The last time the Twins were in Fort Myers, Fla., the world turned upside down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a loaded Minnesota roster still emerged from a year of tumult and uncertainty with a second straight division title.
With a three-peat in their sights, a reinforced Twins team will once again take to camp with the hope that these additions will finally be the group that pushes them over the top -- or, at the very least, earns them a playoff victory for the first time since 2004.
Those new faces include Andrelton Simmons, who should provide the club's best shortstop defense in quite some time, along with pitching additions J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, Hansel Robles and Alex Colomé. They'll fortify a group that includes several exciting prospects ready to impact the Majors and the return of veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who was thrilled to make it back to the Twins after a protracted wait during the offseason.
Here's what fans should look out for as workouts for pitchers and catchers get underway in Twins camp:
What are the key roster/position battles to watch?
Most of the action should be on the pitching staff, where free-agent acquisition Shoemaker will look to find his health and lay claim to the fifth rotation spot, while Randy Dobnak also competes as a starting option. There's also the question as to what the usage will look like at the back end of the bullpen, with the mix of Tyler Duffey, Robles, Taylor Rogers and Colomé all expected to fit into those late innings in some manner.
Either way, it looks like Dobnak could stay on the roster as either the fifth starter or a length option, and the continued development of Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe should also be noted to see how they will continue to fit into the length picture.
Otherwise, keep an eye on top prospect Alex Kirilloff, who could be asked to take over as the everyday left fielder at some point this season regardless of whether or not he has a spot on the Opening Day roster. He made his big league debut during the playoffs last season, but there will be plenty of competition for time in left field among him, Jake Cave, Brent Rooker and Luis Arraez.
When is the first Spring Training game?
The Twins open their spring schedule on Feb. 28 at 12:10 p.m. CT against their cross-town rival Red Sox at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. It will mark the first of eight matchups against Boston this spring as clubs mostly play schedules within geographically demarcated pods.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
The Twins have not yet announced any radio or television broadcast plans for Spring Training games.
Can I buy tickets?
Yes. The Twins announced earlier this month that they will welcome roughly 2,400 fans to home games at Hammond Stadium in distanced pods of two to four seats in accordance with guidelines established by Major League Baseball and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Existing Spring Training season ticket holders can purchase single-game tickets starting Thursday, while the remainder of the allotment will become available to the general public at 10 a.m. CT next Wednesday.
The Hammond Stadium box office will open for physically distanced ticket sales next Thursday.
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
The Twins will be split between two clubhouses, and though fans will be allowed into the facility for games, they will not be allowed into the complex to watch workouts before the Grapefruit League schedule begins on Feb. 28.
All Twins employees, event staff and guests 2 years of age or older will be required to wear face masks in Hammond Stadium unless actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats. There will also be "buffer zones" enforced between the playing field and fans in attendance, including 12 feet of distance from dugouts to the first rows of ticketed seats and six feet from bullpens. All on-field personnel will be prohibited from signing autographs or direct contact with fans.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
As was the case last season, the club's top six prospects -- Royce Lewis, Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran and Ryan Jeffers -- will all be in big league camp. Lewis and Balazovic should be of particular interest this camp, as it'll mark the first public opportunity to see them in action since 2019.
Lewis spent the entire 2020 season at the alternate training site toning down his swing and continuing his defensive work at shortstop, and his performance will be particularly significant considering his struggles at the plate with a .661 OPS across two levels in '19. Balazovic wasn't even at the alternate training site until late in the season, and the club's top pitching prospect will be in big league camp for the first time after spending '19 in Class A Advanced Fort Myers and topping out in one start in the Double-A playoffs.
Will Spring Training rosters work differently this year?
Yes. Each team will be limited to a 75-man player pool for Spring Training games, including members of the 40-man roster, non-roster invitees and any Minor League depth players who could fill time in the late innings of certain games. In a typical Spring Training, clubs would have some rotation of which Minor Leaguers would join camp each day in that capacity.
Anyone else to look out for on that 75-man roster?
Among those Minor League depth players, keep an eye out for the big bat of Aaron Sabato, the club's first-round Draft selection from 2020, and right-hander Matt Canterino, the Twins' second-rounder from the 2019 Draft. Sabato is ranked No. 8 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, while Canterino clocks in at No. 11 and was part of the club's alternate training site activity toward the end of last season.
Are there any injuries of note?
The Twins are anticipating a healthy roster as camp begins, as the offseason gave several of their key players a welcome respite following an injury-laden 2020 season.
Josh Donaldson has been working with the Twins' training staff to maintain his legs after the issues that have plagued his calves throughout his career again flared up and cost him much of the 2020 season. Byron Buxton's usage was limited in the playoffs after he was hit in the helmet by a pitch in the closing days of the season, and both Brent Rooker (right arm) and Jorge Polanco (right ankle) are coming off surgery. Still, all those issues appear to be behind the Twins as camp opens.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
The Twins are scheduled to open the regular season on April 1 in Milwaukee at 1:10 p.m. CT.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
The club has continued to work with Governor Tim Walz to gauge if and how fans can safely attend games at Target Field this season, but no concrete plans or possibilities have yet been announced.