Spring Training is over, and Opening Day is almost here.
The Minnesota Twins will head to Kansas City to begin the season against the Royals, and the roster that makes the trip features a few intersting surprises. None of the surprises are seismic, but the Twins have already been forced to deal with some injuries to key players that may have opened up roster spots for some guys to get an extra chance at proving they deserve a Big League roster spot.
Minnesota will begin the season without Alex Kirilloff and Jorge Polanco. Kirilloff is still working on rehabbing his surgically repaired wrist while Polanco hasn't played at all while dealing with a set-back involving his knee. There's hope that both can make their debut before May but it doesn't sound like the Twins are rushing the process.
In addition to being without Kirilloff or Polanco, the Twins will also be missing Gilberto Celestino, Josh Winder, and Ronny Henriquez due to injuries and the team optioned Bailey Ober and Kyle Garlick to the minors.
What this does is unexpectedly open up a few spots on the Opening Day roster and create a few late surprises as the Twins put together the 26-man roster ahead of Thursday's season opener.
Willi Castro makes the roster
What a cool story Willi Castro is, and it's one that will continue on Opening Day.
Castro came into camp as a non-roster invitee, having played the last few years with the Detroit Tigers. He didn't play over 100 games until 2021 but managed to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year voting back in 2020 after playing just 36 games. Nothing about his game lit anyone in Detroit on fire enough to retain him after last season, but he fought his way through Twins camp and onto the Opening Day roster.
Now Castro has a chance to prove he can fit in as a key depth piece for the Twins, and he seems to have all the tools.
With the Tigers, Castro was a jack of all trades. He played all over the infield and outfield while in Detroit, which feels like a classic Twins Swiss Army knife that the team likes to rely on for its depth. His numbers at the plate aren't anything special, having slashed 245/.292/.381 in his career, but it's not a detriment to what he offers in terms of lineup relief.
Nick Gordon and Kyle Farmer are cut from this cloth and it seems like Castro will factor into some sort of infield platoon to account for the loss of Polanco and Kirilloff.
Joey Gallo and Jose Miranda are likely to split time at first base with Kirilloff out, which would require some help at third and out in left. Farmer figures to be a solution in covering for Miranda at third, and Gordon can help at second base if Donovan Solano slides over to first. If Gallo comes in from left to spend time at first base, Castro can join the outfield corps and fill in.
It's a bit messy, but the Twins have great bench depth entering the season and Castro -- while unexpected -- could be a big part of that early on.
Cole Sands earns a bullpen spot
Having logged some big league innings last year, perhaps because of the injury situation, Cole Sands has worked his way back to the Majors.
Much like Castro, Sands benefited from a strong Spring Training and a few injuries that will prevent supposed roster locks from being ready for the start of the season. While he earned a role on the Opening Day roster, Sands will have to do a fair amount of work to make sure he keeps the gig once other folks get healthy and arms in the minors start to heat up.
Sands finished the spring with 14 strikeouts in 12 innings of work, which is great. The flip side of that coin is that he walked six batters, allowed seven runs, and finished with a 5.25 ERA. All of this was against what was graded as Double-A quality opposition, which doesn't really come across as a glowing endorsement.
The upshot is that these numbers seem to be an improvement on where he was last season, and puts him on pace to lower some of the less savory trends he produced. For instance, his ERA last season was 5.87 and he allowed 21 runs on 31 hits in 30.2 innings of work. He didn't have a dramatic turnaround this spring, but his strikeout rate is up and he sees to have a little more control.
Sands has a chance to build on some of the skills that could keep him at the Major League level, one that comes as a bit of a surprise but is a welcomed one given how much the bullpen needs to improve overall this season.
Much like Castro, Sands benefited from a strong Spring Training and a few injuries that will prevent supposed roster locks from being ready for the start of the season.