FORT MYERS, Fla. — Twins pitchers and catchers had their first group workout Wednesday in southwest Florida. Even now that the proceedings are underway, there remains a wealth of talent available on the free agent market. And likewise, plenty of unanswered questions among candidates for the Twins’ opening day 25-man roster.
Typically the date that a free agent is looking to find his new home is around the holidays or the new year. This time around those free agents are meeting for their own spring training in Bradenton because those soft deadlines have come and gone without significant signings for starting pitchers and position players on the open market.
So, with the very obvious caveat that this roster projection would look different if the Twins trade for Chris Archer or sign Alex Cobb tomorrow, let’s take a look at the current 25-man roster outlook.
C: Jason Castro
1B: Joe Mauer
2B: Brian Dozier
SS: Jorge Polanco
3B: Miguel Sano
LF: Eddie Rosario
CF: Byron Buxton
RF: Max Kepler
DH: Robbie Grossman
I don’t see any big controversies here. The infield is fairly set, assuming Sano is not suspended for an extended period of time and that he’s physically healthy enough to begin the season as the third baseman. Rosario and Buxton arrived at the plate last year, while Kepler still struggled to take that next step forward. More on him later, because I don’t get the sense that the Twins are ready to give up on him as a solid everyday player. More of Grossman in a moment, too, since I sometimes find myself in the minority by considering him a valuable offensive threat.
C: Mitch Garver
IF: Eduardo Escobar
IF: Ehire Adrianza
1B/DH: Kennys Vargas
Zack Granite should be a candidate to make the club out of spring training. He’d add a more versatile skill set than Vargas.
I expect that the Twins will open the season with 4 starters in their rotation, which in turn allows for an extra bench player or an extra reliever. If manager Paul Molitor feels like he has enough bench versatility to cover the plausible scenarios then the Twins might favor the extra reliever. As far as the bench goes, they’ll need a catcher and at least one infielder to move around. I picked Garver because I sense that the Twins want him to take hold of the job. Free agent Jonathan Lucroy is still out there hunting for a job, but there’s been no indication that the Twins would consider that a fit right now.
It’s kind of an awkward construction if Robbie Grossman is your fourth outfielder and Kennys Vargas is a position-less bench hitter. That’s not maximizing the value of roster space, but it might be the best way to play the cards that the Twins have in their hand. For one thing, Vargas is in his last chance with the organization as a guy who’s out of options and has yet to prove that he needs to be included on the roster. He has power but he’s been inconsistent and he doesn’t hit so well that you can easily overlook the fact that he’s not a good fielder. The first base/DH types that can hit are readily available in baseball today, and this would be a good spring for Vargas to showcase that he can be more than that type of power bench bat.
Grossman is not a great fielder, but I think he still gets overlooked as a good offensive players who knows his strike zone, draws walks and makes life difficult for opposing pitchers. He’s not a classic DH but I think he’s the best hitter on the roster that doesn’t have a starting spot locked up somewhere else; Grossman ranked fifth among Twins hitters in Weighted On-Base Average last year (.329), behind Dozier, Sano, Mauer and Rosario. (Grossman was a better hitter than Max Kepler last year, for example, although Kepler’s glove could makes up the difference the Twins’ book. On that note, maybe the Twins should find an outfielder or DH that could bat against lefties, which would allow them to sit Kepler in favor of Grossman in right field on those days.)
The starting staff won’t actually need a fifth starter until April 11. Bet on them using that extra roster spot to their advantage, rather than carrying a fifth man in the rotation, unused, through the first two weeks of the year. They’ll need 5 eventually, and as a position group, this unit is easily the projection in which I’m least confident. In fact, I fully expect that these four will not represent the opening day rotation for the Twins. This is just how I’d draw it up right now in mid-February before the Twins have made their splash to add another starting pitcher.
Rather than thinking about the starting rotation in terms of the 5 best guys, I think it’s more helpful to think of the starting rotation as a depth chart that runs 8, 9 or 10 pitchers deep. From that perspective, the Twins have some work to do.
A total of 16 pitchers started games for the Twins last year, which is a bad sign. Although in fairness 85% of those starts came from 6 guys: Ervin Santana, J.O. Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia, Bartolo Colon and Hector Santiago. That figure jumps to 90% when you include Phil Hughes.
Some things will fall off course throughout the year. That happened last year at many turns and the Twins asked guys like Adam Wilk and Tim Melville to make starts out of nowhere. I won’t pretend to be able to project every pitcher that will get a start this year, but we should keep this “usable depth” idea in mind when we look at a starting rotation projection.
Here’s one way to look at the depth chart, accounting for Ervin Santana’s recovery from surgery:
Eventually Michael Pineda will find his way onto this list, but probably not until next year.
After that I see a total grab bag of unproven but intriguing hurlers. Start with the perennial breakout candidate Ryan Pressly. If he puts it all together this year then he’s a real valuable weapon for Molitor out of the bullpen. The first part of that sentence is just as important – probably more important – than the second part. How many times have the Twins reported to spring training and had that question hanging over the roster – if Pressly puts it together. It’s prove-it time for the guy with some of the best raw stuff in camp.
Here’s a list of guys I’m considering, and since this is a roster projection, I’ve bolded my somewhat random guesses over who will make the final cut.
Gabriel Moya (LHP)
Tyler Kinley (Rule 5)
Lewis Thorpe (LHP)