Twins 26-man roster projection: Position players

With pitchers and catchers reporting this week, we took a crack at the Opening Day roster.
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Byron Buxton

Although you may be reading this after shoveling 6+ inches of snow that fell on Sunday, spring is just around the corner and if you don't believe me, we have seven words that will help warm you up:

Twins pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday.

That's right, the Twins will begin their defense of the American League Central championship this week and look to take the next step forward in 2020. With additions such as Josh Donaldson and (potentially) Kenta Maeda, there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this group and where it could go.

As the Twins escape our winter wonderland for an extended stay in Fort Myers, now is a good time to see what this team could look like when it opens up in Oakland on Mar. 26 and we will start by taking a look at who could make the cut among position players.

Catchers

Mitch Garver, Alex Avila

The first two names on this list shouldn't be a surprise. Garver broke out in a massive way in 2019, smashing a Twins-record 31 home runs at the catcher position and providing an offensive presence that hadn't been seen since Joe Mauer moved to first base.

The position that was up for grabs was behind Garver as the Twins let Jason Castro leave to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. His replacement is Avila, who doesn't have the same offensive presence Castro had but makes up for it with his defense, throwing out 11-of-21 base stealers last season in Arizona (52%).

The third spot is something that will be up for debate throughout spring training. As a fan favorite, some may have Astudillo as a lock to make the team, but his .268 average hides his rough .258 BABIP and a .678 OPS that was fueled by five walks in 204 plate appearances. Alas, the Twins reaped the benefits of keeping Garver fresh throughout the season, so Astudillo will probably make the cut as a benefit of the 26th roster spot.

First Baseman

Miguel Sano

One of the most intriguing storylines heading into spring training will be the development of Sano at first base. After making plays with his arm, but struggling to find range over at third base, the Twins non-tendered C.J. Cron before adding Josh Donaldson, which gives Sano a home on the opposite side of the diamond.

The good news for Sano is that the Twins will not be looking for a John Olerud type performance. Last year, Cron registered a UZR of -0.6, which wasn't as bad as his career average of -2.0, but still not gold glove worthy. If Sano, who has a -1.3 UZR in 223 career innings at first base, can provide decent defense at first, it should return value.

If that happens, the Twins will be doing backflips as Sano can still flat-out rake. Despite having his first two months wiped out due to a cut on his heel, Sano still smashed 34 home runs in 105 games last season. If Sano avoids the injury bug, he could put up downright scary numbers at the plate in 2020.

Second Baseman

Luis Arraez

As a random call-up during Nelson Cruz's first wrist injury in May, nobody could have seen the impact that Arraez would have as a rookie. His .334 average didn't come with a lot of power (4 HR) or a boatload of speed (2 SB), but he served as the Twins sparkplug and was a master at collecting hits to keep the Bomba Squad moving.

The question for Arraez this year is can he do it again? Pitchers will have a scouting report on the 22-year-old this time around, but that hasn't stopped him from hitting .331 through six seasons in the Twins organization. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona was among those who are not concerned, saying that Arraez could win a batting title in the future.

There are issues defensively as Arraez had four errors in 49 games at second base last season, but he should be able to settle into the everyday lineup with the departure of Jonathan Schoop. If he keeps hitting, the Twins could have a young star on their hands.

Shortstop

Jorge Polanco

Another breakout star from the 2019 campaign was Polanco, who slugged his way to becoming the starting shortstop in the MLB All-Star Game with a .295 average, 22 HR and 79 RBI. Aside from being a fine return on their $25.75 million investment on a contract extension last spring, Polanco got over the stench on a PED policy suspension in 2018 and became one of the pillars of the Twins moving forward.

As is the theme with the Twins' infield, defense will be the one part of his game that needs to improve. In Statcast's outs above average metric, Polanco tied for worst among infielders along with Toronto's Vladamir Guerrero Jr. with -16 OAA. 

The good news is that most of his flaws came on balls hit in front of him (-9 OAA) or to his left (-4 OAA), which should be helped out with the Twins' latest addition to the infield.

Third baseman

Josh Donaldson

Of course, that would be Donaldson, who signed a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins last month. In addition to getting the largest free-agent contract in team history, Donaldson can provide a massive impact both at the plate and in the field.

Sticking with our current theme, Donaldson is an elite defender at the hot corner despite being 34-years old. After a 2018 season that was derailed due to injury, Donaldson rebounded in Atlanta, where he couldn't ease into it with the National League's lack of a designated hitter. This wasn't an issue as Donaldson was third among third basemen with +8 OAA behind only Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Oakland's Matt Chapman.

Donaldson's ability to get to balls in front of him (+5 OAA) and to his right (+3 OAA) should help out Polanco and if Sano can get down the nuances of playing first, he'll make a massive impact even before you account for the 37 HR he crushed for the Braves last season.

Outfielders

Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Jake Cave

Once again, there aren't many surprises when it comes to the Twins outfield. The one surprise could be that Rosario is still around after trade rumors had him headed to Miami earlier this winter, but the Twins are likely happy to still have him around. His 32 HR and 109 RBI were both career highs, but he'll need to improve on his .300 on-base percentage and 43.1% chase rate (highest since 2015) to help out the Twins.

Kepler is the other outfielder who has been locked in all offseason after enjoying a breakout of his own in 2019. His overall numbers of 36 HR and 90 RBI could have been even bigger if he didn't sit out a majority of September with a shoulder injury and if he is truly 100 percent, as he mentioned at TwinsFest, we could see an even bigger breakout in 2020.

The question here is the health of Buxton, who had his own shoulder ailment in 2019, but this one required surgery on a torn labrum. The centerfielder enjoyed his most productive season at the plate last year with career-highs in average (.262), slugging percentage (.513) and doubles (30) last season, but it won't matter if he doesn't stop crashing into walls.

A lot of this may be done unnecessarily as Buxton ranked at the top among AL outfielders in sprint speed and in the 97th percentile in Outs Above Average, but placed in the 55th percentile in outfielder jump. A couple of better routes may reduce the need for high-speed impacts with the wall and if Buxton is ready to go for the first full-squad workout on Feb. 17, it should be a major focal point through spring training.

Designated Hitter

Nelson Cruz

There isn't much to say about Cruz except for the fact he just keeps raking despite inching closer to his 40th birthday. Even though there was risk by signing him, he decided to re-write his own record books with his highest average (.311) since 2010, his sixth consecutive season with 37+ HR and a career-high 1.031 OPS.

Cruz should be over a wrist injury that didn't slow him down outside of two stints on the injured list and although there's some concern that father time could cause regression, he remains one of the most potent forces in the Twins lineup.

Utility players

Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza

I debated on how to lay this out as the Twins have a deep bench, but they also provide plenty of positional flexibility for manager Rocco Baldelli. At the top of the list is Marwin Gonzalez, who outside of criticisms from a certain sign-stealing scandal, had a solid first year in Minnesota. As someone who can shift to the outfield or spell Sano at first base, he remains an asset for the Twins.

Adrianza should also return on the Twins roster for opening day as someone who can play all over the field and saw his bat improve in 2019. Although he played in just 83 games, the 30-year-old hit a career-high .272 and can provide a defensive replacement in the middle of the infield for both Polanco and Arraez.

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