As December winds down, the Minnesota Twins have two established starters in their rotation penciled in for opening day. As Michael Pineda serves his remaining 39 games of suspension, the Twins will look to fill those innings with more than the 2019 group of rookies consisting of Dobnak, Smeltzer and Thorpe. I am still a believer in the front offices ability to swing a trade that brings in the prized arm that we've been hoping for all winter. However, I am 100% certain that we will see them take some dart throws on a pitcher or two to fill in or cover the back end of the rotation. In 2019 we saw them sign Martin Perez who despite his struggles to finish the season, set the world on fire to begin the year. A similar reclamation project I would love to see the Twins make for 2020 is Jimmy Nelson from the Brewers.
Jimmy Nelson had a career year in 2017, striking out 10.21/9 and only walking 2.46. While it admittedly wasn't anything like the year of the juiced ball in 2019, his .82 HR/9 was absurd. He finished with a 3.49 ERA and 3.05 FIP and an fWAR of 4.8 in 175.1 innings. It was his third consecutive year of 175+ innings pitched. So why haven't we heard Jimmy Nelson's name in 2018 and 2019?
Jimmy Nelson was running the bases on September 8th 2017 when he had to dive back into first base, tearing his rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder. Just like that the Brewers lost their ace for the remainder of the season. It's a devastating injury for a pitcher, and wound up costing Nelson his 2018 and most of 2019 season as well. His return to the mound didn't inspire much confidence in the Brewers for the price he was due to earn, as they non tendered him, leaving him as a free agent.
Nelson's 2019 was ugly to say the least. He walked 6.95/9, allowed a crippling 1.64 HR/9, leading to a 6.95 ERA. It was a lost season for Nelson. I can't lie and say I have confidence in Nelson's 2020 bounceback looking at those numbers, but I do think he would be worth the low risk gamble. A high walk rate isn't completely unexpected following an almost two year layoff. While his average FB velocity was down almost 2 MPH from his last full season, his 10.64 K/9 suggests the talent is still in there somewhere, as visually represented by a rehab start from earlier in 2019.
Jimmy Nelson is still only 30 years old and should still have plenty in the tank if that shoulder is healthy, which it appeared to be in 2019 despite poor results. He would likely be healthy for the start of spring training and may benefit from his first regular preseason routine since 2017. The Twins coaching staff would likely afford him plenty of rest as we've seen in the past, and may be able to offer some adjustments as he continues to build back into a reliable pitcher. To expect another 2017 Jimmy Nelson is a mistake, but the Twins need innings, especially to begin the season. Whether you like where the rotation is at or not, it's time to consider these options at the back end. In terms of pitchers in Nelson's tier of lottery picks that would cost little and have little expectation, Nelson is the most exciting option. It would tell me our front office has identified potential in a pitcher who was previously very successful but whose numbers have suffered due to injury. Announcement of a Jimmy Nelson signing wouldn't do much to silence the fears of fans, but I would love to let him compete for a spot at the back end of our rotation in 2020. What do you think?