Minnesota's Depth Is Already Being Tested

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no grace period on the injury front for the Minnesota Twins organization. We’re only three weeks into Spring Training, and players are already going down with injuries.

José Miranda isn’t out completely, but a shoulder injury is keeping him from getting reps at third base. They shut down prospect Austin Martin over the weekend with a UCL sprain in his right elbow. Nick Gordon had a high-ankle sprain in a game this last weekend. Gilberto Celestino is out for six to eight weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

While Miranda is the only player who was expected to be in the Twins’ Opening Day lineup on the field. The injuries to all four of these players are already putting Minnesota’s depth chart to the test.

Additionally, Alex Kirilloff and Jorge Polanco have yet to make a start in a Spring Training game. The Twins are holding Kirilloff out to ensure his wrists are in the best shape possible before testing them in a live game. Polanco’s left knee has been a constant discomfort since the middle of the 2022 season. Polanco’s only game action was as a defensive replacement at second base on March 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Out of these six players, Miranda’s injuries are the least concern for the Twins right now. He can still hit with his shoulder injury. Rocco Baldelli has kept him off the field for Spring Training games, but he has homered in three straight games as the designated hitter.

Miranda’s inability to play defense has allowed more playing time for Kyle Farmer and Willi Castro at third base. Farmer and Castro have played at third base in at least three Spring Training games, but non-roster invitee (NRI) Andrew Bechtold leads the team at the position in games played with five. Betchold is not likely to get a call-up to the Twins before Castro due to his low triple slash in 123 minor-league games last season (.233/.329/.400) between Double-A Wichita and St. Paul.

The injuries to Martin and Celestino are not as large of a setback to the roster depth. Still, they limit the number of players available at each position for the Twins. Both players were likely to start the season in St. Paul.

In Martin’s case, his injury likely delays his MLB debut meaningfully. But there’s still the need for him to prove himself capable of making an impact in the majors. To do so, he needs to lean into his strengths – hitting for contact and getting on base.

Celestino’s timeframe to return from the IL sets him to start rehab assignments from mid to late April. Even after rehab is set, he’ll be sending some time with the Saints. Celestino has accrued a year and 57 days of major-league service time, but that’s mostly because injuries have pressed him into action.

Gordon’s ankle sprain has forced him to wear a walking boot to ensure no further damage. However, he has avoided the injured list. Gordon is still day-to-day and Baldelli has not said when he feels confident putting him back out for a game.

After showing meaningful upside in 2022, the Twins coaching staff feels comfortable using him in a utility role moving forward. Gordon doesn’t carry the burden of being Minnesota’s sole utilityman with Farmer and Donovan Solano on the 26-man roster. As long as Gordon’s ankle heals, the Twins’ front office should be able to avoid rushing Castro, Elliot Soto, or Edouard Julien into action ahead of schedule, as they did with Celestino.

The biggest question marks for Minnesota’s depth surround Kirilloff and Polanco. Kirilloff has not played in any Spring Training games. Therefore, many fans and Twins beat writers are speculating they’ll put him on the IL before the final roster spots are announced. In that case, he will stay in Fort Myers for extended Spring Training.

Given the challenge of coming back and succeeding from wrist injuries twice, the Twins want to be as careful as possible to keep Kirilloff healthy. If he’s not on the Opening Day roster, they will likely platoon Miranda, Joey Gallo, and Solano at first base.

However, Solano may be seeing playing time at second base more often to start the season if Polanco’s injury concerns remain closer to Opening Day. Polanco playing in at least one game defensively is a better sign than Kirilloff’s status. But if Polanco doesn’t make any plate appearances in Spring Training, it indicates that the Twins training staff still has some concerns with his left knee.

By signing Solano at the beginning of camp, the Twins were indicating that there could still be a need for more infield depth. Kirilloff and Polanco’s absence from games is the sign the Twins needed to tap into their defensive depth earlier than they’d like. However, they are certainly better prepared for injury downfalls going into the 2023 season than they have been as an organization over the last two years.

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