What Exactly Is Minnesota's Plan In the Outfield?

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week could be considered the single worst week of the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine era of Minnesota Twins baseball.

The San Francisco Giants signed Carlos Correa. The New York Yankees signed Carlos Rodón. And the Chicago Cubs signed Dansby Swanson.

The Twins made an additional signing at the end of last week, bringing in outfielder Joey Gallo on a one-year, $11 million deal. It is a bounce-back type contract for a guy coming off his career-worst season. He slashed .160/.280/.357 last year with 19 home runs and 48 RBIs. He also struck out on a 39.8 percent clip.

But Minnesota liked some of his characteristics. Gallo is a left-handed hitting corner outfielder with a powerful bat. Does that sound familiar?

Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Matt Wallner join Gallo in that category of left-handed hitting Twins corner outfielders. I’m no math genius here, but that’s five players to fill two spots on the field. So what exactly is Minnesota’s plan for the corner outfield spots?

Many people are speculating about Kepler’s value on the trade market. A trade where the Twins send Kepler elsewhere seems inevitable at this point. Most Twins fans have already assumed a trade is happening sometime before April.

The Twins are going to find a way to play Gallo. It’s tough to see a team paying a guy over $10 million to be a glorified platoon player in a Jake Cave-type role. Maybe Gallo is the guy who replaces Kepler in right field?

He is at the league average clip of 0 outs above average in right field, but Gallo has the raw tools to improve on that. Baseball Savant ranks his arm strength in the 90th percentile and his outfield jump in the 86th percentile. He has Eddie Rosario vibes. He’s an outfielder with a cannon arm who can’t quite round out to becoming a better fielder.

Gallo can also play a little first and third base, but those positions already have incumbents. However, if no other moves are made to add a bat, Gallo could become the primary designated hitter to start the season. They can let him focus squarely on hitting while getting the young guys out in the field. But if Gallo slumps, Minnesota has no veteran backup plan at DH to turn to.

Larnach is a lefty bat with first-round pedigree and the potential to be a hitter with nice pop. His path seems to be straight for one of those corner outfield spots. Larnach’s first two seasons saw him log 31 starts in right field, but so far, he’s played most of his time in left field, with 93 career starts at the position. Left field seems to be his spot to lose on the Opening Day lineup due to his experience at the position.

Kirilloff is also a left-handed hitting outfielder with a first-round draft pick pedigree. But he slashed .250/.290/.641 last season with only three home runs. Maybe Kirilloff is set to take over in right field. However, the Twins have tried to phase him over to first base each of the last two seasons. That might be tricky with the AL Silver Slugger and batting champion Luis Arraez occupying first base. Still, the long-term future of the position seems to be trending for Kirilloff.

That leaves Matt Wallner. He reached the majors after a solid 2022 season where he slashed .277/.412/.541 and 27 home runs combined in Double- and Triple-A. The corner outfield positions are all he has known professionally. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wallner started the season in St. Paul due to the high number of outfielders on the Twins roster.

It’s fine that Wallner has to earn big-league playing time, but when will he get a chance to consistently play at the big-league level? Wallner is 25 years old, the same age as Larnach and Kirilloff. The surplus of left-handed corner outfielders doesn’t give him much of a role on the Twins next year. It’s not bad to have some good left-handed hitters in your lineup, but Minnesota might have too many of them. That’s a problem considering all of their career averages against lefty pitching.

The Twins already have Kyle Garlick as another outfielder to hit left-handed pitching. A .251 average and 13 home runs in 171 career at-bats against lefties is Minnesota’s best option against southpaws. Garlick is a fine player who had a nice 2022 for a platoon role, but it might have benefited the Twins to try and find another right-handed outfielder over bringing in a redundant left-handed bat in Gallo.

There are still other potential outfield options — Gilberto Celestino, Mark Contreras, Nick Gordon, etc. All of the emphasis on the corner outfielders leaves little room for an outfielder to back up Byron Buxton in center field. Buxton needs a solid backup, given the injury issues he has faced. Gallo has 56 career appearances in center field but only has two appearances in center since the start of the 2020 season. Instead of finding answers to a true backup behind Buxton, the Twins fortified an area of their roster that could be considered their deepest already.

I can see the value in the Gallo signing. I get that he is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season for a team that values his kind of raw potential in the safety of a one-year deal. It’s not a bad thing to create depth because it felt like the Twins ran out of outfielders last season due to injury. The added depth also makes the young guys earn their spot in the majors. Signing him just feels redundant.

The plan for Gallo and key members of Minnesota’s young core from the outside looking in seems to be throwing all of these guys in and seeing who sticks in whatever position they happen to land in. Maybe that works out, but there should be a better alignment of where these prospects are going. The Twins are getting to the point with these key young players where sitting down in St. Paul isn’t going to benefit the player or the club.

The Twins are stuck with a logjam of left-handed hitting corner outfielders. It’s a situation of their own making. Now the front office must find the right way to put all of these similar players in the best situations to succeed.

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