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Projecting the 2021 Twins Pitching Staff

One of the best parts of putting together the Twins Prospect Handbook is taking a deep dive into the players who will populate Target Field in the years to come. Cody Christie took a look ahead at the 2021 Minnesota Twins line-up earlier this week. Today, I’ll do my best to forecast the pitching staff.
Image courtesy of Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
This projection does not factor in any kind of free agent additions or extensions. All the guys added this offseason will be gone by then. Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Ryan Pressly will all be free agents in 2020 at the latest. Trevor May will be a free agent in 2021. Bartolo Colon will be 48 by then, so …

With that in mind, here is what I came up with for the 2021 Minnesota Twins projected pitching staff. I included each player’s “baseball age” (defined by Baseball-Reference as a player’s age on July 1) for 2021.

I cheated on the rotation. I had a difficult time cutting it down to five starting pitchers, so I distorted my crystal ball to show that there would be six-man rotations by 2012. Is that a cop out? Yup, sure is.

Jose Berrios (27)
Here's the only question I have about Berrios: How many Cy Young Awards will he have won by 2021? OK, maybe that’s going a little overboard, but it’s pretty impressive how far he’s already come. In 2017, he was one of only three pitchers to make at least 25 starts in his age 23 season or younger. The other two were Colorado’s German Marquez and Luis Severino of the Yankees. Berrios was one of only 40 American League pitchers to eclipse 145 innings last season, and his 3.89 ERA ranked in the top half of that group.

Fernando Romero (26)
Romero is the most likely of the current crop of Twins pitching prospects to develop into a top of the rotation pitcher. At the same time, he’s also probably the most likely to end up in the bullpen. Romero’s 2017 totals are solid, but a terrible finish overshadowed the fact that he showed flashes of greatness. He had a 13-start stretch in which he went 9-1 with a 1.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 9.9 K/9. That hot streak coincided with the exact same time frame Romero was teammates with the next guy on this list …

Stephen Gonsalves (26)
At first glance, Gonsalves’ 2017 numbers make it look like he took a step back from previous seasons. Look a little deeper and you discover a career-high 3.81 strikeout-to-walk ratio that stands out as a big indicator of progress. After three-straight seasons of an escalating walk rate, he managed to trim that mark down to 2.5 BB/9. His overall numbers with Rochester aren’t great, but those are marred by an ugly performance out of the bullpen. Three of his four other outings were quality starts.

Adalberto Mejia (28)
We got to see some of Mejia’s warts at the Major League level in 2017, but he still has plenty of time to smooth things out. Paul Molitor was very cautious with the Dominican lefty, limiting him to less than five innings per start on average. Mejia only surpassed the 100-pitch mark three times and completed six or more innings in just four of his 21 starts. But he ended his rookie season with numbers that are comparable to the AL averages for starting pitchers. Here’s hoping he only goes up from there.

Zack Littell (25)
Littell is still a new face to the organization, and based off all the prospect lists people are still trying to get a feel for where he fits into the big picture. For me, he’s kind of like a right-handed version of Stephen Gonsalves: Doesn’t have the greatest stuff out there, but he really knows how to pitch, prepare and compete. It is a bit of a red flag that he’s already been traded twice, but I suspect the Yankees were willing to let him loose because they envisioned Littell being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Lewis Thorpe (25)
Just like everyone else I’ve mentioned, Thorpe is already on the 40-man roster. I’d be shocked if he debuts in 2018, but the team has every incentive to get him moving up now that he’ll be burning through options. After two years off due to injuries and illness, Thorpe bounced back nicely in 2017. He’s only had one appearance above High-A, so there’s still a long way to go, but he’s also got a chance to have three legit Major League pitches. How could I not include this guy?

On to the bullpen. The crazy part of the group I ended up with is the majority of these guys figure to be contributors in 2018. In fact, all but one has already made his Major League debut. Along with starting rotations growing, my crystal ball is also indicating that the closer role will have evolved by the time 2021 rolls around. But if you force me to pick the guy who I think best fits as a traditional closer, how about J.T. Chargois? He throws the hardest of this group and (given his injury history) might be the guy best suited for a rigidly-defined role.

Trevor Hildenberger (30)
Gets strikeouts, induces groundballs and doesn’t walk anybody. What’s not to like? Hildenberger has also been very healthy, especially when compared to some of the other names in this group, so I feel very comfortable writing him in as the top arm in my projected pen. He was drafted as a fifth-year senior, so there was little incentive to bring him along slowly. He only made 53 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A combined, so it’s possible he may get even better as he adjusts to facing more advanced hitters.

Tyler Jay (27)
His arsenal has the depth of a starter, the stuff of a closer and he’s left-handed. It’s easy to see why the Andrew Miller comps get thrown around. While I think it’s not what the Twins envisioned when they picked him No. 6 overall, I can still see Jay reaching that potential if he manages to stay on the field. I don’t think there are many conclusions we can draw from his 2017 season, but it was great to see him finish out the year healthy in the Arizona Fall League.

J.T. Chargois (29)
Chargois is another guy who has all the tools, he just needs to stay healthy. Given his short track record in the majors and extensive injury history, at some point it may have made sense for the Twins to DFA him and hope he slid through waivers. I think the fact that they’ve hung on to Chaggy over guys like Nick Burdi and Luke Bard says a lot about how they view his future. After finishing out 2016 with a 0.79 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 10 strikeouts over his final 11.1 innings with the Twins, he appeared poised to make a big impact. It’s too bad he got hurt again.

John Curtiss (28)
What a year this guy had. Twins fans may remember him taking some lumps on the big club at the end of the season, but he also struck out 10 batters while issuing just two walks over 8.2 innings. In his minor league career, Curtiss has averaged 11.3 K/9 and struck out 30.0 percent of the batters he faced. Just nasty. He could probably benefit from some more time in the upper minors, as he’s only logged 39 appearances above High-A.

Taylor Rogers (30)
Yep, Rogers will still be around. In fact, he’s not set to reach free agency until 2023. Over his first two years in the bullpen, Rogers has pitched to a 3.54 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. At this point, it looks like he’ll be best used as a lefty specialist (right-handed hitters have a .289/.355/.435 line against him), but that’s still a role that every team needs filled. Much like with Mejia, we’ve seen some of Rogers’ warts, but I’m still inclined to include him in the 2021 bullpen.

Alan Busenitz (30)
A former 25th-round pick who was considered a throw in to the Ricky Nolasco/Hector Santiago/Alex Meyer trade, Busenitz is looking a lot more intriguing after a breakout 2017. He was called up from Triple-A on three separate occasions last season, but put up nice numbers at both levels. His strikeouts took a dip against more advanced hitters, dropping from 9.9 K/9 in Triple-A to 6.5 with the Twins, but he still posted a 1.99 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in the majors.

Felix Jorge (27)
Lots of starters end up in the bullpen. Jorge has a cool personality, smooth delivery and five-pitch mix, so I assume he’ll continue to start for as long as possible. But, much like Rogers, I could see him eventually finding a home in the bullpen. He’s never missed many bats in the minors, but he's got the velo. He topped out at 95 mph over his two appearances with the Twins last season per Brooks Baseball. As a reliever, maybe Jorge could add a few more ticks and be even more effective by eliminating a couple pitches.

Just missed the cut: Tyler Duffey (30), Gabriel Moya (26), Lachlan Wells (24), Kohl Stewart (26), Aaron Slegers (28), Tom Hackimer (27), Jake Reed (28) among many others.

Regarding this group, it’s important to keep in mind that a year ago a lot of people wouldn’t have been penciling in Hildenberger as a huge part of the team’s long-term future plans. The Twins Daily 2017 Minor League Primer listed Chargois, Reed and Burdi all above Hildy among the top relief prospects, and that was only about 11 months ago. These things can change really fast.

It was tough to leave off a guy like Duffey who’s already established himself. His 2017 left a lot to be desired, but it was his first year back in the bullpen. Moya and Slegers have both also made it to the majors already and I still think pretty highly of Stewart’s potential. I also like Hackimer and Andrew Vasquez … and Lachlan Wells … and Tyler Wells … and Tyler Watson (among many others).

On the verge: Blayne Enlow (22), Brusdar Graterol (22) and Landon Leach (21) among others.

Is it possible one of these guys could make it to the majors by then? Absolutely. Would I predict one of them will be established in 2021? No. Berrios had about the best minor league career you could hope for, both in terms of performance and health, and even he didn’t establish himself until his age 23 season. So I’m going to take a conservative outlook on these kids and project them to still be in the minors, but knocking on the door.

What do you think? I’m sure the 2021 Twins won’t be completely homegrown, but it’s pretty interesting to see what’s already in the pipeline. That projected rotation I came up with would still be really young. Same with the bullpen, but all those guys I penciled in as relievers figure to have plenty of opportunity to gain Major League experience between now and then.

For more on the pitching pipeline, check out he Twins Prospect Handbook. Here is a link to the paperback, which is $15.99, and here is a link to the PDF, which is $10.99.

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10 Comments

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Deduno Abides
Jan 09 2018 08:25 PM
Starters: sometime between today and 2021, the Twins are likely to acquire an external pitcher under a long-term contract. That’s one spot. Then Berrios, Gonsalves and Thorpe are likely to be in the rotation, leaving one spot, which will likely be Enlow, assuming his talent matches his reputation.

Bullpen: Romero, Hildenberger, Curtiss, Moya, Jay, Stewart, +2. Would be great if Chargois put it together, but this will be the fourth year of that hope. Rogers has a chance, if he doesn’t burn out before then or become expendable with the rise of Jay.
    • mikelink45, Tom Froemming and caninatl04 like this
Can't disagree a bit here, owning the caveat that no FA or trade arm are brought in long term. Nothing wrong with 6 starters due to injury replacement and the AAA shuttle at times.

Might be selling Rogers a little short. At times, when not overexposed, he's looked at least decent against RH hitters. However, he could face a stiff challenge from Moya by then.

Pressly could still "click" in my mind and be around. Same for Duffey, but again, I can't find fault with your choices.

Stewart and Jorge are the darkhorses here aren't they? I think each may end up seeing 2018 as defining years for them. That may not be fair considering their arms and youth, and they have been successful, but it feels like each needs to take a step forward.
    • mikelink45, Tom Froemming and hitension53 like this
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Baseball Bat
Jan 09 2018 09:47 PM

You forgot Yu Darvish, TOM

    • Twins33, tarheeltwinsfan and Tom Froemming like this
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Tom Froemming
Jan 10 2018 09:15 AM

 

Pressly could still "click" in my mind and be around. 

I would have included him in the pen, but in this fantasy scenario of no signings or extensions he would have already left via free agency by 2021.

I think this is a very exciting list.I really like the potential here and I also enjoy not seeing an expensive big signing clogging this list.  

​I will be surprised if Kohl Stewart does anything, but I would love to see Gaterol bust in and take over the rotation. I am anxious to see Gonsalves make the rotation this year. It is interesting to see you comment that Littell is similar to Gonsalves.These are the types of pitchers that can be flipped in a league that values pitchers and used to address other holes.Chargois is like one of those greek tragedies - just as he gets his hands on the top of the mountain an avalanche knocks him back down - I hope he gets over this. 

 

​Right now the future really looks good. 

    • Doctor Wu likes this

Rotation:

 

Graterol
Enlow
Berrios
Littel
Tyler Wells

 

pen:

 

Romero - closer
Hackimer
Jay
Curtiss
Moran
Moya
Vasquez/Hildey

 

Rotation:

 

Graterol
Enlow
Berrios
Littel
Tyler Wells

 

I like the love for Tyler Wells!!!

From what I've been reading, Brusdar Graterol could be a potentially powerful part of the rotation in the near future. Your other picks "on the verge", Enlow and Leach, might also be mainstays. For some reason I think Gonsalves will end up being a disappointment. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm just not that excited about him. Count me a big Thorpe fan, though!

A lot of us are high on Graterol and Enlow.One or both could well be here in 2021(I would hope).That is a little more than a level a year(assuming they both start in CR this year).I believe Enlow could well be in CR this year, maybe Graterol also.  

Some of the mid level ones could disappoint, it would be expected that some will fail.I am more worried about Gonsalves and Little than the others, but there still is a market for pitchers who can pitch and locate.

 

Exciting time to be a Twins fan.

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Tom Froemming
Jan 11 2018 11:16 AM

Just for reference, here's the full list of pitchers who made more than five MLB starts in their age 22 or younger season in 2017:

 

German Marquez, COL, 29 starts

Antonio Senzatela, COL, 20 starts

Lucas Giolito, CWS, 7 starts

 

I wouldn't be shocked if Enlow/Graterol/Leach reach the majors in 2021, but I doubt they'd be up for anything more than an emergency spot start/September callup. 


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