FORT MYERS, FLA. – No Twins player has more hits or extra-base hits than Willi Castro this spring, and no Twins player has driven in more runs. He feels "incredibly comfortable" playing for his new team after four years with the Tigers. And as the prospect grows that Jorge Polanco may not be ready at the start of the season, Castro's chances of making the Opening Day roster have become far more plausible.
Yet none of that is the best news Castro has heard this spring.
"We're having another baby!" the 25-year-old utility player said. "I love being a dad."
Castro and his wife, Aniana, already have a 3-year-old daughter, Arantxa, "bouncing around everywhere, always making me feel happy," he said.
His baseball situation has him pretty happy, too. Castro, who finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2020, was shocked when Detroit nontendered him in November, but he felt better when a dozen teams contacted his agent about signing him.
"He was an early, early target for us in minor league free agency. He's really young, even after four years in the big leagues, and we still see a lot of potential upside in him," Twins baseball boss Derek Falvey said. "And he's certainly come in here swinging really well."
Like several of his teammates, Castro plays multiple positions. He came up as a middle infielder, but the Tigers sent him to the outfield 80 times last season.
"I really like moving around," Castro said. "It was new to me, but I showed the Tigers I can play anywhere they want. I thought I was pretty good in the outfield."
Pablo Lopez was supposed to be pitching in front of 35,000 raucous fans in Miami on Sunday, trying to get Venezuela into the WBC championship game.
Instead, the righthander was on a practice diamond pitching to Twins minor leaguers in front of a couple of dozen curious but quiet onlookers. Trea Turner's grand slam on Saturday night rallied Team USA past the Venezuelans in the quarterfinals and returned Lopez to training camp.
"On the drive here, it really stung a little bit, just the way it happened," Lopez said after throwing roughly 75 pitches on his first day back. "We started the WBC in such a tough pool, [against] tough teams and we were able to play good baseball, get good results, so for it to end the way it did, it's going to sting. Right now, it's kind of grief, the way it feels."
Still, Lopez said he will treasure the memories of the 2023 tournament, particularly his 4⅔ innings of two-hit ball against Puerto Rico, a team filled with Twins teammates.
"It's the biggest honor I've had in my career. … An experience I'll never forget," said the five-year veteran, who pitched the ninth inning of the Twins' Grapefruit League game before finishing his workout on the back field. "I was able to pitch in front of amazing crowds, facing the best of the best. To get that opportunity really meant the world to me. And I really tried to cherish it, soak it all in. There were moments I was just so happy to be there. I was just starstruck at all the players we had in our clubhouse."
Maeda hit hard
Kenta Maeda gave up his first two home runs of the spring Sunday, a solo shot just inside the foul pole by Ozzie Albies and a three-run blast to center field by Marcell Ozuna, and the Braves shut out the Twins 5-0 at Hammond Stadium.
Maeda gave up all five runs in his four-inning start, striking out five and walking two.
All-Star lefthander Max Fried held the Twins to one hit, a fifth-inning single by Kyle Garlick, over 6⅓ innings. Three relievers, including former Twin Michael Tonkin, completed the shutout, the second time in four days the Twins have been held without a run.
- Max Kepler left Sunday's game with "hip tightness," but manager Rocco Baldelli said the injury is minor and expects the outfielder to play again within a few days. Similarly, Righthander Jhoan Duran was hit on the leg by a line drive while pitching live batting practice but wasn't seriously hurt.
- The Twins optioned righthanders Trevor Megill and Louie Varland to Class AAA St. Paul on Sunday, leaving them with 24 pitchers on a roster that must be whittled to 13 by Opening Day.