The Impending Rochester Rotation Crunch
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today (Aaron Slegers)Much can change between now and spring training, but as things stand, one would expect at least these pitchers to be tentatively slotted for the Triple-A rotation: Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Fernando Romero.
That's six, and I can't see much of a case for sending any of them back to Double-A. Maybe Romero, who wore down in August and didn't make it through the whole season with Chattanooga, but when healthy he was dominating hitters at that level, so even if he starts there it probably won't last long.
Then there is Kohl Stewart. It's possible the former first-round pick, left unprotected for next week's Rule 5 draft, will be taken by another team, but that seems really unlikely. While his pedigree is pristine, the 23-year-old hasn't sustained any kind of success above Single-A. It wouldn't serve him, or his new team, to stick him in the back of an MLB bullpen.
If he sticks around, it further complicates things. He has already made 32 starts at Double-A. It's sink-or-swim time at Rochester for him, but as things stand, the pool is full. And that's before we account for any other circumstances, such as Trevor May and/or Hughes needing to open in the minors to build strength, or Adalberto Mejia requiring a bit more seasoning.
Looking at this impending logjam of arms, a few particular questions come to mind. I'll unpack them a little here, and then I'm curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.
1. What to Make of Aaron Slegers?
To me, Slegers is a particularly interesting case as we look ahead to 2018. With relatively little fanfare, he has stayed healthy and climbed the organizational ladder since being selected as a fifth-round pick out of Indiana University in 2013. Though he's never achieved impressive strikeout rates, the 6'10" righty has consistently put up good numbers with a 3.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 600 minor-league innings.
As you may recall, Slegers got his first taste of the majors this year, pitching brilliantly in his MLB debut (6.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER) and then struggling in three September appearances. The 25-year-old appears big-league ready, and while he doesn't produce the velocity or whiffs you'd like to see from his sky-scraping frame, there are some things to like about him.
Chief among the positives is his ability to locate. Control is often one of the last things to come along for big lanky throwers like Slegers, but he has been exceptional in this regard ever since joining the pro ranks. This has been a huge part of his success in the minors, and could give him a reasonably high floor as a big-leaguer.
Unfortunately, the ceiling isn't so high unless he can find a way to miss more bats. But here's an intriguing nugget: In his second start back at Rochester following his August 17th debut with the Twins, Slegers tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, inducing a whopping 20 swinging strikes. In his next start he once again struck out 10, this time with 15 whiffs.
The total of 35 swings and misses in two successive starts is an impressive feat, especially for someone with his track record (Jose Berrios, who's made 30 total starts at Triple-A, has only surpassed that number in consecutive starts at the level once, when he tallied 36 in late 2015). And that was the last we saw of Slegers at Rochester.
I'm very curious to see if he can pick up where he left off, and what type of untapped potential might lie in him yet, especially if he returns to the Twins and jibes with new pitching coach Garvin Alston.
2. Is It Time for Any of These Hurlers to Make a Bullpen Transition?
As we know, the Twins need help in the bullpen as well as the rotation. And as we also know, many of the best relievers in the game are former starters who switched roles somewhere along the way. Several of the pitchers in the mix we're discussing here are somewhat fringy. So is it time to consider proactively sliding one or two of these guys into relief, with hopes of upgrading their stuff and accelerating their paths to major league impact?
This would potentially help alleviate the rotation logjam, but the problem is that it feels too soon to give up on any of these guys as starting pitchers. The only one I could really see it happening with right now is Enns, who has fluctuated roles quite a bit in his pro career and dealt with shoulder inflammation late last year.
3. Could Someone Sneak Into the Opening Day MLB Rotation?
This would be another method of thinning out the crowd, but again, it seems very unlikely. Jorge, Slegers and Enns have a bit of MLB experience but neither would be a credible choice to open the season in the Twins rotation. Gonsalves and Romero would be more legit choices, and are very close to ready, but they need prove themselves (and their shoulders) in Triple-A. But all five are on the 40-man roster (as is Littell) so it's not impossible that one could find his way into the picture.
After all, Mejia had almost zero major-league experience last spring when he won Minnesota's fifth rotation spot.
4. Should the Twins Be Shopping Pitching Prospects?
This question is sort of inevitable after looking at all the angles. Unless multiple prospects being discussed here get hurt, move to the bullpen, or make the big-league team, the Twins are going to be facing a real numbers crunch with their almost-ready starters. The old saying about how "you can never have too much pitching" isn't exactly true.
This situation will be a substantial factor in how the coming offseason is handled.
As I see it, there are two ways to move forward:
A ) Condense
Flip quantity and upside for quality and readiness. If the Twins could package a couple of these arms and get back a quality addition to the MLB rotation, it would kill two birds with one stone. The problem is that it's risky. You've got to really trust your evaluations. Minnesota can ill afford to let one of these guys fulfill his potential elsewhere while getting back a few years of fairly expensive league-average performance from, say, Jake Odorizzi.
B ) Youth Movement
Take a pass on the bloated starting pitching market and let the kids take the reins. Go with a rotation of Erv, Berrios, Gibson, Mejia and [OPEN] with the final job being up for grabs among a wide cast. If the Twins truly want to build from within, and have belief in their group of young arms, then this would be the logical path. But it's not exactly one that thrusts your team forcefully into championship contention.
We'll see how it plays out. This could be a point of divergence between the new mentality and the old. I suspect Terry Ryan's regime would have leaned toward the latter approach, while the Falvine Machine might opt for the former. I don't know if they're all that sold on this crop of pitchers – all good enough to be genuinely interesting assets, but not one a true top-tier prospect in the game.
- Cory Engelhardt, Oldgoat_MN, sploorp and 2 others like this