For a vast majority of the Twins’ minor leaguers, it has been more than a year and a half since they’ve had real game competition. At long last, Minor League Baseball is making its awaited return.
The Triple-A Saints, Double-A Wind Surge, Single-A Advanced Kernels and Single-A Mighty Mussels will all begin their season on Tuesday. When the Twins’ affiliates begin play, three of the team’s top five prospects per MLB Pipeline will not be in action, including the organization’s top prospect and its top two pitching prospects.
Royce Lewis, who is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament earlier this year, has been rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla. Pitchers Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran will also remain in Fort Myers at the beginning of the season for the time being, farm director Alex Hassan said Sunday.
Duran, who will be with the Saints once he is ready, was dealing with “trap tightness” early in camp, Hassan said, which has set him back. He has been throwing but is still “probably in the weeks ballpark away,” Hassan said. Balazovic, who had a back injury, “is probably just a tick behind that,” and is now starting to throw live BP, Hassan said. Balazovic is slated to begin his season at Double-A when healthy.
The process of sorting players into affiliates was made much harder this year, Hassan said. For one, there were no statistics to work off of, no real in-game performance from last season to assess. And two, players are now adjusting to a big workload spike after last year, and the Twins are working to keep everybody as healthy as possible.
“Those obstacles made it a unique year as far as trying to figure out where guys would slot in,” Hassan said. “The thing I keep reminding our staff of is this is just the starting point, and there are some guys that maybe felt like they could have been pushed more aggressivel. But for a lot of reasons, (I) felt like we leaned a little conservative at time.”
While the Twins will need to monitor physical health closely, they’re able to rest a little easier after getting much of their group vaccinated for COVID-19, offering players and staff members the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during their spring training.
Unlike the major-league team, the affiliates rely on commercial air travel. Hassan said the minor league health and safety protocols are largely similar to what major league players have been playing under since last year and that the organization had a “really good turnout,” of minor league players who have already received their second dose.
With that less of a concern, the Twins are excited to get their group back on the field. Hassan pointed to pitchers Josh Winder and Matt Canterino as two who the organization believes took great developmental strides last year, despite not playing a traditional season. Both are throwing harder, and Hassan also praised the development of their offspeed offerings. Canterino will start with Cedar Rapids and Winder at Double-A with the Wind Surge.
Trevor Larnach, the team’s 2018 first-round pick, will start with the Triple-A Saints. Keoni Cavaco, No. 13 overall in 2019, will start with the Mighty Mussels, and so will Aaron Sabato, last year’s first-round pick.