Minnesota Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of 2014
Image courtesy of Jerry Lai, USA TodayIt seems that pitching has come to the forefront in baseball, ahead of hitting. We see it at the big league level and with several examples, we have seen it trickle into the minor leagues as well. It’s happening in the Twins minor league system as well. There were several starting pitchers (and relievers as you’ll see tomorrow) who performed well in 2014. Again, I encourage you to read through the top starting pitching candidates for Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year and then discuss and rank them as you see fit. Note also that this is not a prospect ranking.
Before getting to the top six, here are others who are worthy of recognition for strong performances on the mound in 2014:
- Logan Darnell – Rochester Red Wings (7-6, 3.60 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 115.0 IP, 108 H, 49 BB, 90 K)
- Sean Gilmartin – Rochester Red Wings (9-7, 3.71 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 145.2 IP, 145 H, 44 BB, 133 K)
- Kris Johnson – Rochester Red Wings (10-7, 3.48 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 132.0 IP, 115 H, 55 BB, 102 K)
- Alex Meyer – Rochester Red Wings (7-7, 3.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 130.1 IP, 116 H, 64 BB, 153 K)
- Brett Lee – Ft. Myers Miracle (10-5, 2.45 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 106.1 IP, 111 H, 33 BB, 54 K)
- David Hurlbut – Ft. Myers Miracle (3-4, 2.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 65.1 IP, 62 H, 13 BB, 35 K)
- Matt Tomshaw – Ft. Myers Miracle (11-6, 3.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 136.1 IP, 152 H, 28 BB, 82 K)
- Kohl Stewart – Cedar Rapids Kernels (3-5, 2.59 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 87.0 IP, 75 H, 24 BB, 62 K)
- Lewis Thorpe – Cedar Rapids Kernels (3-2, 3.52 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 71.2 IP, 62 H, 36 BB, 80 K)
- Mat Batts – GCL/Elizabethton/Cedar Rapids (4-1, 1.78 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 60.2 IP, 40 H, 7 BB, 67 K)
- Stephen Gonsalves – Elizabethton Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels (4-3, 3.02 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 65.2 IP, 54 H, 21 BB, 70 K)
#6 – Trevor May – Rochester Red Wings (8-6, 2.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 98.1 IP, 75 H, 39 BB, 94 K)
May came to the Twins, with Vance Worley, in the December 2012 trade from the Phillies with in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere. After spending 2013 in New Britain, he moved up to Rochester this year and took a step forward in his prospect status. May put up best numbers since Low-A ball in terms of WHIP, HR/9 and walks per nine. May looked to be in line for a big league call up in June when, after being named to the Futures Game, he hurt his calf. He missed the Futures Game and nearly a month of innings. However, it wasn’t long after his return to the Red Wings that May made his much-anticipated big league debut. He has certainly taken his lumps with the Twins, but he put together a strong AAA debut and earned a spot on this list.
#5 – Chih-Wei Hu – Elizabethton Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels (8-2, 2.15 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 71.0 IP, 47 H, 15 BB, 64 K)
Hu was signed by the Twins out of Taiwan in August of 2012. The 20-year-old began the 2014 season at extended spring training and then made three starts for Elizabethton before being summoned to Cedar Rapids. Though he’s always been intriguing as a prospect since he dominated on his national team through his amateur years, no one could have expected him to do what he did with the Kernels. He became the best starter on a team with several highly-regarded pitching prospects. Blessed with a good fastball that has reached 95 mph, he has several pitches that can be good. With the Kernels, he wasn’t hit, didn’t walk anyone and got a good number of strikeouts. Definitely one to watch! Will he start 2015 back with the Kernels or could he start in Ft. Myers?
#4 – Tyler Duffey – Ft. Myers/New Britain/Rochester (13-3, 3.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 149.2 IP, 142 H, 30 BB, 113K)
Duffey was the Twins fifth round pick in in 2012 out of Rice University where he was a part-time closer. Since signing with the Twins, he has primarily worked as a starter. In 2014, all 14 of his appearances were at the start of ballgames. He began by going 3-0 in four starts with the Miracle before being promoted to New Britain. In 18 starts with the Rock Cats, he went 8-3. Late in the year, he was promoted to AAA Rochester. The assumption made by many was that he would just make a spot-start in a doubleheader and return, but instead, he finished the season with three starts for the Red Wings and went 2-0. Though he averaged just 6.8 K/9 overall, his strikeout rate actually increased with each promotion. As a starter, he has a three-pitch mix and throws his fastball 91-93 mph. When he ended 2013 in the Miracle bullpen, he hit 97 at times. Will he be able to continue starting right up to the big leagues? We shall see. But for now, he had a very solid 2014 season as a starting pitcher. He should start 2015 in the Red Wings rotation.
#3 – Taylor Rogers – New Britain Rock Cats (11-6, 3.29 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 145.0 IP, 150 H, 37 BB, 113 K)
Rogers was my choice for Twins minor league starting pitcher of the year in 2013 when he went 11-6 with a 2.55 ERA in Ft. Myers after opening last year with three starts in Cedar Rapids. This spring, he jumped right to New Britain and got off to a slow start. Through his first five Rock Cats starts he was 1-3 with an 8.14 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP. His strikeout and walk rates were very good (9.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9), but he was very hittable. And then a switch flipped. In his final 19 starts, he went 10-3 with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.2 per nine and his walk rate increased 2.4 per nine, but he was pitching so much better. The left-hander is able to maintain 92-94 mph throughout a game. He also has a very good slider. He was the Twins 11th round pick in 2002 out of the University of Kentucky. The 23-year-old will head to the Arizona Fall League next month. He will likely begin 2015 in Rochester and we could see him sometime in 2015.
#2 – Jason Wheeler – Ft. Myers/New Britain/Rochester (11-9, 2.67 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 158.1 IP, 151 H, 37 BB, 115 K)
Wheeler will likely become a lawyer at some point after his playing career is over. After his 2014 season, those days may have to wait a while. The 6-8 left-hander was the Twins eighth round pick in 2011 out of Loyola Marymount. In 2013, he went 9-4 with a 3.70 ERA at Ft. Myers but returned to the Miracle to start 2014. It proved to be quite beneficial. Encouraged to be more aggressive with his fastball, his performance was much better. In 13 starts, he was 6-5 with a 2.51 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He was promoted to AA New Britain where he made 12 starts. There, he went 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.14 ERA. He even made a spot start for Rochester and gave up two runs in five innings. Not a strikeout pitcher, Wheeler averaged 6.5 K/9 through the season. His fastball sits 89-91, though at times he has hit 94. He also has a good changeup and curveball as well. The 23-year-old will likely start 2015 with the Rock Cats depending upon who remains in the Rochester rotation.
Starting Pitcher of the Year – Jose (JO) Berrios – Ft. Myers/New Britain/Rochester (12-8, 2.76 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 140.0 IP, 118 H, 38 BB, 140 K)
2013 was a long year for Berrios. He went to big league camp in preparation for representing Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Then, after pitching in the bullpen for Puerto Rico, he was stretched out for a month before joining the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He went 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP as a 19-year-old, but he clearly tired late in the year.
Fast-forward to 2014 and Berrios was pushed to Ft. Myers. In 16 starts for the Miracle, he went 9-3 with a 1.96 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. In 96.1 innings, he gave up 78 hits, walked just 23 and struck out 109. Pitching Coach Gary Lucas informed me that in June, he sat down with Berrios, as he did with all pitchers, and discussed his goals. Berrios quickly responded with three goals. First, he wanted to start in the Florida State League All-Star game. Second, he wanted to be named to the Futures Game. Third, he wanted to get promoted to AA New Britain.
Check-Check-Check. Berrios was the starter for the World Team in the Futures Game at Target Field and threw a 1-2-3 inning. Three weeks earlier he had been the starting pitcher in the Florida State League All-Star Game, and one week before the World Game he had made his AA debut.
With the Rock Cats, he made eight starts and went 3-4 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 40.2 innings. There was a scare involved though. In one start, he wasn’t hitting the same velocities he had been all season, and he left the game with a shoulder problem. It turned out to be some shoulder stiffness. He skipped one start and came back without missing a beat.
On the final weekend of the season Rochester was still in playoff contention. Berrios was called up to make a start. It didn’t go so well. He gave up six runs in three innings, but what a learning experience for the guy who is, with little doubt, the top pitching prospect in the organization.
He was the Twins supplemental first-round draft pick in 2012 out of Puerto Rico. He won’t even turn 21 years old until next May. Though unlikely, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Berrios could debut with the Twins around that time.
In January, JO Berrios was kind enough to do an interview with Twins Daily. Thanks to his aunt, that interview is available in both English and Spanish.
There you have it, my Top 6 Twins minor league starting pitchers in 2014. Feel free to discuss.
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