Manager Rocco Baldelli expects Twins to be a playoff contender in 2023
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Badelli was in Rochester on Monday for the Twins Winter Caravan and he was optimistic about the upcoming season.
ROCHESTER — Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli is excited about the upcoming baseball season and believes the Twins can be a force in the postseason.
The Twins were in first place in their division for 108 days during the 2022 season. But they were beset with injuries and stumbled badly the last two months of the season to finish under .500 and in third in the American League Central Division.
Baldelli was the A.L. Manager of the Year in 2019, his first season with the Twins. He was in Rochester on Monday as part of the Twins Winter Caravan and he talked baseball with Post Bulletin sports reporter Guy N. Limbeck.
POST BULLETIN: The Twins have made quite a few player personnel moves this offseason. Is there any move you like the most?
ROCCO BALDELLI: One, we like our team a lot right now because we were able to add some very impactful players that fit really specific roles that we think are going to directly help us win games. It’s hard not to look at (Carlos) Correa’s move and not get exceptionally excited about that. He brings a lot of things together for us and is one of the best players in baseball. Any team being able to sign him is probably going to point to that first.
PB: You also acquired some pitching, but had to trade away Luis Arraez.
R.B.: Pablo Lopez, we’re bringing in a guy who we think can absolutely come in and pitch at the top of the rotation, that’s huge. Rotation depth is something that every team needs. Going into a season with (only) five starters is not viable and it’s something that no team is planning on these days. You need six, seven guys that you know can come in and do a good job. … Pablo Lopez, bringing him in is huge.
PB: You were also able to sign a couple of free-agent position players.
R.B.: Christian Vazquez is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and a competitive at-bat, too. He's a winning player who does a lot of smaller things that are really important. Joey Gallo, probably one of the highest-upside players you could sign on a deal and bring him in as a free agent. I’ve watched him play since he was a high school player. He’s an exciting guy, not just the big-power individual we know him for, but one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball and a guy who can also play a really good first base. And he runs the bases well. I’m high on the moves that we’ve made and we’ve filled a lot of holes.
PB: The starting rotation features all right-handed pitchers. Plus a couple of players, Kenta Maeda and Chris Paddock are coming back from injuries. What is the status of the rotation?
R.B.: Kenta should be ready to go, he’s in a really good spot physically. … Paddock will be a while, we don’t have a specific timetable for him. We just signed him to a three-year extension so being able to let him come back at the right pace and for him to have a clear mind, I think is very important.
PB: Are you concerned that all the starters are right-handers?
R.B.: Really we’re just looking for the best pitchers we can get our hands on. Major league starters, they’re tough to come by and they’re very difficult to develop. It takes a lot to go right, and the right player with the right ability to make it happen. The right-handed, left-handed part of it, I probably wouldn’t think about that very much. I think the guys that we have just have a lot of ability.
PB.: How do you like your bullpen heading into spring training?
R.B.: I think our bullpen is a very deep group and we're basically bringing back the whole group, minus maybe one name. Starting with (Jhoan) Duran in the back of the bullpen, it’s a fun group to work with.
PB: Is Duran the closer this season?
R.B.: No, he’s going to pitch late in the game. He’s going to pitch in the most important spot in the game a lot of nights. He’s going to pitch in the eighth inning, he could come in the seventh inning one day, but he’s going to finish a lot of games. We need him facing the best hitters in the most important spots.
PB: You made some upgrades on defense, acquiring center fielder Michael A. Taylor along with Vazquez, that has to feel good.
R.B.: Being able to bring in Michael Taylor is really important. Being a right-handed hitter that can go out and face some left-handed pitching for us, baserunning, defense, these are things that we haven’t had as much as we wanted the last couple of years. When you mix Taylor and Joey Gallo into the group with (Byron) Buxton and (Max) Kepler and (Jorge) Polanco, guys who can really do some things athletically, that makes it fun for us and allows us to do things and be a more active team.
PB: Are you concerned that you have an abundance of left-handed hitting outfielders?
R.B.: I’m not concerned with our left, right match-up abilities. I think we have the ability to match up in almost every way that we want. Health is something you always have to factor in, but if we have our guys ready to go, we can throw a very prominent lineup of right-handed hitters when we face left-handers.
PB: After a good start last season, you had a lot of health issues. How important is it for key players like Byron Buxton to stay healthy this season?
R.B.: Health is always the most important thing. It was a tough year to have to deal with most of our lineup being out last year. We made some adjustments in the training room. We brought in someone who we think is the best head trainer in baseball, someone that I’ve known for a long time, Nick Paparesta. … So bringing him in, he’s already kind of revamped some things and I think it’s going to help us out a lot.
PB: So, is this the year the Twins end their winless playoff drought?
R.B: That’s probably the right question, but we think we have the group to do that. Only time will tell, but the objective of this team is to win the division and go win a World Series.