The Twins announced a series of roster moves Friday, most notably reinstating outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick from the Covid-19 list. To make room on the active roster, outfielder/first baseman Brent Rooker and catcher Ryan Jeffers were optioned to Triple-A St. Paul. Meanwhile, infielders JT Riddle and Tzu-Wei Lin have been designated for assignment, while catching prospect Ben Rortvedt has been recalled from Triple-A for his big league debut.
Kepler, 28, hasn’t played in a game since April 16 but will now return to his role as Minnesota’s everyday right fielder. He’s not out to a great start, slashing .234/.315/.362 through his first couple weeks of play, but that’s a sample of just 54 plate appearances. From 2019-20, he turned in a much stronger .246/.332/.499 batting line and clouted 45 homers in 792 plate appearances while playing strong defense in right field.
Garlick, meanwhile, was out to a solid .280/.321/.400 start through 28 trips to the plate and was getting some run as a right-handed bat against lefties. He’ll continue on in that role, giving the Twins a right-handed bat to take some reps in left field. That spot has been occupied by top prospect Alex Kirilloff as of late, but Kirilloff can also play some first base in the absence of Miguel Sano. Luis Arraez could get some time in left field as well, now that the Twins’ middle infield is back to full strength.
Optioning Jeffers began to look increasingly necessary given the 23-year-old’s early struggles. The 2018 second-rounder has emerged as one of the game’s top catching prospects in recent seasons, ranking as a consensus top 100 talent heading into the 2021 season. Jeffers’ big debut effort last year helped to fuel that ranking, as he stepped up for a then-injured Mitch Garver and gave the Twins 64 plate appearances with a hearty .273/.355/.436 batting line and three home runs.
The 2021 season has been a disaster for the promising young backstop, however, as he’s mustered only a .147/.216/.176 slash through 37 plate appearances. Jeffers is still surely viewed as a key part of the organization’s future, but with the minor league season now slated to begin next week, sending Jeffers down for some regular at-bats — as opposed to splitting time with Garver — makes sense to get him on track. It’s also worth noting that he’s only played 24 games of Double-A ball and has never taken a single plate appearance in Triple-A, so he could simply need some more time to polish off his development.
With Jeffers going down, the Twins will now lean on the versatile Willians Astudillo and the young Rortvedt as backup options to Garver. The 23-year-old Rortvedt was Minnesota’s second-round pick back in 2016 and is a career .240/.315/.347 hitter in the minors who is regarded as a strong defensive backstop. He ranks 24th among Minnesota farmhands, per FanGraphs, and 26th on Baseball America’s rankings. BA calls him an “excellent receiver and blocker” with “standout defensive skills” but a limited offensive ceiling.
Turning to the pair of DFAs, neither comes as much of a surprise. Riddle was only selected to the big league roster when Andrelton Simmons initially tested positive for Covid-19, and he wound up being placed on the Covid list himself not long after. Once Riddle hit the Covid list, the Twins turned to Lin and brought him to the MLB roster. With Simmons now back in the fold alongside Jorge Polanco and utility man Luis Arraez, there’s little room for either Lin or Riddle.
Riddle went 2-for-6 with a run scored in four games with the Twins and is a career .223/.261/.355 hitter in 793 MLB plate appearances. Lin appeared in just one game and didn’t take a plate appearance. He was a .223/.298/.316 hitter in parts of four seasons with the Red Sox from 2017-20.