The Minnesota Twins made multiple high-impact transactions in January. They re-signed Carlos Correa for the next six-plus seasons and traded Luis Arraez for Pablo Lopez, a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. They also acquired Michael A. Taylor from the Kansas City Royals, a veteran outfielder to bolster their depth.
With Spring Training just a handful of weeks away, it seems like the Opening Day roster is set. On paper, this is the deepest Twins team we’ve seen in a long time. There also doesn’t seem to be any positional battles in the lineup once.
Even though most of the positions in the lineup are spoken for, there is still uncertainty at designated hitter. There is no bona fide DH currently on the roster. Under Derek Falvey, the Twins have employed two different methods to maximize the production from that position in the lineup. One is to find a true veteran hitter to hold down that spot in the lineup. The other is to use the DH as a revolving door for whoever manager Rocco Baldelli sees fit.
The Twins will go with a DH by committee again this year. Any player on the active roster could potentially be the DH in any given game, depending on the circumstances.
Using a full-time designated hitter isn’t always the right approach. In 2018, they signed Logan Morrison as an experienced power bat but got poor results. However, it worked perfectly when Nelson Cruz entered the fold in 2019. He gave the team a veteran presence and some of the best production from the DH spot in all of baseball. Cruz slashed .304/.386/.598 with 76 home runs and recorded 162 OPS+ in his nearly three seasons in Minnesota (2019-21).
Luke Voit and Yuli Gurriel are some free-agent options remaining to fill the DH role. They would add to the lineup as right-handed hitting options. If you want to get sentimental, and also out of the box, Miguel Sano and Robbie Grossman are old friends who can DH. There aren’t many great free-agent options at this stage in the offseason, and the Twins can’t just plug and play any veteran hitter into the fold and expect the same production.
Therefore, the Twins will likely roll with their other DH philosophy, using nearly every hitter at DH. It’s what the Twins did during a large part of 2017 and as recently as last season. In the past, it has meant that hitters like Grossman or Arraez will fill in many games in a spot traditionally reserved for a big-time power bat like Cruz.
There are many younger players on this year’s roster who the Twins shouldn’t jam into the DH spot this early into their careers. However, Joey Gallo could be a potential fill-in at the DH spot. He is a veteran who could benefit from the pure focus at the plate in a bounce-back role.
Last season, the 29-year-old slashed .160/.280/.357 with 19 home runs in 126 games. However, his career .199/.325/.469 slash line and 177 career home runs through eight seasons indicate that a turnaround could be in play. In 2017, he smashed a career-high 41 home runs and a career-best .986 OPS two years later in 2019. Gallo is still an above-average outfielder and can provide added value at first base. Playing at first becomes even more important if Alex Kirilloff needs more time before being a full-time starter to start the season. But it’s possible to think that he will frequently DH if the younger hitters begin to emerge throughout the season.
Then there are the rotational DH options that mainly just feature the young prospects on the roster. Kirilloff could be the Opening Day DH if his wrist isn’t quite ready to go. However, he could also start the year in Triple-A or on the IL. Trevor Larnach and Jose Miranda also fit the power bat option. However, it’s hard to bail on their fielding potential so early in their careers.
Depending on matchups and availability, Nick Gordon, Kyle Farmer, and Ryan Jeffers could all see fill-in time at DH. Having a defensive specialist like Taylor in the hitting-only role doesn’t make sense, but we can’t rule it out, either. Nobody is off-limits for that role at this point.
Byron Buxton and Correa will fill out plenty of time in this spot if last season indicated how Baldelli will use the DH spot. Buxton already saw a career-high 34 games in that role, and it will likely go up in 2023. Adding Taylor gives Buxton the flexibility to focus solely on hitting in an attempt to keep him healthy for as long as possible this season. When it comes to production at the plate, Buxton’s production doesn’t take a huge drop off. His .829 OPS as a DH in 2022 was only 30 points down from when he was in center field.
Like Buxton, Correa is one of the best players at his position. Therefore, giving him some extra days rest from the field while still getting production from his bat could also be an added benefit. Keeping both of their superstars healthy is a big key for Minnesota’s success in 2023, and it looks like those in charge of the team see this as a way to better ensure their health.
Buxton or Correa could be filling in one day to give themselves a break in the field. It could also be used to add another hitter who meshes well against a certain pitcher the team will face. It doesn’t mean everyone will be in that role often, but everyone will likely share that spot at some time or another next season.
The Twins seem to have a plan for what they want their 2023 lineup to look like. Designated hitter seems to be the only spot with a question mark going into Spring Training. However, the biggest question isn’t what the Twins will do with the spot. It’s who ends up taking the most time in the hitting-only role.