Taylor Rogers was succinct and honest in his assessment.
No, the Minnesota Twins’ closer said Wednesday, June 24, during a Zoom conference call with reporters, three weeks is not enough time to get ready for a season, but that’s what they were given, so they would adapt.
With a shortened ramp-up period, one interesting facet of Major League Baseball’s 2020 season will be seeing how teams utilize their pitching rotations. Starting pitchers are the group that will need the most time to get ready for a season, and Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said the team has kicked around the idea of a six-man rotation. They will monitor the starters’ workloads as preseason training goes along, and no matter how they proceed, the team’s pitching depth should be a benefit for the upcoming 60-game season.
“None of us are operating with a clear blueprint of this or at least a historical blueprint in terms of how guys feel, so it’s going to be important for us to monitor, ‘How does Jose (Berrios) feel as he’s building up and getting a little deeper into this? Do we need to manage him in the early going?’ ” Falvey said. “Same with Jake (Odorizzi), same with Kenta (Maeda), same with everybody.”
During the past few months, Falvey said the team kept its starters “relatively flat” in their training instead of completely ramping them up. He said he had spoken with Odorizzi, for example, who had talked about throwing 50-pitch simulated games where he would sit down between “innings” and then get back up to throw again.
“When we get everybody back, the three weeks will be quick,” Falvey said. “It won’t be the normal approach, which may lead us to having a heightened awareness of where guys are when they start the season in terms of their workloads. I would anticipate us looking at pitchers in particular and not running them all the way up to their peak pitch count right from day one.”
That could mean shorter outings, piggybacking starters off one another near the beginning of the season, or expanded rotations. The Twins have no shortage of options, with a rotation led by two all-stars in Berrios and Odorizzi. Maeda, who they acquired in a trade in February, will slot into the rotation, and Homer Bailey is expected to, as well.
The Twins had multiple options competing for their fifth rotation spot when spring training shut down, including Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Jhoulys Chacin, but now, with the benefit of time, Rich Hill is expected to be back and ready, which will provide another boost for the rotation. Hill had offseason elbow surgery, but a healthy Hill has been highly effective in recent years, posting a 2.45 earned-run average in 13 starts with the Dodgers last season.
“We have some depth guys and guys who were part of that conversation that will continue to be a part of it going forward and could lead us to be thinking about more guys in a rotation to start with,” Falvey said.
One option who won’t be available is Michael Pineda, whose suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic last September will be served in full and will not be pro-rated during the shortened season. Pineda has 39 games left on that suspension, meaning he would not be available until September.
He will travel to Minneapolis to continue to work out and progress. Falvey said the Twins will keep him moving as if he were on a rehab assignment to get him prepared for the point of the season when he allowed to rejoin the active roster.
The Twins are still working through final details on where their taxi squad will train, but it sounds as if CHS Field, the home of the St. Paul Saints, is the leading contender.
“They have been great in these conversations,” Falvey said. “In the short term, that’s our plan. Not sure if we have put out anything formally, but we have had some really good conversations with them about how we can do that.”
Team president Dave St. Peter also mentioned Siebert Field at the University of Minnesota as a possibility this week. The players on the taxi squad would be able to be activated but would train separately from the active roster. Teams will be able to invite 60 players to camp — a list must be submitted by Sunday — and then will have expanded rosters to begin the year. Rosters will start out at 30, shrink to 28 after two weeks and go down to 26 two weeks later for the remainder of the season.
The players who will train with the taxi squad, Falvey said, will be primarily players at the upper levels of the minor leagues that “would fit more into a major league camp environment.” The Twins have not said yet whether that would include their three top prospects — Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach — all of whom were invited to big-league camp but were slated to start the year in the minors.
“Our focus and goal right now is to get a chunk of players who are closer to the major-league level and guys who would normally fit into a major-league spring training environment,” Falvey said. “Not everyone will be ready for the major leagues. Clearly we have some prospects in that group that we believe are a little farther away, but we will focus most on that group.”
The schedule hasn’t been released, but it is expected within the next week or so, Falvey said. Teams are expected to begin play on July 23 or 24.
Falvey said teams would be allowed to schedule exhibition games — no more than three — during the final days of preseason training. However, the Twins have not scheduled those yet. Some of that will depend on who the Twins open against and whether they are at home or on the road, Falvey said.
“If you asked me to presume, I would anticipate us not being able to play games before we play our first game,” he said.