FORT MYERS, FLA. – In a decision that could affect some Twins players in camp, Major League Baseball and its Players Association have agreed to allow players on teams’ 40-man rosters to be eligible to participate in qualifying for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
To be clear, the pool of players who could be selected will be ones unlikely to win jobs on a 26-man roster. But rosters for an upcoming qualifying tournament must be submitted by March 11, with changes allowed until March 20. The tournament, to be held in Arizona, takes place March 22-26. The MLB season starts March 26, so teams might not have their Opening Day rosters finalized when it’s time for national teams to hand in rosters for the qualifying tournament.
The development undoubtedly will lead to many discussions between teams, players and their agents. Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said he is under the impression that if, for instance, his 27th-best player is the first reliever needed to be called up, he will not have to be released for international duty.
But Falvey is aware he might have some players who want to represent their countries.
“Those are the conversations we have to have,” Falvey said. “We’re not ruling anything out before it’s started. We want to hear the conversation and talk about it with the player, his representative, with Rocco [Baldelli], with everybody. But we haven’t had any of those yet.”
Team USA, which included Twins outfield prospect Brent Rooker and veteran lefthander Caleb Thielbar — who’s attempting a comeback with the Twins — failed to qualify in a tournament last November in Japan. Now the Americans must qualify in Arizona out of a group that includes Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The winner of the group is added to the Olympic field. The second- and third-place teams head to another qualifying tournament.
The new ruling makes more major leaguers available for selection, but that could benefit several countries, not just the Americans.
Twins officials flocked to the middle of the infield before Saturday’s game to greet Derek Shelton, who made his first appearance at Hammond Stadium since being named Pirates manager.
“I was with Minnesota for just two years,” Shelton said, “but these people are like family to me, so it is cool to be back.”
The Twins responded by showing pictures of Shelton — including a few away-from-the-field shots — on the videoboard before the game.
Shelton entered the game 0-7-1 this spring, so he’s fortunate these games don’t count. He finally landed the Pirates job after interviewing with the Twins and Rangers for similar openings before the 2019 season, then remained with the Twins staff because of his relationship with Rocco Baldelli.
“Anytime you leave a place that is special to you, it is difficult,” Shelton said. “They are good, they are one of the best teams in the American League. For me, it’s an opportunity that I wanted in a place where we are going to build something and be part of something special.”
• Infielder Ehire Adrianza returned to the lineup after he had been scratched from the Twins lineup the two previous games because of illness.
• The first workouts for minor leaguers take place Thursday, with minor league spring training games beginning March 17.
The Twins on Sunday will head to Port Charlotte to face the Rays for the second time during camp. Kenta Maeda will start for the Twins, and fellow righthanders Jhoulys Chacin and Matt Wisler also are on the list to appear in the game. Righthander Joe Ryan starts for Tampa Bay.