It is now just nine days until Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers are slated to report to the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla. and just five days later, position players will join them. Four days after that, the Twins will scrimmage the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and from then until at least late September, we’ll have baseball nearly every day.
The Twins get an early start this year, opening in Oakland against the A’s on March 26. With the game in seasonably-appropriate California, there’s no off-game built into the early schedule to guard against a possible weather cancellation.
What that means is the Twins will have to carry five starters from the outset of the season, something that hasn’t been true in recent seasons.
That’ll be reflected in this, our first prediction of what the Opening Day roster will look like.
Starting Lineup (9)
- C- Mitch Garver
- 1B- Miguel Sano
- 2B- Luis Arraez
- 3B- Josh Donaldson
- SS- Jorge Polanco
- LF- Eddie Rosario
- CF- Byron Buxton
- RF- Max Kepler
- DH- Nelson Cruz
Barring injury or any late-minute trades, there are absolutely no surprises here. This should again be one of the best offenses in baseball, even if the ball doesn’t fly out of the park as it did last year for one reason or another.
The first three are pretty much locked in. There is plenty of discussion elsewhere about who the final spot on the bench should go to, since Gonzalez can easily stand in as the team’s fourth outfielder. Then, Willians Astudillo makes more sense as the fourth bench player.
But that doesn’t really make sense to me. There’s really no need for a third catcher, especially with the Twins likely to go with a 1a-1b approach at catcher with Garver catching 4-5 games per week and Avila getting the rest. There’s really no need for another shaky defensive infielder, something Astudillo is wherever he plays other than behind the plate.
And sure, Astudillo could be a pinch hitter, but he’s coming off a season where he hit just .268/.299/.379. Even if he regresses to his career line of .297/.322/.424 — which is solid — who in this lineup is being pinch hit for, anyway?
So the fourth bench spot is totally up for grabs. It makes sense for it to go to Cave, LaMonte Wade Jr. or Astudillo, but it’s also possible the Twins could still add one more external free agent if they wish. I’m not saying it’s at all likely, but man, fans would really go crazy if Brian Dozier was a 2B-3B option off the bench a couple of days per week.
The battle for the fifth starter spot rages on. It seems likely Chacin will take the fourth start of the year in Seattle, and to get him on the 40-man roster the Twins can simply transfer Rich Hill to the 60-day injured list when the time comes. But the fifth spot is really, really hard to predict. Lewis Thorpe showed more in his peripherals than raw numbers in the big leagues last season, and even said himself at TwinsFest last month that he’s the kind of guy who fares better the longer he’s at a level.
But Thorpe also seems to be the kind of guy whose stuff could pop in shorter stints in the bullpen. And while that may be true of Randy Dobnak, it seems less likely of Smeltzer based on his body type. Also, Smeltzer and Dobnak seem to be the kinds of pitchers who fare well setting up hitters through multiple trips in the order rather than mowing them down in a one-inning stint. That could also be true of Thorpe, but the key distinction I’m trying to allude to here is that while all three of these guys are basically finished products, I think the Twins might prefer to have at least one lefty in the rotation. If it comes down to that, I think they go with Smeltzer while letting Thorpe and Dobnak bide their time in the minors.
…and if someone in the bullpen mix gets hurt, Thorpe can easily step in there where I don’t think Dobnak or Smeltzer are necessarily in that mix, other than possibly being a swingman.
- Taylor Rogers
- Trevor May
- Tyler Duffey
- Sergio Romo
- Zack Littell
- Tyler Clippard
- Brusdar Graterol
- Matt Wisler
The top six are givens, short of some kind of injury. The last two spots come down to Graterol, Wisler, Cody Stashak and maybe someone like Fernando Romero, Sean Poppen or possibly Thorpe or Dobnak in a long-man role. With Wisler, team “out of options” wins out. That’s usually the case, but it’s not like Wisler is completely without hope.
He was a big-time prospect just a few years ago, and his stint with the Seattle Mariners last year (6.04 ERA in 22.1 innings) was better than it appeared on the surface (4.33 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 11.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9). He’ll need to be better at suppressing home runs, but his slider is elite. He’ll need to improve his heater to get the desired fastball-slider combination teams crave out of the bullpen, but he doesn’t have to look too far to a guy who also thrives with a slider-heavy approach in Romo.
Wisler threw his slider nearly 70 percent of the time last season — even more than Romo did (59.4 percent).
As for Graterol, there’s increasing evidence the Twins view him as a reliever in the short and perhaps longer term. In that event, there’s no sense wasting his bullets in Triple-A from a right arm which has dealt with Tommy John and shoulder issues since he signed with the team back in 2014.
Compelling cases can be made for many possible relievers to make this team instead of the eight listed — especially Stashak, who was terrific for the big club last year — but all it really means is the team will have plenty of MLB depth stashed at Rochester when the need arises.
And it absolutely will.