However, in the big picture, a youthful wave of upcoming impact talent will make or break the fortunes of this critical unit. Fortunately, it's some quality talent.Presently, there are – by my estimation – four young pitchers in the Twins organization who figure to shape the success of the major-league rotation over the next five years. Each is either 21 or 22 years old, and potentially within a year of reaching the bigs.
Let's take a look at each of them, in order of their estimated MLB arrival.
~~~Jose Berrios, RHP
ETA: Early 2017
Obviously, Berrios has already gotten his first taste of the majors. It was nothing short of disastrous. Routinely incapable of finding any semblance of command on the mound, the rookie took a beating over 14 starts with the Twins, registering a hideous 8.04 ERA and failing to reach the sixth inning in any of his last nine turns.
There's nowhere to go from here but up, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Berrios will ascend in a hurry following this setback. His stuff, his consistently excellent minor-league results, and his relentless work ethic all make it difficult to believe the right-hander won't figure things out to some extent.
With that being said, the gravity of some flaws we saw on display do lessen the likelihood of him turning into a true top-of-the-rotation arm, as we optimistically hoped. His reliance on tailing, spinning pitches around the edges of the zone will make it hard for him to ever develop an efficient approach to dispatching hitters, and Berrios could still easily wind up in the bullpen. But we'll see how he looks in 2017 after an offseason of adjustments.
Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
ETA: Late 2017
There's no denying the exceptional numbers Gonsalves has posted. In four minor-league seasons he owns a 32-12 record and 2.13 ERA, and he's coming off his best campaign yet. He also looks the part as a big 6'5" left-hander.
Scouts and prospect analysts have been somewhat restrained in their enthusiasm for Gonsalves despite his statistical success on the hill. Even after his tremendous 2016 campaign, which ended with an 8-1 run over 13 starts in Double-A, John Sickels of Minor League Ball had the southpaw ranked just 85th, and Gonsalves didn't even appear on Baseball America's midseason top 100. (BA did, though, peg him as the club's second-best prospect behind Nick Gordon in November, following his brilliant showing in Chattanooga) .
The dominating pitches and pinpoint command just aren't there to confidently project mastery over big-league hitters, but of course he's still continually improving. And right now he's certainly on track to be a factor for the Twins within the next year or two.
Tyler Jay, LHP
I'll admit that I'm probably lower than most on Jay, as I find it rather concerning that the collegiate reliever's arm couldn't even hold up through even 100 innings in his first year as a starter. With that said, he was the sixth overall draft pick in 2016 and is currently the team's No. 1 prospect according to both MLB.com and USA Today.
He has some work to do, but if Jay can further develop a changeup to complement his plainly fantastic fastball/slider combo, while also building the endurance to withstand 30 starts, he still has a very high ceiling. Perhaps higher than either of the two listed above.
Fernando Romero, RHP
Romero is the least well known among this group, since injuries have kept him out of the picture for so long, but he is also the most exciting. He made only three starts above rookie ball (with Cedar Rapids in 2014) before being shut down and missing most of the next two years due to elbow and knee surgeries.
Despite this detour, Romero was still only 21 this season and returned with a bang, carving up Low-A and then High-A to finish with a 1.89 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 16 starts. Brice Zimmerman, who serves as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for Fort Myers, tweeted recently that Romero is the best arm he's seen in his six years watching Miracle games. His awe for the young Dominican is mirrored by many others inside and outside the organization.
With a hard mid-90s fastball, a plus cutter and good breaking stuff to go along with sharp control, Romero has the recipe for a true top-of-rotation asset. But of course, it will be difficult to feel confident in that assessment until we've seen him put in a full season against upper-minors competition.
~~~If your faith in the current assortment of veteran arms is iffy (and who could blame you), these four present a hopeful future for the Twins rotation. And I haven't touched on the likes of Adalberto Mejia or Kohl Stewart, who could quickly step into this conversation with hot starts in 2017.
Each of these prospects borders on major-league ready, and if even a couple pan out as starters, that's a massive boost. There are these two factors to consider:
1) With a trade sending Brian Dozier to the Dodgers still seeming likely, Jose De Leon is the name that continues to be touted as the likely headliner. De Leon is older than each of the hurlers listed above but would rank above them all on a prospect list and fits the same general timeline. That would be another premium name added to the mix.
2) The Twins, of course, hold the No. 1 pick in next June's draft. If they take a pitcher, especially a college pitcher, it will assuredly be one of the nation's elite amateur talents, with the ability to rise fast.
So, although the Twins are coming off one of the worst seasons ever in terms of run prevention, there is plenty of reason to expect much better things in the near future, particularly if the new baseball ops leaders are able to bolster the developmental process. An awful lot of high-caliber help is on the way.
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