April has long been a bit of baseball purgatory. Teams don’t really have their identity figured out, despite spring training lasting for nearly two months, so they need to figure out what works when they are giving it their best effort, and are playing against full time major leaguers at every position. Then, there are the rookies, forced to play in AAA to have their playing time artificially suppressed.
This year, perhaps for all teams, but in particular for the Twins, I don’t anticipate the rookie class being made to wait unnecessarily. The bizarre mess that 2020 may lead to some players needing to work on their game a bit, but if a player is ready by the end of March, I see no real good excuse for them not to be on the roster at the beginning of April.
Consider that most playing time manipulation is the result of a team wanting to broaden their “window” for an extra year, by maintaining team control of the player one extra season. For the Twins, this shouldn’t really be a rationale. Their window is right now. They’ve been working at keeping it open for a couple of seasons right now, and have surpassed Cleveland already, and are now working to stave off the White Sox. Every game will count in April, just as it will in September, and the Twins will need their best team on the field.
The roster make up lends itself to at least one top prospect breaking camp with the team as well. The single biggest question mark the Twins have if you only look at players with significant Major League experience is in the corner outfield, thanks to the departure of Eddie Rosario. As luck would have it, one of the best prospects in baseball is outfielder Alex Kirilloff, who debuted in the playoffs last year. The Twins also have nearly read Brett Rooker and Trevor Larnach. Rooker could break camp with the team if not Kirilloff, and Larnach is a candidate to appear when he is ready this year as well.
The national appetite, and the bluster of former Mariners president Kevin Mather, make it harder for teams to justify the play time manipulation. The Twins have recently been active in signing long term contracts with their pre-arbitration players as well, which might alleviate concerns among the organization for starting the play clock early as well. The front office, in short, can’t hide behind the excuses of the past, but they’ve also given themselves an out, given their recent practices.
I expect the Twins are going to be a playoff contender, either winning the Central, or comfortably getting into the wild card game this season. Rookie corner outfielders will play a major role in their success, starting on Opening Day.