2017 Minnesota Twins Roster Projections - The Starting Pitchers
Image courtesy of Peter Aiken, USA TodaySo let’s get to it. At the end, discuss your thoughts on the Twins starting pitcher roster projections.
Minnesota Twins - Ervin Santana (34), Hector Santiago (29), Kyle Gibson (29), Phil Hughes (30), Jose Berrios (21), (Trevor May (27), Tyler Duffey (26), Ryan Vogelsong (39), Justin Haley (25))
Ervin Santana may not be an “Ace” but he’s been a very solid MLB pitcher for most of the past decade. 2016 was one of his better seasons. Beyond Santana, the Twins are going to have to hope for improvements and a return to past success.
While most aren’t terribly excited about Hector Santiago’s outlook, due to his walks and home runs allowed, the hope should be that he can get back to a sub-3.75 ERA. It isn’t an unattainable number for Santiago. It’s something he had done for four straight seasons before 2016. Kyle Gibson was the Twins Pitcher of the Year in 2015 when he posted a 3.84 ERA. Last year, he missed six-plus weeks due to shoulder issues and struggled the remainder of the season to find success. Phil Hughes is now two full seasons separated from his historic (K/BB rate) 2014 season. He also had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last summer and hopes to return healthy in 2017.
After that, it will be very interesting to see how things play out. Obviously any setbacks with the aforementioned starters would open up a second rotation spot. In my opinion, if Jose Berrios reports to spring training and shows much improved fastball command, he will be in the big leagues. Trevor May will report to spring training with an opportunity to start again. If he and Berrios pitch well in spring, there may have to be another transaction.
Of course, at least a couple of others will be given a shot at a rotation spot. Tyler Duffey has certainly shown flashes but with a two-pitch mix, he may be best suited for the bullpen. Justin Haley will likely get some starter innings in spring while competing for a long relief position. Ryan Vogelsong is likely in the same boat, competing as a starter and for a long relief job. Others you’ll see below.
Rochester Red Wings - Jason Wheeler (26), Adalberto Mejia (23), Aaron Slegers (24), Nick Tepesch (28), David Hurlbut(27), Drew Rucinski (28), Nick Greenwood (29), Yohan Pino (33)
Adalberto Mejia is the one pitcher on this list who is on the Twins 40-man roster. He came to the Twins in the Eduardo Nunez trade last summer. At various times in his career, he’s been considered a prospect. He could be a back-of-the-rotation guy in time. Jason Wheeler and David Hurlbut are pretty similar pitchers, southpaws who rely on fastball command and decent secondary stuff. Both have been in the Twins system since 2011. Nick Greenwood fits the same mold, though he came to the organization mid-season last year from the independent leagues. He had pitched for the Cardinals in 2014 and 2015.
The Nick Tepesch and Ryan Vogelsong signings were announced on the same day. Vogelsong is nearly 40 but his representatives like to say that his arm didn’t get used as much early so it’s still strong. Tepesch debuted with the Rangers and spent a couple of years with them, though he missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 with injury. A college teammate of Kyle Gibson, if he returns to form, he too can be a back of rotation guy. Drew Rucinski spent last year with the Cubs AAA team in the PCL. He spent some time with the Angels big league club in 2014 and 2015.
Chattanooga Lookouts - Stephen Gonsalves (22), Felix Jorge (23), Tyler Jay (22), Kohl Stewart (22), Randy Rosario (22), Keaton Steele (25)
Last year, the big story early in the year was the starting rotation of the Ft. Myers Miracle. That group should all start the season in Chattanooga in 2017 as well. All but Steele ended their season in Chattanooga. Stephen Gonsalves emerged as arguably the Twins top starting pitching prospect with his strong 2016 season which was actually even better once he moved up to the Lookouts. He was the Twins' and Twins Daily’s Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2016. Adding a slider to his pitch mix helped him increase those strikeout numbers. Kohl Stewart began the season by repeating in Ft. Myers, where he increased his strikeout rate. When he moved up to AA, the K-rate completely dropped again, so he should spend the full 2017 season with the Lookouts.
Felix Jorge remained remarkably consistent. Some observers contend he was the best of the group in Ft. Myers, and it would be hard to argue. He struggled in his first couple of starts in Chattanooga, but after that he again became an aggressive innings-eater. He was added to the Twins 40-man roster in November. Tyler Jay had expected ups and downs in his first full pro season and in the transition to starting pitcher. In six starts between May 4 and June 8, he posted a 0.70 ERA in 38.1 innings. In that stretch, he showed why there were a lot of teams interested in him as a starter. He has a four-pitch mix, but finding a consistency with them will be key. Or, he could move to the bullpen and dominate.
Randy Rosario got through his first full season after Tommy John surgery healthy. He had moments with the Miracle, though the strikeout numbers were down. He throws mid-to-high 90s, left-handed, so he remains very intriguing. Keaton Steele was the veteran of the rotation in Ft. Myers. He put up pedestrian overall numbers though he came on stronger in the season’s second half.
Ft. Myers Miracle - Fernando Romero (22), Cody Stashak (22), Dereck Rodriguez (24), Randy LeBlanc (24), Henry Centeno (22), Lewis Thorpe (21)
Fernando Romero missed two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a 2015 knee surgery. He returned in early May to the Kernels, but his stay was short there because he dominated. He moved up to the Miracle and continued to rack up impressive numbers before being shut down late. He is another very strong candidate for Twins top pitching prospect.
Randy LeBlanc had a terrific 2016 season. For the first time, he was a full-time starter. He began the season by going 6-2 with a 0.74 ERA in Cedar Rapids. He posted a 4.70 ERA in Ft. Myers, but he then posted ten scoreless innings in Chattanooga to end the season. Cody Stashak went 8-5 with a 3.16 ERA in Cedar Rapids. At the end of the season, he moved up to Ft. Myers and gave up just one run in 16.2 innings over three starts.
Dereck Rodriguez started the season in Cedar Rapids and really struggled, but he figured things out and was promoted to Ft. Myers where he continued to pitch well. It’s been an interesting offseason for the right-hander. He carried some momentum into the Puerto Rican Winter League where he pitched very well out of the bullpen. He carried that success onto the Puerto Rico WBC roster.
The Twins signed Henry Centeno as a minor league free agent out of the Rays organization. Still just 22, he went 5-1 with a 1.34 ERA in nine outings (six starts) in the Midwest League. He moved up to the Florida State League and went 3-3 with a 2.72 ERA. In 93 innings, he walked 29 and struck out 83.
Lewis Thorpe has missed the last two seasons after Tommy John surgery. He hopes to get back on the mound in 2017. Since he’s missed so much time, they may choose to ease him back in, maybe some EST or maybe out of the bullpen. Hopefully by the end of the year, he’ll be making quality starts.
Cedar Rapids Kernels - Lachlan Wells (19), Eduardo Del Rosario (21), Tyler Wells (22), Miguel DeJesus (21), Tyler Beardsley (22), Ryan Mason (22), Brady Anderson (24), Sean Poppen (22)
Lachlan Wells came up to the Kernels in late June and was lights out. The Australian southpaw went 6-4 with a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts as a 19-year-old. He was recently named to Australia’s WBC team. Eduardo Del Rosario came up a month earlier. After some early struggles, he came on pretty solidly at the end of the season. He went 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 16 starts. Miguel DeJesus split 2016 between the GCL and Elizabethton. The right-hander throws hard, up to mid-90s, but he’ll need to work on secondary stuff.
Tyler Beardsley and Sean Poppen are 2016 draft picks who each pitched a handful of games with the Kernels. Tyler Wells was also drafted last year. After a slow start in Elizabethton, he pitched very well late including seven scoreless innings of one-hit, 14-strikeout ball. It was followed by six shutout innings and two hits. He was in Cedar Rapids for their playoff run, though not on the roster. Ryan Mason was also drafted last season and pitched in Elizabethton. Brady Anderson wasn’t drafted last year out of Florida Gulf Coast, but he pitched so well in the GCL (2-0, 0.98 ERA in 27.2 innings) that he jumped up to the Kernels rotation and pitched well there too (3-1, 2.62 ERA, 34.1 innings).
Extended Spring Training - Huascar Ynoa (18), Brusdar Graterol (18), Jordan Balazovic (18), Jovani Moran (19), Taylor Clemensia (19), Jose Martinez (20), Matt Jones (18), Bo Hellquist (22), Tyler Fox (23), Tyler Benninghoff (DL - 19)
It seems a little funny to say, but it’s OK to be excited about the starting pitchers in this EST group. Huascar Ynoa and Brusdar Graterol have the talent and potential to be Top 10 Twins prospects at this time next year. Ynoa is the younger brother of White Sox reliever Michael Ynoa. He’s young, but he has really good stuff besides a fastball that’s 92-95. Speaking of fastballs, Graterol has a huge one. In Instructs, he was sitting 95-97 and touched 100 a couple of times. He has just a dozen or so innings pitched in the DSL before he had mid-season 2015 Tommy John surgery, but he has immense upside.
Jordan Balazovicisn’t too far behind those two when it comes to potential. The 2016 draft pick from the suburbs of Toronto was very impressive in his debut, and reports say that he was even more impressive in Instructs. Moran was drafted in 2015, but he missed the 2016 season after having some bone chips removed from his elbow. The Puerto Rican has some good stuff from the left side. Another lefty, Taylor Clemensia, is from The Netherlands. A great athlete, he played a lot of outfield in his amateur days. He’s got good stuff on the mound, but he’s still very raw. Martinez struggled last year in Elizabethton, so expect him to head back there. Jones signed late last year after being drafted out of Canada. He’ll likely go back to the GCL. Tyler Benninghoff was drafted in the 11th round last year and immediately had Tommy John surgery. He will most likely miss the entire 2017 season.
Bo Hellquist and Tyler Fox were non-drafted free agents signed after the draft. Hellquist pitched at Minnesota-Duluth, and Fox was one of the best pitchers at Nebraska-Omaha. They could compete for spots in Cedar Rapids or spend time in extended spring.
1.) Stephen Gonsalves
2.) Fernando Romero
3.) Tyler Jay
4.) Felix Jorge
5.) Adalberto Mejia
6.) Kohl Stewart
7.) Huascar Ynoa
8.) Lachlan Wells
9.) Brusdar Graterol
10.) Lewis Thorpe
So, there are a lot of questions to discuss in this segment. Of course, it all starts with the big league rotation. Who will be the five there? After meeting expectations in Ft. Myers last year, how will the guys who start in Chattanooga do in 2017? Can Fernando Romero take the next step and become a true ace? How many of these guys could we see in 2017? (Gonsalves? Romero? Jay? Jorge? Mejia?) Which starters will come out of nowhere and become prospects a year from now?