Breaking down the Twins' first-base flexibility

February 26th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Quick, who’s the Twins’ shortstop? Carlos Correa, of course. How about the second baseman? That’s Jorge Polanco. Here’s a question, then: Who’s the Twins’ first baseman?

The answer might not be as simple as you’d think.

“We don't have a first baseman,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before the Twins’ 10-8 loss to the Phillies on Sunday. “We have several guys that are going to play first base. We don't need one guy that's going to play first base.”

The aforementioned “several guys” will likely most heavily involve former top prospect , who has both the bat and sure hands to stick as a long-term fit there. But the Twins have also said that will play plenty of first base (and think he could be quite a good defender there), and, at various points, have also brought up , and even as possibilities to see time there.

The simplest solution might be for Kirilloff to seize control of everyday playing time with a healthy camp and a strong showing of his twice-surgically repaired wrist -- but that’s no guarantee as he ramps up at his own pace while the soreness abates. If he can, he’s a middle-of-the-order bat who could anchor the Twins’ lineup for the years to come.

But the Twins aren’t necessarily looking for simple -- and part of that is imposed upon them by their uber-flexible roster composition.

“Yeah, I would prefer to be able to know who we're writing in at first base on Opening Day, and that would be, I don't know, maybe helpful in some ways,” Baldelli said. “But does it make us better? I don't know. I don't think it does. It just makes things simpler.”

It’s hard to imagine them saying no to a consistent, productive hitter against both left-handed and right-handed pitching at the position, but that’s not necessarily how their roster is built. Instead, they do have a large number of players who they hope to put into favorable matchups based on platoon and other considerations -- and if their recent history is any indication, first base might be an area of flexibility to help with that.

When Miguel Sanó effectively became a non-factor following the 2021 season and Kirilloff struggled through the wrist issues, the Twins rotated Jose Miranda (a natural third baseman) and Luis Arraez (a natural second baseman) through first base, with the hope that they’d both pick it up -- and they did, to various degrees of comfort.

With Arraez gone to the Marlins and Miranda moved back to third, there wasn’t a clear single heir apparent at the position -- and the Twins need to cycle through four (or five) outfield regulars, plus Farmer and Solano as extra infielders; all are expected to see significant time in the lineup.

“I don’t look at our team and look at a group of players and go, ‘Look at our bench,’” Baldelli said. “I think of them as like, ‘Look at these guys that are going to play several times a week and help us win.’”

The Twins have also used the designated hitter spot flexibly in recent years, sometimes using it to make platoon and matchup considerations work, and sometimes using it to get regulars off their feet for a day. It’s not exactly conventional for first base to be such a revolving door, but could the Twins also consider that position to be a way to simply maintain lineup flexibility?

“The answer is ... in some ways, yes,” Baldelli said. “The answer is yes, if you get ahead of it and if you have the right players that have the ability and you prepare for it as a team. It takes a lot of work to actually get that kind of rotation.”

It’s not difficult to imagine Solano playing first base against a lefty, with, say, Michael A. Taylor and Farmer in the outfield corners instead of Max Kepler, Gallo and Kirilloff if the Twins want to go extremely righty-heavy in the lineup. All this flexibility will also help in late-game situations, when Baldelli will be much less limited by defensive considerations when selecting pinch-hitters or pinch-runners.

“I think I’m adapting to it as we go along here and you realize what goes into daily lineups and stuff like that,” Kirilloff said. “Sometimes, that’s kind of the way the game is trending. I’m on board, I’m along for the ride, just adapting with it."