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3 Spring Training predictions for the Twins

@dohyoungpark
February 15, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's still one more week to go before Spring Training games will finally begin, but the beauty of this buildup time in any spring camp is that the possibilities and speculation for the upcoming season can seem wide open before any real on-field evidence presents itself.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There's still one more week to go before Spring Training games will finally begin, but the beauty of this buildup time in any spring camp is that the possibilities and speculation for the upcoming season can seem wide open before any real on-field evidence presents itself.

What, then, should Twins fans be watching for as the club takes the field for workouts around the Minor League complex and at Hammond Stadium? Let's explore three predictions for this Spring Training that should give an idea of what to keep an eye on as camp gets into full swing.

1. Willians Astudillo will emerge as the 26th man
The Twins could go in one of two directions with the roster spot that they will need to dedicate to a 13th position player due to the expansion of the active roster to 26 players throughout the season. They could choose to bring a true fourth outfielder north for the regular season (that would be Jake Cave or LaMonte Wade Jr.) or opt for versatility instead in the form of everyone's favorite tortuga, Willians Astudillo.

Look for Astudillo to emerge as the favored option this spring. He experienced a down 2019 by hitting only .268/.299/.379 in 58 games while missing significant time with an oblique injury, but it makes a difference that he can serve as a third catcher without compromising depth due to his infield capability. It's true that the Twins already have a strong catching tandem in Mitch Garver and Alex Avila, but any time that they can get off their feet in March and April will only help them in September and October, at the end of a long season.

Assuming the health of Byron Buxton, it's also exceedingly difficult to imagine a true fourth outfielder getting any significant playing time over not only Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Buxton, but also Marwin Gonzalez, who can capably play a corner outfield spot. Kepler's ability to play center field also gives the Twins some flexibility in this regard.

2. Jhoan Duran will throw 100 mph
Spring Training velocity readings are fun. Remember camp last year, when Martin Pérez threw 97-98 mph after pitching coach Wes Johnson unlocked some improvements in his mechanics? This time around, the Twins won't have the radar gun-breaking abilities of Brusdar Graterol, who became only the second Twins pitcher to break the 100-mph barrier in the pitch tracking era with a fastball that topped out at 101.9 mph last season.

Rest assured: The Twins still have fireballers left in the tank after dealing Graterol to the Dodgers in exchange for Kenta Maeda. Jhoan Duran should help concerned fans get over it.

The 22-year-old right-hander should clock in at No. 5 on the 2020 version of the Twins’ Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, and he’s been known to sit in the mid- to high-90s out of his big, 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame. Expect him to pop off a few triple-digit screamers -- and also watch out for the unique sinker/splitter hybrid that has stymied Minor League hitters throughout Duran’s career.

3. Sean Poppen or Fernando Romero pushes for inclusion on the Opening Day roster
It felt at times like Sean Poppen was the forgotten arm in the Twins' starting depth this offseason, as he didn't have the exposure of Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe or Randy Dobnak last season due to injury. Fernando Romero, a former top prospect, was in a similar boat after he was optioned to Triple-A for most of the season due to his struggles.

The Twins have noted that Poppen could track a little behind the other young starters, but even if he isn't totally stretched out to start, he could be an intriguing option as a long relief piece. He struggled with command in the big leagues last season but still featured a sinker with huge movement that topped out at 97.4 mph and paired it with a slider that induced six of his nine strikeouts. Romero also has that strong sinker up to 99 mph -- among the best raw stuff on the roster -- but couldn't rein in some wildness with his mechanics last season.

As things stand, the bullpen should include Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, Zack Littell and Tyler Clippard. Matt Wisler will likely have a leg up on one of the final spots because he is out of options, leaving Romero, Cody Stashak and some non-roster invitees to scramble for the final spot. There's still room for a long reliever in there, and if the Twins want Smeltzer and Thorpe to prepare as starters and are OK with having only one left-hander in their bullpen, Poppen could fit the bill.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.