FORT MYERS, FLA. – The roster limit for the pre-September portion of the major league season was supposed to increase by one to 26 players in 2020, with a limit of 13 pitchers.
The pandemic then changed everything, with 28-player rosters to start the 60-game mini-season. As a full 162-game schedule beckons and COVID lurks, the plan is back for 26 players, with no limit on the number who can be pitchers.
The Twins' paranoia over pitcher usage is well-established, and 13 pitchers is basically a given to open the season. The fact Nelson Cruz is a full-time designated hitter makes it difficult for the Twins to allow paranoia to reach 14 pitchers.
This Twins team needs a four-player bench. The main reason for that is the left side of the infield, featuring 35-year-old Josh Donaldson at third base and 31-year-old Andrelton Simmons at shortstop.
Donaldson has a chronic issue with calf injuries and played 28 games last season. Simmons had been durable until an ankle injury in the middle of the 2019 season, and it reoccurred last season.
Twins followers might spend extra time fretting about Byron Buxton's ability to "stay healthy,'' but he's 27, the best athlete on the club by twofold, and the answer with him isn't going to be days off. It's better luck, or better decisions by him.
Rocco "Let's Play 5'' Baldelli, the Twins manager, already has Donaldson signed on for extra days off early in season. Simmons would seem to fit in the same category.
Which gets us back to the four-player bench: One goes to a catcher. One goes to Luis Arraez as an extra infielder. One goes to an extra outfielder.
And from here, that leaves a greater need for a second backup infielder than a second extra outfielder.
Arraez can't play shortstop. Jorge Polanco can move back over there from second, but how often does Rocco want to do that? The Twins could use a straight-up, backup shortstop.
Enter JT Riddle, a 29-year-old, lefthanded hitter, as a possibility. He has 246 games in the big leagues, most with Miami, the team that drafted him in 2013, and 23 with Pittsburgh last season.
Riddle signed with the Twins as a minor league free agent on Jan. 7. He had spent his time this winter trying to gain weight and put some power onto his 6-foot-3 frame, not waiting for an offer to be on a team's 40-player big-league roster.
"With COVID, with the uncertainties facing teams and players, I didn't think there was a realistic chance to get a major league deal,'' Riddle said Sunday. "I had three offers, and the Twins seemed like the best place.''
Riddle said he's added 20 pounds since a feeble 67 at-bat stay with the Pirates in 2020.
"I've always been kind of skinny,'' he said. "I had to get stronger. I had to be able to drive the ball to a degree, if I was going to stay in the game.''
Riddle was in the lineup for the Twins on Saturday vs. the Red Sox. The game was scheduled for five innings, but rained out after two. Before that, Riddle hit a ball off the fence in straightaway center field for extra bases.
"That ball carried probably 15 feet farther than it would've last spring,'' Riddle said. "It would've been caught in front of the fence.''
Riddle comes from Frankfort, the scenic, small-town capitol of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He played from 2011 to 2013 for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Twins reliever Taylor Rogers was a starter there for two seasons — behind Alex Meyer in 2011, then the lefthanded ace in 2012. Rogers isn't the lone Kentucky connection: Righthander Chandler Shepherd is here on a minor league deal, and Michael Thomas, the Twins' catching coordinator, was a three-year Kentucky teammate.
"Our big year there was 2012, when Taylor was a junior,'' Riddle said. "I was playing third base. We started the season 22-0, swept South Carolina, the defending national champs, and were rated No. 1 in the country.
"Then, we had a couple of injuries, lost some games we shouldn't have, then we didn't get a home regional and got knocked out. Should've been a great season, but we didn't finish.''
The reporter talking with Riddle resisted the urge to say, "You came to the right organization then.''
Would've been funny, but presumptuous, since Riddle has to work his way onto the big-league roster. There's a good chance the Twins will keep Brent Rooker as an extra bat and try to get by with only Arraez as an extra infielder at season's start.
"The way teams use a roster today, I know that missing the 26-man on Opening Day doesn't determine a season,'' Riddle said. "Play well and you'll be there eventually.''