State of the Twins Rotation
Image courtesy of © Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY SportsAgain, at a minimum, the Twins will either bring back some of the starters who will become free agents (Jake Odorrizi, Michael Pineda, and Kyle Gibson) and/or sign and trade for new pitchers. But this exercise will give us an idea of the current strength, or lack thereof, of the organization’s starting pitching.
We’ll start with the only “lock” for the 2020 starting rotation – Jose Berrios. Hopefully, Derrek Falvey and Thad Levine will prioritize adding a starter or two in the general talent vicinity of Berrios, but there is no doubt that he will be at or near the top of the rotation. At times Berrios has looked like a true ace, especially in the first half of seasons. Even if he's more of a number two when factoring in his overall numbers (including his annual August meltdown – career 5.96 ERA), he is a nice piece and still young enough to improve.
Randy Dobnak’s ascent from Independent ball all the way to the big leagues was one of the great stories of 2019. Ranking him this highly could be an overstatement, but we are simply looking at what the rotation would look like with no external additions. Through that lens, Dobnak is a near lock to make the rotation.
Aside from his postseason start, in which expecting much from the rookie was a tall order, Dobnak was great throughout his minor league season and didn’t skip a beat after joining the big-league rotation (1.59 ERA, 2.90 FIP). Dobnak has great command and throws a sinker (36.5%), curve (27.9%), four-seamer (22.7%), and changeup (12.9%). The velocity on his four-seamer (93.4) and sinker (92.2) is respectable and he got a lot of whiffs (46.3%) on his curve. The fact that he was called upon to start Game 2 in New York says a lot about Manager Rocco Baldelli’s confidence in Dobnak.
This next group of young starters all debuted in 2019. We’ll start with the first who was called up, Devin Smeltzer. Besides topping Dobnak in the heart-warming backstory department by beating cancer in this youth, Smeltzer also did a fine job in his first big-league stint.
Like Dobnak, Smelter wasn’t a highly-touted prospect and he was even relegated to the bullpen while in Double A last season. He was given another opportunity to start in 2019 and made the most of it. He reached high levels of success in both Triple A (3.63 ERA) and the majors (3.86 ERA), although his FIP suggests some regression (5.05 AAA, 4.58 MLB). While big in heart, Smeltzer in small in stature and lacks big velocity (89.1 mph four-seamer), however, he does have the fact that he is left-handed going for him. Like Dobnak, he seems unfazed by the big stage.
The next “probable” is another southpaw, Australian Lewis Thorpe. Thorpe was a more highly-regarded prospect than both Dobnak and Smeltzer, and he seemed the most likely of the group to reach the majors this year.
Thorpe has better swing and miss stuff than his previously mentioned peers, but his results in both Triple A and the MLB were a bit of a mixed bag. His ERA was high at both levels (AAA – 4.58, MLB – 6.18), but his FIP suggests better results (AAA – 3.72, MLB – 3.47) and he has pitched well in the past. Thorpe’s walk rate was high (3.25 BB/9) but he struck a lot of batters out (10.08 K/9). He has a good pitch mix (four-seamer (51.2%), slider (19.7%), curve (17.5%), and changeup (11.6%)) with his fastball averaging 91.2 mph. Thorpe hasn’t quite put it all together yet, but if he does, he could be a mid-to-back end of the rotation starter.
Finally, we finish this group with the most exciting of the bunch. Brusdar Graterol debuted, as a 21-year-old September callup. Although a starter by trade, he pitched out of the bullpen as he was coming back from a shoulder condition and best served the Twins in that capacity.
Graterol’s stuff is electric, as he features a sinker (49.3%), slider (30.6%), four-seamer (18.1%), and changeup (2.1%) and averaged 99.0 mph on his sinker. His slider has the potential to be devastating and if his changeup develops, he could be a front end of the rotation starter. The right-hander’s durability may determine of whether he is destined for the rotation or relief, but either way his future is bright.
Outside Looking In
With the hypothetical “Twins do nothing” rotation set, we turn to the next group of starters who are close, but not quite ready. Some of these pitchers are closer than others, and naturally some also offer much higher upside. Since none of them will be starting the year in this hypothetical MLB rotation, they should all get a bit more time to develop in the minors, and in reality, not all of them are expected to be MLB ready in 2020. I’ll break them down into a few different groups.
High Upside, Not Quite Ready
This first group consists of guys who have good stuff, good numbers, and could potentially see some big-league action in 2020. They are ranked in order of who would be most likely to be called up first and not on prospect status (in which case the order would be reversed).
Baily Ober (RHP) – Ober was very good in 2019 and has been great throughout his minor league career. He has battled injuries, but his numbers have been remarkable (2019 high-A: 0.99 ERA, 26.7% K-BB%, AA: 0.38 ERA, 38.1% K-BB%). The 24-year-old has yet to pitch in Triple A, but if he continues to pitch as he has and stays healthy, he could be ready for an MLB audition.
Edwar Colina (RHP) – Colina was another pitcher who flew through the system this year, starting in High A, moving up to Double A, and finishing with a brief stint in Rochester. Colina is short for a starter but throws hard and put up very good numbers (2.34 ERA high-A, 2.03 ERA AA). If he doesn’t make it as a starter, he could end up being a high-velocity, late-inning arm.
Jhoan Duran (RHP) – Duran is another high-upside starter who has a chance to pitch for the Twins in 2020. He throws hard and made it all the way to Double A this year. His ERA rose from 3.23 in High A to 4.86 in Double A, but his FIP (2.76) suggests that he outperformed his ERA.
Jordan Balazovic (RHP) – Balazovic may be a bit further away, as he spent 2019 pitching between Low A and High A, but he should start 2020 in Double A, and he probably ranks second only to Graterol in stuff. He pitched to a 1.61 FIP in Cedar Rapids with 14.37 K/9 and continued to pitch very well after moving up to Fort Myers (2.28 FIP, 11.84 K/9).
This second group is a bit further away, but still offers a lot of upside.
Cole Sands (RHP) – Sands is another guy who pitched really well this year, going all the way from Low A to a brief stint in Double A. The 2018 fifth-round pick didn’t pitch in upon joining the organization, so this was his first season in the minors. He will likely begin 2020 in Double A and could move fast.
Chris Vallimont (RHP) – Vallimont came to the Twins as part of the Sergio Romo trade and was more than just a throw-in. Like Sands, Vallimont pitched very well in 2019, spending the entire season in High A, and should begin 2020 in Double A.
Dakota Chalmers (RHP) – Chalmers isn’t as polished as Sands or Vallimont but he offers plenty of upside. The 23-year-old came to the Twins in exchange for Fernando Rodney and is another fire-baller. He gets a ton of strikeouts, but his future will depend on whether he can improve his control. Chalmers is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
Blayne Enlow (RHP) – The Twins went over slot to sign Enlow in 2017 with the 76th overall pick, and he has pitched pretty well since joining the organization. Enlow’s ERA improved upon being called up to High-A (from 4.57 to 3.38), but he regressed in groundball rate and strikeouts, only striking out 6.62 per nine. However, Enlow is still just 20-years-old so he has plenty of time to develop.
There are plenty of other young starters who could see time with the Twins in 2020. Kohl Stewart (RHP) was up in 2018 and 2019 but his upside is limited and he may not stay on the 40-man roster. This was more or less a lost year for Stephen Gonsalves (LHP), but if healthy he could re-emerge in 2020. Sean Poppen (RHP) also pitched for Minnesota this year and both Griffin Jax (RHP) and Charlie Barnes (LHP) made it all the way to Triple A. This group doesn’t scream upside, but neither did Dobnak or Smeltzer coming into this season.
Minnesota will probably look to add a minimum of two or three arms this offseason and we needn’t worry about seeing our hypothetical rotation. However, a lot can happen throughout the year, and several of the pitchers who were mentioned will see time with the Twins in the next year or two. With the competitive window blown fully open in 2019, the front office will need to prioritize improving the team’s one glaring hole, but it is reassuring to have plenty of alluring depth in the system to be called upon if needed. Besides, Gerrit Cole may need an occasional breather.
- birdwatcher, Oldgoat_MN, mikelink45 and 4 others like this