Twins Daily 2016 Minor League Starting Pitcher Of The Year
- Randy LeBlanc, Cedar Rapids/Fort Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts: 24 G, 23 GS, 12-9, 1 Save, 2.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 140.0 IP, 123 H, 37 BB, 87 K.
- Aaron Slegers, Chattanooga Lookouts: 25 GS, 10-7, 3.41 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 145.1 IP, 137 H, 46 BB, 104 K.
- Kohl Stewart, Fort Myers Miracle, Chattanooga Lookouts: 25 GS, 12-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 143.2 IP, 130 H, 63 BB, 91 K.
- DJ Baxendale, Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings: 37 G, 14 GS, 8-8, 2.79 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 116.0 IP, 110 H, 24 BB, 99 K.
Here are the top six vote getters for Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.
#5 – Jason Wheeler, Chattanooga Lookouts/Rochester Red Wings: 28 GS, 12-7, 3.30 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 169.1 IP, 157 H, 40 BB, 135 K.
If there were such a thing, Jason Wheeler might be the comeback minor league player of the year in the Twins system. Added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season, he struggled mightily in 2015 in AAA before being sent down to AA and later taken off the 40-man roster. But really, since then he has pitched very well. He was the MVP of the Southern League championship series in 2015. He began this year in Chattanooga where he walked three and struck out 22 in 24 innings over four starts. He was promoted to Rochester where he was terrific. In fact, he was chosen to start the AAA All Star game for the International League. While he slowed later in the year, he went 11-6 with a 3.53 ERA. Wheeler will turn 26 in October. I’m a little surprised that he wasn’t promoted to make a few more starts for the Twins in September. He was the Twins eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Loyola-Marymount.
#4 – Fernando Romero, Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle: 16 GS, 9-3, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 90.1 IP, 66 H, 15 BB, 90 K.
It was a long road to recovery, but Romero came back as strong (OK, probably stronger) than ever. In May of 2014, Romero was a 19-year-old flame thrower promoted to Cedar Rapids. He made just three starts for the Kernels before being shut down. Soon after, he had Tommy John surgery. He missed the remainder of that season and all of 2015, in part due to needing a knee surgery too. The Twins had him start this year in extended spring before promoting him to the Kernels in mid-May, almost exactly two years after he went there the first time. In five starts (and 28 innings) for the Kernels, he posted a 1.93 ERA and 25/5 K/BB rate. He was quickly promoted to Ft. Myers where he continued to pitch very well. In 11 starts (62.1 innings), he posted an ERA of 1.88 with a 65/10 K/BB rate. Romero has very good control of a fastball that sits 95-97 and touches 98 at times. His secondary stuff is a work-in-progress, but doing well. He’s got a good changeup and a slider with real potential. When it comes to potential, Romero has the ability to be a future ace. Romero needs to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason or he will likely be selected in the Rule 5 draft.
#3 – Felix Jorge, Ft. Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts: 25 GS, 12-8, 2.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 167.1 IP, 159 H, 23 BB, 109 K.
As you recall, Jorge’s first stint in Cedar Rapids in 2014 did not go well. He returned to EST and was the Appy League Pitcher of the Year that year. He returned to Cedar Rapids in 2015 and was good again. In fact, he finished fifth in last year’s Starting Pitcher voting. He took that success to another level in 2016. While Jorge doesn’t yet get a lot of strikeouts, he is a strike-throwing machine who hits 92-94 on his fastball and has a good changeup and curve ball. He was fantastic with the Miracle. In 14 starts (93 innings), he went 9-3 with a 1.55 ERA. Over his final seven starts with the Miracle, he was 7-0 with a 1.13 ERA. He earned his promotion to AA, though he found some rougher times with the Lookouts. After a slow start, however, he had a stretch of seven games in which he gave up three runs or fewer. And, he ended the season giving up one run over nine innings. In 11 starts, 74.1 innings with the Lookouts, he went 3-5 with a 4.12 ERA. His 167.1 innings was just two behind Jason Wheeler for the organization lead. The Twins were able to get away with not putting Jorge on the 40-man roster last offseason, but one would have to wonder if he would be lost if left unprotected again.
#2 – Jose Berrios, Rochester Red Wings: 17 GS, 10-5, 2.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 111.1 IP, 74 H, 36 BB, 125 K.
While Jose Berrios has struggled to a 9+ ERA in his three stints with the Twins in 2016, he showed again that he is capable of dominating AAA hitters. Berrios, who was our choice for Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2014and 2015, struggled some with command and control at times, even in AAA, but a quick look at his numbers reminds us of how good he could be when he is in complete control. Berrios went to spring training with a real opportunity to make the big league starting rotation. Things would have had to play out almost perfectly, but control issues pushed him to AAA. He made three starts before being summoned to the big leagues, weeks before his 22nd birthday. After four starts, he was optioned to Rochester where he had three real good starts and two poor starts before catching fire. Over his next eight starts, he posted a 1.46 ERA in 55.1 innings. In that time, he struck out 60 and walked 15. He earned another promotion to the Twins but again struggled mightily. He was sent back to Rochester and in one start he walked one and struck out 14 over eight innings. He’s back with the Twins and looking to figure things out in the big leagues. There’s no real question that he’ll be a quality major league starting pitcher, but the 22-year-old needs to work through a few things (like most pitchers) before he gets there.
Twins Daily Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year – Stephen Gonsalves, Ft. Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts: 24 GS, 13-5, 2.06 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 140.0 IP, 86 H, 57 BB, 155 K.
A year ago, Stephen Gonsalves finished runner-up to Jose Berrios for Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. In 2015, Gonsalves went 13-3 with a 2.01 ERA between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Ft. Myers. He pitched to very similar numbers in 2016 only he split the time between Ft. Myers and AA Chattanooga.
Coming into the minor league season, we talked a lot about the starting rotation in Ft. Myers. Gonsalves was the Miracle Opening Day starter, but Kohl Stewart, Tyler Jay, Felix Jorge and Randy Rosario were also part of the rotation. In the first inning of his Opening Day start, Gonsalves gave up a three-run homer. He gave up a total of three earned runs over his next 41.2 innings. Gonsalves was selected to the Florida State League All-Star team and worked a scoreless second inning.
He was promoted to Chattanooga in late June. In his first two starts with the Lookouts, he was charged with eight runs in 8.2 innings. He then gave up just seven earned runs over his final 11 starts (65.2 innings). Over the weekend he was named our August Starting Pitcher of the Month. In that month, he went 4-0 with a 0.28 ERA. He had also won that award in April.
Recently we learned that he will represent the Twins in the Arizona Fall League where he should be able to work another 25 innings or so, getting him to 165 on the season. That would mean that he could be ready for 180-190 innings in 2017, when he will be vying for a rotation spot in the big leagues at some point.
In chatting with Gonsalves in spring training, he had again worked out with the likes of James Shields and Stephen Strasburg in San Diego. One thing that was very important to him was finding an improved breaking ball. He worked on a cutter/slider type of pitch that he’s now able to use at a couple of different speeds, depending upon the situation. That pitch really helped him boost his strikeout rate. Right-handed batters hit just .174 (.511) off of him while left-handers hit .194 (.582). Overall, opponents hit just .179/.269/.258 (.527) against him.
Gonsalves was the Twins 4th round pick in 2014 out of high school in San Diego. He turned 22 in July, and it’s possible he could be in the big leagues by the time he’s 23.
There were some fantastic starting pitcher performances from Twins minor leaguers throughout the system in 2016, even more than you see above. That said, Gonsalves was the clear-cut choice for this award. Congrats to all these pitchers on a fantastic season that was loads of fun to follow.
These awards were voted on by the Twins Daily minor league report writers. In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1) Stephen Gonsalves, 2) Fernando Romero, 3) Jose Berrios, 4) Felix Jorge, 5) Jason Wheeler, 6) Randy LeBlanc
- Jeremy Nygaard – 1) Stephen Gonsalves, 2) Fernando Romero, 3) Jose Berrios, 4) Jason Wheeler, 5) Felix Jorge, 6) Randy LeBlanc
- Cody Christie – 1) Stephen Gonsalves, 2) Jose Berrios, 3) Felix Jorge, 4) Jason Wheeler, 5) Randy LeBlanc, 6) DJ Baxendale
- Steve Lein – 1) Stephen Gonsalves, 2) Fernando Romero, 3) Felix Jorge, 4) Jose Berrios, 5) Jason Wheeler, 6) Kohl Stewart
- Eric Pleiss – 1) Jose Berrios, 2) Stephen Gonsalves, 3) Jason Wheeler, 4) Felix Jorge, 5) Aaron Slegers 6) Kohl Stewart.