Picture this, I’m sitting in my 1:00 Anthropology class again absolutely bored out of my mind as my professor drones on about, well actually I don’t remember, but I hope it wasn’t important. Anyways, an interesting thought came to me; how did Derek Falvey build the Indians starting pitching staff? This thought came the day after looking at the Fangraphs projections for both Minnesota and Cleveland and realizing that dear God, Cleveland’s starting staff projections are hilariously better than Minnesota’s, even David doesn’t want to take on that Goliath. We can finagle about how much attention the Twins should have given the starting rotation this offseason, but short of signing Dallas Keuchel, trading for Zack Greinke, and then telling Jake Odorizzi to take a hike, the Twins starting staff was always going to be vastly inferior to the Indians. So how did Falvey do it? The man was boasted as the brains behind arguably the strongest rotation in baseball, so let’s dig into how he built it.
Falvey first joined the Indians as an intern in 2007 and then transitioned to Assistant Director of Baseball Operations in 2009. Falvey was then promoted to co-director of Baseball Operations in 2011 where he stayed until becoming the assistant GM in 2016, the same year he joined the Twins as executive vice president and chief baseball officer. Admittedly, Falvey’s role in the Indians front office early on was a bit less important than the one he has now with the Twins, so assigning the reason for these moves directly on him is a bit of a stretch. But at the same time, I think it’s fair to assume that Falvey played a decent role in all of these moves. I also have to appreciate the absurdness of some of the job titles they hand out in teams front offices, I could have made up those positions and you would not have been any wiser.
Corey Kluber, Cy Young winner, perfect robot, and the destroyer of Twins hitters hopes and dreams himself. This inhuman wrecking machine was obtained in a 3 team trade in 2010 between the Padres, Indians, and Cardinals. The Indians received Kluber, the Cardinals received Nick Greenwood, and the Padres obtained Ryan Ludwick. Nick Greenwood was worth -0.2 rWAR in the 36 innings he threw for the Cardinals while Ryan Ludwick put up a .659 OPS over 2 years with the Padres before being dropped on the Pirates. Oh yeah, and that Corey Kluber guy has done OK for the Indians so far.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out how Kluber became what he is now. At the time of the trade, he was just a body in the Padres system and wasn’t even ranked in their top 30 prospect list. He had a career minor league record of 18-24 when traded and was somehow even worse in his first stint with Cleveland’s AAA team. Apparently, he learned how to throw a sinker in 2011 and then won a Cy Young just 3 years later. So take that as a lesson, kids at home, just add one of the best sinkers in MLB and you too can win a Cy Young.
It’s a bit of a disappointing conclusion to draw from Kluber, but basically, we can just say that sometimes it’s the guys who aren’t major prospects who can turn into stars. If I had to assign a player for the Twins that would be their “Kluber”, it would Kohl Stewart. Stewart was initially a better prospect than Kluber but fell so far recently that the Twins were perfectly OK with any team taking him for their own during the rule 5 draft. Since then, he worked his way up through the system until he made his MLB debut in 2018 and became a personal favorite Twin of mine. He even features a similar sinker/cutter combo that has made Kluber an unstoppable pitching machine but lacks the true dominating breaking ball that makes Kluber so ridiculous.
The most scientific man in baseball was a solid innings eater early in his career until he broke out in 2018 and changed to really, we have to worry about another one of these bastards now? And now we don’t even have Oswaldo Arcia to stop him, such a shame. Bauer was originally the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 draft out of UCLA. But he was actually taken by the D-Backs, in case you forgot. He was acquired by the Indians in yet another 3 team trade, this time in 2012. Bauer went to the Indians along with Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and Drew Stubbs, while Didi Gregorius, Tony Sipp, and Lars Anderson went to the D-Backs, and the Reds received Shin Soo-Choo and Jason Donald. Now, that is way more players than I feel like analyzing, but Cleveland made out pretty well here if I do say so myself.
Bauer’s path to the majors is a bit more straightforward, he was a top pick from college and moved as quickly as you would expect a top college arm could move. His status as a prospect was always top and while he was just a good pitcher for a while instead of a great one, he became the true thinking man’s pitcher in 2018 thanks in part to a new slider he developed himself.
Seems simple enough for the Twins to follow here right? Just use an incredibly high pick on an elite starter that sees the game like few pitchers do and is as dedicated to his craft like I am dedicated to the bagel shop on my campus. The closest comparison I can think of is Jose Berrios, Berrios was also a first round pick who is ridiculously dedicated to improving and has more work ethic in his left pinky than I have in my entire body. While Bauer is the better hurler of a round object at high speeds, Berrios has the kind of talent that even Phil Cuzzi could see and could become even better if Wes Johnson and the boys crack his secret code.
The man from Florida who looks like a man from California, Mike was originally taken by the Angels in 2011 before they traded him to Cleveland in 2014 for the guy who sounds more like an extra in “Goodfellas” than a baseball pitcher, Vinnie Pestano. Clevinger actually pitched for the Cedar Rapids Kernels who are now the affiliate for the Twins. I have nothing else to add to that, I just thought it was neat. This was just about the definition of a throwaway trade at the time it occurred, but oh man should we really hate the Angels for this one. Clevinger went from an ERA over 5 in class A to you have got to be joking me, they have another really good starter now?
Clevinger was kind of on people’s radars as he was ranked the 17th best prospect in the Angels organization at the start of 2014, but his numbers up to that point were incredibly whelming. Much like Kluber, he was a guy that the Indians saw and thought that maybe with a tweak here and there, he could become something in the future. And credit to Clevinger, he was apparently all ears about doing whatever he had to do to succeed.
This is another kind of tough one to draw a conclusion from because “just find a guy who is a few changes that no one else can see away from being elite” isn’t really a good blueprint for success or at least not a consistent one. Considering that I have already forced myself to find comparisons for each guy, I will go with Jhoan Duran as the Twins’ “Clevinger”. Duran is a much better prospect than what Clevinger was but also switched teams in a trade during the season. So far in his short time in Cedar Rapids (hint hint), Duran has dominated hitters and looks to move up to high A Fort Myers soon. I hope he doesn't mind that I now have him pegged as the next Clevinger, no pressure there kid.
The cookie monster was originally taken by the Phillies in 2003 out of Venezuela. In his first spring training, he ate Domino’s pizza every day for 90 straight days because he didn’t know what else to order in English. I don’t know how he did that considering that Domino’s pizza tastes like the cardboard box it comes in, but to each his own I guess. Carrasco was also acquired in 2009 in a trade (I’m noticing a pattern) along with some other forgettable dudes for Ben Francisco and Cliff Lee. Carrasco was the top prospect for the Phillies and was ranked as the 41st best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America that year.
Carrasco’s journey to be who he is now took a while as he struggled with injuries and not being effective early on in his MLB career. Despite starting his MLB career in 2009, it took Carrasco until 2015 to pitch more than 150 innings in a season. The Indians took a very conservative approach by using him out of the bullpen often in 2013 and 2014 after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. After working his arm back up, they unleashed him as a starter and he’s been a pain in the Twins’ ass ever since.
Let’s see here, a top prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery, used out of the bullpen at first… Folks, we already have the next Carrasco here in Fernando Romero. Romero arguably has the nastiest stuff in the Twins system but still needs to learn how to refine his game and be the nightmare pitcher we all know he can be. While it seems that Romero is all but destined for the bullpen in 2019, it could be that the Twins still plan on using him as a starter long term and will be in the rotation in 2020 when more spots become available.
The Biebs was taken in the 2016 draft which was the very last one Derek Falvey participated in for Cleveland before leaving for the Twin Cities. He was taken in the 4th round out of college and moved pretty quickly due to being a college starter and having some ridiculous minor league numbers (.6 BB/9, 2.24 ERA).
The Biebs is a much more simple guy to track here, he was taken by Cleveland and moved up their ranks quickly as he continued to perform well at every level. He rose up prospect lists last year thanks to his incredible command and was a top 100 prospect by most publications by the time he made his debut for the Indians.
Who’s the Shane Bieber for the Twins? That’s an interesting one to think of because the front office under Falvey and Levine really haven’t taken many college arms with top picks. This is a bit of a reach, but I’ll pick Blayne Enlow as the Twins’ “Shane Bieber”. Enlow was taken out of high school but was a 3rd round pick partly because the Twins saved enough signing bonus money in the Royce Lewis pick to pay over the slot for Enlow and coax him out of going to the collegiate ranks. While Enlow is still just 19, his projections have received much praise from scouts and being able to handle low A ball as a 19-year-old is pretty impressive. While it will still be a few more years before Enlow probably makes the majors, he could be an important piece in a future Twins rotation.
There it is, the 5 pitchers that make up the current Indians’ starting staff and how they got there along with their Twins counterparts. 4 out of the 5 guys were not originally taken by the Indians and 2 out of the 5 guys were never really big prospects at all while the other 3 were. Probably the most interesting thing to note is that none of these guys were big free agent signings or acquired via trade as veterans and only Bauer had any experience pitching at the MLB level for another team. Is it any coincidence that Falvey has been a stickler for adding long term solutions to the starting rotation so far in his tenure? Pineda, Odorizzi, and Perez were all obtained with 2 years of team control, but the plan so far has been to shy away from major rotation upgrades in the long term.
Looking into 2020, the current rotation is Jose Berrios and possibly Martin Perez if they pick up his option. Odorizzi, Gibson, and Pineda are all set to be gone, leaving up to 4 holes to be filled. Looking ahead also, the starting pitchers available in free agency after the 2019 season are very tasty, to say the least. Go take a quick look, you won’t be disappointed. But now that we know what Falvey did to build his most impressive rotation, will the Twins even bother with free agency then? The Cubs built a successful rotation through free agency in their World Series winning team, but I don’t believe the Twins will follow that same route. Instead, they will run with Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, Fernando Romero, Jhoan Duran, and Blayne Enlow, to take them to the World Series and you can bet on that.