If Twins are to reach their goals, better health is a must
Minnesota players lost 2,363 days to injuries last season, 2nd most in the majors
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been more than three decades since the Twins have won a title. Through their fair share of sports heartbreak between then and now, local sports fans have been waiting, patiently.
“It’d be the biggest parade in America,” center fielder Byron Buxton said, thinking of the potential celebration. “It’s going to have to be.”
But if the Twins are to reach their lofty goals, they’ll need much better health than they had last year. And in an effort to find that, the Twins brought in an experienced new head athletic trainer, Nick Paparesta, to lead them on the medical side day to day.
The Twins let go of Michael Salazar and hired Paparesta, the longtime Oakland Athletics trainer, in October after watching their playoff hopes disintegrate last season in large part because they couldn’t keep healthy players on the field. Paparesta spent 12 seasons as the head athletic trainer for the Athletics. Before that, he was in the Tampa Bay Rays organization for five years, and prior to that, he worked for the Cleveland Guardians for 11 years.
“He’s had a clear plan of attack of how to handle every day in November and December but also since we showed up in spring training,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “… He’s very planned throughout his day. ‘This is what (Jose) Miranda needs to do now. This is what different guys need to do through the course of the day.’ I think the benefit there is it just keeps everyone on track. It’s pretty regimented.”
Between the brand reveal in November and TwinsFest in January, Paparesta estimated he had met about 80% of the 40-man roster in person before reporting to spring training. The others, he connected with via text or WhatsApp, as he started to build a foundation with players and familiarize himself with the organization.
Last season, the lockout forced a rushed spring training — players reported to camp just days after MLB and the MLB Players Association struck a deal and some were admittedly not ready to jump into action. This year, Paparesta and the Twins had the benefit of a normal spring ramp-up period.
“I think the luck of the situation was I had the opportunity to actually work with guys for six weeks instead of trying to jam it down everyone’s throats in three weeks,” Paparesta said. “I think that’s part of it. Part of it is having a plan and a program in place for these guys to come in, be able to jump in and know what needs to be done for them. Show that we can put together the tools and concepts that they need to have success.”
Alex Kirilloff, who is on the injured list as he recovers from wrist surgery, said he first met Paparesta in November and said he’s been “great” throughout the whole process.
“From that point on, he’s been really straight forward with what his expectations were and what his thoughts were,” Kirilloff said. “The communication with him has been great.”
Twins players lost 2,363 days to injuries last season, per Spotrac, which was second most in the majors. Thirty-two different players spent time on the injured list. By the end of the season, it was increasingly difficult for manager Rocco Baldelli to put together a lineup full of healthy players.
While the Twins have seven players beginning this season on the injured list, including Kirilloff and Jorge Polanco, most of those injuries stem back to last year. Two players, Royce Lewis and Chris Paddack, had season-ending surgeries and already have been moved to the 60-day injured list.
Those injuries aside, they enjoyed a relatively healthy spring training as a team.
“I think it was a traumatic experience last September, so it was nice to get through a couple of months of not having quite that experience through a month,” Falvey said. “I’m joking a little bit here.”
But not really.
By the end of the 2022 season, Buxton, Polanco, Kirilloff, Max Kepler, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle were among the big-name players who were out of commission. With so many of their star players on the injured list, it became impossible to compete. And by the end of the season, the Twins had slid 14 games behind the Guardians in the AL Central division.
Bringing in Paparesta, the Twins believe, will pay dividends.
“Ultimately my goal is to put the best team on the field as possible for Rocco to be able to manage,” Paparesta said.
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