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After carving out role, Twins’ Willi Castro more relaxed and setting sights on 40 steals

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Willi Castro showed up to spring training last February as a non-roster invitee, hoping to earn a spot on the major league team and make an impression.

Did he ever.

Infielders Jorge Polanco and Alex Kirilloff started the season on the injured list, opening up a roster spot for Castro, who took advantage and quickly became an invaluable member of the Twins.

“It’s a very sweet feeling when you do have a guy that you bring in and they take advantage of an opportunity,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s another guy that’s very hungry to play the game, and energetic and gives you a lot. So, you appreciate guys like that.”

Castro, 26, wound up playing in 124 games, accruing more than 400 at-bats and finishing with a 2.5 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs), which was fourth on the team among position players.

Much of his value was in his ability to move around the field, bouncing between the infield and outfield, and allowing Baldelli to make in-game moves to get more favorable matchups.

“It’s almost like he compounds the number of options that you have, and then all of a sudden, instead of having one or two options, you have a dozen different things,” Baldelli said.

The utilityman also showed his value with his legs, swiping 33 bases. In doing so, he became the first Twin to reach that milestone since Ben Revere in 2012. It wasn’t necessarily a number he envisioned reaching, simply because he wasn’t playing much at the start of the season and didn’t know how much playing time he would receive.

But now that he’s reached that number, he has his sights aimed higher.

“This year, I’m going to try to get more. I’m going to try to get that 40,” Castro said.

Carving out a role for himself hasn’t made his second spring training with Minnesota more comfortable — “I keep working the same,” said Castro, who is hitting .364 this spring — but certainly more relaxed. Unlike last year, he’s doesn’t have to focus on whether or not he’ll be in uniform on Opening Day.

“I’m just focused on being consistent, like I was last year,” Castro said. “Just go out there and compete, and have fun with the guys.”

Lee exits game early

Brooks Lee left Thursday’s 9-8 walk-off loss to the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach early with back spasms.

Lee, the Twins’ No. 2 prospect, is expected to start the season in Triple-A but could impact the major league team later this season. The 23-year-old infielder has had a strong spring in major league camp, hitting .333/.351/.611 in 13 games played.

Briefly

Kyle Farmer and Kirilloff each had a pair of hits in Thursday’s game. Kirilloff also drove in a pair of runs. … The Twins will play split squad games on Thursday, sending one group north Port Charlotte to take on the Rays. The other group will face the Braves at home in a game that will be televised on Bally Sports North.