Thus far in 2018, the Minnesota Twins have played seven baseball games. They've had to deal with frigid temperatures, some snow, and even a postponement in the early going. What they have yet to need due to the circumstances, is a fifth starter. That leash could soon be coming to an end however, and Rule 5 draft pick Tyler Kinley could be caught up in the heart of the shuffle.
Through the seven games, Minnesota has won three times by at least four runs, and they were beaten recently by the Seattle Mariners to the tune of a seven run deficit. Despite what would seem like a few opportunities, Paul Molitor has only inserted Minnesota's Rule 5 pick into one game. Kinley got an inning of mop-up work during the blowout loss to the Mariners. He threw 22 pitches over one inning and gave up a hit, run, and walk while tallying two strikeouts.
During his inning of work, it was ever apparent as to why the Twins both wanted to grab the former Miami Marlins prospect, and why they were able to. He topped out at 96 mph, reaching that velocity on nine of his 22 pitches. There was also three sweeping sliders at 88 mph that were offered to Mariners hitters. Just 50% of his pitches were in the strike zone however, and there were more than a couple that appeared simply non-competitive. Velocity and lack of command isn't a new blueprint, and it's one that many Rule 5 draftees possess. In being held back until this moment however, it seems widely apparent that manager Paul Molitor doesn't see the training wheels coming off any time soon.
This is where things begin to get a bit hairy for both the Twins and Kinley. With Ervin Santana still on the shelf (and frankly not looking like he'll be back before June), Phil Hughes is looking like the most likely candidate to be inserted into the Minnesota rotation. He could be needed as soon as Friday, and the expected move would be that reliever Gabriel Moya would be sent to the minors. In 2.1 IP thus far, Moya has allowed 2 ER on 1 HR and 2 H. It's a small sample size, and the numbers don't suggest much. While he has dominated in the minors, and looks the part of a big league reliever, he has the unfortunate burden of carrying options. What this does for Minnesota though, could be described as suboptimal.
In sending out Moya, Minnesota decreases their relief arms by two. Molitor already isn't using Kinley (for fair reasons), and Moya is no longer at his disposal. Coupled with the fact that Trevor Hildenberger simply has not looked right since spring training commenced and Zach Duke has been effectively (but equally ineffective) wild out of the gate with his new team, the Twins relief corps finds themselves immediately stretched. There's little denying that Alan Busenitz couldn't be helping the big league club, but right now there's just no avenue to make it happen.
While sorting this all out, Derek Falvey is also faced with a reality that could end up being somewhat of an "egg on face" situation. Sure, Kinley's velocity was intriguing enough to take a flier on, but he really didn't make sense for the Twins given the other options. During the roster shuffle surrounding the Rule 5 draft and beyond, Minnesota lost Luke Bard, Nick Burdi, and J.T. Chargois. Burdi wasn't going to factor into the plans this year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but both of the other two are on big league rosters and showing nicely.
As a Rule 5 pick, Bard has the same stipulations as Kinley does. During spring training with the Los Angeles Angels, Bard never appeared in jeopardy of missing out on the 25 man roster however. He's backed up the vote of confidence by turning in a 1.42 ERA across his first 6.1 IP this season. The eight strikeouts have equated to an 11.4 K/9, though he does have an ugly five walks in that same span as well. Chargois was a waiver claim by the Dodgers, and despite that suggesting he nearly passed through unclaimed, one of the best teams in baseball saw and avenue to improve their pen. He's rewarded them with 3.1 scoreless IP giving up just 2 H, striking out three, and working around 95 mph with his fastball.
Now is too late to boo-hoo over the loss of players that could have been capable of providing value in the Twins pen. What's going to be tough to stomach however is if Minnesota is forced to give up on Kinley after a matter of weeks, or even a month, and watch their alternative options thrive. At some point soon though, Paul Molitor and the Twins brain trust is going to face a crossroads that determines how they move forward. A team with Postseason aspirations can't have unusable assets out in the pen, and with guys scuffling out of the gate, there has to be more trustworthy options available sooner rather than later.
We shouldn't have to wait much longer to see how this situation plays itself out, and hopefully, the sting won't be too bad when all is said and done.