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The Brightening Future Of The Twins Rotation

In the short-term, a return to respectability for the Minnesota Twins rotation will be dependent on veteran players like Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago performing at a high level.

However, in the big picture, a youthful wave of upcoming impact talent will make or break the fortunes of this critical unit. Fortunately, it's some quality talent.
Image courtesy of Patrick Gorski, USA Today
Presently, there are – by my estimation – four young pitchers in the Twins organization who figure to shape the success of the major-league rotation over the next five years. Each is either 21 or 22 years old, and potentially within a year of reaching the bigs.

Let's take a look at each of them, in order of their estimated MLB arrival.

~~~


Jose Berrios, RHP
Age: 22
ETA: Early 2017

Obviously, Berrios has already gotten his first taste of the majors. It was nothing short of disastrous. Routinely incapable of finding any semblance of command on the mound, the rookie took a beating over 14 starts with the Twins, registering a hideous 8.04 ERA and failing to reach the sixth inning in any of his last nine turns.

There's nowhere to go from here but up, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Berrios will ascend in a hurry following this setback. His stuff, his consistently excellent minor-league results, and his relentless work ethic all make it difficult to believe the right-hander won't figure things out to some extent.

With that being said, the gravity of some flaws we saw on display do lessen the likelihood of him turning into a true top-of-the-rotation arm, as we optimistically hoped. His reliance on tailing, spinning pitches around the edges of the zone will make it hard for him to ever develop an efficient approach to dispatching hitters, and Berrios could still easily wind up in the bullpen. But we'll see how he looks in 2017 after an offseason of adjustments.

Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
Age: 22
ETA: Late 2017

There's no denying the exceptional numbers Gonsalves has posted. In four minor-league seasons he owns a 32-12 record and 2.13 ERA, and he's coming off his best campaign yet. He also looks the part as a big 6'5" left-hander.

Scouts and prospect analysts have been somewhat restrained in their enthusiasm for Gonsalves despite his statistical success on the hill. Even after his tremendous 2016 campaign, which ended with an 8-1 run over 13 starts in Double-A, John Sickels of Minor League Ball had the southpaw ranked just 85th, and Gonsalves didn't even appear on Baseball America's midseason top 100. (BA did, though, peg him as the club's second-best prospect behind Nick Gordon in November, following his brilliant showing in Chattanooga) .

The dominating pitches and pinpoint command just aren't there to confidently project mastery over big-league hitters, but of course he's still continually improving. And right now he's certainly on track to be a factor for the Twins within the next year or two.

Tyler Jay, LHP
Age: 22
ETA: 2018

I'll admit that I'm probably lower than most on Jay, as I find it rather concerning that the collegiate reliever's arm couldn't even hold up through even 100 innings in his first year as a starter. With that said, he was the sixth overall draft pick in 2016 and is currently the team's No. 1 prospect according to both MLB.com and USA Today.

He has some work to do, but if Jay can further develop a changeup to complement his plainly fantastic fastball/slider combo, while also building the endurance to withstand 30 starts, he still has a very high ceiling. Perhaps higher than either of the two listed above.

Fernando Romero, RHP
Age: 21
ETA: 2018

Romero is the least well known among this group, since injuries have kept him out of the picture for so long, but he is also the most exciting. He made only three starts above rookie ball (with Cedar Rapids in 2014) before being shut down and missing most of the next two years due to elbow and knee surgeries.

Despite this detour, Romero was still only 21 this season and returned with a bang, carving up Low-A and then High-A to finish with a 1.89 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 16 starts. Brice Zimmerman, who serves as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for Fort Myers, tweeted recently that Romero is the best arm he's seen in his six years watching Miracle games. His awe for the young Dominican is mirrored by many others inside and outside the organization.

With a hard mid-90s fastball, a plus cutter and good breaking stuff to go along with sharp control, Romero has the recipe for a true top-of-rotation asset. But of course, it will be difficult to feel confident in that assessment until we've seen him put in a full season against upper-minors competition.

~~~


If your faith in the current assortment of veteran arms is iffy (and who could blame you), these four present a hopeful future for the Twins rotation. And I haven't touched on the likes of Adalberto Mejia or Kohl Stewart, who could quickly step into this conversation with hot starts in 2017.

Each of these prospects borders on major-league ready, and if even a couple pan out as starters, that's a massive boost. There are these two factors to consider:

1) With a trade sending Brian Dozier to the Dodgers still seeming likely, Jose De Leon is the name that continues to be touted as the likely headliner. De Leon is older than each of the hurlers listed above but would rank above them all on a prospect list and fits the same general timeline. That would be another premium name added to the mix.

2) The Twins, of course, hold the No. 1 pick in next June's draft. If they take a pitcher, especially a college pitcher, it will assuredly be one of the nation's elite amateur talents, with the ability to rise fast.

So, although the Twins are coming off one of the worst seasons ever in terms of run prevention, there is plenty of reason to expect much better things in the near future, particularly if the new baseball ops leaders are able to bolster the developmental process. An awful lot of high-caliber help is on the way.

Giddy up.

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71 Comments

The future is always bright when you get close to rock bottom. Sorry, I only have faith in Ervin Santana in this rotation.

Good article focusing on the future of the pitching staff, which should be more important than the present.

 

Adding De Leon to this group will definitely help, but I don't think the Twins should use the #1 pick on a pitcher unless he is actually the best player in the draft, which probably will not be the case.

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KirbyDome89
Dec 19 2016 02:00 AM

"His reliance on tailing, spinning pitches around the edges of the zone will make it hard for him to ever develop an efficient approach to dispatching hitters, and Berrios could still easily wind up in the bullpen."

 

Given the depressing state of the current rotation I'm not sure I could handle this....

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HitInAPinch
Dec 19 2016 05:27 AM

The thing that disturbed me the most about Berrios is the Twins staff felt the need to completely re-do his windup.I mean, yes, there is a learning curve from MiLB to MLB. But, shouldn't this have been detected in the MiLB? 

 

Gonsalves:from the little I've seen of video clips, he could use another couple MPH on his fastball.75% of a Greg Maddox is OK?

 

Haven't seen anything of Jay or Romero.Haven't seen much of either.For both:I'd wait another year before judging either too harshly.We seem to have had a pretty good crop of lower level pitchers recently with a lot of arm issues.Some got playing time in the MLB last year. Patience.....

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HitInAPinch
Dec 19 2016 05:28 AM

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Nothing better than an ice cold glass of hope in the morning.
    • TheLeviathan, Willihammer, HitInAPinch and 3 others like this

Don't forget Trevor May, who had a 3.35 FIP and 3.96 xFIP in 83.1 innings as a starter in 2015 before he was shortsightedly moved to the bullpen. The Twins would be insane not to give him another "chance" to start this season, IMO. Other than maybe Santana, I think he has the highest upside as a starter this season, although Berrios probably still has higher long-term upside.

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TheLeviathan
Dec 19 2016 07:20 AM
I feel like asking Nick if he hurt himself reaching during this article....
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And this list doesn't include Lewis Thorpe. Can he come back following missing most of two years? If so, he could be as good as any of the above group.

I have always thought that Jay would eventually end up back in the bullpen. I hope I am wrong.
    • nicksaviking and ThejacKmp like this
Thanks for this. The twins do have some good pitching that is relatively close. Adding De Leon to May and Berrios is a good start. Maybe Hughes can come back, maybe not. And to start the year Ervin will be fine. If 1-2 of Stewart/Gonsalves/Romero/Jay can work out (I think that is very possible) then the rotation will be close to Mlb average, at the very least, in 2018. That is a HUGE upgrade from where they are currently. Then, more good drafts and some solid player development will go a long way to 2019 ongoing becoming a strength
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clutterheart
Dec 19 2016 07:36 AM

Nice article.  (Even though we have been saying the same things for the last several years)  its not so bleak.  But will require a lot of things to break the Twins way - they can't get bad results/unlucky EVERY year.  

 

Jay has the stuff to be a top line starter - he just needs to stay healthy and build up stamina.  He could be in the bullpen at the end of the year for the Twins and ready to be a rotation fixture by 2018.  

Stewart also has the ability to be a a really good MLB starter.  My hope is he realizes that hitters have the ability to catch up to his stuff so he has to learn to use his pitches to get strikes outs.  He could be starting games for the Twins in July

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theBOMisthebomb
Dec 19 2016 07:44 AM
After the Vikings debacle on Sunday, it's nice to read at least a little bit of news for a brighter future.
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After the Vikings debacle on Sunday, it's nice to read at least a little bit of news for a brighter future.

I believe this is Minnesota Seasonal Deficit disorder.  At the end of each of our teams season we turn our optimism to the next team up, then after a season of frustration we do it over again.  Maybe I should have called in the Minnesota Ground Hog Day syndrome.

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I was lost after the first paragraph where all those mighty vets needed to give us some good pitching this year while we wait (I think we have done that before) for the next wave of stars to emerge. 

 

Most depressing of all is the way that this team has treated J O Berrios.  How about getting some Latino coaches in minors and majors and make the alterations in the minors rather than waiting for them to arrive.  I still believe he has the talent to be special.

 

I was lost after the first paragraph where all those mighty vets needed to give us some good pitching this year while we wait (I think we have done that before) for the next wave of stars to emerge. 

 

Most depressing of all is the way that this team has treated J O Berrios.  How about getting some Latino coaches in minors and majors and make the alterations in the minors rather than waiting for them to arrive.  I still believe he has the talent to be special.

 

They have Latino pitching coaches in the minors. I don't think that's the problem.

 

There were potential red flags with Berrios in the minors that were exposed in the majors. Probably the reason he wasn't promoted quite as quickly as some wanted him to be. Key will be whether he can make the adjustments.

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Thought that Berrios' ETA was 2016 ;) He is over the rookie limits for 2017 even... 

 

Mejia has to be added to the list.  At this point he is more sure bet than both Gonsalves and Jay.  Jay averages 5.3 IP/GS which is not reassuring that he will  stay in the rotation long term.  Plus he started a grant total of 17 games (2 in college) after HS.  The jury is still out.

 

Thought that Berrios' ETA was 2016 ;) He is over the rookie limits for 2017 even... 

 

Mejia has to be added to the list.  At this point he is more sure bet than both Gonsalves and Jay.  Jay averages 5.3 IP/GS which is not reassuring that he will  stay in the rotation long term.  Plus he started a grant total of 17 games (2 in college) after HS.  The jury is still out.

If you are saying the jury is still out on Jay (and I completely agree), then I think the same should be said about Romero. If you throw out Romero's "high school" years (age 17 and 18), then he has made all of 19 starts, and averaged only 5.6 IP/GS. He, like Jay, has yet to throw more than 90 innings in a season. Both have a long way to go - probably two full seasons of innings build up - before they can be counted on as legitimate big-league rotation candidates. Gonsalves, Berrios and Stewart have at least demonstrated the durability necessary to actually hold up over a full season. 

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Nick Nelson
Dec 19 2016 08:47 AM

 

I feel like asking Nick if he hurt himself reaching during this article....

Where was the reach? I felt the enthusiasm was quite tempered. 

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TheLeviathan
Dec 19 2016 08:49 AM

 

Where was the reach? I felt the enthusiasm was quite tempered. 

 

Even tempered enthusiasm might be a reach.  I hope all of these guys are good players and contributors, but we may be waiting awhile before we can even legitimately be enthused.

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Nick Nelson
Dec 19 2016 08:50 AM

 

Mejia has to be added to the list.  At this point he is more sure bet than both Gonsalves and Jay.  Jay averages 5.3 IP/GS which is not reassuring that he will  stay in the rotation long term.  Plus he started a grant total of 17 games (2 in college) after HS.  The jury is still out.

I'm as big of a Mejia fan as you'll find, and I'd certainly agree he's more MLB-ready than anyone listed other than Berrios. But this grouping was meant to illustrate the prospects with true top-of-rotation potential, and Mejia doesn't have that... at least not yet. His statistical profile and prospect rep don't stack up to these four. As I said, if he gets off to a strong start in Triple-A this year he might make a case for himself. 

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"I'll admit that I'm probably lower than most on Jay, as I find it rather concerning that the collegiate reliever's arm couldn't even hold up through even 100 innings in his first year as a starter."

 

Don't understand why this specifically is what makes you lower on him. I would have pegged him to maybe pitch 100 innings total if everything went right in his first year starting. Now, it didn't exactly, but nothing catastrophic happened either.

 

Follow-up question: How do you then rate Fernando Romero? 

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Nick Nelson
Dec 19 2016 09:15 AM

 

"I'll admit that I'm probably lower than most on Jay, as I find it rather concerning that the collegiate reliever's arm couldn't even hold up through even 100 innings in his first year as a starter."

 

Don't understand why this specifically is what makes you lower on him. I would have pegged him to maybe pitch 100 innings total if everything went right in his first year starting. Now, it didn't exactly, but nothing catastrophic happened either.

 

Follow-up question: How do you then rate Fernando Romero? 

I was highly skeptical of the decision to use a top 6 draft pick on a pitcher who threw almost exclusively out of the bullpen in college. The success rate of converting these guys to starters has not been particularly strong.  So I guess seeing him break down before August (despite never throwing 100 pitches in a game, or posting particularly dominant numbers) was sort of a reinforcement of my doubts. But a good strong full season next year would obviously go a long way toward alleviating that. 

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Nick Nelson
Dec 19 2016 09:18 AM

 

Follow-up question: How do you then rate Fernando Romero? 

Obviously Romero has much to prove in terms of taking on a full workload but his injury problems are (hopefully) behind him. And everything he brings to the table is more impressive to me at this point than Jay. 

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Nick Nelson
Dec 19 2016 09:31 AM

 

Even tempered enthusiasm might be a reach.  I hope all of these guys are good players and contributors, but we may be waiting awhile before we can even legitimately be enthused.

Each of these four will probably appear in preseason Top 100 lists (with the exception of JO, who would if he qualified) and all could/should start in Double-A or above next year. So I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. 

What remains to be seen for me is how will these guys pitch in the big leagues.

What we have seen out of this organization is what looks like from afar anyways, is a failure to have minor leaguers work in what their MLB flaws are going to be. You put up good minor league numbers and you move up.

I think that will change for guys in the lower ranks but I think we have seen delays for guys like Buxton and Berrios.
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