The Twins should be setting their roster for Opening Day. Starters should be ready to pitch into the sixth or seventh inning. Hitters should have sharpened their swings.
Even Byron Buxton would have been playing by now.
And all of that will happen in time. Just not now, as baseball and other sports in this country are shut down while the nation attempts to hold off the spread of the novel coronavirus.
While we wait for our favorite two words — “Play ball” — to be shouted in stadiums across the league, we can’t forget that the Twins played 20 games in Florida, integrated new players into the clubhouse and worked under conditions where the stated goal was reaching the World Series.
Though camps are closed now, chances are good that there will be another training camp once the country can return to normalcy. Until then, all we have are 20 games to go on as we wrap up how this portion of camp went.
So here are nine observations from Twins spring training camp … while it lasted.
1. Sano embraced his new role
Miguel Sano, the slugging former third baseman, is now a first baseman and was taking the transition seriously, applying himself during drills and reaching out to veterans for guidance. He can no longer just hang out at the position because it was temporary. He practiced footwork and scooping throws out of the dirt. Sano also came to camp in better shape than he was in any of the past few camps. He was focused.
2. Romero blew it again
Righthander Fernando Romero had an excellent opportunity to make the 2019 roster but loused it up with an 8.38 ERA in spring training, sending him to the minors. His chances of making the 2020 roster initially didn’t look well. A door opened when the Twins dealt Brusdar Graterol to the Dodgers as the main component of the Kenta Maeda deal. But then Romero was denied entry into the United States by U.S. Customs and has been trying to obtain another visa to enter the country ever since. Door closed, for now. The suspension of baseball actually gives Romero time to get the paperwork to return to the country in time to re-enter the picture — if he can get such clearance.
3. Donaldson’s personality took over
Big-ticket free agent Josh Donaldson said at his introductory news conference that he was ready to make an impact on the entire organization and wasn’t kidding. He has taken time in the batting cages to mentor younger players. And his big personality has been heard throughout the clubhouse. Braves manager Brian Snitker had Donaldson on his roster last season and raved about him while describing his personality as “unfiltered,” so nothing will be sacred around him. It will be interesting to see how a team that seemed to feed off Nelson Cruz’s calm and wisdom will embrace the outgoing and occasionally fiery Donaldson.
4. The next wave is in sight
There’s no room for any of the top prospects to break into the starting lineup. But there was evidence during camp that if the Twins need to dip into their farm system, they have a couple of hitters ready to contribute. Outfielder Alex Kirilloff is coming off a right wrist injury and said in camp that wrist might never feel the same. But his smooth swing in camp produced a .429 batting average and two home runs. And outfielder Trevor Larnach showed great discipline at the plate and drove the ball to all fields while batting .333 with three homers.
5. Berrios took his next step
The Twins failed to add an impact starting pitcher during the offseason, and no one will know how much it will affect the Twins until the games resume. But there’s no rule that prohibits pitchers from improving, and Twins righthander Jose Berrios looked ready to raise his game. He’s added a curveball that drops straight down to go with the one that tends to tumble down and away from righthanded hitters. He also hit 96 miles per hour on the radar gun in his final outing. At 25, Berrios is just starting to connect his talent with experience.
6. Pineda still on hot seat
Righthander Michael Pineda let the team down last season when he tested positive for a banned substance and was slapped with an 80-game suspension, which was reduced to 60 games when he proved it was for weight loss. Maybe it really was because Pineda reported to camp — with 31 games to go on his suspension — noticeably heavier. It wasn’t a good look for someone who dearly wanted to return after his 2019 season ended prematurely.
7. Buxton’s patience was noticeable
I don’t think Buxton was/is going to play until he is 100% healthy, for multiple reasons. He’s tired of being broken down and, my sense is, when he tried to play hurt in 2018 and wasn’t called up in September — which seemed to be for service time reasons — that blindsided him. He’ll have a better chance of being 100% once baseball restarts — and he will have all the motivation he needs to have a good season.
8. Hill did it all … except pitch
Lefthander Rich Hill, who turned 40 last week, isn’t expected to make his Twins debut until July as he recovers from elbow surgery. Not a lot was asked of him in camp, but he’s earned the trust and respect of pitching coach Wes Johnson. “I’ve had him watch a couple bullpens,” Johnson said. “I go, ‘Hey can you go lay eyes on this guy,’ stuff like that. I’ve got no problems with that. And he’s been awesome at it.” Even without throwing a pitch, Hill has made an impact.
9. Odorizzi seems locked in
Instead of turning down a qualifying offer and becoming a free agent, Jake Odorizzi took the sure thing while betting on himself to have a big 2020 season. He looked and sounded laser-focused during camp while working on his pitches on a back field instead of pitching against opponents. He used force plate technology to refine his mechanics and might be throwing a little harder. Both Berrios and Odorizzi looked prepared to build off their All-Star seasons. All they need now is a season to prove it.