The St. Paul Saints don’t have a roster yet, haven’t been fitted for their new uniforms and haven’t assigned player numbers. That will come some time before Tuesday’s season opener at Omaha.
But the Saints do have a sense of what their first season as the Twins’ Class AAA affiliate will look like.
“We won’t have the same team for more than a week at a time at any point in the season,” manager Toby Gardenhire said Tuesday after a simulated game at CHS Field.
That will always be true for a team responsible for replenishing the big-league team during a season, but this season promises to be more eventful than most because of COVID-19 and taxi squads that will be traveling with major league teams.
Triple-A rosters will be expanded to 28 players this season with up to five additional players designated as taxi squad players, Twins general manager Thad Levine said Wednesday.
The Twins already have dipped deep into their taxi squad because of injuries and positive COVID-19 tests this season, calling up players such as Travis Blankenthorn, JT Riddle, Tomas Tellis and Brent Rooker.
They won Wednesday at Cleveland with outfielders Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick still officially on the COVID injured list, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons was activated from the list this week.
“Major League Baseball has been very attentive to two things,” Levine said. “One is minimizing the risk of (COVID) exposure that can impact a big-league season. They’ve also been very attentive to making sure we get the Triple-A season off and running.
“Once that starts, we’ll have some latitude with a taxi squad as far as players not counting against the roster.”
Just about every player who makes the Saints roster will be playing his first real baseball game since 2019 when the team plays a 6 p.m. first pitch Tuesday at Omaha. But as Opening Day approaches without a roster, or uniforms, there is circumspection.
“Not from me, but you never know,” Gardenhire said. “With the way everything’s been going the last few years, I usually try not to get my hopes up too much for anything.”
Levine said the taxi squad likely will travel with the team on road trips but added that when the Twins are home, the organization would like them to be playing with the Saints. That’s possible, but those players will have to be part of St. Paul’s 28-man roster to be eligible for Triple-A games.
The trick will be filling a taxi squad with players who can help the Twins win if necessary without relegating them to sitting for long periods. There will be other issues to address, as well, from player options to whether a player has been vaccinated.
“The more players are vaccinated, the more latitude we have to put them on a commercial flight,” Levine said.
Asked if that has been communicated to prospects, Levine said the Twins have “tried not to take a heavy-handed approach because we recognize it’s a personal decision that goes well beyond logistics and roster movement.”
But, he added, that message “is probably getting to them in some other forms and in other spaces.”
The Twins themselves have not hit the 85-percent vaccination threshold that would trigger loosening of MLB COVID mandates, but Levine said the experience of losing players for several games, and having three postponed, seems to have triggered more interest.
“Such as silver linings exist, I think it has led to both players and staff who were previously on the fence more interested in learning, more interested in making appointments,” he said.
Tickets for a CHS Field watch party for Tuesday’s opener are now available for $5. Up to 2,100 will be allowed under current Minnesota Department of Health COVID guidelines.