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Twins’ Gilberto Celestino shows maturation on field in second season

Coming into Tuesday’s game — which Celestino started in place of Buxton — he was hitting .327 with a 140 OPS+ (100 is league average)

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Baltimore Orioles
Minnesota Twins left fielder Gilberto Celestino runs on a single during the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on May 3, 2022, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports
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When the Minnesota Twins called up Gilberto Celestino early last June, it was more out of necessity than a feeling that the outfielder was ready to be pressed into major league duty.

Byron Buxton was on the injured list. So was Max Kepler. And when Rob Refsnyder ran into a wall pursing a home run and suffered a concussion, the Twins were light on players who could man center field.

Celestino had played in just 24 games at Double-A at that point and hadn’t taken an at-bat at Triple-A at the time of his first promotion, and that became abundantly clear quickly.

Fast forward a year and Celestino, now just 23, looks like a totally different player. Coming into Tuesday’s game — which Celestino started in place of Buxton — he was hitting .327 with a 140 OPS+ (100 is league average), and he has looked plenty comfortable in the outfield, too.

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After Thursday’s game, he is hitting .359 with a 1.106 OPS at Triple-A. And he’s driven the ball plenty, socking 10 home runs — including a grand slam earlier in the week — in 35 games with the Saints.
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“He doesn’t miss games,” Baldelli said last week. “He doesn’t even want to come into my office or talk about health."

“Last year, because it was quick, it was difficult,” Celestino said. “Everybody saw it. But that, on the other hand, helped me to adjust this year. I knew what I was supposed to expect at this level, so that’s why I feel more comfortable.”

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In limited major league at-bats last year, Celestino hit just .136 with a .177 on-base percentage and .288 slugging percentage. He struggled in the field at times, too. In one particularly memorable game in Kansas City, Celestino committed a pair of errors on the same play, colliding with Trevor Larnach and muffing a catch before airmailing a throw.

He found himself up and down between the majors and minors last season, and was actually optioned to Triple-A this spring before the Twins reversed course and decided to carry him on the Opening Day roster.

He has looked much more the part of a major leaguer since then.

“Every single aspect of his game looks like it’s taken a step or two in a positive direction. The offensive game, he looks like a really good major-league bat right now, capable of almost anything,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s played so well, in center field, on the corner, he’s run the bases well. He looks like a guy that’s maturing and turning into a good major-league player. And to see a guy make that kind of jump and those adjustments just from last year, is great to see.”

It’s been especially important because the Twins have been building in off days for Buxton, who is still managing a knee issue. Between Celestino and Nick Gordon, an infielder turned into a converted outfielder, the Twins have been able to cover those games and leave Kepler in right field, as they prefer.

And they’ve been able to feel confident in doing so, thanks in large part to Celestino’s maturation.

“Last year, we had him out there as a 22-year-old with limited experience and truthfully, we probably didn’t put him in an ideal spot to go out there and perform, and he did what he was asked to do in some tough circumstances,” Baldelli said. “But this is, I think, a progression of a talented young player and I think we’re seeing what he can do.”

Briefly

Baldelli said there was a “good possibility” that Carlos Correa (finger) will return on Wednesday. If not, it would be Friday in Kansas City after the team’s off day. … Bailey Ober (groin) rejoined the Twins after making a rehab outing, and said he felt good and healthy during that start. The Twins plan on lining him up for a start this weekend. … Baldelli said the Twins were “getting close to sending,” Trevor Larnach (groin) out on a rehab assignment to get some at-bats.

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