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The Impending Rochester Rotation Crunch

Who is going to help move the needle for the Twins rotation? We know it won't be Shohei Ohtani. It probably won't be Phil Hughes.

There are plenty of other options out there to be explored, and I assume they will be. But when I opined it was a myth that the Twins absolutely must add an impact starter, it was for this reason:

The Rochester rotation is overflowing with potential reinforcements. And I don't mean the types of Quadruple-A journeymen that have often occupied the Red Wings ranks in recent years. We're talking legitimate prospects, ready to help.
Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA Today (Aaron Slegers)
Much can change between now and spring training, but as things stand, one would expect at least these pitchers to be tentatively slotted for the Triple-A rotation: Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Fernando Romero.

That's six, and I can't see much of a case for sending any of them back to Double-A. Maybe Romero, who wore down in August and didn't make it through the whole season with Chattanooga, but when healthy he was dominating hitters at that level, so even if he starts there it probably won't last long.

Then there is Kohl Stewart. It's possible the former first-round pick, left unprotected for next week's Rule 5 draft, will be taken by another team, but that seems really unlikely. While his pedigree is pristine, the 23-year-old hasn't sustained any kind of success above Single-A. It wouldn't serve him, or his new team, to stick him in the back of an MLB bullpen.

If he sticks around, it further complicates things. He has already made 32 starts at Double-A. It's sink-or-swim time at Rochester for him, but as things stand, the pool is full. And that's before we account for any other circumstances, such as Trevor May and/or Hughes needing to open in the minors to build strength, or Adalberto Mejia requiring a bit more seasoning.

Looking at this impending logjam of arms, a few particular questions come to mind. I'll unpack them a little here, and then I'm curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.

1. What to Make of Aaron Slegers?
To me, Slegers is a particularly interesting case as we look ahead to 2018. With relatively little fanfare, he has stayed healthy and climbed the organizational ladder since being selected as a fifth-round pick out of Indiana University in 2013. Though he's never achieved impressive strikeout rates, the 6'10" righty has consistently put up good numbers with a 3.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 600 minor-league innings.

As you may recall, Slegers got his first taste of the majors this year, pitching brilliantly in his MLB debut (6.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER) and then struggling in three September appearances. The 25-year-old appears big-league ready, and while he doesn't produce the velocity or whiffs you'd like to see from his sky-scraping frame, there are some things to like about him.

Chief among the positives is his ability to locate. Control is often one of the last things to come along for big lanky throwers like Slegers, but he has been exceptional in this regard ever since joining the pro ranks. This has been a huge part of his success in the minors, and could give him a reasonably high floor as a big-leaguer.

Unfortunately, the ceiling isn't so high unless he can find a way to miss more bats. But here's an intriguing nugget: In his second start back at Rochester following his August 17th debut with the Twins, Slegers tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, inducing a whopping 20 swinging strikes. In his next start he once again struck out 10, this time with 15 whiffs.

The total of 35 swings and misses in two successive starts is an impressive feat, especially for someone with his track record (Jose Berrios, who's made 30 total starts at Triple-A, has only surpassed that number in consecutive starts at the level once, when he tallied 36 in late 2015). And that was the last we saw of Slegers at Rochester.

I'm very curious to see if he can pick up where he left off, and what type of untapped potential might lie in him yet, especially if he returns to the Twins and jibes with new pitching coach Garvin Alston.

2. Is It Time for Any of These Hurlers to Make a Bullpen Transition?
As we know, the Twins need help in the bullpen as well as the rotation. And as we also know, many of the best relievers in the game are former starters who switched roles somewhere along the way. Several of the pitchers in the mix we're discussing here are somewhat fringy. So is it time to consider proactively sliding one or two of these guys into relief, with hopes of upgrading their stuff and accelerating their paths to major league impact?

This would potentially help alleviate the rotation logjam, but the problem is that it feels too soon to give up on any of these guys as starting pitchers. The only one I could really see it happening with right now is Enns, who has fluctuated roles quite a bit in his pro career and dealt with shoulder inflammation late last year.

3. Could Someone Sneak Into the Opening Day MLB Rotation?
This would be another method of thinning out the crowd, but again, it seems very unlikely. Jorge, Slegers and Enns have a bit of MLB experience but neither would be a credible choice to open the season in the Twins rotation. Gonsalves and Romero would be more legit choices, and are very close to ready, but they need prove themselves (and their shoulders) in Triple-A. But all five are on the 40-man roster (as is Littell) so it's not impossible that one could find his way into the picture.

After all, Mejia had almost zero major-league experience last spring when he won Minnesota's fifth rotation spot.

4. Should the Twins Be Shopping Pitching Prospects?
This question is sort of inevitable after looking at all the angles. Unless multiple prospects being discussed here get hurt, move to the bullpen, or make the big-league team, the Twins are going to be facing a real numbers crunch with their almost-ready starters. The old saying about how "you can never have too much pitching" isn't exactly true.

This situation will be a substantial factor in how the coming offseason is handled.

As I see it, there are two ways to move forward:

A ) Condense

Flip quantity and upside for quality and readiness. If the Twins could package a couple of these arms and get back a quality addition to the MLB rotation, it would kill two birds with one stone. The problem is that it's risky. You've got to really trust your evaluations. Minnesota can ill afford to let one of these guys fulfill his potential elsewhere while getting back a few years of fairly expensive league-average performance from, say, Jake Odorizzi.

B ) Youth Movement

Take a pass on the bloated starting pitching market and let the kids take the reins. Go with a rotation of Erv, Berrios, Gibson, Mejia and [OPEN] with the final job being up for grabs among a wide cast. If the Twins truly want to build from within, and have belief in their group of young arms, then this would be the logical path. But it's not exactly one that thrusts your team forcefully into championship contention.

We'll see how it plays out. This could be a point of divergence between the new mentality and the old. I suspect Terry Ryan's regime would have leaned toward the latter approach, while the Falvine Machine might opt for the former. I don't know if they're all that sold on this crop of pitchers – all good enough to be genuinely interesting assets, but not one a true top-tier prospect in the game.

  • Cory Engelhardt, Oldgoat_MN, sploorp and 2 others like this

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102 Comments

 

So you think Slegers is more likely to be a good MLB pitcher than Thorpe? 

 

I would say Slegers is much more likely this year to contribute positively to the big league club. Obviously not long term.

 

Upper minors should absolutely prioritize depth for the major leagues, with A ball focusing on development. I don't really see the rush with Thorpe, he can get his feet wet this season in Hi A without it causing any development issues.

    • birdwatcher, DJSim22, Taildragger8791 and 3 others like this
Enns looks like a bullpen arm to me. The rest of the logjam will fade when injuries hit, not worried about that. I expect the Twins to add one starter, but I’d really like to see 2 and have Gibson non tendered.
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Tom Froemming
Dec 06 2017 10:26 AM

 

The pitchers with the best chance of having an impact on the major league team should be the priority. 

Agreed, but that's just not Lewis Thorpe right now. He's 22 and hasn't pitched 200 total innings as a professional. He hasn't reached 90 IP in a season yet. I get that he's on the 40-man roster now, but I have a hard time imagining him as a guy who has a chance at impacting the MLB team in 2018 seeing that he's behind a bunch of other guys in that regard and will certainly be on an innings limit. He's absolutely a legit prospect to be excited about, but this season will be all about staying healthy.

    • birdwatcher, Twins33, dbminn and 2 others like this
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nicksaviking
Dec 06 2017 10:27 AM

I hope anyone they plan on converting to the bullpen gets the news in the off season. It seems that guys do much better in the pen if they went in to the season as a reliever. With his current low ceiling I'd probably move Slegers to the pen now and see if he gains velocity. Stature and stuff he has a lot in common with Jon Rauch; that wouldn't be a bad bullpen piece.

    • Mike Sixel and Tomj14 like this

 

I would say Slegers is much more likely this year to contribute positively to the big league club. Obviously not long term.

 

Upper minors should absolutely prioritize depth for the major leagues, with A ball focusing on development. I don't really see the rush with Thorpe, he can get his feet wet this season in Hi A without it causing any development issues.

 

The rush would be, I don't know, getting him to MN before he gets older. This site is filled with people saying hte TWins should slow play their pitchers, let them get more time in the low minors, what is the hurry.....how has the worked out for this team? Why are other teams calling up younger players? Why are other teams calling up younger RPs, and seeing more strikeouts than this team? Maybe it is because pitchers lose velocity as they age.....

    • rghrbek, KirbyDome89 and Tomj14 like this

 

So you think Slegers is more likely to be a good MLB pitcher than Thorpe? 

Me? not at all, I was trying to say Thorpe (#13) should/can be held back "if ready" because he is young enough to go to a lower team than say Slegers (#34)

 

I hope anyone they plan on converting to the bullpen gets the news in the off season. It seems that guys don't do as well in the pen if they went in to the season as a starter. With his current low ceiling I'd probably move Slegers to the pen now and see if he gains velocity. Stature and stuff he has a lot in common with Jon Rauch; that wouldn't be a bad bullpen piece.

 

This. Be aggressive, try to win. This team and its fans spend a lot of time trying not to lose.....Slegers is very unlikely to be a very good starting pitcher, but he might be a very good RP. They have plenty of guys in AA and AAA with similar stuff as him, as this article points out. Start moving some of them to RP sooner rather than later.

    • zenser, rghrbek, Tomj14 and 1 other like this

 

I would say Slegers is much more likely this year to contribute positively to the big league club. Obviously not long term.

 

Upper minors should absolutely prioritize depth for the major leagues, with A ball focusing on development. I don't really see the rush with Thorpe, he can get his feet wet this season in Hi A without it causing any development issues.

He did pitch 77 innings there last year in 15 starts, I would be fine with giving him 8-10 to start there, but anything more tells me he went from a top prospect back to just a regular prospect.

 

The rush would be, I don't know, getting him to MN before he gets older. This site is filled with people saying hte TWins should slow play their pitchers, let them get more time in the low minors, what is the hurry.....how has the worked out for this team? Why are other teams calling up younger players? Why are other teams calling up younger RPs, and seeing more strikeouts than this team? Maybe it is because pitchers lose velocity as they age.....

 

So you propose a worse development strategy?

 

And are you sure other teams are calling up younger players at some accelerated rate relative to the Twins? I follow prospects and call ups pretty closely and this seems to be often repeated and way overstated (and more likely just flat out wrong). To the extent young guys come up, such as Berrios for example, it is because they are good AND stay healthy.

 

Perhaps Thorpe should get through a full minor league season before we become too concerned about his contributions to the big league club.

    • 70charger and Dozier's Glorious Hair like this

 

He did pitch 77 innings there last year in 15 starts, I would be fine with giving him 8-10 to start there, but anything more tells me he went from a top prospect back to just a regular prospect.

 

If he is a top prospect (like I think he is), I don't think he'll even need 8-10 starts. And I agree, if he is at Hi A longer, it will take a lot of the luster off his prospect status.

 

This. Be aggressive, try to win. This team and its fans spend a lot of time trying not to lose.....Slegers is very unlikely to be a very good starting pitcher, but he might be a very good RP. They have plenty of guys in AA and AAA with similar stuff as him, as this article points out. Start moving some of them to RP sooner rather than later.

 

He might surprise, but Slegers as a reliever really wouldn't profile as anything more than a long man, or possibly the 6th guy in a pen. What would be the hurry to push him to that, especially when he does provide depth to the rotation, especially early in the season. Outside of him and Gonsalves, no one else in the article is really prepared to step into the rotation for the first 2-3 months of the season.

 

I could get behind the plan with Romero, but it also seems worth exploring whether he can stay on as a starter, because the potential payoff would be so high.

    • birdwatcher and bluechipper like this

 

Enns looks like a bullpen arm to me. The rest of the logjam will fade when injuries hit, not worried about that. I expect the Twins to add one starter, but I’d really like to see 2 and have Gibson non tendered.

 

Too late on Gibson.

 

So you propose a worse development strategy?

 

And are you sure other teams are calling up younger players at some accelerated rate relative to the Twins? I follow prospects and call ups pretty closely and this seems to be often repeated and way overstated (and more likely just flat out wrong). To the extent young guys come up, such as Berrios for example, it is because they are good AND stay healthy.

 

Perhaps Thorpe should get through a full minor league season before we become too concerned about his contributions to the big league club.

I think the point is if our pitchers are real prospects they should be established major leaguers by the time they are 24-25. (Berrios, Gray, Sale, Archer, etc..) 

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yarnivek1972
Dec 06 2017 11:02 AM

I think the average player in the FSL is something like 23-years-old, so Thorpe and Wells would still be young for that level. Also, neither of those two have pitched healthy through an entire year of full-season ball yet. I would feel comfortable starting the year with both of them on the Miracle.


I don’t think average age of a particular minor league level is a meaningful evaluation. The guys that are prospects are generally younger than “org fill” players at each level. They have to be otherwise they would be completely overmatched.
    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this

Every year they delay having the good pitchers in MN, is another year gone of having Sano, Buxton, et. al. all on the roster. 

 

I think the point is if our pitchers are real prospects they should be established major leaguers by the time they are 24-25. (Berrios, Gray, Sale, Archer, etc..) 

 

Thorpe just turned 22 a couple of weeks ago (and had TJ surgery). And they examples you cite are some of the best pitching prospects of the past decade. The Twins don't have that in the minors, no argument here.

 

Every year they delay having the good pitchers in MN, is another year gone of having Sano, Buxton, et. al. all on the roster. 

 

No disagreement here, would be nice if the Twins had better pitching prospects closer to the majors.

 

Sprinting the handful that might ultimately develop that way to the majors is not really a solution, it's a recipe to continue the problem. 

    • diehardtwinsfan and 70charger like this

 

Great stuff as always, really shows Falvine are in a good spot. Sounds like they may have the financial flexibility to sign a guy or two and at the same time they have depth to use as either injury insurance or trade bait.

 

My guess right now ...

 

MLB: Erv, Berrios, Gibson, NEW, NEW

AAA: Mejia, May (as he builds arm strength), Slegers, Gonsalves, Enns

AA: Jorge, Littell, Romero, Stewart, Eades

 

Obviously trades/Rule 5 draft stuff and injuries could open up spots, but I'd suspect the team will also sign at least one minor league free agent to add to this mix too. But the fact they let Dereck Rodriguez and David Hurlbut go says they feel pretty comfortable with their depth in the upper minors.

 

As far as I can see, the desirable free agents are Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb.Sabbathia would be nice short term but I don't see it.What are our true odds of getting even one of these guys? What are the odds of getting one of these guys plus a trade where we get someone better than Mejia, keeping in mind that his 4.5 ERA is probably about league average and I assume we think he can do a little better.I think it way more likely that the rotation is filled by Mejia and Gonsalves than it is by two new guys and I am not saying that is a bad thing.Not having a lot of time in AAA shouldn't dim our view of how good a pitcher Gonsalves is right now. Admittedly, I have no idea having never seen him but his dominance of lower levels should translate at least somewhat. In essence I don't see us getting two new guys when there are a couple dozen other teams trying for a pretty small supply. I am hoping for one of the 4 listed above but even there I don't see any real evidence that we have a better chance of landing even one than the other couple dozen teams.

    • laloesch likes this

 

 

 

 I could easily see Gonsalves following the path of Kyle Hendricks.Why expect guys who have dominated at lower levels to fail in the Bigs? 

 

It happens, esp. if they do not have plus to plus plus stuff.Just like Liam Hendiks whose 2.89 ERA, 1.079 WIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 career MiLB numbers are in the ballpark of Kyle Hendricks's (2.94 ERA, 1.098 WIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and Stephen Gonsalves's (2.39 ERA, 1.087 WIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9). 

 

For every Kyle, there is a Liam.

    • dgwills likes this

 

It happens, esp. if they do not have plus to plus plus stuff.Just like Liam Hendiks whose 2.89 ERA, 1.079 WIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 career MiLB numbers are in the ballpark of Kyle Hendricks's (2.94 ERA, 1.098 WIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and Stephen Gonsalves's (2.39 ERA, 1.087 WIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9). 

 

For every Kyle, there is a Liam.

 

Probably more accurate to say for every Kyle there is probably 10 Liams.

    • Thrylos, Twins33, Sssuperdave and 1 other like this

 

No disagreement here, would be nice if the Twins had better pitching prospects closer to the majors.

 

Sprinting the handful that might ultimately develop that way to the majors is not really a solution, it's a recipe to continue the problem. 

 

where, exactly, did I say Thorpe should be there this year? I want him set up for next year (uh, to me, this year is 2018......). Ready. Not "he needs at least half a year in AA/AAA first" ready. That's hardly "sprinting" if he's the prospect they need him to be. And, he's just one example. Why did Gonsalves spend nearly all year in AA, utterly dominating, and not move to AAA sooner to face better hitters? 

 

We are just going to disagree on this. IMO, they aren't going to win anything if they won't take risks. Those risks include moving someone that might be an ok number 5 to RP sooner, rather than later, and getting a guy like Thorpe ready to pitch in the majors in 2019.

 

 


1. What to Make of Aaron Slegers?

 

 

2. Is It Time for Any of These Hurlers to Make a Bullpen Transition?

 


3. Could Someone Sneak Into the Opening Day MLB Rotation?

 


4. Should the Twins Be Shopping Pitching Prospects?

 

1. Organizational depth. His 40-man spot is as solid as Buddy Bo's

 

2. I'd love to see the Twins bring up Romero the way the WSox brought Sale and have him build arm strength and consistency in the majors pen.He can be very good

 

3. Too early to tell, but I doubt it.

 

4. Of course.Adding them to trade packages to improve them.Better shop them when they have some value than let them walk as a MiLB FAs, Rule 5,or waiver wire picks in the near or far future.

    • Mike Sixel likes this
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KirbyDome89
Dec 06 2017 11:51 AM

 

The rush would be, I don't know, getting him to MN before he gets older. This site is filled with people saying hte TWins should slow play their pitchers, let them get more time in the low minors, what is the hurry.....how has the worked out for this team? Why are other teams calling up younger players? Why are other teams calling up younger RPs, and seeing more strikeouts than this team? Maybe it is because pitchers lose velocity as they age.....

Or before they get hurt in the minors (every college arm they draft) and exacerbate the slow track even further. 

 

As far as I can see, the desirable free agents are Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb.Sabbathia would be nice short term but I don't see it.What are our true odds of getting even one of these guys? What are the odds of getting one of these guys plus a trade where we get someone better than Mejia, keeping in mind that his 4.5 ERA is probably about league average and I assume we think he can do a little better.I think it way more likely that the rotation is filled by Mejia and Gonsalves than it is by two new guys and I am not saying that is a bad thing.Not having a lot of time in AAA shouldn't dim our view of how good a pitcher Gonsalves is right now. Admittedly, I have no idea having never seen him but his dominance of lower levels should translate at least somewhat. In essence I don't see us getting two new guys when there are a couple dozen other teams trying for a pretty small supply. I am hoping for one of the 4 listed above but even there I don't see any real evidence that we have a better chance of landing even one than the other couple dozen teams.

 

Exactly.There are so many teams starving for quality pitching i have a hard time believing that the Twins are going to win any bidding wars on Darvish, Arrieta, Lynn or Cobb.Maybe one of the latter two, but why would any of them want to go to Minnesota in the first place?I mean that's what the media always says.Who the heck wants to go to the Twin Cities where it's winter 9 months out of the year and gets dark at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when daylight savings time ends.

 

Anyhow all kidding and sarcasm aside let say they sign Lynn that leaves them with a rotation of

 

Santana

Lynn (a good pickup)

Berrios

Gibson (he's been tendered but on thin ice)

and a whole assortment of potential options for #5.  

 

Gonsalves

Sledgers

Jorge

May

Romero (soon)

Littell (soon)

 

That's not a bad rotation to enter the season with and certainly playoff competitive.

 

where, exactly, did I say Thorpe should be there this year? I want him set up for next year (uh, to me, this year is 2018......). Ready. Not "he needs at least half a year in AA/AAA first" ready. That's hardly "sprinting" if he's the prospect they need him to be. And, he's just one example. Why did Gonsalves spend nearly all year in AA, utterly dominating, and not move to AAA sooner to face better hitters? 

 

We are just going to disagree on this. IMO, they aren't going to win anything if they won't take risks. Those risks include moving someone that might be an ok number 5 to RP sooner, rather than later, and getting a guy like Thorpe ready to pitch in the majors in 2019.

 

Well, then there is no real disagreement on Thorpe. I expect him to start in Hi A this year, blow through it, and perhaps even make it to AAA. He's not going to be ready to start in the majors on day 1 in 2019, he won't be built up with enough innings to make it effectively through a season. But he should absolutely be developed in a way to throw significant innings in the majors in 2019 (assuming he's good enough), with perhaps an eye towards having him finish the season in the rotation.

 

The Gonsalves example is a development of talent issue, not a speed of promotion issue.

 

And moving ok starters to being a reliever quickly is not a "risk", it is just bad asset management. But I agree pushing a guy like Thorpe too quickly would be risky behavior.


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