The 2019 Minnesota Twins offense put up some historic numbers. On Tuesday, we learned that the team had added one of the best hitters over the last dozen years to the already-strong lineup. Twins fans got excited, thinking about the offensive numbers the team could produce. At the same time, many quickly jumped back to asking if the team still needs to add more pitching.Clearly the Twins went into the offseason hoping to add a top starting pitcher. Use the word “impact” if you like. The two impact starters on the free agent market weren’t coming here (Cole, Strasburg). Two of the free agent starters who fit in that next tier (Bumgarner and Wheeler) went elsewhere for non-baseball and non-dollar reasons. And it appears that the Twins just didn’t (understandably) want to give Hyun-Jin Ryu a fourth year.
With that, they shifted their attention to adding to an already-great offense. They gave Josh Donaldson a guaranteed $92 million over the next four years, and an option for 2024 that makes it pretty likely he is retained.
I am often told by Twins fans to expect the offense and several of its hitters to regress in 2020. First, my assumption is that something will be done with the baseball, which may reduce some offensive numbers, but that will be across the board, for all teams. And yes, teams will have more data points to develop a way to attack the Twins hitters. So, regression for some and for the whole, is certainly possible.
However, much of the Twins offense is made up of a core of players between 22-year-old Luis Arraez and 29-year-old Silver Slugger Mitch Garver. And none of them had seasons that were so far out of the realm of their potential that makes you think that any regression would have to be major. Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler all had strong seasons, but none of them outside of what we thought they could do when they were prospects.
Silver Slugger Nelson Cruz is going to turn 40 during the season. It’s silly to expect him to put up the same kind of numbers he put up in 2019, but his approach and his strength should still produce really good numbers in the middle of a lineup. Josh Donaldson replaces CJ Cron in the lineup. While he is older, he’s been one of the greatest hitters in baseball. If healthy, he should continue to put up eye-popping numbers.
Injuries? Yes, injuries happen and they aren’t necessarily easy or possible to predict. But, there is one good way to alleviate some of those concerns. The first is simply to have depth. The Twins have depth. Simply in the form of Marwin Gonzalez there is depth. He can play the corner infield and corner outfield spots. LaMonte Wade and Jake Cave can man the outfield spots when needed. Ehire Adrianza is a terrific utility infielder. Alex Avila is the backup catcher. And there are prospects, high-caliber prospects at each position, who are close to MLB-ready.
The Twins were able to keep Jake Odorizzi away from free agency for one more year by offering him the $17.8 million Qualifying Offer (and him accepting it). They also retained the services of right-hander Michael Pineda for the next two years. He will finish the final 39 games of his suspension and rejoin the team in mid-May.
Jose Berrios is entering his Age-26 season. He will need to figure out August, but there’s a lot to be excited about it, and there is potential for him to find another level. Jake Odorizzi found his next level in 2019. Michael Pineda, at the time he was suspended, was being talked about as a possible Game 1 starter in the playoffs. That’s a solid first three.
Homer Bailey? No, not exciting, but he has certainly had his moments. And, he was really good in the second half of 2019.
Rich Hill? Man, if only he could stay healthy. Over the last five years, he has been a top 10-15 starting pitcher in baseball. Of course, he won’t be back until at least June after elbow surgery. There is no way to know how that recovery and rehab will go with 100% confidence. But they got him for a great contract and even if he’s back by the end of July, and can get close to what he’s been in recent years, that’s a nice pitcher to have in August, September and October. Can the Twins get the best out of him?
With Hill and Pineda unable to start the season on the active list, the rotation will contain Berrios, Odorizzi, Bailey and…
Well, for right now, that answer comes down to about four options; Brusdar Graterol, Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer. Yes, Blaine Hardy will be at spring training. Jhoan Duran is on the 40-man roster, so he’ll be at big-league spring training for a while. There may be other names mentioned early in spring training. But for all intents and purposes, it comes down to those four pitchers.
All four pitched in the big leagues in 2019.
Randy Dobnak: He was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2019 when he pitched in Ft. Myers, Pensacola, Rochester and ended the season with the Twins, pitching well enough in September to earn a Game 2 start in the playoffs. It didn’t go well, but it shouldn’t minimize how much he grew and improved over the course of the season. And, in addition to being a good story, he’s a good pitcher too.
Lewis Thorpe: He was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2018. He spent most of 2019 in Rochester but came up a couple of times. He made a few starts and also pitched out of the bullpen. He had some good games and some not-so-good games, but what he did well is miss bats.
Devin Smeltzer: He moved back into a starting role in 2019 and started in Pensacola. A month later he was in Rochester, and before the end of May, he made his major-league debut and it went very well. He was a frequent guest on the Rochester-to-Minneapolis travel list but experienced success in a variety of roles in the big leagues.
Brusdar Graterol: He came up for September and worked out of the bullpen. He was off to a good start last year in AA, but he missed nearly three months in the middle of the season with a shoulder injury. He came back in the bullpen so that he could be called up and his triple-digit fastball could help the Twins late. He will be on some sort of innings plan, but most would think that it’d be ideal for him to continue developing as a starter. Could that be as a ‘Primary’ pitcher, or could he just be a regular starter until Pineda comes back, or until Hill returns?
Derek Falvey is often given a lot of credit for the pitching development in Cleveland. We have seen them continue to develop a pipeline of quality starters. Several of their current pitchers were not top prospects when they came up but certainly have developed into that status. Corey Kluber might just be the best example of that development plan and process, though he will be with the Rangers in 2020.
So, should we believe in Derek Falvey’s track record? Should we trust the processes that have been initiated by Falvey along with pitching guru Josh Kalk and minor league pitching coordinator Paul Maki, and each of the minor league coaches and coordinators brought in? How about their utilization of technologies in recent years? Why not give these guys a chance?
Herein lies the question from today’s title, Do the Twins need to add another starter?
In my opinion, the answer is obvious. No, they don’t NEED to add another starter. With this offense, the team will win a lot of games. Their top two pitchers (Berrios, Odorizzi) are good. Bailey certainly can be good. And, four young pitchers who got time in 2019 are certainly capable of being solid, and a few of them have the potential to be pretty good. Having that offensive support should certainly encourage them to throw a lot of strikes. Pineda will be back. Hill should be back a little later.
But, it isn’t that simple. While they don’t NEED to add another starter, Falvey and Thad Levine should continue to monitor the starting pitcher trade market. I don’t think Jon Gray or German Marquez are going to be available this offseason, but those are the caliber of pitcher that the team should show interest in. Y’all know I’m not at all high on Matt Boyd, but if the Twins research and development crew says that he could be a pitcher of the Berrios/Odorizzi/Pineda quality in 2020, maybe try that. There may be names that we haven’t even thought of that they could get.
But don’t just add any more pitchers just to add more pitchers. If they’re going to make a move, make it a good one. Get a pitcher as good as Odorizzi, or better.
If not, take your chances with a strong offense and a pretty solid starting rotation (and a pretty solid bullpen too, mind you). Continue to evaluate and teach those inexperienced pitchers, Get Pineda back. Get Hill back…
And keep an eye on the phone, always looking to make a big addition in July… or June… or May!
For much more on Brusdar Graterol, Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer, along with Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic and about 90 other Twins minor league pitchers, order a copy of the 2020 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. It is available in paperback or PDF ebook.
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No question about it that they need one more GOOD starter at least.