The Twins don’t plan on using a dedicated first baseman in 2023, manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters this week (link via Dan Hayes of The Athletic). Minnesota will utilize a rotation of players through the position, giving looks to Alex Kirilloff, Jose Miranda, utilityman Nick Gordon and offseason signees Joey Gallo and Donovan Solano at the position. The Twins cycled through various DH options last season after three years with Nelson Cruz as the mainstay in that spot of the lineup, and it seems as though they’ll now go with a that rotational approach at both DH and first base.
Kirilloff told Hayes that he’s feeling “optimistic” about his twice-surgically repaired wrist, which is improving by the week. A healthy Kirilloff would be the favorite for work at first base. The former No. 15 overall draft pick climbed as high as the ninth-ranked prospect in all of baseball on MLB.com’s top-100 list prior to the 2019 season (and No. 15 at Baseball America), and the Twins thought highly enough of him to give him his MLB debut during the 2020 postseason.
Injuries have derailed both his 2021 and 2022 seasons, however, and after a hot start in 2021, his production began to slide. He currently has just a .251/.298/.398 batting line in 387 Major League plate appearances, but Kirilloff is also a .323/.378/.518 hitter in the minor leagues and comes with substantial upside at the plate. He could be an option in the outfield as well — he’s played all three spots in his career — but the Twins are deep in the outfield and clearly have more playing time for him at first base.
Of the options to split time at first base, the newly signed Solano could be a frequent one. Twins president of baseball ops Derek Falvey told reporters this week Solano will get a “good amount” of time at the position (link via Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press). Helfand writes that the Twins first reached out to Solano back in early January, though a deal obviously took quite a bit longer to formally come together. Solano adds that other clubs made him offers, but it seems some might’ve come from rebuilding teams, as he cited the Twins’ desire to compete in 2023 as a reason for signing in Minnesota.
Elsewhere in camp, pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez, who recently underwent an MRI after experiencing posterior elbow soreness, per Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com (Twitter link). The right-hander received an injection and will be reevaluated in a week’s time.
The 22-year-old Henriquez, acquired alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the trade that sent catcher Mitch Garver to the Rangers, made his big league debut in 2022 and tossed 11 2/3 innings of 2.31 ERA ball. He struggled to a 5.66 ERA in 95 1/3 Triple-A frames, thanks largely to an inflated 1.79 HR/9 mark, but his 25.7% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate were more encouraging. He currently ranks 23rd among Twins farmhands at Baseball America. A strong performance in camp and/or in Triple-A to begin the season could put him in the mix for a bullpen spot during the upcoming campaign.
Henriquez has been primarily a starter in the minors, but with a rotation consisting of Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda — plus Bailey Ober looming as a solid sixth option — it’d be an uphill battle to get into the starting mix. It’s a deep collection of starters for the Twins — one that Baldelli will likely treat differently than in 2022, when pitchers like Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy were deployed in short starts by design. Via Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Baldelli said this week that he expects Twins starters to work deep into games this year.
“I expect more out of our starters this year,” Baldelli said. “…We have several guys that, what they probably take most pride in, is giving you a good, deep effort into a ballgame. Guys that are not satisfied giving you five good innings. They want more than that out of themselves.”
The now-26-year-old Ryan led all Twins pitchers with just 147 innings pitched in 2022. Part of that was due to rampant injuries up and down the roster, but part of it was also an ostensibly conscious effort to shield starters from facing a lineup three times in an outing. Twins starting pitchers averaged just 4.83 innings per outing in 2022. The group ranked as a middle-of-the-pack unit in terms of results, landing 20th in MLB with a 4.11 ERA. Archer, in particular, averaged just 4.11 innings per start. Lopez, acquired from the Marlins last month, averaged 5.63 innings per start and pitched at least six frames in 16 of his 32 starts.