Predicting Twins' 2021 Opening Day roster
The Twins would love to have their Opening Day roster settled with several days remaining in camp, but it doesn't look like things will be that easy.
The left-field picture remains unsettled, a competition in which Alex Kirilloff has the highest ceiling, but the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has had the shakiest spring. Meanwhile, Brent Rooker and Kyle Garlick have both come on strong with stellar Grapefruit League performances to give Minnesota a wealth of options from which to choose. Though most of the bullpen appears settled, there's still one important spot in flux.
What could the roster look like come Opening Day? Let's take another look.
Catchers (2): Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers
Garver has looked far more like his former self this spring, and getting him even close to his 2019 American League Silver Slugger Award form should give the Twins one of the more formidable catching tandems in baseball. It appears likely that the club will use a relatively even split in playing time at the position, but it remains to be seen how manager Rocco Baldelli will determine that split since both hit right-handed. It's worth noting that Minnesota has always loved Garver's ability against southpaws, while Jeffers has actually always had reverse splits in the Minors, hitting right-handers more effectively.
First base (1): Miguel Sanó
Sanó could actually see some action back at the hot corner during the regular season, but his primary position will remain first base, where the Twins also have plenty of depth with Kirilloff, Willians Astudillo and Rooker. Kirilloff in particular has seen a good deal of action this spring at first base, his childhood position, where he has made six starts.
Second base (1): Jorge Polanco
Polanco is back on the field after missing three games with left adductor tightness sustained when he rolled over the ball on a diving play in the field. All signs are pointing towards a more comfortable Polanco both at the plate and in the field after he underwent surgery on his problematic right ankle for a second straight offseason. He says he's now feeling better than he has in some time and has adjusted well to second base, where he's had to get a feel for playing new positions in shifted infields.
Shortstop (1): Andrelton Simmons
Simmons has already started to make an impression on his new infield-mates, and he seems not to have lost a step in the field following his late arrival in camp due to documentation issues while leaving his native Curaçao. Polanco looks to be an option to serve as an occasional backup at the position, and otherwise, the next source of depth might have to come from non-roster infielder JT Riddle.
Third base (1): Josh Donaldson
Donaldson has crushed the ball all spring following a late start to his game schedule in an attempt to ease his problematic calves into action, and it'll remain to be seen how aggressive the Twins will be in their usage of the former AL MVP Award winner early in the regular season. Luis Arraez should be a primary backup here, and Sanó could also slide across the diamond to fill in at his old position.
Utility (2): Arraez, Astudillo
Arraez is a lock due to his being a consistent tough at-bat and his ability to fit in at second and third base. He's even hit leadoff ahead of Max Kepler this spring on occasions in which they were in the lineup together. Astudillo's super-versatility should be even more important considering the Twins open their season at a National League park in Milwaukee, where Nelson Cruz will be limited to pinch-hitting duty. Carrying a third catcher could allow Minnesota to use its non-starting backstop as another big right-handed bat off the bench without putting the club into a vulnerable situation. Astudillo has also been seeing more outfield action late in Spring Training.
Outfield (4): Byron Buxton, Kepler, Jake Cave, Kirilloff
We'll keep Kirilloff penciled in here for now, but it really wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see Garlick or Rooker earn the nod here alongside Buxton, Kepler and Cave, who are essentially locks. Kirilloff has the highest ceiling of the bunch, and the Twins have repeatedly stated that he has been in the mix for the Opening Day job throughout camp after they promoted him for the playoffs last September.
Designated hitter (1): Cruz
The 40-year-old really wants to join Astudillo as an option in the outfield, but Baldelli really doesn't seem to have any plans to let Cruz play defense for the first time in a Twins uniform. He'll likely be limited to pinch-hitting only during the season-opening series against the Brewers in Milwaukee.
Starting pitchers (5): Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker
Happ stretched out to 49 pitches in his second spring start, and he hopes to reach 70-75 pitches by Opening Day. If all goes well, that should put him in position to shoulder a reasonable workload in his first outing of the regular season. The Twins have maintained over the weeks that they expect him to have enough time to build up. Executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey did mention on Sunday that having a piggyback or tandem starter behind Happ could be a possibility, but the need for that will be evaluated over the final week of camp.
Relievers (8): Taylor Rogers, Alex Colomé, Tyler Duffey, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak, Caleb Thielbar, Lewis Thorpe
When the Twins optioned Devin Smeltzer and Shaun Anderson on Friday, it all but made clear that the club's relief corps will center around the first seven names on this list. The only major question that remains is in the competition between Thorpe and Randy Dobnak for the long relief/swingman role at the end of the bullpen. Dobnak has excelled in that capacity over his two big league seasons, but it's also worth noting that Minnesota has synchronized Thorpe's and Happ's pitching schedules, indicating that Thorpe could be a possibility as that aforementioned tandem pitcher.