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Predicting Twins' 2020 Opening Day roster

@dohyoungpark
November 5, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- Forecasting the Twins' roster for Opening Day 2020 is a task that can be done only with reduced confidence for the time being, as Minnesota leadership embarks on the challenge of building a starting rotation for a team with hopes to build on a 101-win season in '19.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Forecasting the Twins' roster for Opening Day 2020 is a task that can be done only with reduced confidence for the time being, as Minnesota leadership embarks on the challenge of building a starting rotation for a team with hopes to build on a 101-win season in '19.

While there's plenty of certainty in a position-player group coming off a historic, productive 2019 campaign in which it set the Major League record with 307 homers, the lack of definition in four-fifths of the starting rotation will likely not resolve in any meaningful capacity until the free-agent and trade markets begin to move.

As we take a very early look at how the Twins' roster might look to begin next year's regular season, keep in mind that roster construction in 2020 will come with the added wrinkle of the active roster expanding to 26 players through Aug. 31, with a cap of 28 players for the final month of the regular season.

Catcher
Locks: Mitch Garver
Possibilities: Willians Astudillo, free agent/trade
There's no question that Garver will be the Twins' starting catcher following a breakout 2019, during which he finished second in the Major Leagues with 31 homers as a catcher (New York's Gary Sánchez had 34) and posted the highest slugging percentage (.630) for any backstop in club history.

But how much of the workload will Garver bear behind the plate? 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 Jason Castro (72 starts). With that in mind, the Twins could look for a more productive backup catcher on the market this offseason instead of relying solely on Astudillo (.678 OPS in 2019).

First base
Locks: None
Possibilities: C.J. Cron, Brent Rooker
The Twins have until the Dec. 2 tender deadline to determine the future of Cron, who provided a solid glove and hit 25 homers but was held back by a right thumb injury for most of the second half. Cron underwent a surgical debridement procedure on Oct. 16, and he is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $7.7 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility in 2020.

The primary internal option behind Cron would appear to be Rooker, the club's No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who posted promising numbers in Triple-A (.281/.398/.535 with 14 homers) but was held to only 65 games due to a left wrist strain and a groin injury. Rooker split time between first base and the outfield in his first two years in the Minors, but he played exclusively left field in 2019.

Second base
Locks: Luis Arraez
Possibilities: Ehire Adrianza, 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).

Adrianza is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $1.9 million in arbitration in 2020, which would be a tremendous value for the Twins to bring back one of their better 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, to finally break into the Majors after he hit .298/.342/.459 at Triple-A in '19.

Shortstop
Locks: Jorge Polanco
Possibilities: Adrianza, Gordon
No big mystery here. Polanco posted his finest season in 2019 after he signed a five-year, $25.75 million extension with a pair of options 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, but he almost certainly won't be a factor for the Opening Day roster just yet.

Third base
Locks: Miguel Sanó
Possibilities: Adrianza, Gordon
Though he's coming off a career-best 34 homers and .923 OPS in a huge bounceback campaign, Sanó committed 17 errors at third base in an abbreviated season, tied for second-most at his position, and his overall defense also graded out as a negative according to advanced metrics, as his minus-5 defensive runs saved ranked him in the bottom third at his position. But he also has a cannon right arm, and Baldelli said after the season that he's in no rush to pull Sanó off the hot corner.

Utility
Locks: Marwin Gonzalez
Possibilities: Astudillo
Gonzalez is at his best when he's not anchored to any one position and is instead freed up to play his super-utility role, and that should again be the case for the veteran in 2020, with a focus at first base and in the outfield. All gif-able moments on the field aside, Astudillo's .678 OPS in 2019 won't cut it in a more consistent role, but his extreme versatility should still give him value as a third catcher and a backup corner infielder on an expanded 26-man roster.

Designated hitter
Locks: Nelson Cruz
Possibilities: None
This is the biggest no-brainer on the roster, as the Twins are reportedly exercising Cruz's $12 million club option for 2020. The ageless Cruz 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 long balls -- even after rupturing a tendon in his left wrist in August.

Outfield
Locks: Max Kepler
Possibilities: Byron Buxton, Jake Cave, Luke Raley, Rooker, 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 timeline of Buxton, who underwent season-ending left labrum surgery on Sept. 10 that was expected to carry a recovery of 4-6 months. If Buxton is healthy, he's 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 some pitching? 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, a left-handed prospect with punch in Raley or a high-ceiling power bat in Rooker, the former No. 35 overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft.

Starting pitchers
Locks: José Berríos
Possibilities: Randy Dobnak, Stephen Gonsalves, Brusdar Graterol, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, free agent/trade
With Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Martín Pérez and Michael Pineda all bound for free agency, the only certainty in the rotation for now is Berríos. Dobnak made a strong case for inclusion at the back end following a stunning rise through the Minors, while heralded prospect Thorpe and the steady Smeltzer could also make some noise as rotation depth after reaching the Majors in '19.

The Twins could look into bringing back Pineda or Odorizzi on a qualifying offer or new deals, but it's likely that they also explore both the free-agent and trade markets for proven options, with arms like Gerrit Cole, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and Stephen Strasburg hitting free agency and others like Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard and Matthew Boyd at least worth a look in trades, given the Twins' prospect depth.

Relievers
Locks: Tyler Duffey, Zack Littell, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Cody Stashak
Possibilities: Graterol, Ryne Harper, Trevor Hildenberger, Fernando Romero, Matt Wisler, free agent/trade
Most of this group is young and controllable, including Duffey and Rogers, two of the best relievers in the Majors last season, and Littell and Stashak, who both pitched more than capably as rookies when given the opportunity. Rogers figures to reprise his role as closer, while Duffey and May should again figure into the late innings.

Though Romero, a former top prospect, has tremendous raw stuff, there's still a lot of uncertainty behind that aforementioned core, especially in light of Hildenberger's season-long struggles and Harper's fade at the end of an otherwise strong rookie campaign. The Twins do have some prospects coming up in their system that could be converted to relief like Graterol or Jorge Alcala, but this could also be an area in which they could benefit from adding a more proven reliever. Minnesota shied away from multiyear commitments to relievers last offseason, and instead, it turned to mostly internal options before addressing its needs at the Trade Deadline.

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