The Twins have added several new players through free agency, but team executives believe even bigger contributions might come from a number of players returning from injuries.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said he sees a different team when he looks at the roster, not only because of free agents but players such as pitchers Trevor May and Michael Pineda and catcher Jason Castro. May and Pineda missed all or part of last season rehabilitating from Tommy John elbow surgery. Castro played only 19 games in 2018 before he injured his knee.
“When I look at our team now and think of new faces and adds that we went and acquired in [first baseman] C.J. Cron and [second baseman] Jonathan Schoop, guys like [designated hitter] Nelson Cruz, [reliever] Blake Parker, [starting pitcher] Martin Perez, these are guys that came in from the outside that we think will help our younger players continue to get better and impact our team,” Falvey said. “That’s not to mention guys that we think will return to form and be important factors for us.”
Castro had a strong first season with the Twins in 2017, after six seasons with the Astros, when he hit .242 with a .333 on-base percentage to go along with 10 home runs, 22 doubles, 47 RBI and 49 runs scored. More importantly he caught 908⅔ innings, the fourth-highest mark in the American League, and had the third-best fielding percentage of any AL catcher who caught 100 or more games.
After Castro injured his knee last season, he continued playing until the Twins shut him down and he played just 19 games.
“A wild pitch, probably the first week of the season, and I jumped up for it,” Castro said. “And when I landed and tried to get back up, I felt my knee give out. I tried to play through it for the next month or so and it just kept getting worse.”
Castro said the rehab process took a toll on him.
“I had about seven or eight months of rehab,” he said. “You have to take it in small chunks so you can kind of get through it, but I had gone through something similar in my past, so I just kept my head down and trusted the rehab process. I’m good to go now.
“I will be 100 percent for spring training and I’m looking forward to it. I want to get back into catching and get confident again in squatting and doing all that and just continue to improve on both sides of the ball.”
Team on the rise?
Castro said he believes the Twins, coming off a 78-84 season and second-place finish in the AL Central, will be a much-improved team.
“I’m really excited about this club. I think some of the guys we added, you look at our lineup and we should be one of the better lineups in baseball,” Castro said. “We had some guys make some big strides in the rotation last year as well. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us.”
Does he have any thoughts on new manager Rocco Baldelli?
“I think he’ll be great,” Castro said. “He’s a young guy with a lot of energy, and we have some guys who have had experience with him in the past. I know everyone is looking forward to working with him.”
Extra Vikings picks?
The Vikings are preparing for the NFL draft in Nashville from April 25-27, and there is a chance they will add some compensatory draft picks depending on what happens in free agency. They have five draft picks, one each in rounds one through four and one in the sixth.
In the 2018 draft, the Vikings received two compensatory picks that were used in the sixth round to select Appalachian State guard Colby Gossett and Tulane defensive end Ade Aruna.
Overthecap.com, a website which projects compensatory draft picks for every NFL team, believes the Vikings will get three additional 2019 picks: a sixth-rounder for the loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and two seventh-rounders for cornerback Tramaine Brock and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen.
Ibrahim gets award
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who ran for the second-highest total ever (1,160 yards) by a Gophers freshman, was named one of the 2019 players to watch by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. Ibrahim was on hand to accept the award at the Touchdown Club banquet in Ohio.
It will be interesting to see how coach P.J. Fleck divides playing time with eight running backs on the roster: Ibrahim, Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, Bryce Williams, Nolan Edmonds, Treyson Potts, Preston Jelen and Cam Wiley.
• Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson is playing for the San Diego Fleet of the new Alliance of American Football league. In his first game, he completed five of 10 passes for 68 yards with one interception and rushed three times for 20 yards in a 15-6 loss to the San Antonio Commanders. … Also with San Diego are former Gophers defensive tackle Andrew Stelter and strong safety Damarius Travis, and former Wayzata and Ohio State linebacker A.J. Tarpley.
• Gopher Illustrated writes that Tyler Nubin — the four-star cornerback out of St. Charles (Ill.) North who had offers from schools such as Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee and Northwestern — is the most likely freshman starter out of the Class of 2019.
• The Sporting News graded the offseasons for all 30 MLB teams and the Twins received the best grade in the AL Central with a B. The Twins were given credit for signing Cron, Cruz and first baseman Lucas Duda. Other AL Central grades: Chicago and Kansas City (B-), Detroit (C-) and Cleveland (D).
• The Twins’ 2019 over/under victories estimate by Las Vegas oddsmakers is 84.5, the 10th-highest mark in baseball. The only team in the AL Central ranked higher is the Indians at 90.5, but they got bad news this week that All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor will miss seven to nine weeks because of a right calf strain.
• The Gophers baseball team played 13 games at U.S. Bank Stadium last season, but they won’t play any there this year as the stadium prepares for hold the 2019 Final Four from April 6-8. The Gophers will play their first games this weekend in the College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Ariz., including a Sunday game against No. 8 Oregon State, who knocked them out of the College World Series last year.
• Former Roseville standout and Bucknell grad Mike Muscala has had a whirlwind few days. He was traded from Philadelphia to the L.A. Clippers on Feb. 6, then traded again the following day to the L.A. Lakers. He has appeared in one game with the Lakers, collecting eight points, one rebound and two assists in 13 minutes in a 143-120 loss to the Sixers.