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Thorpe Thrusting into the Rotation

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 12 February 2020 · 1,710 views

minnesota twins lewis thorpe
Not all developmental paths are the same, and not all prospects move on a linear path to the major leagues. After being signed as a teenager and briefly generating buzz throughout the system things came to a halt in 2015. Now ready to kick down the door at the major league level, he may be the biggest breakout candidate in 2020.

If you don’t know the story, it’s one of stunted development. Tommy John surgery followed by a crazy case of mononucleosis robbed Thorpe of two full seasons. After pitching on August 31, 2014, he was not back in a professional game until May 19, 2017. A lot of growth and maturation took place during that stretch, and since returning to the mound he’s done nothing but impress.

His first year back, Thorpe posted a 2.93 ERA and 9.9 K/9 across 83 innings. He followed that up with a 3.54 ERA and 10.9 K/9 at Double and Triple-A during the 2018 campaign. Last year he saw the K/9 jump to a career high 11.1 at Triple-A Rochester, and with the 2.3 BB/9 representing a career low, it was time for big league exposure.

Although there were some tough outings in 2019, and the final ERA sat at 6.18 through 27.2 IP, it’s what the rest of the results tell us that remains enticing. Thorpe posted a strong 3.47 FIP and kept up his strikeout rate in the bigs tallying 10.1 K/9. Averaging 91.5 mph on his fastball, this isn’t just a traditional soft tossing lefty with an ability to spin it. He’s predominantly a fastball/slider guy but worked in both a changeup and curveball.

With Minnesota having brought in Jhoulys Chacin on a minor league deal, the assumption would be that he has the inside track to crack the 26-man roster as the 5th pitcher. Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, and Devin Smeltzer will all be in the mix, but I’d imagine their early Triple-A results will line up who gets what opportunity and when. For Thorpe, he has a very strong chance to separate himself from the pack.

A former Top-100 prospect, Thorpe’s track record is one that presents a very comforting floor. The ceiling of an ace isn’t there but a guy that can miss bats 12% of the time, expand the zone one-third of the time, and do a good job of limiting hard contact is something any rotation would plug right in the middle. If he’s able to work his way into an opportunity of extended run expecting something like the career results of Michael Pineda, and pop up stretches of Jake Odorizzi, is more than a doable ask.

The Twins traded away Brusdar Graterol in part because of their long-term view regarding where his innings would come from. Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are the pitchers represented on the prospect lists, and both remain starting candidates. Thorpe is the forgotten man in all of this though, and if the steps forward continue with the developmental infrastructure Minnesota has set up, he is primed to make the earliest impact.

I won’t put a timeline on where, when, or how long the opportunity will present itself, but when the Southpaw from Down Under dazzles don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • mikelink45 and DannySD like this



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South Dakota Tom
Feb 12 2020 02:13 PM

Ted, a lot of these projections can differ widely depending on whether the author is talking about what "will" happen versus what the author predicts, or would like to see.  This is a perfect case in point.  I, too, like Thorpe's projectability, and feel he will show himself to be a strong rotation candidate.

 

OTOH, it sure appears that a rotation of Berrios, Odorizzi, Bailey, and Maeda is going to be hard to dislodge, barring injury.  I would also suggest that, given the roster opening(s), Chacin would be easy for management to slot into the remaining spot.  That would leave Thorpe, Smeltzer, and Dobnak (all with options) as 1-3, with Duran and Balazovic in the wings, as well as the return of Pineda and Hill at some point in the season.

 

I know you are putting no timeline on any of this (nor am I); I'm just suggesting that Thorpe's opportunity arises primarily with an injury during spring training to one of the guys above him, occurring before Pineda's return.  My fear is that the leash on Chacin (even to exploit him as a showcase candidate for trade value) will be long enough that he alone will bridge the gap until 40 games in.  If TSD (Thorpe, Smeltzer, Dobnak) doesn't crack the top 5 in the first month, it is going to be increasingly difficult for them to find a place when Pineda and Hill push them to the 8-10 slots, with Balazovic and Duran behind.  Once Balazovic and Duran have half a season more under their respective belts at AA or higher, I would put them on an even playing field with TSD - those 5 will fight for their own pecking order in spots 8-12.

 

For the 2020 season, however, my guess is that Thorpe is #8 on that list based on in-season performance.  Just not sure he will be so much better than 5-7, quickly enough, for it to matter.

    • mikelink45 and Tomj14 like this
With Minnesota having brought in Jhoulys Chacin on a minor league deal, the assumption would be that he has the inside track to crack the 26-man roster as the 5th pitcher.

 

Boy, I sure hope not. I hope Thorpe or Dobnak can seize that 5th spot, and let Chacin stay as depth at AAA (until he opts out or whatever). I'd much rather go with the guy with far more upside (Thorpe) or at least the guy who pitched great down the stretch (Dobnak) rather than the junkballer who's at the tail end of his career (Chacin).

    • mikelink45 likes this

Did Thorpe ever make any of the prominent top-100 lists? I don't recall that happening, but I could be mistaken.

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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 13 2020 10:52 AM

 

Did Thorpe ever make any of the prominent top-100 lists? I don't recall that happening, but I could be mistaken.

He was 101st in 2014 and 91st in 2015 at Baseball Prospectus

    • In My La-Z-boy likes this

I have not seen anything that excites me about Thorpe and that is why we have been cluttering up the rubber with players like Chacin.I would love to have Thorpe make the move, but I think he really lost his chance last year when Dobnak passed him.

    • Tomj14 and In My La-Z-boy like this
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In My La-Z-boy
Feb 13 2020 02:03 PM

 

I have not seen anything that excites me about Thorpe and that is why we have been cluttering up the rubber with players like Chacin.I would love to have Thorpe make the move, but I think he really lost his chance last year when Dobnak passed him.

Agreed on this - but every year is a new year, and I think with no lefty's in the starting 5, Thorpe or Smeltzer will be given every chance if all else is equal vs Dobs & Chacin. 

Thorp really hasn't proven himself at AAA yet. Lets give him some time.I would think he will start and probably stay in AAA for most of the season unless injuries hit very early. Pineda coming back and Hill several months later, I don't see Thorp having much of an opportunity in 2020.

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Ted Schwerzler
Feb 13 2020 03:07 PM

 

Thorp really hasn't proven himself at AAA yet. 

He's got an 11.1 K/9 2.4 BB/9 and 1.203 WHIP in over 115 Triple-A IP