FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins officially concluded an oddly quiet winter Monday. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training Tuesday and workouts begin Wednesday.
There will be 62 players in major league spring training this year, and looking at things from the outside, it looks like the final 25-man roster will be surprisingly similar to a team that lost 103 games last season (59-103).
I took a stab in mid-January at guessing a 25-man roster for Opening Day 2017. I fully expected the Twins to make more moves the rest of the winter — I even added a free-agent reliever to their bullpen — but it was more of a way to get our hands and heads around what the roster looks like after trimming the fat.
I’ll add that it’s totally possible the Twins will make more moves during spring training. There’s nobody stopping them from trading players or signing players that are still looking for work. Nothing but artificial deadlines drawn in the sand. But for now, with the dust has settled on the offseason, let’s take a swing at projecting the roster for opening day. After all, it’s only seven weeks away!
RHP Ervin Santana
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Trevor May
RHP Kyle Gibson
LHP Hector Santiago
Probably the most controversial exclusion from my first crack at the 25-man roster was J.O. Berrios. I’m not here to change anybody’s mind if they disagree with this snub. I’ve said in subsequent columns and podcasts that I still think Berrios has star potential, and it’s not even out of the question that he could be the best starter in Minnesota’s rotation by the end of the year. It’s just that the evidence we saw last year told us he’s not ready to dominate in the majors the way he did in the minors, and a lot of people seem to want to ignore that body of work or to write it off as nerves.
Santana is a lock and if Hughes is healthy and has his real fastball back he’ll be an asset. I put May in here rather than the bullpen because if I was the Twins trying to fix a bad pitching staff, I’d want my most capable pitchers throwing the most innings, and I think May fits that description. I’ll have a column on that soon. Gibson finished second on the team in ERA last year but it was still north of 5.00. With some better luck and a return to his groundball ways, he’s a reasonable back-end starter, and he’s had stretches in the past where I was sure he could become more of a strikeout pitcher. One Twins evaluator I spoke with last year sounded sure that Gibson was capable of elevating his game to another level. So we’ll see. Santiago just agreed to a contract that will pay him $8 million this year, and the Twins are also paying Ricky Nolasco $4 million this year for the right to have Santiago instead.
Injuries can always happen, and so the odds are slim that this exact rotation breaks camp as the group. If anybody goes down, I’d expect to see Berrios next on this list, with others in consideration like Tyler Duffey, Adalberto Mejia and even Rule 5 pick Justin Haley, whom I view as more of a bullpen candidate.
CL Brandon Kintzler
SU Ryan Pressly
LHP Taylor Rogers
LHP Ryan O’Rourke
RHP Matt Belisle
RHP J.T. Chargois
RHP Michael Tonkin
Undoubtedly it will raise eyebrows that I didn’t include Twins closer Glen Perkins on the list here. I’m not trying to stir up controversy, I’m trying to pick an opening day roster. As I write this, I think there’s a possibility that Perkins will open the year on the disabled list as he works his way back from a significant labrum surgery. Perkins said he has no doubt he’ll pitch this year. For this projection, I’ve gone with one potential backup plan for the first game in April. If that’s not the backup plan, I think Pressly would be a good option. Or heck, isn’t Joe Blanton still available?
In any case, Perkins back and at the height of his powers would be a big boost for this group.
The rest of the bullpen looks OK. And there are some intriguing arms that ought to be ready to break into this group this year. They signed Belisle as a veteran stabilizer, and he was surprisingly great against lefties last year. Kintzler acquitted himself well in a reserve closing duty last season. Pressly and Chargois are very live arms.
Rogers is a good lefty and according to some people I’ve talked to, O’Rourke’s surface numbers haven’t always done him justice.
C Jason Castro
1B Joe Mauer
2B Brian Dozier
3B Miguel Sano
SS Jorge Polanco
DH Kennys Vargas
I made no changes to this group. Some people were surprised I left Byung Ho Park off my initial roster projection, and then the Twins in turn surprised me by taking him off their 40-man roster this month. They gambled on the fact that they’d be able to get his $9.25 million contract through waivers and it turns out they were right. It’s possible he still has a shot to make the team, but no matter what the Twins want to say about his roster situation, there’s no way he’s the favorite to be the opening day DH. You don’t risk losing somebody you’ve measured as an opening day DH so that you can sign a veteran reliever for the middle of the bullpen.
I have questions about Sano and Polanco defensively. They’ve been impressive offensively. That dynamic will be one of the main recurring storylines for the 2017 season. Another one to watch: how many games will Joe Mauer play this year?
LF Robbie Grossman
CF Byron Buxton
RF Max Kepler
I wrote at length about the Grossman/Rosario decision in my first roster writeup. Distilled: I believe in Grossman’s offensive skillset more right now than I believe in Rosario’s. And while there’s a step back defensively, I’m not sure it’s as dramatic as the split we saw last year, which analytics said was the worst defensive season in Grossman’s career. Rosario could totally prove me wrong here — and I’ve had conversations with multiple evaluators with the Twins who disagree with my take on this one. If Rosario doesn’t improve his approach at the plate, or at least his numbers, then what I’m seeing right now is a good fourth outfielder with tools. Right this moment, I don’t view him through the same lens I see Buxton and Kepler, two rising stars who should be impact players for years for the Twins.
Eduardo Escobar (IF)
Eddie Rosario (OF)
Ehire Adrianza (IF)
Chris Gimenez (C)
Escobar is a good bat to have in an extra player. Rosario is a great fourth outfielder, and it’d be awfully surprising if he wasn’t a starting outfielder at some point this season. I’m taking Adrianza because the Twins don’t have any glove-first infielders, and I’m taking him over Danny Santana because I don’t see enough glowing qualities on either side of the game to make him more than an extra player at this point. The backup catcher battle might be the toughest to call. I believe there’s more to John Ryan Murphy than what we saw last year, although in this book you’re guilty until proven innocent. Mitch Garver’s an interesting case because his minor league offensive numbers look worthy of a shot, and one evaluator said he’s made strides defensively. (Enough strides, apparently, that the Twins left glove-first catcher Stuart Turner unprotected and lost him this winter in the Rule 5 draft, while Garver got a roster spot.) Gimenez is a non-roster invite who has been with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine — at separate stops — before. Some will see this as a reach because he’s a career backup. I think that if the Twins start Castro most days against righties and swap in Gimenez against lefties, Paul Molitor could have a defensible catching platoon on his hands.
That’s a lot of hand wringing for some bench spots on a roster that had a .364 winning percentage last year. Like every season, these little roster quibbles won’t matter if the Twins don’t pitch better.