoided arbitration with a one-year, $1.6 million contract, bringing back one of the Twins' best all-around defenders as a backup at all four infield positions and one of the better-hitting utility infielders (.765 OPS) in baseball. This should also be the year for the 24-year-old Gordon, the club's No. 14 prospect per MLB Pipeline, to finally break into the Majors at some point, after he hit .298/.342/.459 at Triple-A in '19.

Shortstop
Locks: Jorge Polanco, Ehire Adrianza
Possibility: Nick Gordon

No big mystery here. Polanco posted his finest season in 2019 after he signed a five-year, $25.75 million extension during Spring Training. Polanco not only appeared as the starting shortstop for the American League in the All-Star Game, but he was also the workhorse of the Twins' roster, as he appeared in a team-high 153 games. Top prospect Royce Lewis should arrive in the next few years and will almost certainly be in big league Spring Training, but he won't be a factor for the Opening Day roster just yet.

Third base
Locks: Josh Donaldson, Ehire Adrianza
Possibilities: Nick Gordon

Everyone will talk about the homers, but Donaldson will also provide a much-needed defensive boost to the Twins' infield as he slots in as the club's regular at the hot corner. The 34-year-old was worth 8 outs above average last season, per Statcast, ranking him third among Major League third basemen behind only Gold Glove Award winners Nolan Arenado (17) and Matt Chapman (14). The Twins were worth 0 OOA at third base last season -- and a whopping minus-14 as an infield, ranking 26th in the Majors.

Utility
Lock: Marwin Gonzalez
Possibility: Willians Astudillo

Gonzalez is at his best when he's not anchored to any position and is instead freed up to play his super-utility role, and that should again be the case in 2020. All GIF-able moments on the field aside, Astudillo's .678 OPS in 2019 won't cut it in an expanded role, but his extreme versatility almost makes him ideally suited to assume the 26th roster spot as a third catcher and a backup corner infielder.

Designated hitter
Locks:
Nelson Cruz
Possibilities: None

This is the biggest no-brainer on the roster, after the Twins exercised Cruz's $12 million option for 2020. The ageless Cruz (he turns 40 in July) led the Twins with 41 homers and a career-best 1.031 OPS in 2019 as he posted his sixth straight season with 37 or more roundtrippers -- even after rupturing a tendon in his left wrist in August.

Outfield
Lock:
Max Kepler
Possibilities: Byron Buxton, Jake Cave, Luke Raley, Eddie Rosario, LaMonte Wade Jr.

Kepler appears to be the only lock after signing a five-year, $35 million extension with an option for a sixth year during Spring Training. Whether he'll start in right or center depends on the recovery of Buxton, who underwent season-ending labrum surgery last Sept. 10 that was expected to carry a recovery of 4-6 months. Twins leadership said this offseason that Buxton is on track to be healthy for Spring Training, and assuming no setbacks, he'd be a lock to start in center field.

Rosario is a fan favorite, and he has been the team's anchor in left for the past three seasons, but could he be a trade candidate to secure an impact starting pitcher? If Rosario is still around in March, he's the starting left fielder. Otherwise, the Twins have young options with MLB experience in Cave and Wade or a left-handed prospect with punch in Raley. No. 8 prospect Brent Rooker also represents a high-ceiling power bat, but there's currently no room on the 40-man roster for the No. 35 overall selection from the 2017 Draft.

Starting pitchers
Locks:
José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey
Possibilities: Randy Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, free agent/trade
Eventual locks: Rich Hill, Michael Pineda

The Twins first stabilized their rotation by re-signing Odorizzi and Pineda, and then added experienced options through the signings of Bailey, a veteran coming off a much-improved 2019, and Hill, who comes with risk but elite upside and a proven record of playoff success. There's still room for another front-of-the-rotation arm via the trade market, but there's also no question that the Twins' starting depth is much less of an issue now than it was several months ago.

The problem is that neither Pineda nor Hill will be on the Opening Day roster. Pineda must serve the remainder of his 60-game suspension to open the season and will be eligible for a return in mid-May. Hill underwent surgery in October and is expected to be out of action until around June. That should give the Twins some time to evaluate one or more of their internal options -- likely Dobnak, Smeltzer or Thorpe -- early in the season to have a more complete idea of where things stand once they have their full array of options available in the second half.

Relievers
Locks:
Tyler Clippard, Tyler Duffey, Zack Littell, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo
Possibilities: Graterol, Ryne Harper, Fernando Romero, Cody Stashak, Matt Wisler

Perceived to be a weakness early last season, the Twins' relief corps emerged as one of the team's strengths in the second half and stretch run. It's shaping up to be a sound crew again in 2020. Rogers should reprise his role as closer, with a strong group of late-innings relievers around him in May, Duffey, Romo and Clippard. Littell and Stashak didn't blow anyone away but were effective all the same and should get more looks.

It's shaping up to be a tight battle for the final two bullpen spots between Harper, Romero, Stashak and Wisler. The hard-throwing Graterol, the organization's top pitching prospect, could also be in play if the Twins don't transition him back to a starting role. Wisler would appear to have a leg up because he is out of Minor League options and is on a guaranteed Major League contract for the coming season. Harper and Stashak were both effective for extended periods last season, while former top prospect Romero will look to shake off a forgettable '19 after he struggled with his mechanics in his transition to the bullpen.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.