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Way-too-early Twins roster prediction

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Sure, it’s early, but let’s talk about who will make the team

Will La Tortuga make the cut this spring?
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers won’t report until February 12, and the full squad isn’t due to arrive in Fort Myers until the 17th. But with the majority of the roster intact, it isn’t too early to take a stab at who makes the team.

There’s a bit of added intrigue to this year’s roster battle as active rosters for each team are growing to 26 for the first time ever. Plus, the Twins have an odd stable of potential starting pitchers and what will amount to an unorthodox approach for a contending team coming off of a 101-win campaign last season.

We’re going to go position by position, listing the presumed starters in the field and the starting rotation. Then, we’ll talk about the bench and the bullpen.

The Locks

C Mitch Garver
1B Miguel Sano
2B Luis Arraez
SS Jorge Polanco
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Eddie Rosario
CF Byron Buxton
RF Max Kepler
DH Nelson Cruz

Imagine the possibilities in terms of lineup construction with the above nine guys. There’s an unholy amount of diverse offensive talent with nothing resembling a weak link among the group. It’s going to be a ton of fun to see how Rocco Baldelli goes about writing out his ever-changing lineup card night-in and night-out this year.

SP Jose Berrios
SP Jake Odorizzi
SP Homer Bailey

Say what you will, but those are the only three locks in the starting rotation for the Twins. There are a host of guys that could be penciled into the remaining two slots, including a new acquisition who quite possibly has the inside track at the No. 4 spot, but we’ll get into that shortly.

The long-term, if everything-goes-according-to-plan plan is that Michael Pineda (suspension) and Rich Hill (rehab from off season surgery) will round out the rotation to bump Bailey to the No. 5 spot and give the Twins a solid group and a potentially formidable front four heading into the stretch run of the regular season and ultimately, October baseball.

LHP Taylor Rogers
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Tyler Duffey
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Trevor May

The bullpen was a strength of the Twins last season, despite being overlooked nationally and needing to work through the doomed addition of Sam Dyson that partially derailed the group the late summer months.

But after re-signing Sergio Romo and picking up former divisional foe Tyler Clippard, the Twins have brought everyone back and then some. The five-man grouping of Taylor Rogers, Romo, Clippard, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May rivals the back-end of the best teams in baseball. Baldelli will mix and match this stable of arms across high-leverage situations, so it’s tough to assign traditional setup roles to everyone on the list, but it’s safe to assume that these are the guys that Rocco will be leaning on the most.

Okay, let’s talk position player reserves.

The Bench and the Near-Locks

As far as position players go, there are only two locks for the bench: utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and backup catcher Alex Avila. Combined with the above-listed starters, that gives us a total of 11 position players. The Twins will almost surely carry 13 bats and 13 pitchers north, leaving two spots to be filled.

Here are the realistic candidates, with the caveat that as of this writing the Twins have not officially announced their list of non-roster invitees: infielder Ehire Adrianza, catcher/utilityman/tortuga Willians Astudillo, and outfielder Jake Cave (editor’s note: They announced them about ten minutes after Ben submitted this, but none of those guys have much of a chance to go north.) Other 40-man roster candidates with an outside shot to make it are outfielder LaMonte Wade and infielder Nick Gordon.

The prediction here is that Adrianza is a lock, as he’s the best defensive shortstop on the roster and provides a top-flight defensive option off the bench across the infield. Plus, he hit more last year than anyone was expecting, and while he remains a prime candidate for some regression, an improved approach might just mean that he can provide league-average offense once again.

UT Marwin Gonzalez
C Alex Avila
INF Ehire Adrianza

The battle for the final position player spot will be between Astudillo and Cave. More on that shortly.

The End-of-the-Roster Battle

If you’re scoring at home, there are 19 names listed above. That means that there are a total of eight spots up for grabs.

Instead of approaching this as a starter/reliever projection, let’s start by looking at the arms that have the most legitimate claim to making the roster out of spring training.

The trio of arms that helped the Twins limp to the finish last season will all receive strong consideration: Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, and Randy Dobnak. Of the three, Thorpe has the highest upside, although Smeltzer and Dobnak are both intriguing and for similar reasons, although their paths to where they are today are quite different.

The addition of veteran Jhoulys Chacin to a minor-league deal means that he’ll get every opportunity to nail down one of the final two spots in the rotation; MLB Network’s Jon Heyman even says that he “should” make the team.

That leaves one spot for the three of those guys. Expect two of them to break camp with the club and one to be stashed in Triple-A Rochester for the start of the season. All three will surely spend time in Rochester, but all three will be on speed dial throughout the campaign, or at least until the cavalry arrives in the form of Pineda and Hill.

I’ll guess that Thorpe gets the first start in the No. 5 spot and that Dobnak heads north with the club as well, leaving Smeltzer to start in Triple-A and continue to make his case as a legitimate prospect.

SP Jhoulys Chacin
SP Lewis Thorpe

RHP Randy Dobnak

That puts us at 22 players rostered: 12 position players and 11 pitchers. It’s likely the Twins will break camp with 13 position players and 13 pitchers, but let’s look at the candidates for the final three spots, regardless of position.

  • OF Jake Cave
  • UT Willians Astudillo
  • P Brusdar Graterol
  • RHP Zach Littell
  • RHP Fernando Romero
  • RHP Cody Stashak
  • RHP Matt Wisler

Let’s count in Astudillo, as the guess here is that the Twins will prefer the positional flexibility of La Torguta over Cave’s edge in the hitting category. While Cave has significantly more pop and there is still some upside remaining, the backup corner outfield spot is occupied by Gonzalez. Plus Adrianza has flashed mostly passable defense in the corners and even Astudillo can play out there, albeit with less-than-desirable results.

Also ... who are you pinch-hitting for in this lineup? The only pinch-hitting opportunities would likely lie in there being a defensive replacement who is then pinch-hit for in the late innings, but Adrianza himself showed enough offensively that he is far from an automatic out in a crucial situation.

Graterol remains the Twins’ best pitching prospect, and it appears likely that they’ll have him at least start the season in the bullpen, managing his innings and giving the Twins’ bullpen the capability to have someone come in and throw 100-mile-an-hour gas.

That leaves one spot to split between fringe-y prospect Zach Littell, former prospect Fernando Romero, newcomer Matt Wisler, and one of last year’s pleasant surprises, Cody Stashak. It’s anyone’s guess how this will shake out, although Wisler is on a major-league deal with no options, so he’d appear to have the inside track on a job.

Romero may return to Triple-A to continue transitioning his still-intimidating stuff into a bullpen role. Stashak could probably stand to spend more time there, too, so Littell could have a chance to supplant Wisler if the latter struggles this spring.

UT Willians Astudillo

RHP Brusdar Graterol
RHP Matt Wisler

And there you have it. A power-packed offense with some intriguing contact dimensions in Arraez and Astudillo with plenty of positional flexibility. And a deep, albeit not power-packed starting rotation with a strong bullpen.

Here’s one last look at everything together — and trust us, this isn’t the last time we’ll take a look at potential roster construction in the coming weeks.

C Mitch Garver
1B Miguel Sano
2B Luis Arraez
SS Jorge Polanco
3B Josh Donaldson
LF Eddie Rosario
CF Byron Buxton
RF Max Kepler
DH Nelson Cruz

UT Marwin Gonzalez
C Alex Avila
INF Ehire Adrianza
UT Willians Astudillo

SP Jose Berrios
SP Jake Odorizzi
SP Homer Bailey
SP Jhoulys Chacin
SP Lewis Thorpe

LHP Taylor Rogers
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Tyler Duffey
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Trevor May
RHP Randy Dobnak
RHP Brusdar Graterol
RHP Matt Wisler