2018 Minnesota Twins positional grades and 2019 roster predictions
By Matt Smith
Let’s shift gears and recap my predictions for the 2019 Minnesota Twins roster.
Catcher: Mitch Garver and Jason Castro
After a great season of production and improvements from Garver, the Twins have no choice but to at least give him a handful of starts each week. While Castro’s upside is limited, his defensive-minded abilities make him a great player to mentor Garver. Castro has one year left on his contract, and while it’s not impossible, my bet is that it’s unlikely another team trades for him.
Unfortunately, this pushes Willians Astudillo out of the picture behind the plate. That said, he could have done enough in the last month of the season to earn a utility role with the big league team. Worst case scenario, he spends some more time at AAA and is just a phone call away in case of an injury.
First base: Tyler Austin and C.J. Cron
Perhaps this is cheating a bit, as C.J. Cron was just picked up several days ago. My guess was that while Austin deserves his first full season in the MLB, the Minnesota Twins probably wanted another capable option to cover first in case of poor performance or an injury. With Joe Mauer retiring and Brent Rooker likely needing a few more months in the minors, there weren’t any suitable options in-house, which would prompt the Twins to look elsewhere. With Cron now on board, the team is likely set for 2019 with him and Austin at first base and DH.
Second base: Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, or Ian Kinsler
Second base seems like a logical position at which to sign a veteran on a short 1 or 2-year contract. Nick Gordon will likely make his major league debut at some point in 2019 and see time and second and/or shortstop, but there are too many concerns surrounding him to plan on giving him the reins at 2B right off the bat. Jorge Polanco still seems like a good bet to slide to second base once Royce Lewis debuts, but that’s still a year or two away.
As a result, a short contract to a solid veteran makes a lot of sense. Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, or Ian Kinsler are all guys I think would be good fits in terms of age, performance, and likely contract size, but there are several other players that the Twins could end up with as well.
Shortstop: Jorge Polanco
Until Lewis completes his time in the minors, Polanco has no real challengers for the starting job in 2019. It’s possible that instead of signing a second baseman, the Twins instead sign a shortstop and Polanco moves over to second immediately, but the former scenario seems more likely to me. Gordon and Ehire Adrianza will likely see time at shortstop and around the infield, but neither appear to be threats to take the everyday job from Polanco.
Third base: Who knows?
This one is admittedly very difficult for me to predict. Miguel Sano will receive every opportunity to prove his worth, but considering how his 2018 season went, I would expect the front office to be looking around the league for third base options in case Sano doesn’t perform. An everyday 3B wouldn’t hurt Sano’s playing time too bad as he could bounce around between 3B, 1B, and DH.
Mike Moustakas would be a great addition to the team and seems like a perfect fit, but I’m not confident that he’ll find his way to Minnesota. There isn’t much else to get excited about at the hot corner in this year of free agents, but Yangervis Solarte could be a more realistic, competent yet unexciting, target.
Outfield: Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler
No surprises here. Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler will man the outfield from left to right again in 2019 barring a surprising trade or an injury. After a strong showing in his rookie season, Jake Cave has earned the 4th outfielder role and could see significant playing time at each outfield slot, but likely won’t be an everyday at a single position.
This alignment could push Robbie Grossman out of the picture and end his tenure with the Minnesota Twins. If Zack Granite has a strong spring training, he could provide a little bit of excitement to the outfield race, but it’s pretty unlikely that he would knock off Rosario, Buxton, Kepler, or Cave from the active roster.
Bench position players: Ehire Adrianza, Jake Cave, Willians Astudillo, Nick Gordon, and others
This is a bit of a bonus section for you as I didn’t put together a full article for those that seem poised to earn backup slots in 2019. But, I wanted to at least mention a few guys that are highly likely to get a bench slot in the MLB in 2019. Adrianza is a solid option as a backup, and with his positional flexibility, there’s no reason he won’t be back in the same role next year.
Jake Cave has a strong grasp on the 4th outfielder role and should actually see pretty consistent playing time, giving rest to the starters as needed and perhaps some time at DH as well. While Astudillo appears to be on the outside looking in the catcher rotation, he could find a job as a utility man, though that’s not a given. As previously mentioned, Gordon will almost assuredly be up at some point in the year and get some opportunities at a variety of positions.
That may not seem like enough bench players, but consider that a few positions could turn out to be fairly crowded in 2019. Cron and Austin will both get time at first base and DH pretty regularly. If they do sign an everyday third baseman, then Sano could get time here and there between first base, third base, and DH.
Cave is someone the Twins would probably want to give fairly consistent playing time to but they’ll have to be creative about how they do it with 3 established starting outfielders and several previously mentioned players vying for time at DH. In essence, the team could end up with anywhere from 9 to 11 guys that could start on any given day, lessening the need for more traditional backup players.