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The Twins

Associated Press


The Twins hired the youngest manager in the major leagues. They remade the right side of the infield. There will be a new closer, too, should rookie skipper Rocco Baldelli decide to designate a particular reliever for ninth-inning duty.


Starting fresh doesn’t necessarily mean starting over, though.


The Twins have quietly built a roster that, if their most important under-28 players either continue to progress or rebound from rough seasons, has the capability of at least pushing the defending AL Central champion Indians. They made the playoffs just two years ago, after all.


By inserting Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez into the lineup, the power-hitting potential has significantly increased. Rotation newcomers Michael Pineda and Martin Perez have made a combined 245 career starts. Blake Parker, the primary ninth-inning reliever last season for the Angels, has joined the bullpen.


There was no more notable addition than the 37-year-old Baldelli, who spent the last eight seasons in various roles with the innovative Rays after his playing career was shortened by a muscular disorder.


When Paul Molitor was fired last fall after four years, a tenure that featured the AL Manager of the Year Award in 2017, Baldelli was targeted as one of the final pieces in the organizational revamp engineered by chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine since they were hired after the 2016 season.


Driven by collaboration, communication and data, the Twins have enhanced their front office, adjusted roles on the coaching staff and utilized as many technological advances as possible. They identified Baldelli as the boss on the bench who could bring out the best in their ever-important younger players.


New faces: The 38-year-old Cruz, the six-time All-Star who will be the primary designated hitter, was signed in part for leadership. He has also averaged 41 home runs and 104 RBIs over the last five years. Cron, who hit 30 homers last season for the Rays, was claimed off waivers to replace the retired Joe Mauer at first base. Schoop is at second base, and the multi-position-playing Gonzalez will take the lead at third base with Miguel Sano out until at least early May because of a severe cut above his heel.


Healing up: The spring training performance of Pineda has been scrutinized as much as anyone on the roster, with the 6-foot-7 right-hander having last pitched on July 5, 2017, for the Yankees before an elbow injury required Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery. Catcher Jason Castro has also been working his way back from a knee injury that limited him to 19 games in 2018.


Bouncing back: Center fielder Byron Buxton’s struggles to stay healthy and stop striking out so much reached a new low last year. Angered that he wasn’t called back up from the minors in September, Buxton added muscle, ditched the leg kick in his swing and displayed a renewed sense of confidence in camp this spring.


Rookie to watch: Backup catcher Willians Astudillo became a cult hero last season. The 27-year-old native of Venezuela, who could also play third base, second base or left field, cemented fan-favorite status with his 5- foot-9, 225-pound frame, floppy curls, aggressive style and “La Tortuga” nickname. That’s Spanish for turtle.


Photo: Perhaps the Twins’ most important addition will be new manager Rocco Baldelli.