FORT MYERS, FLA. – The first full-squad workout for the Twins is Tuesday, so what are the major questions facing the team in spring training?
1. Buxton. Buxton? Buxton!
When Byron Buxton is healthy, the Twins play at a different level. That's the impact the rocket-fueled outfielder has at the plate and on the field. But he began the season recovering from a midfoot sprain and ended it battling a concussion. He was in uniform for the wild card series but didn't feel well enough to start Game 2. He entered the game as a pinch-runner — and got picked off. It would mean everything for the Twins and Buxton if he could have a season in which the games he misses are only for rest. So the annual watch is on to see if No. 25 can at least get through spring training without a setback. Can he petition the league to wear a rubber uniform?
2. You misspelled Donaldson in point No. 1, didn't you?
Josh Donaldson's first season with the Twins was marred by injury as well, as calf issues limited him to 28 games and kept him out of the postseason. The reason Donaldson was signed was to have his experience in the lineup and add some edge to a team that hasn't won a postseason game since 2004. He's reported to camp early and looks ready to shake off last season. But while Donaldson prides himself on being in the lineup every day, the Twins might have to give him periodic rest so he can get through the season without a lengthy setback. That will be an issue at some point in camp when manager Rocco Baldelli is asked about his rest and recovery plans for 2021.
3. Who are other options for the rotation?
Eleven different Twins pitchers started games last season and 10 in 2019. We know that Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda and J.A. Happ are the top four starters. It's more important than ever to have a pecking order established in case someone goes down or is ineffective in the majors. Whoever doesn't get the No. 5 spot between Matt Shoemaker and Randy Dobnak will likely get first shot at stepping into the rotation when needed. Lefties Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe are still around. And, as the season progresses, the Twins might need prospects Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic to start for them. Is that enough?
4. Will Alex Kirilloff begin the season in the majors?
The Twins didn't start Jake Cave or LaMonte Wade Jr. in left field in Game 2 of the wild card series against Houston. They called Kirilloff, their top hitting prospect, over from the alternate training site and he became the first player to get a hit in a postseason game without playing in a regular-season game. So he looks to be the starting left fielder. But the Twins might make a financial decision and leave Kirilloff in the minors for a couple weeks. If they wait 15 games before calling him up they would keep control of Kirilloff for an extra season. Several teams have made similar decisions through the years, and it certainly won't make fans happy. But fans don't pay the payroll. The Twins do. But will they care about service time with Kirilloff?
5. The fallout from the Andrelton Simmons signing.
Simmons is going to deliver a master class in how to play shortstop, and prospect Royce Lewis will be sitting in the first row, soaking it all in. Meanwhile, Jorge Polanco returns to second base, where he started extensively in the minors. Luis Arraez will get starts at second base, third base and perhaps left field. One signing altered the defensive look of the Twins while buying them one more year for their prized prospect to learn the nuances of the position. And they possibly improved the defense at second while improving the offense at their coveted multipositional everyday player spot.