Twins outfield storylines to follow in '24

February 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As the Twins descend upon Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training next week, all eyes will be on center field, the post to which has proclaimed he’ll return this season after not stepping foot on the outfield grass all last season as he dealt with his knee issues.

Buxton’s ability to return to center field -- and the extent to which he can stay there -- will arguably be one of this team’s most important storylines and pivot points in 2024. But there’s plenty of intrigue in the corners, too.

Namely: Can continue to improve on a very impressive debut performance in ‘23 and avoid a sophomore slump as the league figures him out? And if remains on the team in the final year of his contract, can he sustain his long-awaited offensive improvements that made him one of the club’s most important hitters in the second half?

And will this finally be the year in which the Twins will find a proven right-handed hitter to platoon in an outfield spot?

Where things stand

Current MLB depth (with 2023 stats):
LF: Matt Wallner (age 26, 76 G, 2.2 WAR, 144 wRC+, 14 HR, .249/.370/.507)
CF: Byron Buxton (age 30, 85 G, 0.8 WAR, 98 wRC+, 17 HR, .207/.294/.438)
RF: Max Kepler (age 30, 130 G, 2.9 WAR, 124 wRC+, 24 HR, .260/.332/.484)
(age 26, 124 G, 2.6 WAR, 109 wRC+, 9 HR, .257/.339/.411)
(age 26, 58 G, 0.1 WAR, 99 wRC+, 8 HR, .213/.311/.415)
(age 28, 34 G, -0.2 WAR, 30 wRC+, 2 HR, .176/.185/.319)

For all the trade rumors that have swirled around Kepler this offseason, there actually isn’t a ton of depth here, either at the Major League level or in the high Minors. Each of the top four on the list -- likely guaranteed roster spots -- comes with his respective question marks, and the two behind them also haven’t been consistently productive big leaguers.

Though Larnach once came up through the system as a top prospect, injuries and inconsistency have limited his time in the Majors since he debuted in 2021. A promising ‘22 season from Gordon gave way to an almost total loss in ‘23, when he struggled to a .503 OPS in only 34 games before losing the majority of his season to a fractured leg.

Of course, the Twins’ current roster composition is far needier for outfield depth than a typical team because of the well-documented injury struggles of Buxton, for whom the plan to start at DH and ease into the outfield last season did not pan out due to continued issues in his knee.

Buxton has been eager to proclaim himself as ready to step back into center field following another knee procedure this offseason, but the Twins also don’t have as defined of a contingency plan in center field as they did last season, when the still-unsigned arrived in an offseason trade and made 126 starts at the position.

Also on the 40-man:
(Triple-A, age 24, 67 G, 7 HR, 19 SB, .260/.381/.398)
(MLB, age 25, 37 G, 0 HR, 4 SB, .170/.237/.283)
(High-A, age 20, 99 G, 16 HR, 20 SB, .240/.400/.463)

There’s no proven depth waiting in the wings, either. Martin is probably the next man up behind Buxton and Castro in center field, but the one-time top prospect (and centerpiece of the trade of 2021) has yet to see any time in the Majors and doesn’t have a ton of power to go with his contact and on-base-oriented game.

Though Rodríguez is a consensus Top 100 prospect in the industry, including the No. 42 ranking on MLB Pipeline’s list, he’s still far off from the Majors, and Thompson, an offseason waiver claim, offers little value at the plate, with his defense and speed likely making him a role player off the bench if needed.

Key question: Is there more coming?
As has seemingly been the case for some time now, the issue is that the Twins’ outfield group skews very heavily left-handed at the plate, and the biggest right-handed bat of the bunch is Buxton, for whom health and availability haven’t been a guarantee. Castro is a switch-hitter who has never particularly crushed lefties, and Martin is still unproven.

The issue is that the Twins clearly want to avoid Wallner facing southpaws whenever possible (he has a career .949 OPS against righties and .442 OPS against lefties), and they don’t have any clear platoon option. Then again, they haven’t really addressed that slot over the last few seasons, when and have passed through the organization to fill out the platoon.

As of now, they don’t have someone for that role, and if any additional financial flexibility does present itself as the television uncertainty resolves, that’s probably the Twins’ most glaring need. Taylor remains unsigned, and other options like and are still looking for homes.

In the pipeline (with MLB Pipeline ranks):
No. 1 Walker Jenkins (Single-A Fort Myers)
No. 4 Gabriel Gonzalez (High-A Cedar Rapids)
No. 9 Brandon Winokur(Rookie FCL Twins)
No. 13 José Rodríguez (Rookie FCL Twins)
No. 19 Kala’i Rosario (High-A Cedar Rapids)
No. 21 Ricardo Olivar (Single-A Fort Myers)
No. 22 Yasser Mercedes (Rookie FCL Twins)
No. 26 Byron Chourio (Rookie FCL Twins)

There’s not much immediate help in the pipeline, either, as the entirety of the Twins’ outfield group among their Top 30 prospects -- headlined by Jenkins, the No. 10 overall prospect -- remains far from the Majors. Keep an eye on Rosario, who crushed 21 homers with an .831 OPS in High-A last season and mashed seven more long balls to co-lead the Arizona Fall League with fellow Twins prospect .