ST. PAUL — Major League Baseball training camps will open across the country on Friday, July 3 as COVID-19 cases spike in many states and questions about health, safety and logistics swirl.
The overarching storyline throughout summer camp and into the 60-game season — set to begin on July 23 — will, of course, be the novel coronavirus and how teams are managing to play through a global pandemic. Or if they even can.
But taking a more baseball-specific look, here are five Twins storylines to watch as summer training gets underway at Target Field on Friday.
Is everybody healthy?
Technically, no, because the Twins have reported positive COVID-19 cases in the past week. But in terms of baseball injuries, the players who were dealing with injuries at the end of spring training should be good to go.
The Twins had been easing Marwin Gonzalez and shortstop Jorge Polanco back into spring action after they had knee and ankle procedures, respectively, in the offseason. Both were expected to be ready for Opening Day in March.
Byron Buxton had been a question for Opening Day after surgery to repair a shoulder labrum near the end of last season. The center fielder had started taking live batting practice before everyone was forced to evacuate, and the Twins have said Buxton has finished his rehab.
While Buxton might have even been ready for a March 26 Opening Day, starter Rich Hill would not have been. Hill had offseason elbow surgery and the Twins were not expecting him to debut for them until early June. With the benefit of a few extra months, Hill said in May that he expected to be ready to pitch once the season began.
What will the rotation look like?
The Twins will have no shortage of options, especially with Hill healthy. Heading into spring, the Twins planned to roll with a rotation headed by all-stars Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. Newcomers Kenta Maeda, for whom they traded in February, and Homer Bailey were expected to join the rotation.
Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Jhoulys Chacin were battling for the final rotation spot when camp shut down and Michael Pineda was waiting in the wings, ready to slide back into the rotation once he finished the remaining 39 games of a suspension after testing positive for a banned diuretic late last season. The Twins were planning to have him back in May. Now it won’t be until September.
But Hill should be ready to take a spot from the beginning, and without a long ramp-up period to allow starters to get ready, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said last week that they had kicked around the idea of a six-man rotation.
“We felt we had a deep group of starters, especially now with Rich coming back into the fold,” he said. “So, knowing that, and knowing we’re building up a little more slowly, I think we need to see how the next couple weeks, the next two-three weeks, play out.”
Is 3 weeks enough time?
“No, it’s not, but that’s what we’re given,” closer Taylor Rogers said last week.
Falvey said his honest answer was that he didn’t know, while manager Rocco Baldelli said asking it was enough time was “a really interesting way of kind of looking at it.”
“We talk about workload, talk about ramping guys up. This is what we spend a lot of time and energy planning and doing it delicately when we have the time to do it,” Baldelli said. “We don’t have the time to do that right, but what we were able to do is get to our players before this point and really allow and encourage them and talk to them about ramping up while they’re home.”
How will extra roster spots be used?
To help offset the short re-boot, and hopefully avoid injuries, each team will have extra roster spots to begin the year. Teams will start with 30, and it will go down to 28 after two weeks before settling at 26 two weeks later.
In addition to the COVID-related protocols, Falvey said they wanted to make sure the team was managing soft-tissue and other issues to avoid injuries. Because of that, he said, the Twins likely will keep extra pitchers and position players.
“It might lean a little more pitching-oriented, but I would be that we’re probably a little heavier on the position player side to start, just so we make sure to keep guys appropriately ramping up,” Falvey said.
What will training look like?
The Twins are accustomed to a sprawling complex in Fort Myers with six different playing fields, allowing different groups to work out simultaneously. All major league teams will have to adjust to working with, and social distancing in, less space.
Team president Dave St. Peter said last week the Twins would be utilizing both the home and visiting clubhouses to promote social distancing and would use other areas of the park, such as the Thompson Reuters Champions Club under the stands behind home plate, so that players can spread out.
On the field, the Twins will stagger training. They will move into intra-squad games before being allowed to schedule a few games against an opponent near the start of the regular season. The Twins have not said yet whether they would do this and their schedule has not been released.
“We can do things with groups of players in different parts of the field and use the field in a way that’s a little different,” Falvey said. “You could have pitchers doing some things in the outfield while infielders are doing infield work.”