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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.

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102 Comments

The last season the Twins had too many good pitchers was when?Not when they traded Garza or Lohse..Maybe when the franchise had the Big Train. I was not around for that.

 

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

 

You prefer they get hurt their rookie seasons and expedite their clock so they can reach arbitration without having contributed much of anything?

 

These college arms aren't sitting in the minors for giggles. If they had the stuff and command (and health) locked down to be effective in the majors they would blow through the system.

    • dbminn and Tom Froemming like this
Did the Twins really tender Gibson a contract?
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Tom Froemming
Dec 06 2017 12:03 PM

 

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? 

Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors predicted the Twins would sign Darvish in his latest chat. Obviously he was just speculating, but it wasn't baseless. Those guys pay as close attention to things around the league as anybody. Maybe they don't land Yu, but I am to the point where I expect them to sign one of those top 4 starters. But you're absolutely right, there's a lot of competition for those guys so I doubt they get two in that class.

 

As far as the second spot, I could see the team either trading for a Cole/Odorizzi/Straily type or it wouldn't surprise me if there's a second-tier free agent that appeals to this front office for some specific reason. Maybe they think getting Chatwood out of Denver could be a game changer for him or they can fix Chacin or Tillman's wildness. They liked Jaime Garcia enough to trade for him. 

 

Would that be overkill? Maybe, but guys are going to get hurt. If you want five decent starters all year you probably realistically need to have like 10 of them in house.

    • birdwatcher, bluechipper and MN_ExPat like this
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KirbyDome89
Dec 06 2017 12:10 PM

 

You prefer they get hurt their rookie seasons and expedite their clock so they can reach arbitration without having contributed much of anything?

 

These college arms aren't sitting in the minors for giggles. If they had the stuff and command (and health) locked down to be effective in the majors they would blow through the system.

As opposed to turning 25 and being exposed to the Rule V draft before pitching for the Twins?  

 

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.

Funny. I was thinking of Liam as well.I know it happens but i disagree that there are 10 of Liam for every Kyle.If you dominate in the minors you still have a pretty good shot of doing ok in the majors. From my memory the scouting reports on stuff show Gonsalves to be much better than Liam's.Also, Liam is a pretty good poster boy for your point but he has still carved out some pretty good major league years since he has left Minnesota.

 

Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors predicted the Twins would sign Darvish in his latest chat. Obviously he was just speculating, but it wasn't baseless. Those guys pay as close attention to things around the league as anybody. Maybe they don't land Yu, but I am to the point where I expect them to sign one of those top 4 starters. But you're absolutely right, there's a lot of competition for those guys so I doubt they get two in that class.

 

As far as the second spot, I could see the team either trading for a Cole/Odorizzi/Straily type or it wouldn't surprise me if there's a second-tier free agent that appeals to this front office for some specific reason. Maybe they think getting Chatwood out of Denver could be a game changer for him or they can fix Chacin or Tillman's wildness. They liked Jaime Garcia enough to trade for him. 

 

Would that be overkill? Maybe, but guys are going to get hurt. If you want five decent starters all year you probably realistically need to have like 10 of them in house.

 

Signing an established starter and a one year flyer on a vet seems like the bare minimum they should do. 

    • nicksaviking and Tom Froemming like this

 

Did the Twins really tender Gibson a contract?

 

They aren't that incompetent to just let him go.

    • BuxtonBandwagon likes this

 

As opposed to turning 25 and being exposed to the Rule V draft before pitching for the Twins?  

 

Is that a worse outcome than if he had been rushed up two years, likely not pitched well, then likely been dfa'ed this offseason after missing a ton of time due to injury?

 

If he was good enough, they would have protected him on the 40 man.

They aren't that incompetent to just let him go.

so, they are going to try and trade him? That should be interesting after he gets like 5M plus in arbitration.
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KirbyDome89
Dec 06 2017 12:31 PM

 

Is that a worse outcome than if he had been rushed up two years, likely not pitched well, then likely been dfa'ed this offseason after missing a ton of time due to injury?

 

If he was good enough, they would have protected him on the 40 man.

That conclusion seems pretty absolute but we'll assume that scenario played out for every college arm they drafted. 

 

Would the lack of production matter? Does the DFA matter? Who cares if you're burning service time, you've already decided they aren't good enough to be protected on the 40 man anyway. If nothing else you would at least know what you're giving up. If they're so down on these college arms as to not care about protecting them then why the fuss about fast tracking them?

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nicksaviking
Dec 06 2017 12:32 PM

 

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. 

 

 

I don't know, it seems to me the starters who get tossed to the pen thrive or dive with very little forewarning. Glen Perkins, Mike Minor, Wade Davis, (examples only, they were more well known for sure) all had good control but were rather blase at best as starters. They had pedestrian fastballs a slider and an off speed pitch, but they go to the pen and pick up 3 MPH on their fastball and become good relief pieces. 

 

Looking at Fangraphs data though, that velocity increase doesn't typically happen until the first full season away from starting. So regardless if it's Slegers or a guy like Tom Koehler who I was a bit interested in, if the team wants to give them a fair shake in the pen, they need to know going in that their roll is to come on in relief.

 

I don't know, it seems to me the starters who get tossed to the pen thrive or dive with very little forewarning. Glen Perkins, Mike Minor, Wade Davis, (examples only, they were more well known for sure) all had good control but were rather blase at best as starters. They had pedestrian fastballs a slider and an off speed pitch, but they go to the pen and pick up 3 MPH on their fastball and become good relief pieces. 

 

Looking at Fangraphs data though, that velocity increase doesn't typically happen until the first full season away from starting. So regardless if it's Slegers or a guy like Tom Koehler who I was a bit interested in, if the team wants to give them a fair shake in the pen, they need to know going in that their roll is to come on in relief.

 

I haven't dug into Minor a whole lot, seems mostly injury related, but I think generally a good profile for a starter to really good reliever transition is having a plus second pitch and not much of a third and fourth pitch. Probably more important than a couple tick jump in fastball.

 

I imagine the lag time is due partly to figuring out the transition. This is one reason I would potentially be in favor of Romero making the switch, but I think it is also smart to give him one more early look at being a starter.

 

The rest of the guys just seem like long men in the pen if they cant make it as a backend starter, not much of a plus pitch anywhere.

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nicksaviking
Dec 06 2017 12:39 PM

 

so, they are going to try and trade him? That should be interesting.

 

Why would they let him go at all?

 

Maybe his last two months were a fluke, but considering the dramatic uptick in usage of his four-seamer and the dramatic reduction of his sinker, it seems like there is at least enough evidence that his strong second half production was due to the fact that he got on board with what the team was preaching and he'll continue to do so.

 

Seems odd he'd be kicked to the curb after he's done what was asked of him and it actually paid off.

    • Thrylos, bluechipper and BuxtonBandwagon like this
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nicksaviking
Dec 06 2017 12:46 PM

 

I haven't dug into Minor a whole lot, seems mostly injury related, but I think generally a good profile for a starter to really good reliever transition is having a plus second pitch and not much of a third and fourth pitch. Probably more important than a couple tick jump in fastball.

 

 

I'm always excited about a velocity jump but the effectiveness very well could be due to the secondary pitch. Though I'd think any velocity increase would also benefit a slider and a slider always does seem to be part of the package of starters turned good relievers.

Why would they let him go at all?

Maybe his last two months were a fluke, but considering the dramatic uptick in usage of his four-seamer and the dramatic reduction of his sinker, it seems like there is at least enough evidence that his strong second half production was due to the fact that he got on board with what the team was preaching and he'll continue to do so.

Seems odd he'd be kicked to the curb after he's done what was asked of him and it actually paid off.

he had a good five game streak in there from mid August to mid Sept (4 games against the 12th, 13th and 15th scoring offense in the AL and then another against the lowest scoring team in baseball) Then his last three games we saw vintage Gibson: 17 innings pitched, 11 earned runs. Why are so many people convinced he finally turned it around (like when so.
many said they were convinced he turned himself around after his 2015 season ended)?
    • HitInAPinch, sthpstm and rghrbek like this

 

Why would they let him go at all?

 

Maybe his last two months were a fluke, but considering the dramatic uptick in usage of his four-seamer and the dramatic reduction of his sinker, it seems like there is at least enough evidence that his strong second half production was due to the fact that he got on board with what the team was preaching and he'll continue to do so.

 

Seems odd he'd be kicked to the curb after he's done what was asked of him and it actually paid off.

 

Especially with a new pitching coach coming...

 

I'm always excited about a velocity jump but the effectiveness very well could be due to the secondary pitch. Though I'd think any velocity increase though would benefit a slider and a slider always does seem to be part of the package of starers turned good relievers.

 

Something that could also happen (not saying it would work for Slegers), is moving to the bullpen will lead to him dropping a couple of his secondary pitches and focusing on the best one, leading to it playing up in shorter stints, in addition to an uptick in the fastball.

 

But I wouldn't do that yet for Slegers, he will be needed for early starting depth.

    • nicksaviking likes this
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Nick Nelson
Dec 06 2017 01:03 PM

 

he had a good five game streak in there from mid August to mid Sept (4 games against the 12th, 13th and 15th scoring offense in the AL and then another against the lowest scoring team in baseball) Then his last three games we saw vintage Gibson: 17 innings pitched, 11 earned runs. Why are so many people convinced he finally turned it around (like when so.
many said they were convinced he turned himself around after his 2015 season ended)?

He still had a 13% swinging strike rate in those final three starts, and struck out 20 hitters in 17 innings. That matters more than the results in my eyes, and helps to answer your final question.

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I think Mejia might be the guy moved to the bullpen. 21 starts and only 5 of them longer than 5 innings. Even with those short starts he was just average. .761 OPS against the first time facing a batter (which isn't that impressive), .933 OPS against the 2nd time. Very seldom in the game for a 3rd time around the lineup

    • birdwatcher likes this

 

so, they are going to try and trade him? That should be interesting after he gets like 5M plus in arbitration.

Whoops, I had forgotten about how the Twins had tendered all their RFAs, so Gibson's under contract. I don't imagine they'd get much in a trade but it could be worthwhile. I wanted to believe this guy could be a #3 pitcher, but his performances are just so frustrating, fluctuating between a legit starter and pumpkin over the 2017 season.

    • HitInAPinch and jimmer like this

Whoops, I had forgotten about how the Twins had tendered all their RFAs, so Gibson's under contract. I don't imagine they'd get much in a trade but it could be worthwhile. I wanted to believe this guy could be a #3 pitcher, but his performances are just so frustrating, fluctuating between a legit starter and pumpkin over the 2017 season.

not to mention the 2016 season. His 2017 was practically a mirror image of his 2016.
    • HitInAPinch and rghrbek like this

 

Is there any advantage to starting a pitcher coming off of injury (May - Tommy John surgery) in a warmer climate like Chattanooga or Fort Myers?

I'd think if he starts the season on the DL, he'd go to Extended Spring training first, no?

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birdwatcher
Dec 06 2017 03:07 PM

 

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

 

I get what your viewpoint is but I'm not all that convinced that we're seeing much more than a handful of anecdotal examples where and that there's a discernible pattern. There are probably as many examples of an organization aggressively promoting pitchers and watching them struggle mightily than there are of that same team being rewarded. I could be wrong about this, but I generally believe the readiness of all these players is defined by their own individual performances, and that development philosophy plays a very insignificant role.

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nicksaviking
Dec 06 2017 03:31 PM

he had a good five game streak in there from mid August to mid Sept (4 games against the 12th, 13th and 15th scoring offense in the AL and then another against the lowest scoring team in baseball) Then his last three games we saw vintage Gibson: 17 innings pitched, 11 earned runs. Why are so many people convinced he finally turned it around (like when so.
many said they were convinced he turned himself around after his 2015 season ended)?


Nobody is convinced, but if you're seriously asking why there is optimism from 2017 when folks were fooled in 2015 look at the dynamically different pitch usage his last two months of this past year:

http://www.brooksbas...Date=12/06/2017

Considering the change coincided with the return from a recent demotion, it looks like he finally got the memo to lay off his bad sinker.

    • USAFChief likes this

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