With a short summer ramp-up and the possibility of COVID-19 sidelining several players at once, Major League Baseball has given its teams 30 active roster spots, plus a three-man taxi squad, for the first week of the season that starts late next week.
For American League manager of the year Rocco Baldelli, it’s an embarrassment of riches — at least as of Friday, when nearly the entire Minnesota Twins roster was healthy and available for an intrasquad game that ended 8-6 after seven innings.
Centerfielder Byron Buxton, who sprained his foot on Monday, and first baseman Miguel Sano, activated from quarantine on Wednesday, didn’t play but have a more than a week to get ready for the July 24 opener against the White Sox in Chicago.
The Twins, who won 101 games and hit a major league-record 307 home runs last season, lost only one key contributor in the offseason, letting first baseman C.J. Cron leave as a free agent, then signed former MVP Josh Donaldson to play third base. They also added Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill to the starting rotation and return every important piece of an up-and-coming bullpen.
Finalizing the roster, Baldelli said, won’t be so much about choosing a few relievers and utility players but deciding what pieces can usefully augment a team expected to repeat as American League Central champions and compete for a World Series title.
“It’s very unique because we get the 30 guys (and) we’ve got the three-man taxi squad group, so you are really considering guys for 33 spots and how they fit,” the manager said. “Then you start looking at it and say, ‘OK, look, how are we really going to use 30 guys or potentially the fit of 33 guys?’ It’s not easy.”
Teams will usually take all the pitching help they can get, but with the season starting late, pitchers are fresh — and the three-batter rule will limit the right-lefty matchup moves that lengthen games and shorten bullpens. Plus, Baldelli noted, with the AL style of play — league-wide now thanks to the universal DH — “there’s not a ton of moves, usually.”
“So, no, we don’t have 30 guys that we’re really hoping to make it fit with,” he added. “I think we have more than that. That’s what makes the decisions pretty challenging.”
Not surprisingly, Baldelli and his staff will wait until late next week to finalize their roster.
Second baseman Luis Arraez appeared to aggravate tendinitis in his right knee after advancing to second base on a wild pitch Friday. He was stranded there and taken out of the game.
“I would call it a fairly minor issue. We’re going to see how he is tomorrow,” Baldelli said. “I think there’s a chance you may see him out there (Saturday) or there’s a chance we give him a couple of days to start feeling better and making sure he’s ready to go for Opening Day. … I think he’s going to be all right.”
Jose Berrios will start the season opener against the White Sox next Friday in Chicago, Baldelli said. The right-hander will start Saturday’s 7:10 p.m. instrasquad game as well, facing left-hander Rich Hill. … Alex Kiriloff, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016, homered off starter Michael Pineda on Friday. Royce Lewis, the team’s top pick in 2016, played his first scrimmage with the major leaguers, playing shortstop and going 0 for 3. … The Twins filled out their 60-man player pool Friday by adding catcher Caleb Hamilton and outfielder Aaron Whitefield.