While nobody is happy about only playing 60 regular-season games this year, the Minnesota Twins are one of the teams who will benefit the most from having a few extra months off.
The likes of Byron Buxton and Rich Hill had plenty of time to heal from their respective offseason surgeries, and the Twins are largely healthy as we near two weeks until the season officially starts.
However, four players from the Twins’ 60-man roster tested positive for COVID-19 last week: Miguel Sano, Willians Astudillo, Nick Gordon, and Edwar Colina.
While Gordon will surely play a role as a utility infielder and probably would have had a shot at making the initial 30-man roster if it had not been for a positive test, he was still effectively the backup utility middle infielder after Ehire Adrianza and even potentially Marwin Gonzalez.
Sano, on the other hand, is supposed to be the Opening Day first baseman, and Astudillo was a lock to make the 30-man and even likely to stick around as active rosters decrease to 28 and eventually 26 players.
Behind Sano on the depth chart at first base is ... Astudillo. Also, there’s Gonzalez, Adrianza, and Mitch Garver, the starting catcher who has started four career games at first base.
So, without either Sano or Astudillo likely to be in the fold when the Twins open on July 23 or 24, who will be the primary first baseman?
Gonzalez is the easy answer, as he’s the “everyday player” without an everyday position. While he’s optimally used as a corner outfielder, first base is the position that MarGo has started the fourth-most games in his career, including 19 games last year for the Twins and 74 games for Houston back in 2016.
His bat plays decently well enough there and defensively, it’s preferable to put Gonzalez there than in the middle infield. Expect him to start at least four games a week at first base for as long as Sano is out.
Adrianza can fill in at first base and will provide more range than every other option. However, his best positions are probably second and third base.
While he played a bit in both left and right field last year, he would be much more effective at first than the Adventures of Adrianza that fans were subjected to in the outfield corners of Target Field in 2019.
If Astudillo were healthy, we’d be more likely to see La Tortuga at first base and Garver at catcher in an effort to keep an optimal defensive squad with both of their bats in the lineup. But perhaps against righties we’ll see Alex Avila at catcher and Garver at first occasionally, at least until Sano or Astudillo return.
However, while Garver has started four career games at first base, none of them came last year and he’s played only 14 innings at first since 2017, so it clearly isn’t the Twins’ preference.
Wiel is the only guy on this list whose natural position is first base. He swatted 24 home runs and put up an .843 OPS in Triple-A a year ago and was performing well in spring training this year, too, and could get a shot on the 30-man active roster depending on how things play out in July. But Wiel is only likely to make the active roster if Sano’s absence becomes significantly extended.
Travis Blankenhorn has mostly played second base, third base, and the corner outfield spots but theoretically could be an option in a pinch. Avila has played a handful of games at first in his career, but he would ordinarily be third in line among the Twins’ three catchers to actually grab a first baseman’s mitt in a game.
Also:, LaMonte Wade, Jr. will almost surely make the initial 30-man roster, and despite never starting a game in the infield over 480 career minor-league games, he started a game at first base for the Twins in late September. So it certainly appears that he’s an option, too.
The guess here is that Gonzalez will be the “every day” first baseman to start the season, probably starting four or five games a week with Adrianza and one of the catchers getting the other start. Wade has a shot if he’s indeed on the 30-man, and if Sano and/or Astudillo’s absences drag on, we very well could see Wiel get some time on the active roster this year.
Get better soon, Miguel and Willians!