Twins' roster equipped for big goals in '23
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The tone of this spring -- and of this season -- could have felt very different had Carlos Correa not miraculously returned to the Twins after not one, but two other free-agent agreements fell through.
Now, the important thing is that the Twins have Correa and Byron Buxton paired together in their lineup for at least the next six years -- and, armed with that information, they moved aggressively to bolster depth on both sides of the ball, fueled by the disappointment of their September collapse in 2022 after injuries wreaked havoc on their hopes for a division title.
Joey Gallo, Christian Vázquez, Kyle Farmer, Michael A. Taylor and Donovan Solano are also now in the mix, as is Opening Day starter Pablo López -- acquired in exchange for Luis Arraez as part of an offseason trade. Top prospects like Edouard Julien, Brooks Lee, Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson are ready to play significant roles, too.
On paper, the roster is as deep as it has ever been. Can it stay that way?
What needs to go right?
Health, health, health.
The Twins are starting the season with Buxton at designated hitter because they want to make sure his bat can be in the lineup as much as possible, even at the cost of appearances in center field. This lineup feels very different without Buxton -- and the same applies when it’s missing Jorge Polanco at second base as the switch-hitting foundational piece near the top of the lineup.
Beyond that, there’s plenty of injury variance in this starting rotation with Kenta Maeda coming back from Tommy John surgery, Tyler Mahle trying to shake off mysterious shoulder issues and Bailey Ober’s lengthy history of health issues. The Twins amassed as much depth as they can, but if they are going to close the gap with the Guardians, they’ll need to access the upside in these starting-caliber players with injury questions.
Great unknown: What can they expect from Alex Kirilloff?
The Twins can survive at first base this season without Kirilloff, considering they have no shortage of options there between Gallo, Farmer, Jose Miranda and Solano. But this isn’t just about 2023; it’s about determining if Kirilloff, the club’s onetime No. 2 prospect, can get his career back on track after persistent right wrist issues led to consecutive season-ending surgeries.
When healthy, Kirilloff was expected to be a middle-of-the-order bat with a very high floor, the type who anchors lineups for years and years. But he simply hasn’t had the chance to show that, held to 104 games over two seasons, swinging through pain in much of that time.
He’ll start the season on the injured list as he continues to build up that wrist -- and considering he only knows of one other MLB player to have undergone the more invasive surgery, there’s little precedent for what to expect or any particular timeline, though Kirilloff had ramped up to Minor League games by the end of spring.
Team MVP will be … Carlos Correa
He plays a premier position, he’s in his physical prime, and he brings as much in the clubhouse as he does to the field. His importance cannot be understated.
Buxton could enter the mix if he eventually ends up playing more center field than designated hitter, but that could be in question. And don’t sleep on Miranda, who has had a huge spring and could be in line for a true offensive breakout.
Team Cy Young will be … Jhoan Duran
The Twins have loaded up on starting depth, but the most dominant pitcher on the roster will be pitching toward the end of games. Duran surpassed all expectations as his overwhelming three-pitch mix and 103 mph velocity netted him a 1.86 ERA as a rookie, quickly helping him emerge as the most important piece of the Twins’ bullpen. This year, he could cement his status as one of the elite arms in all of baseball.
Bold prediction: Buxton hits 50 home runs
The Twins’ stated goal is to get Buxton into the lineup as much as they can -- and if that means they’ll need to keep taking care of him with regular games at designated hitter, so be it. Buxton hit 28 homers in 92 games last season, which would have put him on pace for 49 in 162 games.
If they can get him into anything close to a full season, it’s well within reason that Buxton could threaten -- or even break -- Harmon Killebrew’s club record of 49.