CHICAGO - The Twins are not hurting for center field options as they begin the season Friday night against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Jake Cave, LaMonte Wade and Aaron Whitefield all made the 30-man roster for the season opener on Friday against the White Sox. This was done as starting center fielder Byron Buxton, who is recovering from a left mid-foot sprain, join his teammates after missing Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
It’s not clear if Buxton has recovered enough to play Friday, but they sure aren’t hurting for options if he can’t.
Max Kepler will likely take over for Buxton in center field, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli can choose from Cave, Wade or Marwin Gonzalez to play right field. Whitefield, a speedster who hit below .200 in the minors last season, can back up all three outfield spots and likely is a pinch running specialist.
All the outfielders have experience playing center field; even Eddie Rosario has started 58 games in center during his career.
Whitefield, 23, was an undrafted free agent out of Brisbane, Australia in 2015; a 30-man roster allows Baldelli room to have a specialty player.
“You generally try to avoid having similar players where you have two, three and four players filling the same role,” Baldelli said. “More difficult to use your roster effectively. But that being said, when you have quality players, you like having these options too.”
Remember that rosters will be a 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, 28 for the next two weeks then 26 for the remainder of the season. Teams will be allowed to travel with a three-man taxi squad. Righthander Jorge Alcala, lefthander Caleb Thielbar and catcher Tomas Telis are currently on the taxi squad.
The Twins ended up with 15 pitchers on their 30-man staff, including lefthander Lewis Thorpe, who was on the bubble. The number of pitchers gives them time to be careful with righthander Jake Odorizzi, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right intercostal strain. The move with Odorizzi is retroactive to July 20, meaning he can be activated in time to face Cleveland on July 30 at Target Field.
The release of the 30-man roster made official what had become a forgone conclusion: That fan favorite Willians Astudillo will not be with the club for the opening weeks of the season.
Astudillo tested positive for COVID-19 during the intake period before workouts began on July 3.
“It’s been a slow road for him and none of it has to do with anything Willy has done himself,” Baldelli said. “He’s kind of in this situation and waiting for his body to give him something that is basically by chance knowing which day he’s going to be cleared based on the tests that he has to pass to be here. I’m sure it’s very frustrating. I know it’s very frustrating for him.”
Sano stands out
In the fourth inning at Wrigley on Wednesday, third baseman Josh Donaldson’s throw to first base was well off the mark, but Sano moved to his left to catch the throw and tag Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., on the shoulder for the out
In the sixth inning, David Bote bounced a ball toward the hole between first and second but Sano ranged well to his right to grab the ball and throw to Zack Littell for the out.
Sano, in the eighth inning, made a nifty pick of a Donaldson throw that went into the dirt, capping a strong defensive performance for the new first baseman.
“That was a really good day for him out in the field,” Baldelli said. “For a lot of our guys to get out there and play nine innings or play eight innings out there was important. But for Miguel, especially so. And the work that he has put in, we got to see it tonight. We got to see him picking some balls.”
Sano has played 31 regular season games at first base and has been charged with an error six times. But those were just fill-in appearances. Sano agreed to move to first base when Donaldson was signed and will be there for the foreseeable future.
It crazy to think that Sano was signed as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, but his movements suggest he has had that background.
“His footwork looked good,” Baldelli said. “His ability to go and range and cut the ball off, but also the body control, setting his feet, knowing how much time he had, it was actually really fun to watch. We all talk about how much work he’s put in over there, and we got a chance to see it tonight.”