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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

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yarnivek1972
Dec 06 2017 04:09 PM

not to mention the 2016 season. His 2017 was practically a mirror image of his 2016.


This. Exactly. If you are expecting better results, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I’m sure those are what Falvine’s expectations are. He’s still very tradeable. Any healthy pitcher is a tradeable commodity.

This. Exactly. If you are expecting better results, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I’m sure those are what Falvine’s expectations are. He’s still very tradeable. Any healthy pitcher is a tradeable commodity.


So you want to have three holes instead of two?

Gibson is not great by any means, but it is a cheap contract and there are not a ton of alternatives floating around. It's a no brainer gamble for the Twins to take.
    • USAFChief likes this

 

Nobody is convinced, but if you're seriously asking why there is optimism in 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.

Like Gibson got the memo about his pitching in 2015, and Hughes got the memo about his pitching in 2014, and how Suzuki got the memo about his hitting in 2014? Remember Suzuki's mechanics fix, and Hughes fix cause of different pitch selection/grip and new home park?

 

Here's to hoping (cause I love being wrong when it means good things happened to our team), but I said after the 2015 season that he was going to be a drain on our rotation for years to come and we should trade him now.I got slammed for my beliefs on him then too.I was told he had finally figured it out, he was living up to his draft pick, things like that. I'll continue to have people be exasperated that I can't see the light on him after having 5 very nice game against horrible offenses who were having lost seasons.As if that short sample size outweighs most of last season and all of 2016 (or, basically, his whole career minus 2015) and as if we know he'll stick to the changes (and that they'll continue to be effective).Most players at 30 are who they are.

    • KirbyDome89 likes this

Prospects/Suspects- Call them what you will. Sometimes you have to take a chance and either trade 1-2 or put 1-2 in the rotation. I still say we will get something out of Hughes this season. I also wonder if Gibson turned the corner. We would not have made the playoffs without his contribution. Are there any free agents we can afford? How much would Fiers cost? 

 

Prospects/Suspects- Call them what you will. Sometimes you have to take a chance and either trade 1-2 or put 1-2 in the rotation. I still say we will get something out of Hughes this season. I also wonder if Gibson turned the corner. We would not have made the playoffs without his contribution. Are there any free agents we can afford? How much would Fiers cost? 

We wouldn't have made the playoffs without his contribution?How do you figure?I mean, technically, everyone who played made a contribution, so in that sense, sure.But his contribution was mostly about stinking up the joint almost the whole season.For as well as he pitched for a month down the stretch, also have to include how he did the rest of the time cause all games count the same duringthe season. There are plenty of pitchers who could have contributed like he did and we still get in.

 

71 SP in the AL had 150 more IP, he ranked 60th in FIP and WAR. For the ERA lovers, he ranked 64th.He was 85th in WHIP.

 

He DID manage to get a lot of run support.90 pitchers in baseball had 140 or more IP, he got the most run support: 6.62.Next highest was 6.21 (and that was the NL).The next highest in the AL was Cole Hamels and 6.13.

 

And he got demoted.

 

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.

There was I time that I thought they were the same guy and that Liam just turned things around after leaving the Twin's. Led to a couple of confusing conversations  with my friends that are cubs fans.

    • jimmer likes this

I could actually imagine both Slegers and Enns ending up in the MLB pen eventually.

 

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yarnivek1972
Dec 06 2017 05:15 PM

So you want to have three holes instead of two?

Gibson is not great by any means, but it is a cheap contract and there are not a ton of alternatives floating around. It's a no brainer gamble for the Twins to take.


If the Twins don’t have 5 pitchers better than Kyle Gibson, they aren’t legitimate title contenders IMO.
    • jimmer likes this

 

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

 

Not necessarily.If he starts the season on the DL as soon as he is game ready, he will probably make some rehab starts likely with the Miracle and then with Chattanooga or Rochester.  

 

One important point:May has another option left, which can be useful to eg. help him build endurance in Rochester, even if he is not crisp with his pitches and would be a liability if in the majors (where it counts.)

    • Sconnie and Tom Froemming like this
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SydneyTwinsFan
Dec 06 2017 08:29 PM

After a nightmare start, Gibson was pretty solid for the last 4 months of the season:

 

From 1 June - 21 GS; 121.1 IP; 4.23 ERA; 7.1 K/9; 2.9 BB/9

 

Over the same period:

Santana - 22 GS; 134.1 IP; 4.15 ERA; 7.4 K/9; 2.2 BB/9

Berrios - 21 GS; 119.0 IP; 4.16 ERA; 8.5 K/9; 3.0 BB/9

 

Of course games played in April and May count just of much, and yes the sample size is a bit arbitrary. I don't know whether the last 4 months represents a "turning of the corner" or a sample size fluke, but to argue Gibson wasn't a contributor over a long period of the season is a bit unfair IMO.

If the Twins don’t have 5 pitchers better than Kyle Gibson, they aren’t legitimate title contenders IMO.


That may be true. But they should probably focus on getting three pitchers before they worry about getting rid of Gibson.

I would still say last year showed that they can make the playoffs with Gibson in the rotation. Probably don't want him starting in the postseason though.

 

Prospects/Suspects- Call them what you will. Sometimes you have to take a chance and either trade 1-2 or put 1-2 in the rotation. I still say we will get something out of Hughes this season. I also wonder if Gibson turned the corner. We would not have made the playoffs without his contribution. Are there any free agents we can afford? How much would Fiers cost? 

Fiers will probably get a 2 year deal worth about 20 million. If he is your free agent starter added he wouldcost any shot at competing in the playoffs.If you signed him because you traded Gibson, he only costs a little moneythat could have been better spent elsewhere.

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yarnivek1972
Dec 06 2017 09:08 PM

That may be true. But they should probably focus on getting three pitchers before they worry about getting rid of Gibson.

I would still say last year showed that they can make the playoffs with Gibson in the rotation. Probably don't want him starting in the postseason though.

I would say there was a very clear line in the AL this past year. The Twins were not nearly as good as the other 4 teams in the playoffs. Not nearly. And even further behind the top two.

So, yeah, if no one else in the AL gets better they can make the playoffs with Gibson in the rotation. Didn’t say they couldn’t. But making the playoffs doesn’t make a team a legitimate title contender. The pretenders are pretty quickly dismissed in the current playoff format.
I guess I'm surprised that anybody thinks the Twins system has too many good pitchers. I'll believe it when they show they should be in the big leagues.
    • jimmer likes this

Not necessarily. If he starts the season on the DL as soon as he is game ready, he will probably make some rehab starts likely with the Miracle and then with Chattanooga or Rochester.

One important point: May has another option left, which can be useful to eg. help him build endurance in Rochester, even if he is not crisp with his pitches and would be a liability if in the majors (where it counts.)

i forgot he still has an option. Hate to burn it in a recovery effort. It’d be nice to keep it in your pocket in case he’s still not 100% next year, worst case scenario, though he’s apparently throwing 100 so good sign.

Good stuff Thrylos
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nicksaviking
Dec 07 2017 09:05 AM

 

Like Gibson got the memo about his pitching in 2015, and Hughes got the memo about his pitching in 2014, and how Suzuki got the memo about his hitting in 2014? Remember Suzuki's mechanics fix, and Hughes fix cause of different pitch selection/grip and new home park?

 

Considering the past front office lived and died by pitch-to-contact methods and made little attempt to intentionally increase MLB strikeout numbers, I seriously doubt they sent out any memos telling Gibson to lessen his sinker usage.

    • USAFChief likes this
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KirbyDome89
Dec 07 2017 12:03 PM

I've resigned myself to the fact that Gibson will pitch for the Twins in 2018. It's far from ideal, but he's going to start games; they just don't have enough proven arms to toss him out, and I get that. What I don't understand is the optimism surrounding his spot in the rotation. We heard before 17' that he had made mechanical changes and he was turning a corner. We heard before the 16' that the 2015 version of Gibson was real and he was going to build off of that. Clearly I have Gibson fatigue, but at what point can we just call him inconsistent/below average rotational filler and move on.

    • jimmer likes this

 

I've resigned myself to the fact that Gibson will pitch for the Twins in 2018. It's far from ideal, but he's going to start games; they just don't have enough proven arms to toss him out, and I get that. What I don't understand is the optimism surrounding his spot in the rotation. We heard before 17' that he had made mechanical changes and he was turning a corner. We heard before the 16' that the 2015 version of Gibson was real and he was going to build off of that. Clearly I have Gibson fatigue, but at what point can we just call him inconsistent/below average rotational filler and move on.

 

I personally expect him to pitch pretty close to what he has the last couple of years. But considering the state of the rotation and the dearth of readily available options to acquire, I think if he makes 30 starts at 160 innings of similar performance that is easily worth what he is about to get in arbitration.

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this
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KirbyDome89
Dec 07 2017 12:59 PM

 

I personally expect him to pitch pretty close to what he has the last couple of years. But considering the state of the rotation and the dearth of readily available options to acquire, I think if he makes 30 starts at 160 innings of similar performance that is easily worth what he is about to get in arbitration.

Fair enough, I wouldn't be shocked to see him fall somewhere around where he was the past two seasons. Arbitration obviously would reflect that so it certainly wouldn't be wasted money. Honestly, I'm not concerned about the money at all, or even the fact he's still with the team. When I said "move on," I meant distance ourselves from the idea a light has suddenly turned on for him. 

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this

None of these guys are #1s/#2s, or probably even #3s. They Twins still need to pick someone up. The Santana train could derail, leaving the team with Berrios and....?

 

The minor league depth helps for restocking the #4/#5 guys, but the team doesn't have enough top of the rotation guys who are ready to play ball.

The only problem that counts is when wehave too many quality starting pitchers for the five major league slots. 

Because I'm such a deep guy.

 

It's easy for me to say: "Depth... I love it". 

 

Because I'm such a deep guy.

 

It's easy for me to say: "Depth... I love it". 

I love all the depth we have at the 5th spot in the rotation.Three guys on the MLB roster all deserving of the title with lots of depth in the minors that can fill the same spot. :-)

 

Lest we forget the multiple pitchers that the excuse, 'Well for a #5 guy he's not bad'(or variations of the same theme) was used.That excuse SHOULD only be able to be used on one guy in a rotation at a time, but our depth makes it possible to use that excuse for bad performance by multiple pitchers.For years.

 

I love all the depth we have at the 5th spot in the rotation.Three guys on the MLB roster all deserving of the title with lots of depth in the minors that can fill the same spot. :-)

 

They have to fill the same spot over and over again. Pitchers get hurt... sometimes in bunches.

 

I don't do the #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 thing like some do.  

 

I'm simply looking for arms who can hang a zero on occasion and give the offense a chance to win a game and a team with depth has about 10 of those guys and use all of them during the course of a season.

 

Doing the number thing... The past decade... we have been trotting 7's and 8's to fill in the gaps. 

 

I remember throwing Blackburn over and over again because we had nobody else. I remember PJ Walters, Pedro Hernandez. 

 

I remember having nobody to perform better than Vance Worley. I remember Yohan Pino and Logan Darnell. 

 

Call them 5th spot guys... it's OK with me as long as they are not 8th spot guys.Having potential guys who can actually get outs with Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero in Rochester... allows us to choose from whoever is doing best when they are needed and allows us to ignore who is struggling. 

 

Pat Dean won't be coming up because we have nobody else. 

 

Depth... I love It... I've been waiting for it. 

 

 

    • diehardtwinsfan likes this

Well, we only had 3 SPs who threw in triple digit innings for us last year, one of them had an FIP of 4.85 (ERA over 5.00 for the people who call that the results).

 

We only had 5 SPs who threw more than 70 innings for us, one of them being a 44 year old pitcher who gave us a FIP of 5.31 and an ERA of 5.13.

 

Of the 16 SPs who started for us, 11 had FIPs over 5.30.Of the five who were below a 5.30 FIP, three of them were above 4.45.

 

http://www.fangraphs...ers=0&sort=16,d

 


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