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Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 04:18 PM
That game last night was something that I expected to see from the Twins lineup on most nights. Driving in guys when they have the chance...
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Article: Royce Lewis: Patellar Tendinopathy

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(Twins Daily Note: In a Jeff Johnson story in The Gazette from Cedar Rapids, Royce Lewis noted that he has been diagnosed with Patellar t...
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Article: Twins Daily Roundtable: Fixing the Offense

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Twins Daily Roundtable is a weekly series. As part of this series, a question will be posed to the site’s writers and they will respond i...
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Article: MIN 6, BOS 2: Bats Get to Boston Bullpen

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 03:52 PM
Chris Sale was his usual amazing self, but Jose Berrios kept the Twins in the game and Eduardo Escobar worked his Fogo magic once again....
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Johnson: Lewis Playing Through Patellar Tendinitis,

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 03:45 PM
Jeff Johnson talked to Royce Lewis this morning about his knee issue. Lewis noted that he was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis awh...
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On Rushing Pitchers And Taking Lumps

When a vaunted young player arrives in the major leagues and initially struggles, it's easy – perhaps even automatic – to jump to an inescapable conclusion: He was rushed.

... Was he though?
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today (Jose Berrios)
Jose Berrios arrived in the majors in 2016 at age 22. He went on to post an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts as a Twin. Must have been rushed.

Byron Buxton reached the big leagues a year earlier in 2015, at age 21. He posted a brutal .576 OPS in 46 games with Minnesota. Had to be rushed.

And last season, as Jorge Polanco slogged his way to the end of July, one of the worst hitters in baseball, we all found ourselves wondering: Should the 23-year-old really be playing at the highest level right now? (Not that the Twins had any choice in that case.)

The "rushed" narrative is convenient. But not always accurate.

Here's the problem: You send any of those guys back to Triple-A at the time they're flailing in the major leagues, and they dominate. Often to the point where you stop seeing any benefit.

Buxton is a .331 career hitter at Triple-A. What's he learning if you send him back there? Minor-league batters waved at everything Berrios threw. How's he going to improve his command when 10 inches off the plate works perfectly well? Would Polanco have had the same epiphany last August if he hadn't endured the humbling stretch of failure that led up to it?

These case studies hint toward a universal truth: Sometimes, the only way to become a successful big-leaguer is by working through your lumps in The Show. For a team like the Twins, deep into its rebuild-from-within, this presents a paradox.

An Inefficient Market

The immense value of an effective young starting pitcher in today's game is difficult to overstate.

Successfully develop your own quality rotation staple, and you get optional control over (roughly) ages 24-through-30, most likely the best years his arm will ever see. All for a bit more than Jordan Zimmermann will earn this year alone in Detroit at age 32.

Baseball's economics are out of whack, if you haven't noticed. If this was an elephant in the room, then the beast has now emerged into the sunlight.

There's a reason Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb continue to wallow in free agency, their demands unmet. There's a reason the Rays are able to command a kingly sum for Chris Archer. Teams are finally seeing the lopsided value chasm across the free agency divide. Or at least, they're finally awakening to the extreme financial implications.

My point here is that the Twins have every incentive to find out if Gonsalves or Romero – or Zack Littell, or Lewis Thorpe, or any number of other candidates – can become one of those treasured cheap young rotation staples. But finding out will require enduring some pain.

Fits and Starts

A few years ago, Peyton Manning retired with the most passing yards and touchdowns in NFL history. Nearly two decades prior, as a 22-year-old rookie, he threw a league-leading 28 interceptions as Colts fans endured a 3-13 death march.

In many cases, even the greats require seasoning at the highest level to reach their potential. Not everyone is LeBron James or Randy Moss or Madison Bumgarner. It's unlikely such a rare specimen is currently in the Twins system.

They have do have a number of guys capable of becoming quality big-league arms – perhaps even All-Stars. But history tells us it won't happen right away. Look back at virtually any big-name Minnesota pitcher you can think of from the past two decades – Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, Johan Santana, Brad Radke – they all finished with ERAs over 5 in their first MLB seasons.

They call the pitching mound a "hill" partially because of its shapely resemblance, but also because reaching the top can be a strenuous climb.

Trouble with the Curves

Gonsalves is going to open this season in Rochester. Romero is likely ticketed for Chattanooga, but with two dozen starts already under his belt there, he'll move up quickly. They're both still only 23, but Minnesota's top two pitching prospects could be making cases for promotions by July or so. We'll undoubtedly start hearing calls for them if anyone in the Twins rotation isn't pulling his weight.

At that point, Twins decision-makers will need to weigh some difficult considerations. Do you leave these talented hurlers down on the farm, even if they're mowing down the International League, knowing the likely outcome of a call-up?

There's always something to work on, always something to improve. Nothing wrong with waiting another year until they're 24 and a bit more refined, right?

The problem here is that you might only be delaying the inevitable: a date with MLB's harsh learning curve. And there's another curve to think about here: aging. Pitchers generally experience their best years earlier than hitters. Velocity trends downward pretty much after age 20. If Gonsalves and Romero are healthy and throwing hard this summer, you don't necessarily want to waste a bunch of their bullets in the minors.

Derek Falvey's analytically-minded pitching brain trust has access to far more data than me, and I trust them to take it seriously. It will be interesting to see how these realities weigh against a variety of other factors – a team in contention, a potentially crowded rotation scenario following returns of Ervin Santana and Trevor May, the unique ability of a stud like Romero to impact a division race if he can buck the trend and succeed immediately.

Sometimes, you've gotta rush a little to get where you're going on time.

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52 Comments

There's a little bit different context with the current team.If the Twins are indeed going to shoot for a deeper post-season run, they can ill-afford to allow too many players (and especially starting pitchers) to just "take their lumps" for any extended amount of time.

 

Romero, for one, is likely on an innings limit.I just don't see the wisdom of putting a player in his "coming back" situation into the high leverage situation of a hopeful playoff team rotation.

 

    • caninatl04 likes this

Frank Viola sucked his first season up. Every time something would go wrong, he'd blow his top, get mad, then lose command. 

 

Fortunately, he got better after that.

 

I'm all for bringing up the kids and letting them take their lumps. Personally, I'd bring up the top five pitching prospects right away. Gonsalves, Romero, Jorge, Jay, and Stewart. Bring 'em all up, see how they do. Let the veterans advise them how to prepare. Let them know that initial failure is the most probable outcome, and that getting sent down to AAA is not punishment, it is regrouping and learning. 

 

If I'm not mistaken, this is how the Rays do it.

    • gil4 likes this
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Nick Nelson
Feb 25 2018 07:51 PM

 

There's a little bit different context with the current team.If the Twins are indeed going to shoot for a deeper post-season run, they can ill-afford to allow too many players (and especially starting pitchers) to just "take their lumps" for any extended amount of time.

 

Romero, for one, is likely on an innings limit.I just don't see the wisdom of putting a player in his "coming back" situation into the high leverage situation of a hopeful playoff team rotation.

Will you feel differently if we get deep into the summer and the Twins are angling for a postseason spot with a shaky 5th starter while Romero torches Triple-A?

    • bizaff, nytwinsfan, d-mac and 1 other like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Feb 25 2018 08:04 PM

What if the young stud minor league starters began their major league careers as low leverage relievers? What difference do you think that additional variable might make, if any?

    • Original Whizzinator likes this

 

Will you feel differently if we get deep into the summer and the Twins are angling for a postseason spot with a shaky 5th starter while Romero torches Triple-A?

 

I'd hope for a deadline deal to fix the shaky fifth starter in that situation this year.

 

I definitely wouldn't want to see the Twins in a situation where they scrap a development plan or load progression plan that mortgages the long term health of the player and his ability to make the team competitive over a longer term in favor of going with the hot hand -- elbow or shoulder be damned.

 

Now, if the Twins decided to call up Romero and have him take his lumps in a low-leverage long relief roll that also allows for more load management, I could see that working.He might still have some gas at the end of the season when it counted and be a Kenta Maeda-type weapon in the playoffs.

    • gagu and Original Whizzinator like this

 

What if the young stud minor league starters began their major league careers as low leverage relievers? What difference do you think that additional variable might make, if any?

 

Basically, that's Johan Santana.Granted, the Twins had to have him on the 25-man.

    • tarheeltwinsfan and gagu like this
If Gibson/Mejia/Hughes/Sanchez or whoever is struggling I personally wouldn't have a problem going with Slegers or Gonsalves as soon as mid to late May.
    • kab21 and BJames like this

 

If Gibson/Mejia/Hughes/Sanchez or whoever is struggling I personally wouldn't have a problem going with Slegers or Gonsalves as soon as mid to late May.

 

That would be fine. Just don't give them the rope of 14 starts with an 8/6 ERA/FIP.

 

Edit: No starters should be given the 8/6 rope, IMO.

    • BJames likes this

Maybe this is beside the point, but Buxton was absolutely rushed in 2015. He came up with 60 AA games under his belt. If he didn't have a good head, it would have ruined him.

 

I don't agree with dismissing the idea of rushing prospects as a convenient narrative. Front offices should evaluate players on a case by case basis. If a guy isn't ready, no one benefits from hastily promoting him. That's putting the player in a position to fail.

    • DocBauer and d-mac like this

I'm not sure if age is a great factor to determine if a player was rushed or not. I would determine the value on how much the player got to play in the upper minors (AA & AAA). 

 

Jose Berrios started 29 games in AAA before debuting in the majors. He was dominating and clearly ready for the big leagues, but the transition was very rocky and it took longer than expected.

    • birdwatcher, Sconnie, d-mac and 2 others like this
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Deduno Abides
Feb 25 2018 10:14 PM

There's a little bit different context with the current team.If the Twins are indeed going to shoot for a deeper post-season run, they can ill-afford to allow too many players (and especially starting pitchers) to just "take their lumps" for any extended amount of time.
 
Romero, for one, is likely on an innings limit.I just don't see the wisdom of putting a player in his "coming back" situation into the high leverage situation of a hopeful playoff team rotation.


Assuming Romero has a finite number of grade A pitches in his arm, it seems like he should get to Target Field as quickly as possible. In terms of a pressure situation, it’s likely that next year will have more pressure than this year.
    • wsnydes and BJames like this

I think your whole premise is flawed from the get go.

 

Right now I'm in a mid-life career change going from education to engineering. I am consistently one of the top students in my classes. What other students find challenging isn't always for me so I look for other ways to bench mark my performance. Did I finish that assignment as efficiently as I could have? Is there another way I could have solved the problem? What if I tweak the problem slightly, what would I do differently? Is there any deeper meaning I can glean from this problem?

 

You are essentially asserting that players can't learn anything if they are dominating at a given level which is just false. Berrios knows whether he hit that glove or not. Buxton knew how many breaking balls he was chasing outside the zone.

 

I think if a player is dominating AAA at a young age it is absolutely OK to give them a taste of MLB but if they start to struggle immensely, a la Buxton or Berrios, it is also OK to send them back to AAA where they can work on specific things. Given todays video and statcast tools there are other ways to evaluate players rather than just ERA/OPS/etc...

    • markos, Deduno Abides, dbminn and 1 other like this
Nice post. A lot of this will change as this new line of GM's assert themselves. But MLB and its wealthy owners won't give up the control and cheap labor in MiLB without a fight. Always follow the money. There's a reason the system in use is in place. And it's certainly not for the players or the fans benefit.

The problem of rushing players is that you start the service clock ticking. Teams like the Twins can't afford to waste 2-3 of the cost controlled years of the player "learning the ropes" at the MLB level.

    • SarasotaBill, twinssouth, gagu and 2 others like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Feb 26 2018 07:43 AM

There's a difference between taking lumps and being down right awful. I think your premise though is accurate in some cases. I see your point on Berrios in particular, though I'm not necessarily certain he was setup to succeed at all by the previous FO, and that has to be a factor in some cases...

 

However, I think Buxton is your counter example. He was coming back from an injury that sidelined him for a season. He was doing well in AA, but not spectacular. He was asked to skip two levels. I think you can make a case that he was rushed. 

 

There's definitely something to be said about learning at the major league level, I won't argue that. I won't argue that equating failure to being rushed can be intellectually lazy. I think the converse can be as well. 

    • Nick Nelson, birdwatcher, adorduan and 5 others like this

If the Twins are in contention, and IF their starting five is doing good to ok, then there is no need to rush any of these guys.  

 

Let them pitch out their season in AAA.Then add them in September when they can get some innings along with their first feel of the big leagues...all during a pennant chase.

 

Hopefully, we won't need them any sooner.

    • DocBauer, dbminn, d-mac and 1 other like this

I think your whole premise is flawed from the get go. Right now I'm in a mid-life career change going from education to engineering. I am consistently one of the top students in my classes. What other students find challenging isn't always for me so I look for other ways to bench mark my performance. Did I finish that assignment as efficiently as I could have? Is there another way I could have solved the problem? What if I tweak the problem slightly, what would I do differently? Is there any deeper meaning I can glean from this problem? You are essentially asserting that players can't learn anything if they are dominating at a given level which is just false. Berrios knows whether he hit that glove or not. Buxton knew how many breaking balls he was chasing outside the zone. I think if a player is dominating AAA at a young age it is absolutely OK to give them a taste of MLB but if they start to struggle immensely, a la Buxton or Berrios, it is also OK to send them back to AAA where they can work on specific things. Given todays video and statcast tools there are other ways to evaluate players rather than just ERA/OPS/etc...

But Ox, you are not 22 years old. Your point isn’t lost on me, but your experience is what gives you the opportunity to put things into their proper perspective.
    • Broker likes this

No Twins starter should be over 25 years old if they go on a 30-130 "death march".

There are risks in bringing a player up too soon, but there are at least as many if they wait too long.There's no way to know who can mentally handle MLB and who can't.I think longer time in MiLB actually adds pressure more often than not.It also seems that if a team isn't comfortable bringing up a youngster there's more of a tendency to bring someone up just because they've put their time in.  

I'm aligned with your thinking, Nick. This is exactly why I'm not losing any sleep over the Twins not signing another starting pitcher.

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Nick Nelson
Feb 26 2018 09:29 AM

 

You are essentially asserting that players can't learn anything if they are dominating at a given level which is just false. Berrios knows whether he hit that glove or not. Buxton knew how many breaking balls he was chasing outside the zone.

Not saying that's true in all cases by any means. And I do think a guy can keep improving at Triple-A especially in a case like Berrios or Buxton where they were able to get exposure against MLB hitters to have those weaknesses crystallized before going back to work on them. 

 

 

The problem of rushing players is that you start the service clock ticking. Teams like the Twins can't afford to waste 2-3 of the cost controlled years of the player "learning the ropes" at the MLB level.

It isn't about being able to afford it, though. It's just a reality they need to plan around. And hopefully it won't take 2-3 years to get through the growing pains. And the flip side of this is that Romero will already be down to his last option year in 2019. So you want to be pretty comfortable he's figured things out in the majors by the end of that year. 

    • Platoon, wsnydes and Original Whizzinator like this

 

But Ox, you are not 22 years old. Your point isn’t lost on me, but your experience is what gives you the opportunity to put things into their proper perspective.

 

Sure, that is true that I probably push myself harder than most others in my classes, but I also don't have an employer expecting to make millions of dollars off me providing huge amounts of resources to help me figure things out. I don't have a pitching coach that is looking over my shoulder explaining every minute detail, every step of the way, every day.

 

Not saying that's true in all cases by any means. And I do think a guy can keep improving at Triple-A especially in a case like Berrios or Buxton where they were able to get exposure against MLB hitters to have those weaknesses crystallized before going back to work on them. 

 

Your original post doesn't read that way but sounds like we're on similar thought lines then. I think whether a player stays in MLB or returns to the minors depends on how much they're struggling but also on where they are at mentally. It is entirely a case by case basis and with many of the decision making factors we don't have access too as fans.

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birdwatcher
Feb 26 2018 10:11 AM

I'd make a clearer distinction between a new guy who's inconsistent but showing glimpses of the future and a guy who just flounders. Mejia versus Cole DeVries.

 

If I'm a GM trying to create my ideal formula, I will always, and I mean always, have a rookie 5th starter. Ideally, he is brought up as an injury replacement. I expect this rookie will be a mid or front end starter by the following season and who I think will take his lumps but get better as the season progresses. I want to have at least two more just as ready in AAA, again guys who I expect will eventually become at least mid rotation stalwarts. To make this work, my first two starters have to be giving me #1-2 performance and my next two guys must be legit #3's. Then, I'm always looking for a trade, at the deadline or off season, from surplus starters. It's the most sought-after asset in the game and probably the best way to extract an overpay in a trade. Not that the example is immediately comparable, but it makes the point about building assets as the recipe for competitive success: CWS trades Sales, after enjoying much of his prime at a very reasonable cost, for the very best prospect in baseball, Moncada, a future #1-2 in Kopech, a guy who might be THEIR version of the rookie #5 taking his lumps in 2018, and Basabe, who will have a good career most likely.

 

The Twins would foil my designs today. They don't have two front end starters, and maybe not even one, we don't know yet. Everyone vying to be a #3 might end up being a #4 or worse. And their rookie candidates, Sleger and Gonsalves, lack front end ceilings, and maybe even lack #3 ceilings. Romero is another year away, and we'll have to wait and see who emerges as as a potential mid or front line prospect besides Romero, who, like every pitching prospect, remains a question mark in his own right.

 

I'm convinced that the most critical component of sustained success is to build a pitching pipeline through the draft, IFA, and trades, and to systematically and consistently introduce young talent into the rotation.

    • Platoon likes this
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nicksaviking
Feb 26 2018 10:27 AM

I've always been on the platform that 95% of the players are going to have to adjust to the MLB the hard way and you'll never be able to prep these guys at AAA enough to avoid it, so I'd like them to take their lumps early in the season (or in a season where taking lumps won't matter).

 

I also think the adjustment for hitters and pitchers is completely different. The pitchers are the causation to the batters reaction. Therefore it's the batters that have to FIRST learn to adjust to the pitchers. Sometimes the batter does it in two pitches, sometimes it's two batters or two innings or two starts. However we see it an awful lot where a young pitcher comes up and he's rolling for two months, heck maybe his entire rookie year until the batters figure out the pitcher and make their adjustments. So it often isn't until that point where the pitcher actually has to learn to adjust to MLB hitting.

 

Of course this speaks nothing of being able to throw strikes. You have to be able to get them over right away.

    • birdwatcher likes this
The league is getting younger. It seems teams agree.
    • birdwatcher, Twins33, nicksaviking and 3 others like this

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