Even considering pitchers and catchers officially report to Twins camp on Tuesday, it’s actually quite difficult to do a roster projection because of how president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine make a habit of using all the time they have at their disposal to shape their group.
Indeed, Falvey hinted late last week that the Twins probably aren’t done, as they continue to pay attention to how they can add outfielders and/or pitchers -- but thanks to their late burst of activity, there’s finally some real speculation to be had. So… let’s speculate with the first edition of our Opening Day roster projection.
Catcher (2): Ryan Jeffers, Christian Vázquez
Two real questions here: Can Jeffers build on (or, at least, sustain) his huge breakout from ‘23 -- a 138 wRC+ that led all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances -- that led to him starting all six postseason games behind the plate? And perhaps more importantly, can Vázquez improve upon a rough 65 wRC+ in the first season of a three-year deal? This should be a heavy timeshare (as is typical of this organization), so count on finding answers to both.
First base (3): Alex Kirilloff, Carlos Santana, Jose Miranda
This initially appeared to be a Kirilloff platoon with Miranda, but the signing of Santana to a one-year deal likely positions the switch-hitting veteran to take the right-handed half of the platoon and perhaps even fill in at first base instead of DH as a left-handed hitter in some games where his defense could be important. Still, while not the neatest fit, Miranda sneaks into the projection for now as another right-handed matchup bat following the trade of Nick Gordon to the Marlins.
Second base (1): Edouard Julien
The recipient of a handful of down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes following a stellar rookie campaign in which he impressed with a 136 wRC+, Julien’s discerning eye and ability to use all fields should continue to serve him well against right-handed pitchers -- though it should still be expected that Kyle Farmer will platoon against left-handers.
Shortstop (1): Carlos Correa
Correa has been hitting since November and claims the plantar fasciitis pain that plagued his left heel throughout last season is gone. The Twins will have to hope that translates to a huge bump in performance.
Third base (1): Royce Lewis
The grand slam-whacking, playoff homer-mashing, energy-catalyzing face of the franchise in the making finally has a clear positional home and a full, healthy offseason to use for that preparation. Is the career 153 wRC+ thus far in a small sample sustainable? Let’s find out.
Outfield (3): Matt Wallner, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler
The clearest remaining need on this roster is still a right-handed hitter to face left-handed pitching and serve as an insurance policy for Buxton, whose offseason has been geared toward finally returning to center field. There remain many ifs in this group -- Wallner’s ability to sustain success, Buxton’s health, Kepler’s ability to show that his second-half breakout wasn’t a blip -- but there’s a ton of upside here waiting to be unlocked.
Utility (2): Kyle Farmer, Willi Castro
Assuming health, Farmer and Castro are locks. Farmer can play all four infield positions and step into the outfield in a pinch, while Castro could serve as the Twins’ primary outfield depth behind their starting trio -- again, pending the arrival of another outfielder.
Starting pitchers (5): Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack, Anthony DeSclafani
Louie Varland projects to be quite an effective starter, but as was the case when the Twins broke camp last spring without Ober, these roster decisions often come down to depth. Simply put: Varland can be stashed in the Minors if needed; DeSclafani cannot. Assuming health, that could make the difference, because the Twins need all the starting depth they can get to make it through a season.
Relief pitchers (8): Jhoan Duran, Brock Stewart, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar, Justin Topa, Jay Jackson, Josh Staumont, Steven Okert
Bullpens are volatile, but on paper, this has the potential to be a really, really good one. Duran is a monster, the setup trio of Stewart, Jax and Thielbar is very stout, and the Twins have quietly filled out great bridge depth with offseason acquisitions of Topa, Jackson, Staumont and Okert. (That’s not to mention Jorge Alcala and Kody Funderburk competing for roles, too.) Because Rocco Baldelli likes to carry a long reliever, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any injury issues within this group or a Staumont option give way to a bulk-type arm.