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State of the Twins Rotation

With a season that exceeded our expectations and then ended as bitterly as one could conceive, the offseason gives everyone a chance to reset and turn our attention to 2020. With one of the league’s best offenses and a much-improved bullpen set to return intact, the focus will be the starting rotation. With only Jose Berrios set to return from the 2019’s opening day rotation (assuming Martin Perez’s team option is declined), there are likely to be a few new faces. Today, however, we'll take a look at what the rotation would look like if the Twins do nothing at all.
Image courtesy of © Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Again, 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.

The Given
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.

Highly Likely
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.

Probable
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).

Further Away
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.

The Others
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.

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31 Comments

Just tuned in to the Nats-Cards game 1.

 

Wow, some guy named Anibal Sanchez is baffling the Cardinals, barely reaching 90 on the radar gun.No hits through 7 efficient innings- less than 90 pitches. Jeepers, that's about 4 innings worth of Berrios and Odorizzi. And, he's doing it with a different catcher than Kurt Suzuki behind the dish.

 

Why can't we get a guy like that?

 

Oh, wait....

    • Danchat, mikelink45, Huskertwin and 1 other like this

I think the Twins should make a move to retain Odorizzi by making a QO and should look at making an offer for Pineda after they evaluate all of his suspension related issues.

 

That gives them 3 starters in the rotation.

 

The Twins should pencil in Graterol as the 3/4 starter and do everything in their power to get him ready for the 2020 season as a starter.

 

The 5th starter is a competition amongst Dobnak, Smeltzer, Thorpe, even Zack Littell, or some combination of those guys.

 

 

    • Blake and mikelink45 like this

The Twins would be extremely lucky to finish anywhere near the right side of .500 ball if they go with this do-nothing rotation.

    • mikelink45, Vanimal46 and David HK like this
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Tom Froemming
Oct 11 2019 10:34 PM

 

Just tuned in to the Nats-Cards game 1.

 

Wow, some guy named Anibal Sanchez is baffling the Cardinals, barely reaching 90 on the radar gun.No hits through 7 efficient innings- less than 90 pitches. Jeepers, that's about 4 innings worth of Berrios and Odorizzi. And, he's doing it with a different catcher than Kurt Suzuki behind the dish.

 

Why can't we get a guy like that?

 

Oh, wait....

 

... don't make me go back and dig up your reaction to the Anibal Sanchez signing at the time ... :)

    • ashbury, birdwatcher, Blake and 6 others like this

Dobnak was a real surprise and pitched well, seems like he could be a legit 4/5 if he can improve his breaking stuff.He should be the front runner for an in house back of the rotation spot.

 

Smeltzer came up really big against some tough teams, he strikes me as a Duensing/ Duffey type that has success early as a starter but is more effective as a reliever long term.

 

Thorpe is more raw but has way more stuff, I think he could turn into a real pitcher.He needs control but the breaking stuff is good and there seems to be velocity to realize. 

 

Graterol has impressive stuff.He should get every chance to be a starter.98-100 on a sinker and 4 seam, slider with bite, and a serviceable changeup is a damn good start.He needs to really make the slider a weapon and the change a consistent pitch.Keep him starting if he doesn't earn an immediate spot in the MLB rotation, this is the best chance in the system at top end starter don't waste it just letting him throw gas out of the pen.

 

Next seasons rotation in my dream land would be

 

1 - Cole I dont care the cost 

(this won't happen so top line addition via trade)

2 - Berrios

3 - Solid Free Agent Vet (Odorizzi fits well here)

4 - Pineda

5 - Graterol/ Dobnak/ Thorpe whoever wins it

 

 

 

 

    • peterb18, Patrick Wozniak and JDubs like this

 

Just tuned in to the Nats-Cards game 1.

 

Wow, some guy named Anibal Sanchez is baffling the Cardinals, barely reaching 90 on the radar gun.No hits through 7 efficient innings- less than 90 pitches. Jeepers, that's about 4 innings worth of Berrios and Odorizzi. And, he's doing it with a different catcher than Kurt Suzuki behind the dish.

 

Why can't we get a guy like that?

 

Oh, wait....

Wow! I'd forgotten we had him for all of 3 weeks at the start of 2018 spring training and released him.

Agree on Thorpe's potential. Despite inconsistent results this season, I saw enough to believe his stuff will play, and play well, with a little more seasoning. I believe he is a legitimate 4-5 with the potential of a 3 if he really gets the art of pitching down. That may sound like a stretch, but there were some appearances when he made a few batters freeze or look silly.

Really, Rochester and Chattanooga should both have loaded rotations.

I notice neither Wells was listed. One hasn't started his comeback yet, but I think both deserve mention for the future. Could see both at AA.
    • adorduan and Patrick Wozniak like this

What I find interesting is that the high upside, not quite ready group gives me much better feelings than the group we have to fill the rotation now.Dobnak and Smeltzer are going to be BP eventually.Thorpe needs to get himself settled - this last year was not a good year for him.Yes Graterol looks great and I see him and Berrios leading the rotation with him passing Berrios for number one in a year or two.  

 

I have read some projections that have Balazovic surprising in ST and taking a place in the rotation.I would love that.Those three with Odorizzi looks good to me.The rest of the names are interesting arms that can fill in, but these four are my dream and from there pick a name from the hat. 

    • DocBauer likes this

... don't make me go back and dig up your reaction to the Anibal Sanchez signing at the time ... :)

yeah, looking back... I was way wrong...
    • ashbury and wabene like this
Romero is also not listed and I still hold out hope he gets at least one more shot to start. He was one of those high upside guys with a poor debut. I’m still confused how he went from best future prospect to bullpen failure in such a short amount of time
    • Jham likes this

I wonder if the blueprint for the future of the rotation is to be like the Cleveland Indians - develop internal options that can come in be shockingly good. Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and Zach Plesac are just a few of the guys they've been able to pump out of their system lately. I would like to see the Twins be able to do with the guys they have coming up from the minor league pipeline.

 

That aside, they absolutely need to add pitching this offseason. Nab a free agent, trade for a guy, work on a reclamation project - they've got a lot of money to spend, so go out there and spend it wisely and prudently.

    • brvama, DocBauer, bighat and 2 others like this

Romero is also not listed and I still hold out hope he gets at least one more shot to start. He was one of those high upside guys with a poor debut. I’m still confused how he went from best future prospect to bullpen failure in such a short amount of time


The bummer is he's out of options so there is no way for him to work on anything at Rochester.

JMO, but he will be included in a trade to a team that can live with "development time" at the ML level gaining a potential steal from the Twins, OR, he will be the last bullpen arm with the expanded roster and work on things. He might even slide back to the rotation at some point.

Of course, he could also surprise us all by throwing bullets next ST.
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jorgenswest
Oct 12 2019 10:25 AM
http://twinsdaily.co...th-option-r7741

Romero and 4th option year
    • DocBauer likes this

 

 

1 - Cole I dont care the cost 

(this won't happen so top line addition via trade)

 

 

I could be way off here, but prior to Pittsburgh trading Cole, didn't they ask for a package of Nick Gordon, Tyler Jay, and another complete non-factor?

    • Hosken Bombo Disco and David HK like this

http://twinsdaily.co...th-option-r7741

Romero and 4th option year


Thanks! I didn't remember that!

Makes him more valuable to the Twins, or any other organization.

What they need is the equivalent of what Cruz was to the offense: a leader. Berrios, for all his quality, hasn't gotten there yet. Maybe next year he will. Odorizzi is close to that: we can make a QO, correct?

 

Morris, Viola, every winner needs a gamer like that to lead them in the post-season.Having a deputy riding shotgun doesn't hurt either, i.e. Blyleven, Tapani/Erickson.

 

If they could get someone */bumgarner/* to allow Berrios to slide into that #2 slot, they would be a threat. If they can keep Odo, and Big Mike, then is a pretty good start.

 

The Twins have the pitchers to get to the post season - what's missing is the stud who can win there.

    • wabene likes this
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Major League Ready
Oct 12 2019 02:06 PM

 

The Twins would be extremely lucky to finish anywhere near the right side of .500 ball if they go with this do-nothing rotation.

 

I think just about everyone here would say they need to do better than to retain Odorizzi and Pineda. However, to suggest they go backward 19 games from 2019 with a net difference of losing Kyle Gibson is a bit dramatic. 

    • brvama and wabene like this

I'd like to see Graterol be a starter. Romero just totally lost location this year. He was bad nearly every time out. A complete regression. Re-sign Odorizzi. I guess you keep Pineda. They 'forgave' Polanco and he rewarded them with a great season. But make no mistake, Pineda cost the Twins dearly in postseason.

Twins swung and missed on Dyson. Can't change that now. (I'd love to somehow get Davis back!)

They will need to get at least one FA starter or trade for one.

Should be an interesting spring for Smeltzer, Stashak, Thorpe, Stewart, Dobnak..and any other of the Red Wings who were up and down in 2019.

 

I think just about everyone here would say they need to do better than to retain Odorizzi and Pineda. However, to suggest they go backward 19 games from 2019 with a net difference of losing Kyle Gibson is a bit dramatic. 

I'm having a real hard time seeing how Dobnak and Smeltzer can contribute to a major league team as starters for a full season. Both are bullpen arms at best. Perez and Gibson were both beyond competent the first half of the season. I doubt we have that kind of contribution from our #3 and #4 starters next season unless we get new #1 and #2 starters.

Don't forget Wells is coming back from injury and I think he was Twins Daily pitcher of the year last year....
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Patrick Wozniak
Oct 12 2019 09:46 PM

 

Don't forget Wells is coming back from injury and I think he was Twins Daily pitcher of the year last year....

Yeah, I missed both the Wells...I knew I was gonna miss someone.

    • DocBauer likes this
I could see us declining Perez' option and trying to resign him to a similar incentive laden deal. He flashed big time early. Might have run out of gas as our whole rotation seemed to. I wonder if working with Wes to throw harder also contributed to the midseason fall off. I also wonder if the more drag free ball contributed to velocity and hindered off speed pitches...
    • wabene likes this
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Major League Ready
Oct 13 2019 07:14 AM

 

I think just about everyone here would say they need to do better than to retain Odorizzi and Pineda. However, to suggest they go backward 19 games from 2019 with a net difference of losing Kyle Gibson is a bit dramatic. 

 

I'm having a real hard time seeing how Dobnak and Smeltzer can contribute to a major league team as starters for a full season. Both are bullpen arms at best. Perez and Gibson were both beyond competent the first half of the season. I doubt we have that kind of contribution from our #3 and #4 starters next season unless we get new #1 and #2 starters.

 

The post I replied to suggested a net 19 win loss if we did nothing more than kept Odorizzi & Pineda. It seemed to me that was a reactionary comment.

 

Cole or Strasburg would be great but they are longshots. It's very rare that type of free agent SP signs outside of the biggest markets. They want the limelight and in some cases the endorsement dollars that go with it. However, in this scenario of keeping Odorizzi & Pineda, we can replace Gibson with Wheeler / Kuechel / Bumgarner or even Anderson and get better. They could exercise the option for Perez or renegotiate a deal with him if they can’t do better. Personally, I would fill the 5th starter between Dubnak / Graterol and Smeltzer and spend the money to retain Odorizzi and Pineda and the best outside FA we can get. They need to focus the dollars at the top of the rotation to become more playoff viable.

 

We can also pick-up a rental for playoffs if the opportunity presents itself.

    • DocBauer and wabene like this
It is critical that we sign Odo and Pineda. With that done we can focus on grabbing a Gibson upgrade like jham mentioned. Pineda would allow us to use Graterol as a starter early on moving his development forward while also enabling his move to the pen to save innings when Pineda is back from suspension. Best case and an improved rotation.

 

The bummer is he's out of options so there is no way for him to work on anything at Rochester.

JMO, but he will be included in a trade to a team that can live with "development time" at the ML level gaining a potential steal from the Twins, OR, he will be the last bullpen arm with the expanded roster and work on things. He might even slide back to the rotation at some point.

Of course, he could also surprise us all by throwing bullets next ST.

Crapola, I did not realize he was out of options


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