Latest moves clear up Twins' roster picture
Club appears set to head north with Castro as final position player, Moran and Sands in 'pen
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Barring any transactions between now and Thursday, the Twins’ Opening Day roster appears all but set.
In the biggest of the four cuts Minnesota announced before Sunday's 7-2 win over the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, the club optioned right-hander Bailey Ober to Triple-A St. Paul, formally ending his hope that his strong Major League track record and tremendous spring could force the Twins to make room for him on the roster. They also reassigned left-hander Danny Coulombe, right-hander Aaron Sanchez and outfielder Kyle Garlick to Minor League camp.
Though nothing is official, these four moves effectively bring an end to any position battles, and any doubt there may have been about the Twins’ intended roster composition.
Sunday’s cuts trimmed the camp roster to 32 players. Five are not expected to be healthy enough for Opening Day: Ronny Henriquez, Josh Winder, Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff and Gilberto Celestino. Non-roster catcher Tony Wolters also remains in camp, but the Twins intend to bring only two catchers north (Christian Vázquez and Ryan Jeffers).
That gets the Twins to 26 for Thursday’s season opener in Kansas City.
"We know we're going to need many, many more players than the guys that are just making the team on Opening Day,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Making the club, it's a pretty big deal and everyone should be excited about that. But we also know, looking around, that you're going to have to call on different names, different faces, and have guys win games for you besides the original 26."
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Sunday’s news:
1. Willi Castro appears in line to make the roster
With Garlick’s reassignment to the Minor League side, Castro is the last healthy man remaining to serve as the club’s 13th position player.
The slower buildups of both Kirilloff (recovery from right wrist surgery) and Polanco (left knee bone bruise last season) have created an opening for not only Trevor Larnach but Castro, who is not yet on the 40-man roster but can give the Twins added roster flexibility through his positional versatility (he played every position but catcher and first base last season for the Tigers) and his switch-hitting bat.
Castro’s swing-and-miss tendencies have continued to flare up this camp, as he entered Sunday with an .878 OPS this spring -- but also 17 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances. He’s still 25 years old, with four seasons of MLB experience with the Tigers.
2. Jovani Moran and Cole Sands appear in line to make the roster
Moran was on the unlucky end of several roster crunches last season, which he spent frequently moving back and forth between the Twins and the Triple-A Saints despite pitching to a 2.21 ERA in 31 big league appearances, including 54 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. He appears to have a more solid foothold on a bullpen slot after allowing one hit in a scoreless spring.
And with Minnesota’s preference to keep a long reliever, Sands made sense as a fit both due to his history as a starter and his remaining Minor League options, which will allow the Twins to maintain flexibility with the roster spot -- as they’ve needed to rotate through long-relief options in seasons past.
If healthy, Winder and possibly Henriquez would have been ahead of Sands in the pecking order. But both tracked behind this spring -- Winder due to some offseason shoulder soreness, and Henriquez with elbow soreness early in camp.
3. The Twins will use a five-man rotation
Though president of baseball operations Derek Falvey briefly floated the possibility of a six-man rotation, the Twins will ultimately break camp with a traditional five-man grouping of, in order, Pablo López, Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda.
That left Ober as the tough-luck odd man out. The Twins will almost certainly eventually need him as a starter, so it makes sense to keep him on a regular pitching schedule (especially due to his injury history and his near-total lack of experience in coming out of the bullpen). The early off-days in the Twins’ regular-season schedule would also have made it difficult to use a six-man rotation.