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2017 Twins Minor League Storylines: The Lookouts Rotation

On Tuesday, the Twins held their first full-squad practice of the 2017 season. At Twins Daily, we put together a quick Minor League Primer, full of stories and notes for fans to know as their spring training begins. Today, I’m going to start posting some Minor League Storylines. Trust me. There are more than I’ll write about, and when I get to Ft. Myers, I’ll hopefully find some more. Today I want to write about one of the things that I know I’ll be watching intently throughout the 2017 season, the starting rotation at Chattanooga.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs (Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Tyler Jay, Felix Jorge)
Last year as the minor league season began, one of the top stories was the Ft. Myers starting rotation. As the season began, the Miracle had a rotation of Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Tyler Jay, Felix Jorge, Randy Rosario and Keaton Steele. And they didn’t disappoint.

That group, potentially even with the addition of another top pitching prospect, should be starting the season in Chattanooga. That will make the rotation and that team very interesting to follow, but the individual stories are also quite interesting.


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With the success that Stephen Gonsalves had over the final three months of the 2016 season, it is certainly possible that he will start the 2017 season in AAA Rochester. My guess, however, is he’ll spend a couple of months back in the Southern League. The Twins (and Twins Daily’s) Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he went 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts for the Lookouts. While he struck out 10.8 per nine innings, he also walked 4.5 per nine innings. That’s obviously a number that will have to come down, and command of that fastball is a reason to have him start in AA. He’s been good in his 3.2 scoreless, hitless spring training innings. It will be an interesting season. Could Gonsalves reach the Twins?

Kohl Stewart moved up to the Lookouts a few weeks before Gonsalves did, and he did a nice job. He went 9-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 16 starts for the Lookouts. While he saw an uptick in strikeouts in the season’s first half, a return to the Miracle, he struck out just 4.6 per nine innings for Chattanooga. That is the one number surrounding Stewart that really scares a lot of prospect people. We’ll see how it goes, but if Stewart spends the entire 2017 season as a 22-year-old in AA, he will still be an easy decision to add to the 40-man-roster in November.

Tyler Jay pitched in his first full season as a professional. The 2015 top pick from Illinois finished that season in the Miracle bullpen, but the organization was committed to giving him an opportunity to start. He certainly had his ups and downs, but with his four-pitch mix makes giving him an opportunity to become a starter a worthy choice. In five May starts, he posted a 0.84 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. In 32.1 innings, he walked seven and struck out 38. In 13 starts for the Miracle, he went 5-5 with a 2.84 ERA and struck out 68 in 69.2 innings. He moved up to AA late in the season and made two starts and three relief appearances before his season came to an early end with a neck injury. He will begin the season starting for the Lookouts. By the end of the year, we will likely have a much better sense of where Jay’s future might be. If he can be a solid #3 starter (with #2 upside) and work 170-180 innings a year, starting is the right call. If not, he and his pitch-mix have a chance to be an elite reliever.

Since he was demoted from Cedar Rapids to Elizabethton in early 2014, Felix Jorge has been remarkable. He was the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year in 2014. He was 6-7 but had a 2.79 ERA in Cedar Rapids in 2015. He was the starting pitcher in the Florida State League and went 9-3 with a 1.55 ERA in 14 starts for the Miracle. There were several key observers who said he was the Miracle’s top starting pitcher. He finished the season with 11 starts in Chattanooga where he went 3-5 with a 4.12 ERA. However, he continued to aggressively attack the bottom of the strike zone and work a lot of innings. He’s been as consistent as any starting pitcher in the organization, and the Twins added him to the 40-man roster after last season. He’ll have to show that he can continue to throw strikes and miss some more bats.

Randy Rosario pitched in his first full season since his Tommy John surgery. He spent half of the 2015 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He showed enough, including an upper-90s fastball, to be added to the Twins 40-man roster after that season. He went 6-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 16 starts (and five relief appearances) for the Miracle. He also didn’t strike out a lot, but has the stuff that he should. When he moved up to Chattanooga late in the season, he worked out of the bullpen. Like Jay, there are questions of whether the southpaw will wind up starting or in the bullpen, but it is wise to keep him starting as long as he can.

Keaton Steele was the one Miracle Opening rotation member to spend the full season at Ft. Myers. He’s 25 and went 8-11 with a 3.60 ERA for the Miracle. He pitched much better in the second half and warrants the promotion to AA in 2017.

Of course the name to watch might be Fernando Romero. After missing two seasons with injuries, he returned in May and after just five starts in Cedar Rapids (and went 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA), he moved up to Ft. Myers where he continued to dominate. With the Miracle, he made 11 starts and went 5-2 with a 1.88 ERA. His season ended one start early due to his innings limit. He was added to the 40-man roster and has been impressive this spring. Will he start the season in the Lookouts, or will he be making starts in Chattanooga starting in May or June?

Randy LeBlanc, Dereck Rodriguez and Cody Stashak are all guys who should make starts for the Lookouts sometime in 2017 as well.


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Jake Mauer gets to manage this group, and Ivan Arteaga will be charged with working with this talent, helping them prepare for big league readiness. The pitching talent should make the Lookouts a contender again in the Southern League.
  • Could one of two of these guys pitch in the big leagues in 2017?
  • How many of these guys will be added to the 40-man roster after the season?
  • What would you say are the keys to each one's 2017 success or failure?
There are so many questions throughout the minor league system. The Twins need pitching. I can’t imagine anyone reading this (especially if you’ve made it this far) would disagree with that comment. And help isn’t too far away. Youngsters like Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia are very close. This group of prospects are not very far away from being in the big leagues too. And to that point, 2017 is a big year. That makes the 2017 Chattanooga starting pitcher rotation something exciting to watch!

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17 Comments

I hope they start Gonsalves in the majors or in Rochester. There should be plenty of starters in Chattanooga, Stewart, Jay, Romero, Jorge, Steele, Rosario to start. These guys need regular turns to develop. Romero may start in Ft. Myers due to the logjam in Chattanooga, but that might be a waste of time. For some of these the options clock is ticking and they need to be pushed up as fast as possible.
Mauer is supposed to be the best Twins minor league manager, so it will be interesting how this works. Chattanooga hitting will probably be behind, as have not seen the roster of which hitters will be there, expect Hicks, Harrison, Vielma, but do not know the rest at this time.
I think all the pitchers except Steele will be on the 40 man after this year(Jay will not have to be and may not). Rosario without a good year looks like a candidate to be dropped. Lots of talent here and they should also have a great bullpen, depending on what is in Rochester but Burdi, Reed and others should make this a very good team.
    • Mike Sixel, VikingGuy and MN_ExPat like this
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FormerMinnasotan
Mar 08 2017 06:26 AM
There was an article written about Romero in the Star Tribune by Levelle E Neal and it stated that the Twins were going to start Romero in Chattanooga. Take it for what it's worth IMO. To me I would HOPE Romero starts in Chattanooga as he is on the 40 man and barring injury should make a push for the Twins rotation next year. Plus by most accounts Randy Rosario is not a starting pitching prospect any more.
    • Deduno Abides likes this

 

I hope they start Gonsalves in the majors or in Rochester. There should be plenty of starters in Chattanooga, Stewart, Jay, Romero, Jorge, Steele, Rosario to start. These guys need regular turns to develop. Romero may start in Ft. Myers due to the logjam in Chattanooga, but that might be a waste of time. For some of these the options clock is ticking and they need to be pushed up as fast as possible.
Mauer is supposed to be the best Twins minor league manager, so it will be interesting how this works. Chattanooga hitting will probably be behind, as have not seen the roster of which hitters will be there, expect Hicks, Harrison, Vielma, but do not know the rest at this time.
I think all the pitchers except Steele will be on the 40 man after this year(Jay will not have to be and may not). Rosario without a good year looks like a candidate to be dropped. Lots of talent here and they should also have a great bullpen, depending on what is in Rochester but Burdi, Reed and others should make this a very good team.

 

I don't think the "options" situation is reason enough to push anyone more quickly. Rosario is on his second option in 2017, and he's at AA, so he's just fine. Romero and Jorge will be on their first years of options. They don't run out of options until the 2020 season. They're fine. Stewart and Gonsalves will need to be added after this season, Jay the year after that. Some may get up quicker, but options should not be what is pushing any of them.

 

I've said that I think Mauer is the best manager in the organization. I don't know if others think that. Obviously they have a big trust for him. They chose him to go to Cedar Rapids in 2013, knowing all the prospects that would be there. And they're trusting him with this group of pitchers. 

 

I did roster projections a couple of weeks ago, and they're linked in the Minor League primer, so you can check those out for guesses. Dalton Hicks has retired. 

 

 

    • mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this

 

There was an article written about Romero in the Star Tribune by Levelle E Neal and it stated that the Twins were going to start Romero in Chattanooga. Take it for what it's worth IMO. To me I would HOPE Romero starts in Chattanooga as he is on the 40 man and barring injury should make a push for the Twins rotation next year. Plus by most accounts Randy Rosario is not a starting pitching prospect any more.

 

While I think that makes sense, and I'd love to see Romero in the big leagues, it has to make sense. With his innings limit (Whatever they put it at this year - maybe 130 or 140?), they'll be cautious. I hope they have him skip some starts early, maybe start the season a little later, so that he can be strong late in the season. In the minor leagues, you can do more creative things to help protect a player. If he's ready, they'll bring him up but they'll be cautious, especially in a non-playoff team season.

    • mikelink45, Tom Froemming and MN_ExPat like this
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FormerMinnasotan
Mar 08 2017 07:50 AM

While I think that makes sense, and I'd love to see Romero in the big leagues, it has to make sense. With his innings limit (Whatever they put it at this year - maybe 130 or 140?), they'll be cautious. I hope they have him skip some starts early, maybe start the season a little later, so that he can be strong late in the season. In the minor leagues, you can do more creative things to help protect a player. If he's ready, they'll bring him up but they'll be cautious, especially in a non-playoff team season.

I wouldn't think Romero would pitch for the Twins this year because of the innings limit (unless he can pitch unrealistically well like a WHIP under 0.90 and ERA under 2). What I meant to say is it would be best IMO if Romero splits his season between Chattanooga and Rochester then he can repeat AAA to start the season next year and make his debut next year.
    • Seth Stohs likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 08 2017 07:53 AM

The Little River Band said it best: "Hang on, help is on the way".

I would also like to see Gonsalves begin the year with Rochester. It would seem he's proven himself at AA and ready for the challenge of Rochester. Plus, there is a bit of a crunch, potentially, for the Chattanooga rotation. Still, these guys are all young enough that I would be OK with Gonsalves at AA and Romero or Rosario at Ft Myers for the first month to get off to good starts, pun intended, and let a few things play out at each level above before some immediate promotions. I really like Mauer being at Chattanooga this season to follow the players he was managing last season. I like the familiarity and continuity aspect.
    • Mike Sixel likes this

I think that this makes sense.  I'd actually start Romero at Fort Myers for a month or so.

 

 

For the ones who are advocating for the top prospects to start the season in AAA:  There is one practical issue that Chattanooga is a better place for them to play in April than Rochester:  Temperature.  I don't want the top prospects to pitch in 40 and 45 degree weather, if they don't have to.  And they don't. Let the Tepeche's and Vogelsongs of the world pitch in Rochester for a month before they move on, and then promote the prospects in May.  Same reason I would start Romero at Fort Myers.

 

If it were AAA Las Vegas, it would have been a different story.

 

    • Seth Stohs, Tom Froemming, jud6312 and 2 others like this

I seem to recall Gonsalves telling me at the Winter Meltdown he expected to be in AAA. I also seem to recall getting those indications this spring from other sources. 

 

Also have seen that Romero is ticketed for Chattanooga to start.

 

I hope that is the case with both of them, as the one thing I'm hoping to see from the new front office is a different approach to how they promote players, especially the pitchers. I don't want the Twins to be thought of as "conservative" on that front anymore.

    • Vanimal46 likes this

It is a great list of names. Here's hoping every one of them is up 1-2 rungs by the end of the year. 

 

I can understand starting someone in a warmer climate, but at some point, those guys have to pitch in the cold in the majors. Unless there is an injury concern, I wouldn't worry about the temp.

 

No surprise, but I am pretty aggressive, especially with arms, and would like Gonsalves in AAA, and Romero in AA to start the year. I don't really have a ton of interest in mediocre old guys in the majors, I'd rather have young guys that need work there.....but I get not everyone agrees. Nor am I trying to convince anyone.

    • FormerMinnasotan likes this

I was reading this with some hope and satisfaction (the same thing I felt about Berrios the last two years) and the question came to me that maybe Seth can inform me on the historic success of pitcher promotions.  
 

When I look at prospects I also know that what is said and what happens in that huge jump to MLB don't always match.  I think of David Clyde, or the Twins Eddie Banes https://coffeyvillewhirlwind.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/1973-eddie-banes-debut/.  I like this article http://www.baseballa...mMmrjtSX6esB.97

but it does not answer my question.  What are the real odds that the pitchers in this article, or a similar article for all the teams, will actually make the majors and the rotation for more than the old cup of coffee?

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clutterheart
Mar 08 2017 10:31 AM

 

There was an article written about Romero in the Star Tribune by Levelle E Neal and it stated that the Twins were going to start Romero in Chattanooga. Take it for what it's worth IMO. To me I would HOPE Romero starts in Chattanooga as he is on the 40 man and barring injury should make a push for the Twins rotation next year. Plus by most accounts Randy Rosario is not a starting pitching prospect any more.

 

I think I also saw it reported that Gonsavles will start at AAA instead of AA

 

If these reports are right, it makes me wonder if the new regime will be more aggressive than the past.A quick scan at top prospects in the Clevleand org and Rangers org makes it seem like they move guys up quick.  But I wouldn't even know how to do a comparison,  

 

    • Steve Lein likes this

 Now the difficult part.  Developing these young arms into major leaguers.  Falvey's expertise in Cleveland was pitching. Let's hope he's the change Twins needed 5 years ago.

    • twinssouth likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Mar 08 2017 03:57 PM

supposedly, the jump to AAA isn't that much different from AA.Gonsalves did fine (minus the walk rate) in AA. I think starting in AAA would be appropriate. If he gets the walk rate down, he's on the short list for an eventual call up.

I would play musical chairs after the first 30-40 games of the season. Praytell DON'T let your hot arms totally start at Rochester until the weather becomes more inviting. And there is nothing wrong with Ft. Myers, too. But the Twins do have a lot of pitching decisions to make. Too many minor league free agents taking up space this season...so far!

Looking forward to seeing Stewart putting it all together this year. His offspeed stuff improved last year and if he can get his FB back up to mid 90's, we may have something
    • Mike Sixel likes this

While Romero is obviously the one I'm most intrigued with, I still can't seem to quit the idea of Kohl Stewart.

 

Obviously, the walks need to come down and the K/9 rate at Chattanooga wasn't good, but his repeat at Ft. Myers yielded better K numbers than upon his initial promotion. I'm hoping that trend repeats this year.

 

I look at the steady numbers, the ridiculous lack of HRs allowed and can't help but wonder what could be if he turns even one of those BB/9 into an additional K/9.

 

I'm stubborn and holding out hope until all the hope is gone ... just like I did with Real Deal Durbin. 

    • Mike Sixel likes this

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