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Twins, Red Sox wrap up Spring Training

By CJ HADDAD - | Mar 29, 2024

Hammond Stadium at the Lee Health Sports Complex is the spring home of the Minnesota Twins. CJ HADDAD

For the two Major League Baseball teams that call Lee County home each spring and play just 5.7 miles apart, this past week signified the end of the precursor to the regular season, as the trucks were packed up and routed north.

The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins again fine tuned their rosters at JetBlue Park and Hammond Stadium at Lee Health Sports Complex respectively, as they now embark on a grueling 162 schedule.

While the Sox got a head start out of Florida playing its final Spring Training games in Texas, the Twins finished the Grapefruit League slate with a 9-6 win over the Braves Tuesday afternoon.

This spring marked a welcome sight for Twins fans when it comes to 2022 All-Star outfielder Byron Buxton. The 30-year-old finished camp healthy, ripping a double and coming around to score in the first inning. Health has been the talented outfielder and Gold Glove winner’s biggest issue in his career, as he hasn’t played more than 100 games in a season since 2017.

“He’s running around out there. Good way to finish things off and get him ready for the season,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.

The former second overall pick finished camp hitting .314 with a homer and four RBI.

“He’s been doing a great job,” Baldelli said. “He’s been moving well. He’s been swinging the bat really well. I think we have to be very pleased with what we’ve seen from him this spring. The way he showed up, the way he obviously worked in this offseason ready to come in — he was very productive in the games, too. He’s getting even more comfortable in center field. The more time he spends out there, the more comfortable he gets. He’s played a really good center field. You see him getting to balls that not many people are getting to already. We’re beyond excited with what we were able to see from him.”

The Twins are looking to improve off of a 87-75 record last season that saw them finish first in the American League Central. The club was able to pick up its first postseason victory since 2004 when the Twins defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of the American League Wild Card Series, getting over the hump of an 18-game playoff losing streak. Better yet, they swept the Blue Jays in two games and captured the team’s first postseason series since 2002. The playoff run came to an end in the next round however, as after splitting the first two of a five-game series with the Houston Astros, they dropped consecutive games at Target Field to end the season.

Leading the rotation this year is 28-year-old Pablo López, a 2023 All-Star who finished seventh in Cy Young voting and amassed 234 strikeouts over 194 innings last season, the third-highest total in the majors.

López will get the ball on Opening Day on the road against Kansas City, and will be followed by Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Louie Varland, who started Tuesday for the Twins, will have the fourth spot in the rotation to start the year, with Chris Paddack rounding out the rotation.

There weren’t too many battles to be had this spring when it comes to positional players, as long as all stayed healthy. And they did. Ryan Jeffers and Christian Vázquez will serve as the backstops for the club, with Carlos Santana and Alex Kirilloff sharing duties at first base.

One of the Twins’ most productive bats this spring, Eduardo Julien, will man second, with star shortstop Carlos Correa completing the middle infield for the club.

A familiar face for Lee County residents and Fort Myers Miracle/Mussels fans, Royce Lewis, will be the team’s third baseman. The former No. 1 overall pick crushed four grand slams last season, and will be called upon to be the cleanup bat in a talented lineup.

Buxton, Max Kepler, Manuel Margot and Matt Wallner — who blasted a 450-plus-foot homer in Tuesday’s game, are the outfield troops. Kyle Farmer and Willi Castro will fill utility roles.

“It was a productive spring for a lot of our guys,” Baldelli said. “We started and ended camp in a good spot. And they were able to get a lot of work in in-between. I couldn’t be more pleased to have a full position player group going into the season. That’s not the standard. There’s usually one, two, three guys bare minimum that are banged up after a six-week spring training. I think we did a good job. They did a great job. And I think we as a staff did a good job preparing them, and they’re ready to play.”

Baldelli, the 2019 American League Manager of the Year now entering his sixth season as skipper for the Twins, said there’s a lot to like about the team heading into the season.

“Everything about them,” he said when asked what excites him about the team heading into the 2024 season. “Honestly, it’s a hell of a team to be working with. They fire me up every day. They do tremendous things on the field. They have great character. It’s exactly the kind of team any manager and any staff would love to work with. When you show up every day and you know what you’re going to get because they’re very consistent in who they are and how they work, and the talent that they have on top of it all, it’s a tremendous group. From my perspective, it doesn’t get much better.”