2017 Twins Minor League Storylines: The Lookouts Rotation
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs (Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Tyler Jay, Felix Jorge)Last year as the minor league season began, one of the top stories was the Ft. Myers starting rotation. As the season began, the Miracle had a rotation of Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Tyler Jay, Felix Jorge, Randy Rosario and Keaton Steele. And they didn’t disappoint.
That group, potentially even with the addition of another top pitching prospect, should be starting the season in Chattanooga. That will make the rotation and that team very interesting to follow, but the individual stories are also quite interesting.
With the success that Stephen Gonsalves had over the final three months of the 2016 season, it is certainly possible that he will start the 2017 season in AAA Rochester. My guess, however, is he’ll spend a couple of months back in the Southern League. The Twins (and Twins Daily’s) Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he went 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts for the Lookouts. While he struck out 10.8 per nine innings, he also walked 4.5 per nine innings. That’s obviously a number that will have to come down, and command of that fastball is a reason to have him start in AA. He’s been good in his 3.2 scoreless, hitless spring training innings. It will be an interesting season. Could Gonsalves reach the Twins?
Kohl Stewart moved up to the Lookouts a few weeks before Gonsalves did, and he did a nice job. He went 9-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 16 starts for the Lookouts. While he saw an uptick in strikeouts in the season’s first half, a return to the Miracle, he struck out just 4.6 per nine innings for Chattanooga. That is the one number surrounding Stewart that really scares a lot of prospect people. We’ll see how it goes, but if Stewart spends the entire 2017 season as a 22-year-old in AA, he will still be an easy decision to add to the 40-man-roster in November.
Tyler Jay pitched in his first full season as a professional. The 2015 top pick from Illinois finished that season in the Miracle bullpen, but the organization was committed to giving him an opportunity to start. He certainly had his ups and downs, but with his four-pitch mix makes giving him an opportunity to become a starter a worthy choice. In five May starts, he posted a 0.84 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. In 32.1 innings, he walked seven and struck out 38. In 13 starts for the Miracle, he went 5-5 with a 2.84 ERA and struck out 68 in 69.2 innings. He moved up to AA late in the season and made two starts and three relief appearances before his season came to an early end with a neck injury. He will begin the season starting for the Lookouts. By the end of the year, we will likely have a much better sense of where Jay’s future might be. If he can be a solid #3 starter (with #2 upside) and work 170-180 innings a year, starting is the right call. If not, he and his pitch-mix have a chance to be an elite reliever.
Since he was demoted from Cedar Rapids to Elizabethton in early 2014, Felix Jorge has been remarkable. He was the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year in 2014. He was 6-7 but had a 2.79 ERA in Cedar Rapids in 2015. He was the starting pitcher in the Florida State League and went 9-3 with a 1.55 ERA in 14 starts for the Miracle. There were several key observers who said he was the Miracle’s top starting pitcher. He finished the season with 11 starts in Chattanooga where he went 3-5 with a 4.12 ERA. However, he continued to aggressively attack the bottom of the strike zone and work a lot of innings. He’s been as consistent as any starting pitcher in the organization, and the Twins added him to the 40-man roster after last season. He’ll have to show that he can continue to throw strikes and miss some more bats.
Randy Rosario pitched in his first full season since his Tommy John surgery. He spent half of the 2015 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He showed enough, including an upper-90s fastball, to be added to the Twins 40-man roster after that season. He went 6-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 16 starts (and five relief appearances) for the Miracle. He also didn’t strike out a lot, but has the stuff that he should. When he moved up to Chattanooga late in the season, he worked out of the bullpen. Like Jay, there are questions of whether the southpaw will wind up starting or in the bullpen, but it is wise to keep him starting as long as he can.
Keaton Steele was the one Miracle Opening rotation member to spend the full season at Ft. Myers. He’s 25 and went 8-11 with a 3.60 ERA for the Miracle. He pitched much better in the second half and warrants the promotion to AA in 2017.
Of course the name to watch might be Fernando Romero. After missing two seasons with injuries, he returned in May and after just five starts in Cedar Rapids (and went 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA), he moved up to Ft. Myers where he continued to dominate. With the Miracle, he made 11 starts and went 5-2 with a 1.88 ERA. His season ended one start early due to his innings limit. He was added to the 40-man roster and has been impressive this spring. Will he start the season in the Lookouts, or will he be making starts in Chattanooga starting in May or June?
Randy LeBlanc, Dereck Rodriguez and Cody Stashak are all guys who should make starts for the Lookouts sometime in 2017 as well.
Jake Mauer gets to manage this group, and Ivan Arteaga will be charged with working with this talent, helping them prepare for big league readiness. The pitching talent should make the Lookouts a contender again in the Southern League.
- Could one of two of these guys pitch in the big leagues in 2017?
- How many of these guys will be added to the 40-man roster after the season?
- What would you say are the keys to each one's 2017 success or failure?
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