Twins 2017 Minor League Starting Pitcher Of The Year
Before we get to the Top Five, and the eventual winner, it's worth noting a few honorable mentions. Across the organization, Minnesota saw lots of winning in 2017, and it was on the back of good starting pitching that many of those victories were earned. Here are some of those candidates just missing the final cut:
- Nik Turley Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings 2.05 ERA, 92.0 IP (13 starts), 12.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.011 WHIP
- Lewis Thorpe Fort Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts 2.93 ERA, 83.0 IP (16 starts), 9.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.205 WHIP
- Dereck Rodriguez Fort Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts 3.27 ERA, 143.1 IP (24 starts), 7.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.193 WHIP
- David Hurlbut Rochester Red Wings 3.44 ERA, 130.2 IP (22 starts), 7.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.393 WHIP
- Tyler Wells GCL Twins/Cedar Rapids Kernels 3.03 ERA, 89.0 IP (15 starts), 10.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.124 WHIP
Here are the top five picks for the 2017 Minnesota Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.
#5- Fernando Romero Chattanooga Lookouts 3.53 ERA, 125.0 IP (23 starts), 8.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.352 WHIP
Now two years removed from the surgery taking away his 2015 campaign, Romero has become the darling of many prospect rankings. As a pitcher with starting stamina, and velocity that can push towards triple digits, he's often regarded as the Twins best chance at a potential staff ace. Reaching Double-A in 2017, he often overmatched opposing hitters, and found himself racking up strikeouts. With a previous career high of just 90.1 IP in a single season, 2017 wore on him a bit as his innings climbed north of 120. Continuing to distance himself from his setback season, Romero will enter 2018 as among the most polished arms in the Twins system, and he should have a shot at impacting the big league club in 2018.
#4- Sean Poppen Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle 3.17 ERA, 139.0 IP (25 starts), 7.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 1.137 WHIP
Poppen was a 19th-round pick out of Harvard during the 2016 MLB Draft. After finishing 2016 in Cedar Rapids, he again began the year at the Single-A level. Poppen quickly established himself as being among the Kernels best options, and his 14 starts to the tune of a 2.90 ERA helped to set the tone for a season that would end in the playoffs. Making 11 starts at High-A for the Miracle, Poppen saw a bit of a numbers decrease across the board, but most importantly, he continued to flash strong command. While he may not blow by hitters at the upper levels, he's already a prospect who has shown a very strong ability to pitch, and not just throw. Look for Poppen to quickly establish himself in the Florida State League in 2018, with a likely promotion to Chattanooga coming at some point.
#3- Aaron Slegers Rochester Red Wings 3.40 ERA, 148.1 IP (24 starts), 7.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.234 WHIP
Posting nearly an identical ERA in 2017 as in his 2016 season at Chattanooga (3.41), Slegers actually got even better at the highest minor league rung of the organization. Not only did he pick up nearly an extra strikeout per nine innings, but he also cut his walk rate down to a near-career best mark. The fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft from Indiana made his MLB debut with the Twins in 2017, and turned in an impressive outing in that game. While he's yet to establish himself at the big league level, he's shown that he should continue to remain in the conversation for major league time going forward. A 15-4 record with Rochester is hard to overlook, and Slegers should enter 2018 with an outside chance to compete for a rotation spot with the Twins.
#2- Clark Beeker Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle 2.63 ERA, 143.2 IP (23 starts), 5.8 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 1.058 WHIP
Taken by the Twins in the 33rd round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Steph Curry U (Davidson College), Beeker is nothing short of a glowing success. Not an incredibly hard thrower, he's utilized an exceptional level of command to find success in the early stages of his career. Earning a late season promotion to the Florida State League, Beeker got his first taste of High-A ball and was a part of a playoff-bound Miracle squad. With the Kernels, his 2.03 ERA dazzled, and his 128.2 IP breaks down to roughly 6.5 innings per start. The expectation should be that Beeker begins the 2018 season back with the Miracle, and a similar path of a late season promotion seems likely. As he climbs levels in the system, the Davidson alum will need to continue to rely on keeping hitters off balance and utilizing his pinpoint accuracy. Should a similar narrative continue to play out over the next couple of years, the Twins will surely have found themselves a diamond in the rough.
#1- Stephen Gonsalves Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings 3.27 ERA, 110.0 IP (19 starts), 9.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.136 WHIP
Repeating as the Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year, Gonsalves edges the second-place vote getter by a single tally (24 to 23). If 2016 was a strong year for Gonsalves (and it was), it's hard to see a way that 2017 doesn't top it. Despite being at Double-A for the bulk of the year, and eventually reaching Triple-A, Gonsalves held his strikeout rate strong while drastically improving his walk rate. If there was an area of focus in 2017, it was limiting free passes. The 2.4 BB/9 across 15 starts for Chattanooga was a new career best.
Having cracked multiple top 100 prospect lists coming into 2017, Gonsalves had emerged as a national name that had Twins fans salivating at the thought of inserting him into the big league rotation. He probably isn't going to generate the same buzz as other big name pitching prospects as velocity isn't his game. Sitting low to mid 90s, the 2013 fourth-round pick has the ability to work batters and push for a few extra miles per hour when needed. As he continues to replicate numbers at each level however, he's shown that the radar gun readings aren't the only thing indicative of a rotation mainstay.
While there isn't much of a track record yet at Triple-A an extended stay doesn't seem entirely likely. His debut game for Rochester was a seven inning, two-run performance that saw him fan seven Norfolk batters while issuing zero walks. It's hard to see a scenario in which Gonsalves cracks Minnesota's rotation from the get go next spring, but he should have more than enough ability to prove himself at the next rung down. Expecting him to go into the season as Rochester's ace, the parent club should have more than just a spot start option when his name is finally called.
Going into 2018, Gonsalves is going to be knocking on the door to Minnesota in short order. Assuming the big league club addresses starting pitching over the winter, there will be some depth to wade through. At this point however, Gonsalves has the track record that has him penciled in as a future rotation piece.
Just barely 23 years-old, Gonsalves should continue to represent the Twins home- grown youth movement, and as we've seen, it's been a rather solid blueprint. It's hard to imagine Stephen as a three-time winner of this award a year from now, but that's only because it's likely he's no longer eligible.
Despite being arguably the toughest thing to develop in a system, the Twins had more than a handful of strong candidates for Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2017. As the group continues to climb, grow, and succeed together, it will be exciting to see where each of them find his ceiling. Congratulations to each of the voter getters on a great 2017.
Votes came in from each of the Twins Daily minor league writers, making seven ballots in total. Striving for transparency, here is how each individual voted:
- Seth Stohs - 1) Aaron Slegers 2) Sean Poppen 3) Clark Beeker 4) Stephen Gonsalves 5) Dereck Rodriguez
- Jeremy Nygaard - 1) Nik Turley 2) Stephen Gonsalves 3) Lewis Thorpe 4) Tyler Wells 5) Lachlan Wells
- Cody Christie - 1) Stephen Gonsalves 2) Clark Beeker 3) Aaron Slegers 4) Sean Poppen 5) Cody Stashak
- Ted Schwerzler - 1) Stephen Gonsalves 2) Fernando Romero 3) Clark Beeker 4) Aaron Slegers 5) Dereck Rodriguez
- Tom Froemming - 1) Stephen Gonsalves 2) Sean Poppen 3) Clark Beeker 4) Aaron Slegers 5) Fernando Romero
- Steve Lein - 1) Clark Becker 2) Aaron Siegers 3) Stephen Gonsalves 4) Nik Turley 5) Sean Poppen
- Eric Pleiss - 1) Clark Beeker 2) Aaron Slegers 3) Fernando Romero 4) David Hurlbut 5) Eduardo Del Rosario