Twins Wins in Pitching Development Paved Way for Trading Graterol for Maeda
Image courtesy of © Jon Durr-USA TODAY SportsAs pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, the biggest Twins storyline is still the trade that landed them Kenta Maeda in exchange for Brusdar Graterol. That move put the finishing touches on their offseason, and whether you like the deal or not, it’s clearly solidified the team’s starting rotation for 2020 in a very positive way. Had it not been for the team’s overall advancements and successes in the development of pitchers over the last two years, however, the trade would have been impossible to pull off.
Graterol is, himself, one success story of the team’s pitching development infrastructure. Many hard-throwing teenagers undergo Tommy John surgery shortly after turning pro; very few have as quick and smooth a path to the big leagues as Graterol has had. The team managed his workloads and helped him hone his mechanics to keep him healthy, and while the results were mixed on that front, every bit of uninterrupted competitive action helped, and Graterol’s command and feel for the slider came along much faster than is typical of pitchers whose careers begin the way his did. By this offseason, the team had come to the realization that Graterol belonged in the bullpen, but his upside there is considerable. His development has been a victory for the organization.
Without other, even greater successes, though, that win wouldn’t have positioned the team to trade him for Maeda. In 2018, the team helped Taylor Rogers build a slider, and his career took off. Where they’d had little more than a matchup lefty, they now have one of the league’s best relievers, capable of stretching out beyond a single inning of work and dominant against both left-handed and right-handed batters. They also helped both Tyler Duffey and Trevor May re-engineer their mechanics, reshape their breaking stuff, and recalibrate their pitch mixes, leading to their twin 2019 breakouts. That made for a beefed-up back end of the bullpen, one that needed little help even from an electric arm like Graterol’s.
Those achievements came at the big-league level, which made them highly visible, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Cody Stashak and Zack Littell contributed impressively in 2019, thanks largely to development and direction they undertook in the minor leagues. Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak seemed unlikely to ever reach the major leagues as recently as 2018, but now, both look like credible swingmen who can eat innings when the team’s depth is tested and provide high-quality short relief work when they’re rolling. The club salvaged the development of Lewis Thorpe, after Thorpe’s long saga of elbow trouble forced him to evolve a lot in a short time, and now believe he’s a solid backend starter. Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, and Blayne Enlow all offer varying degrees of promise and a surprising amount of polish, given their profiles.
Populating the back end of their rotation, for now, are low-risk, low-profile additions Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Those gambles come on the heels of wildly successful similar investments in Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. The team has demonstrated an ability to allow its pitchers to find their own paths to success, without feeling unable to step in when they can offer a new insight or tool to a particular hurler. As a result, they’re more confident in their ability to go bargain-hunting, and there’s a stronger foundation for that confidence.
All of these wins set the stage for trading away Graterol. High-octane, high-profile pitching prospects are fun, but they’re a risky luxury. Because the Twins accrued such depth in their rotation, they could afford to view Graterol strictly as a reliever. Because they so successfully augmented the development of their key relievers, they could afford to view Graterol as a non-essential reliever. Because they had so little urgent need for him, and so much confidence in their processes and their number of options, they could afford to trade Graterol for Maeda.
In the big leagues, every small victory of player development has a positive knock-on effect. Teams who commit to being good at the still-difficult science of player development, and who then pounce on any opportunity to capture and maximize those aftereffects when they have success, begin to enjoy the kind of persistent advantage that keeps windows open longer and builds dynasties. For every pitcher to whom the Twins successfully add a new pitch, or for whom they find some hidden mechanical key, they take another step toward winning a whole bunch of AL Central titles in a row.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
- Blake, mikelink45, DocBauer and 9 others like this