The Twins were leading the American League Central division for much of 2022. However, injuries mounted throughout the season and the Guardians surpassed them for good in September, eventually finishing 14 games ahead of Minnesota. Better health and depth will be key for the Twins if they are to have better results this year, and the club even went so far as to hire a new head athletic trainer, getting Nick Paparesta to jump over from the A’s. “I think he’s going to have a huge impact,” manager Rocco Baldelli told Dan Hayes of The Athletic recently. “I’m not just confident of it — I know he’s going to have a huge impact in what goes on inside those doors.”
One of the players whose health will be in focus in 2023 is Royce Lewis. The first overall selection in the 2017 draft, he’s long been considered one of the best prospects in the league. However, he struggled a bit in 2019 and then saw the minors wiped out by the pandemic in 2020. That was followed by a lost season in 2021 as he was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in February, requiring season-ending surgery. He got things back on track nicely in 2022, hitting .313/.405/.534 in 34 Triple-A games and .300/.317/.550 in his first 12 major league games. Unfortunately, he tore the ACL in his right knee a second time in June, wiping out what remained of that season.
There were times this season that it seemed Carlos Correa would sign with the Giants and then Mets, leaving the future shortstop job open for Lewis to retake once healthy. However, Correa’s deals ended up getting scuttled by disagreements with those clubs about his physical and he wound up back with the Twins. His new deal comes with six guaranteed seasons and he could stick around for four more years via vesting options. While he might eventually move off shortstop at some point, it seems Lewis is blocked from that position for the foreseeable future. To help get into the lineup more last year, he played a little bit of outfield and third base in the minors, as well as some outfield in the majors. He tells Hayes that he would prefer to play on the infield but is open to time in the outfield again.
It likely won’t be an issue for a while, since his surgery was initially estimated to require a 12-month recovery period, meaning he likely won’t return until midway through the upcoming season. Though Lewis doesn’t have an update on his timeline, he did start hitting three weeks ago. Whenever he does return, he will be looking to crack an infield that should consist of Correa at short, Jorge Polanco at second, José Miranda at third and Alex Kirilloff at first.
There are some injury concerns elsewhere in that mix. Correa, of course, has a checkered injury past and the issues with the Giants and Mets raise questions about how his health will develop in the future. Polanco, meanwhile, was limited to 104 games last year by a pesky knee issue that eventually put him on the injured list for good in early September. He has declared himself to be healthy for the upcoming campaign, telling Hayes “I’m trying to really be out there playing, playing hard, letting the young guys know that I’m here to play hard. I want to set an example for them. I just want to be part of it.” Despite the nagging issue last year, he still hit 16 home runs and walked in 14.4% of his plate appearances for a batting line of .235/.346/.405 and a wRC+ of 119.
As for Kirilloff, the former first round draft pick has been dealing with persistent wrist issues, with each of his past two seasons ended by surgery. He’s back to swinging a bat now but is still sore. “They cut my bone so there’s definitely some aches and stuff to go along with that, but from a pain standpoint it feels good,” he says. “I think they’re expected to go away. I think anytime you break your bone it can take a lot longer than expected to heal. From my understanding, it gets to that certain point where it’s healed enough to do whatever you need to do and then it keeps healing for a while after that.”
He’s produced monster numbers in the minor leagues but the wrist issues have seemingly hampered him in the big leagues so far. Since starting 2019 in Double-A, Kirilloff has hit .305/.378/.484 in 574 minor league plate appearances for a wRC+ of 143. But in 387 major league appearances thus far, he’s slashed just .251/.295/.398 for a 91 wRC+. The club declined an option on Miguel Sanó and traded Luis Arraez to the Marlins, leaving the first base job wide open for Kirilloff if he’s healthy enough to take it.
Another player who could be in the mix at first is Miranda, though he seems to be ticketed for the third base job after Gio Urshela was traded to the Angels. Miranda made his debut last year and spent more time at first with Urshela across the diamond, but he can now go back to third, where he spent more time in the minors. His first season in the show went quite well, as he hit 15 home runs and batted .268/.325/.426 for a wRC+ of 117. He apparently felt worn down late last year and has been on a new workout program and diet, trying to eat more chicken and vegetables in lieu of sweets. “He looks sexy,” Correa said about Miranda. “You see that body? He looks sexy. He looks really good. He looks in shape, he looks ready to work.”
Nick Gordon and Kyle Farmer will be on hand to give the club some infield depth, though Lewis will also be trying to get back on the field and into the mix. His odds of helping the team here are probably better than their crowded outfield mix of Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo, Max Kepler, Michael A. Taylor, Trevor Larnach, Gilberto Celestino and Matt Wallner, with Gordon and Kirilloff potentially in the mix there as well. It’s possible that a trade thins out the outfield depth chart a bit, but it remains packed for now, with just two weeks to go until Spring Training.