Chief baseball officer Derek Falvey met with reporters (including Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park) today at the Twins’ spring camp, and provided several injury updates. The news is particularly good for Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco, as Falvey said both players are on track to be in the lineup on Opening Day.
“Relying on our medical folks on what they think are the best next steps…but they’re still telling us that [Opening Day is] in play barring anything changing. And both guys’ feedback has been positive,” Falvey said.
Buxton underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in September, while Polanco didn’t play after August 27 last season due to knee inflammation. Polanco tried to return in September, but was shut down during a minor league rehab assignment when his left knee continued to feel sore. With an eye towards both these injuries, the Twins have been slowly easing Buxton and Polanco into spring activity, restricting both players to live batting practices and backfield workouts rather than any game action. It isn’t yet clear when either player might make their Spring Training debut, but it seems as though the club doesn’t feel Buxton or Polanco will need too many at-bats to get sharp.
A little over a week after suffering a high ankle sprain during a Grapefruit League game, Nick Gordon has started running and hitting, Falvey said. Naturally any kind of high ankle injury is a concern, but it would seem that Gordon might have landed on the low end of the “wide range of outcomes” manager Rocco Baldelli mentioned last week when discussing possible recovery timelines. The Twins will be cautious with Gordon but, if all continues to go well, he might also be on target for Opening Day without the need for a season-opening stint on the injured list.
Jose Miranda is also making good progress in his recovery from a sore shoulder, as Falvey said the infielder has started a throwing program. While Miranda’s shoulder forced him to withdraw from Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic team, it hasn’t kept him entirely off the field in Spring Training, as Miranda has still been able to play as a designated hitter. With just under three weeks to go until Opening Day, Miranda seems on pace to recover in time to take his planned role as Minnesota’s regular third baseman.
Amidst all these positive updates, however, the news isn’t quite as good for Alex Kirilloff. In comparison to Buxton and Polanco, Kirilloff is “probably the one that’s a little bit behind our schedule,” Falvey said, noting that “it’s kind of a tolerance thing on a daily basis for him” as Kirilloff works his way back from wrist surgery.
Kiriloff made his MLB debut in 2021, and the former top prospect has thus far hit .251/.295/.398 over 387 Major League plate appearances over the last two seasons. Unfortunately for Kirilloff, each of those seasons was prematurely ended by surgeries on his wrist. As The Athletic’s Dan Hayes wrote last month, Kirilloff’s surgery last August was particularly “drastic,” with the intention of correcting Kirilloff’s wrist problem once and for all. As such, the Twins are taking their time with Kirilloff, holding him out of games and even out of live-pitching sessions, if Kiriloff feels he is only up to work in the batting cages.
With all of these position-player health issues facing the Twins, the pitching staff has been a comparatively lesser concern, as Minnesota’s rotation candidates have by and large looked both healthy and in good form during their spring outings. It has gotten to the point that Falvey said the team is weighing the possibility of a six-man rotation.
“That wasn’t our plan as we entered camp,” Falvey said. “It still, I wouldn’t say, is our plan, but there’s at least a conversation we’ve been having internally about how that could work and what it would mean for the bullpen, how would we navigate that. Some of it will be health-dependent, but we’re open to the conversation maybe more now than I was a month ago.”
A six-man rotation would create a spot for Bailey Ober to get some MLB starts, as Ober would join the projected rotation of Pablo Lopez, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan, and Sonny Gray. The Twins aren’t likely to finalize any rotation plans until after Lopez returns from the WBC, but a six-man rotation would give more rest to Mahle and Maeda as they return from injuries. It would also help Minnesota navigate a pretty busy early schedule, as the club has only two off-days in the month of April.