Twins 2018 Minor League Starting Pitcher Of The Year
Image courtesy of Chattanooga Lookouts (graphics by Finn Pearson)Before we get to the Top Five, and the eventual winner, it's worth noting a few honorable mentions. While Rochester and Chattanooga struggled in 2018, Cedar Rapids made the playoffs and Ft. Myers and Elizabethton won championships, largely on their pitching. Here are some of those candidates that also received votes:
- Sean Poppen - Ft. Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts - 26 G, 20 GS, 6-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 127.2 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
- Randy Dobnak - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 24 G, 20 GS, 10-5, 3.14 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 129.0 IP, 1.7 BB/9, 5.9 K/9
- Bailey Ober - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 14 GS, 7-1, 3.84 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 75.0 IP, 1.1 BB/9, 10.6 K/9
Here are the top five picks for the 2018 Minnesota Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.
#5- Edwar Colina - Cedar Rapids Kernels/Ft. Myers Miracle - 21 G, 20 GS, 7-5, 2.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 109.1 IP, 4.4 BB/9, 8.7 K/9
Colina signed with the Twins in September of 2015. He pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2016. Last year in Elizabethton, he was the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year. While his walk total was high, Colina was often able to work out of situations with strikeouts. Colina is stocky and strong. While he isn’t tall, he uses has legs to drive the ball. He sits 93 to 94 mph, but he can hit 96 regularly. He’s got good secondary pitches as well. He spent the majority of the season in Cedar Rapids, where he started a no-hitter. He ended the season with a start for the Miracle and then was the winning pitcher in the Miracle’s championship game.
#4- Lewis Thorpe - Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings - 26 G, 25 GS, 8-7, 3.54 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 129.2 iP, 2.5 BB/9, 10.9 K/9
Thorpe was added to the Twins 40-man roster last November. After missing two full seasons with Tommy John surgery (and mono), Thorpe showed enough in Ft. Myers to earn the roster spot. This year, he began in Chattanooga where he struggled early. But he started pitching well and was named to the Future Game where he represented the Twins and Australia. He took off from there, throwing more and more strikes and getting a lot of strikeouts. He ended the season with four starts in Rochester.
#3- Stephen Gonsalves - Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings - 23 G, 22 GS, 12-3, 2.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 120.2 IP, 4.8 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Gonsalves was the Twins Daily Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and 2017. He was the runner up to Jose Berrios in 2015. After being added to the 40-man roster last November, Gonsalves came to his second big league spring training. He struggled early and was sent to Chattanooga where he issued too many walks but dominated in four starts. He was promoted to Rochester where he went 9-3 with a 2.96 ERA. When you consider he has starts in which he gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings, five runs in 2/3 inning, and nine earned runs in four innings, he was incredible in the rest of his innings. He followed the nine-run outing with a stretch of seven starts in which he gave up just two runs over 40 1/3 innings. In mid-August, the 24-year-old received the call to the big leagues.
#2- Brusdar Graterol - Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle - 19 GS, 8-4, 2.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 102.0 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 9.4 K/9
The Twins signed Graterol way back in late August of 2014. The Venezuelan right-hander pitched just 11 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2015 before coming to the Twin Cities and having Tommy John surgery. He continued to rehab until early in the 2017 season when he returned to pitching, this time for the GCL Twins. He split 2018 between the GCL and Elizabethton. He began the 2018 season in extended spring training, though he got to Cedar Rapids before the end of April. With the Kernels, he went 3-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 41 1/3 innings (9 BB, 51 K) before being promoted to the Miracle shortly after the Midwest League All-Star Game. With the Miracle, he went 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 11 starts and 60 2/3 innings (19 BB, 56 K). Blessed with a fastball that sits in the upper 90s and frequently hits triple digits, Graterol also has the makings of a quality slider and changeup.
#1- Tyler Wells - Ft. Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts - 22 G, 21 GS, 10-6, 2.49 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 119.1 IP, 2.3 BB/9, 9.2 K/9
The Twins used their 15th-round draft pick in the 2016 draft to select a tall, right-hander from Cal State-San Bernadino. He was an interesting draft story.
Recently Senior Advisor to Scouting, Deron Johnson, who was the Twins Scouting Director in 2016, told Twins Daily that he had traveled with Twins area scout and now West Coast Supervisor Elliot Strankman. “Elliot and I were going to see a junior college kid at another college. He said, ‘Hey, I like this reliever at Sonoma State. Let’s go see him on the way there.’ So we go there and they’re playing Cal State-San Bernadino. We see this big giant on the mound throwing up to 94 with a nice breaking ball. John Leavitt, our area scout had him in, but he wasn’t a guy for me to see. We just stopped in there on a whim. John had seen him, but he hadn’t seen him throwing that hard. We just kind of had him on our radar after that. We didn’t hide him out, but we didn’t show a lot of interest. We knew there were two other clubs that had interest in him. We targeted him in the draft and thought, let’s not lose this guy.”
Johnson noted that Wells reminded him of a former Twins pitching prospect (and former minor league pitcher of the year) who reached Triple-A Rochester. “Remember David Bromberg? (Wells) was a lot like David. When we draft-and-followed David, he weighed 290 pounds out of high school. He went to junior college and lost a ton of weight.”
That was the carrying story for Wells as he came into the 2018 season. This past offseason, Wells worked really hard at Performance Fitness for Athletes as well as greatly improved his diet. It was noticed, and it paid off. Since being drafted, he has lost about 50 pounds.
Twins minor league director Jeremy Zoll noted, “Tyler does seem to fly under the radar a little bit for whatever reason. We’ve been really proud of him this year. He came into spring training and had really transformed his body, lost about 25 pounds. Really changed his diet working with his mom and a few other people in California. To dial that in this offseason. Felt it was the area he needed to improve the most. Thought it would help him sustain success through a long, full season. He did just that. He stayed committed to that all year.”
Wells acknowledged that it was very important to him, but not only did he lose the weight, but he got results on the mound. He said, “It was extremely fulfilling knowing that the hard work I’ve put in is showing out on the field. It helped me gain confidence in myself and my ability to go out there every day and compete.”
The weight loss is part of Tyler Wells’ 2018 story, but at the end of the day, he is the choice for Twins Daily Starting Pitcher of the Year because of the numbers and because of the results, and frankly, because he is a really good pitcher.
For his part, Wells likes to just keep it simple. “I don’t really try to follow my stats too much. I like to keep it simple and just try to put up as many zeroes as possible every time I go out there. If anything, I was extremely blessed and thankful to have a completely healthy season.”
His pitching coach at Ft. Myers, Henry Bonilla, noted that staying healthy was part of the key for Wells. “One of the main things for Tyler was staying healthy. He always had good numbers, but seemed to find little injuries that kept him off the field. He also learned how to use his pitches better, what works well off each other and so forth.”
Jeremy Zoll credits that pitching coaches working with Wells, but also Wells himself for working on things. “I know he was working with both pitching coaches, Henry Bonilla, Ivan Arteaga and JP Martinez, our assistant pitching coordinator, throughout the season with various grips on his curveball. He tried an adjustment early that ultimately didn’t go the way he wanted it to. He made some tweaks in the middle of the year and it seemed like from there, it started to really help. It played off his fastball well. Increased comfort with the slider and ability to use it early in the count, late in the count, and just continue to be comfortable pitching inside. So a lot of it is just continued innings, continued reps, continued development, and some minor tweaks along the way.”
From Johnson, “Tyler’s got that good fastball carry. He’s got a nice down-action curveball. He can pitch. He’s got a changeup too. He’s got good makeup. He’s turned himself into a good prospect.”
According to Zoll, “He’s got four pitches. He continued to hone ways to use all four and have them play off each other. He fills up the strike zone and generates weak contact. All those things put together equal a pretty good starting pitcher. It helped him earn his promotion to AA and he just step on the gas pedal from there. ”
Wells made 16 starts for Ft. Myers to start the season and was named a Florida State League All Star. He went 8-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. In 86 2/3 innings, he walked 17 and struck out 82 batters. He was the Twins Daily Starting Pitcher of the Month in June.
He was promoted to Chattanooga where he made six more starts and went 2-2 with a 1.65 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. In 32 2/3 innings, he walked 14 but struck out 39 batters.
Asked about the continued success upon his promotion to Double-A, Wells said, “Honestly, my transitions were very easy for one reason. It’s the same game all the way through. I have to go out and throw strikes, execute pitches, and give my team a chance to win every single time.”
The makeup and the mental aspect of the game is often forgotten, but Tyler Wells has it in spades. “I cannot say that there was one pitch or sequence (that led to his success) because every hitter is different. My success, I believe, came from my mental side of the game. I was able to learn how to use my pitches, read hitters’ swings, and keep my approach to pitching simple and aggressive.”
Deron Johnson says it well when he says of Wells. “He was a pleasant surprise. You’ve got to get lucky and get guys down there in the draft. You never know what’s going to happen with your top picks, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to get a guy or two, like Hildenberger, down there. You’ve got to get lucky.”
Who knows? The Twins just may have got lucky in the 2016 15th round with Tyler Wells.
Votes came in from the Twins Daily minor league writers, making six ballots in total. Striving for transparency, here is how each individual voted:
- Seth Stohs - 1) Tyler Wells, 2) Brusdar Graterol, 3) Stephen Gonsalves, 4) Edwar Colina, 5) Sean Poppen
- Jeremy Nygaard - 1) Tyler Wells, 2) Stephen Gonsalves, 3) Lewis Thorpe, 4) Brusdar Graterol, 5) Bailey Ober
- Cody Christie - 1) Stephen Gonsalves, 2) Tyler Wells, 3) Brusdar Graterol, 4) Edwar Colina, 5) Sean Poppen
- Ted Schwerzler - 1) Tyler Wells, 2) Brusdar Graterol, 3) Stephen Gonsalves, 4) Edwar Colina, 5) Randy Dobnak
- Tom Froemming - 1) Tyler Wells, 2) Lewis Thorpe, 3) Brusdar Graterol, 4) Sean Poppen, 5) Stephen Gonsalves
- Steve Lein - 1) Tyler Wells, 2) Brusdar Graterol, 3) Lewis Thorpe, 4) Stephen Gonsalves, 5) Randy Dobnak
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