Predicting Future Twins Aces
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsFor those unaware, Rijo, Duran, and Vallimont are three minor league pitchers in the Twins’ organization. Rijo pitched well at Cedar Rapids the entire season as he put up a 2.86 ERA over 107 innings with good peripherals. Duran reached AA in 2019 as he simply refused to stop striking people out (29.9 K% at A+) and had great peripherals at AA despite a poor ERA of 4.86 (2.76 FIP). Vallimont was having a great year with Miami before coming over to the Twins. At Fort Myers, he put up a cartoonish 1.34 FIP over 22 1/3 innings. Three pitchers did well, big whoop, why are they special? To answer that question, we have to hop into a time machine and go back a few years into the past.
On the final day of the trade deadline in 2010, the Cleveland Indians partook in a three-team trade that would have been lost to the sands of time if not for the fact that they acquired future Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber. Kluber was a no-nothing prospect for the Padres at the time but, as we all know so very well, he would develop into one of the best starters in baseball with the Indians.
The next important year is 2014. During the waiver wire period following the trade deadline, the Indians acquired Mike Clevinger from the Angels for Vinnie Pestano. Like Kluber, Clevinger was not much of a prospect at the time. He finished 2014 with an ERA of 4.41 in the minors but continued to improve. These days we all know Clevinger as another frustratingly good pitcher for the Indians.
The essential string that ties together all five pitchers (Rijo, Duran, Vallimont, Kluber, and Clevinger) is that they were all acquired as minor leaguers in trades with other teams.
To pin every single one of these deals (especially the ones in Cleveland) on Falvey alone would be incorrect. Front offices have about 100 positions with titles that sound quite similar to each other so any move made by a team had the input of a great number of minds beforehand. Yet, it is fair to say that Falvey played some role in the moves made in Cleveland and he undoubtedly has brought his pitching knowledge over to the Twins.
Part of this knowledge has been applied to major league squad as a number of pitchers had career seasons in 2019. The system of development as a whole has been cleaned up also which has helped players like Randy Dobnak, Zack Littell, and Cody Stashak to hold their own at the major league level. But this knowledge can be applied to pitchers outside of the organization as well.
The Astros, cheating aside, have found great success in finding value in under-performing major league pitchers. They steal them, pump them full of numbers, and then spit out a deadly machine of nastiness. The Twins may be taking a slightly different route in acquiring high upside minor leaguers and then developing them from within. This strategy is much more in line with how the Indians built their past dominant starting rotations. Kluber, Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco were all not drafted by the Indians yet they all found their footing with them.
Ultimately, this form of predicting success is still a crapshoot. Just because it happened before to other starters does not immediately make every pitcher the Twins acquire a future ace. It does make those pitchers very interesting prospects to keep track of. Because if someone who has an eye for talent likes a certain player, then perhaps that player might be someone to keep tabs on.
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