Will Carlos Santana be the Twins starting first baseman in 2024?

After signing with the Twins this winter, Carlos Santana might become this year's Michael A. Taylor.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins
Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins / Brace Hemmelgarn/GettyImages

So much was made this winter about how the Minnesota Twins would replace Sonny Gray's production, but it's not the only pressing question that still needs to be answered.

Almost all of the 26-man roster spots are spoken for, outside of perhaps the eighth reliever role, but the Twins still have to figure out some starting lineup decisions. Specifically, who will be starting at first base not only at the beginning of the season but throughout the year.

It would seem that Alex Kirilloff being healthy and taking a major step forward in his development is the most ideal outcome, but it's no sure-thing. Kirilloff is once again questionable for Opening Day after undergoing offseason surgery, which means the Twins are in an almost identical spot to where they were last spring.

When Kirilloff needed time to get healthy, Minnesota platooned Joey Gallo and Donovan Solano over at first. That could be a role that Carlos Santana fills, fully embracing that Solano-style role as a majority starter at a key infield position.

Who will be the Twins starting first baseman on Opening Day?

Last year Solano filled in not only at first but over at second base as well. Out in centerfield Michael A. Taylor became an everyday player after Byron Buxton was held back by injuries all season, and Santana could fall somewhere in the middle of what those two provided.

Rocco Baldelli sort of addressed the situation last week, not going as far as to name a starter but hinting at what will ultimately go into his decision ahead of Opening Day.

“Whoever’s the better defensive first baseman is going to play more at first base. I don’t know any other way to put that,” Baldelli said. “There will be a determination when the time comes, when we put our lineups together. Both are going to play a good amount of first base, but the guy who is doing the best job for us on that side of the ball is the one who’s going to play more.”

It's going to be a close race, and health will no doubt play a factor, but we seem to be trending toward the Santana being the guy at first to start the season. Things can change, but if defense is what Rocco is going to base his decision on then we might already have some insight on where things will end up.

Statcast estimated that Santana was two runs above par, while Defensive Runs Saved graded him 11 runs above average in more than 1150 innings last season. Kirilloff has some ground to make up defensively, as he was rated between five and eight runs below average in only 510 first base innings.

Kirilloff not spending a majority of the season starting at first base would be concerning, but having Santana there is an excellent insurance policy. Both bats figure to be worked into the lineup on a regular basis, with Kirilloff able to DH the way Buxton did last year -- although hopefully to much better results.

Santana's glove isn't what we all thought the Twins were buying when he signed back in Feburary, but it's something that is already providing some roster relief. Even if Kirilloff starts the season healthy, being able to platoon with Santana -- as well as Kyle Farmer and Edouard Julien -- already has the Twins in a much better spot than they were in last season.

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