2019 Minnesota Twins feature plenty of new faces

Rocco Baldelli makes his Minnesota Twins managerial debut on Thursday against the Cleveland Indians.

The Minnesota Twins are going to have a largely different look than last season, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

The Twins won 78 games last year and finished second in the American League Central Division. But they finished 19 games out of a Wild Card playoff spot, and they changed managers in the offseason. Paul Molitor is out, and Rocco Baldelli is in.

Baldelli will manage his first major league game on Thursday, and the only regular player that won’t be in the lineup is Miguel Sano. He’s still recovering from a procedure to fix a laceration on his heel, suffered during a celebration involving his winter ball team’s championship in the Dominican Republic.

There’s always optimism at the start of a new season. Everyone has a chance, at least on Opening Day. The Twins lost to the Yankees in the 2017 Wild Card game, but otherwise haven’t been a playoff team since 2010.

The Twins and Indians are set for a 3:10 p.m. first pitch on Thursday. Here’s a look at the Twins at each position.

Catcher – Jason Castro, Mitch Garver & Willians Astudillo

Jason Castro is set to be the Opening Day starter behind the plate after playing just 19 games last season before suffering a knee injury. He appeared in 12 Spring Training games this year and got 28 at-bats. He hit .286, with three of his seven hits being home runs.

First base – C.J. Cron

One of the biggest adjustments for the Twins will be a new face at first base. Joe Mauer retired, and the Twins signed C.J. Cron in free agency. Cron played 140 games with the Tampa Bay Rays last year and hit .253 in 501 at-bats with 28 doubles, 30 homers and 74 RBI. In Spring Training, Cron hit .356 in 15 games with four doubles and three homers. He looks to provide a power bat at first base.

Second base – Jonathan Schoop

The Twins traded Brian Dozier last season, and he moved on in free agency in the offseason. Enter Jonathan Schoop, who started the year with the Baltimore Orioles before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Schoop hit .266 last season with 21 homers and scored 110 runs. He had 22 doubles and one triple in 473 at-bats. In 16 Spring Training Games this year, he hit .348 with four doubles and two homers in 46 at-bats.

Shortstop – Jorge Polanco

If he’s healthy enough to play, Jorge Polanco will be at shortstop Thursday afternoon. He missed the first 80 games last season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. In 77 games last season, he hit .288 with six homers and 22 doubles. This spring, he hit .303 with three doubles and scored 10 runs in 11 games.

Third base – Marwin Gonzalez

Marwin Gonzalez signed with the Twins in free agency and will be the ultimate utility player for Minnesota. He will literally play anywhere, other than catching or pitching. With Sano out, he’ll play third base for the time being. Last season with the Houston Astros, he hit .247 with 16 homers and 25 doubles in 489 at-bats. In Spring Training, he played in nine games, had three hits and scored four runs. He’ll fill in wherever needed when someone is hurt or needs a break.

Left field – Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario has become a fan favorite with the Twins. He’s got flare in the outfield, and he’ll swing at pretty much anything at the plate. Most importantly, he loves baseball. In 138 games with the Twins last season, he hit .288 with 24 homers, 31 doubles and had 77 RBI in 559 at-bats. In Spring Training, he hit .326 with four homers and three doubles in 16 games.

Center field – Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton is healthy, and he was the talk of Spring Training with an offensive resurgence. In 16 Spring Training games, he hit .410 with four homers, three doubles and scored seven runs. Buxton played in just 28 games last season, largely due to injury. He hit just .156 with 28 strikeouts. He’s also not afraid to run down any fly ball in the outfield.

Right field – Max Kepler

Max Kepler will likely bat lead-off for the Twins in Thursday’s opener, and he’s taken over the defensive spot in right field. Kepler played in 156 games last season, hitting .224 with 20 homers and 30 doubles of his 119 hits in 532 at-bats. He also had 58 RBI and a .727 on base plus slugging percentage. In 14 Spring Training games, Kepler hit .293 with three homers and two doubles in 41 at-bats. He also scored eight runs.

Designated hitter – Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz takes over as the long-standing veteran on the Twins roster, entering his 15th major league season. He played all 162 games last year for the Seattle Mariners and hit .256 with 37 homers, 18 doubles and 97 RBI in 519 at-bats. In 10 Spring Training games, he hit .259 with three doubles and five RBI. The Twin are hoping he’s an explosive, veteran bat in the lineup.

Starting pitcher – Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios will take over as the ace of the Twins pitching staff, and he’ll be the Opening Day starter. Berrios finished last season 12-11 in 32 starts with a 3.84 earned run average and 202 strikeouts in 192.1 innings.

Other starters: Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson

Offense shouldn’t be an issue for the Twins this season, if they stay healthy. But can they sustain enough pitching over 162 games to stay competitive? We’ll find out, and it starts Thursday. Enjoy the game.