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Trio Hinting at Twins Pitching Pipeline


In 2021 the Minnesota Twins were supposed to be a good team that would see an influx of top tier prospects helping to supplement a contending roster. That hasn’t happened, but we’re seeing some surprising arms take center stage.

Royce Lewis didn’t get off the ground this year after missing a traditional minor league season in 2020. We haven’t seen (and likely won’t) Jhoan Duran or Jordan Balazovic to this point. Although Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach have both made their debuts, it’s been pitching where Minnesota has missed most often in 2021. Despite the poor performance, we have seen a trio of potentially overlooked arms brandish their stuff.

Bailey Ober

Realistically the arm with the highest upside of this group, Ober was a 12th round pick in 2017. He’s 26-years-old and owns a 4.53 ERA through his first 13 big league starts. That number drops to 4.19 if you throw out the clunker in his debut, and it’s an even better 3.55 across his last seven starts. He recently beat both the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox, and has tallied a 9.7 K/9 while owning just a 2.7 BB/9.

The fastball velocity has averaged 92.6 mph, but when it’s coming from a guy standing 6’9” it’s going to get on you with incredible quickness. While Ober is getting ground balls just 33% of the time, he’s allowing hard hit balls only 37.8% of the time. He has generated a respectable 10.5% whiff rate, and owns a 28.3% CSW (called and swinging strike percentage).

This wasn’t a guy ever destined to be a top prospect, and he’s hardly cracked an upper half of any organizational prospect list. That said, it’s never been a concern that the stuff hasn’t played. Ober dominated during his time in the minors with a 2.41 ERA and 11.1 K/9. The caveat is that it came in under 200 innings across four seasons. Injuries remain his chief bugaboo and he’s quickly approaching a new career high in innings pitched. For a team needing rotation help though, Ober’s emergence in 2021 should garner him serious consideration for an Opening Day roster spot next spring.

Griffin Jax

Taken in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, Jax made his debut this season at 26-years-old. He went through a gambit of hoops to get here, first and foremost working around his commitment to the Air Force. Another guy that has never been considered highly when it comes to prospect status, Jax has succeeded at each level and always seemed “safe.”

I opined that it seemed shocking no big league team wanted to take a chance on him as a Rule 5 option, but it’s great that he’s still with the Twins. Although the current 5.45 ERA is hardly anything to write home about, his 38 innings of work have been punctuated by the last four starts. Across those 20 1/3 innings he owns a 2.66 ERA and .153 batting average against. Those outings feature two tilts with the White Sox, and one against Houston; both of which are high-powered offenses. Jax isn’t a fireballer or big strikeout pitcher, but there’s also nothing he does particularly poorly.

It’d be a long-shot to assume that Minnesota has a top half of the rotation arm here, but they’ve once again produced something of substance when it comes to rotation help and pitching depth. Jax hasn’t had the run needed to cement the belief that he’ll stick, but the track record and recent results suggest that he’s more than just a fleeting name during an otherwise lost season.

Charlie Barnes

Minnesota took Barnes out of Clemson in the 4th round of the 2017 draft. He’s the youngest of this group, not yet having reached his 26th birthday. He’s also seen the least amount of opportunity at the big league level, but it seems more could be in front of him down the stretch.

Posting strong ERA numbers during his first two seasons of professional baseball, Barnes made it to Triple-A in year three at 23-years-old. In 2021 he forced his opportunity with the Twins by turning into a solid string of performances with the St. Paul Saints. Barnes doesn’t strike a ton of batters out, with just a 7.7 K/9 in the minors, but he’s done a decent job of limiting free passes and has been stingy with the home run ball. More of a soft-tosser, the lefty will need to miss additional bats as he looks for a lengthened opportunity to stick.

Easily the most suspect arm in terms of both tools and production from this trio, Barnes has earned the role he’s currently in. There will need to be further advancement, but Minnesota pushing another fringe prospect to the big leagues is a win. His big-league debut against the Detroit Tigers went well, and despite the blow up against Cincinnati, he rebounded somewhat against a much tougher White Sox club. There’s more work to be done here, but this is a good foundation.

The real takeaway here is that you can never have enough arms, and development isn't solely put in place for the top prospects. Minnesota has stockpiled pitching talent, and while it has taken time to bear fruit, the infrastructure implemented by Derek Falvey is beginning to pay off. We can only hope to see that in the coming years with more success stories like these, and realization of top tier talent as well.

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Way too early to call success and say this system is working. 

It might be, I am hopeful, but way too early. 

Of the three, Jax is the most surprising for me. I really feel he could be a good RP, and I feel teams do a disservice to guys like him in general. They try to keep them starters, and they end up making way less money and way less ML appearances than they could have. I hope to be wrong on him, but I really like his odds as a RP much more. That said, sure, this year? Keep him as a starter unless you want Strotman and Ryan to get starts.....

Ober has a real shot, imo, to be a 4/5 type. Every team needs that, and it is much better to have one on your team that will be with you awhile, than have to sign one every year like the Twins have the last few years. I would 100% keep him as a starter until he shows he can't be.

Barnes? No strong opinion there. Me? I'd probably include him in a deal of multiple players for a much better player (say, John Means, or his type). 

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What's the likelihood of Charlie Barnes dropping an ineffective pitch or two and being able to reach back for a few more digits on the radar gun in relief? My feeling is that that may be his best shot to stick, but we've seen plenty of fringe-starter lefties do it, including one in Glen Perkins who became one of the Twins' best closers.

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I'm glad these three are making the most of their opportunities and I really hope they become solid ML pitchers. But, realistically, if the FO is planning for our rotation to be something of Maeda, Pineda, Jax, Dobnak, Ryan, Ober and Barnes -like arms next year, we won't have a winning record. They need to start developing more Berrios and better pitchers.

But, again, good on them for the hard work and using the opportunity they've been given.

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I am amazed that writers around this team call this success. What is so successful about developing #4-and 5 starters?

News Flash. EVERY TEAM DOES THIS 

Where are the top arms? Where are the guys with great velocity and hammer breaking stuff? What about someone that throws an unhittable changeup and has exceptional command???

 

Success in developing pitching is what Cleveland has done. What Chicago has done. Etc etc. Top arms. #1 and 2 types. 

Bare minimum is what I would call the Twins development of pitching for quite some time. Low risk = low reward and that is what has been done here for many years as it pertains to drafting, trading for or signng FA arms.

 

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16 minutes ago, Battle ur tail off said:

I am amazed that writers around this team call this success. What is so successful about developing #4-and 5 starters?

News Flash. EVERY TEAM DOES THIS 

Where are the top arms? Where are the guys with great velocity and hammer breaking stuff? What about someone that throws an unhittable changeup and has exceptional command???

 

Success in developing pitching is what Cleveland has done. What Chicago has done. Etc etc. Top arms. #1 and 2 types. 

Bare minimum is what I would call the Twins development of pitching for quite some time. Low risk = low reward and that is what has been done here for many years as it pertains to drafting, trading for or signng FA arms.

 

It simply isn't true that every team does this. See, MN Twins, circa when this FO took over. 

Indeed, there aren't even 100 starting pitchers in the entire world that are consistent number 4 types.

That said, sure, real success ALSO requires even more....hopefully that is coming next year. We'll know a lot more next year. The big mistake, IMO, is not taking a great arm at the top of the draft (but then, TR proved you can be wrong there also.....not that he took top arms necessarily).

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Since the days of JR Richard I have had a bias towards very tall pitchers. I have hopes for Ober.The other two, not so much. I hope we still remember their names, 3 years from now.  :)

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2 hours ago, Battle ur tail off said:

I am amazed that writers around this team call this success. What is so successful about developing #4-and 5 starters?

News Flash. EVERY TEAM DOES THIS 

Where are the top arms? Where are the guys with great velocity and hammer breaking stuff? What about someone that throws an unhittable changeup and has exceptional command???

 

Success in developing pitching is what Cleveland has done. What Chicago has done. Etc etc. Top arms. #1 and 2 types. 

Bare minimum is what I would call the Twins development of pitching for quite some time. Low risk = low reward and that is what has been done here for many years as it pertains to drafting, trading for or signng FA arms.

 

How do you develop #1, #2 types up to the majors when they are not to that point yet? Falvine and Co. are just supposed to take ober, Jax, beau f’n burrows and make them into aces? Come on man. Stop being so negative. Takes years to develop a prospect. Also with a whole lost season. Really?

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Ober’s high fastball seems to run in at 94 mph. Right now the pitch has been unhittable in the sense that he either gets a swinging strike or weak contact. So many batters have trouble laying off of fastballs just above the strike zone. If his stuff remains as efective as it has been over his last 5 or so starts then I think he profiles as a #3 starter rather than a back of the rotation starter. It is also possible, of course, that enough batters start laying off the high fastball, forcing him to drop more in the upper part of the zone, where batters have a better chance of making solid contact. 
 

 

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I think Ober has a real shot at sticking in the rotation.

I saw a comment above about long term #4-5 starters, but those guys are almost non-existent in MLB. By definition, those back end rotation starters only need to take 1 step back and they're out of the rotation or baseball entirely. All it usually takes is one full year of scouting reports to expose a fringe pitcher's stuff to make it look like batting practice and there are always a bunch of fringe arms ready at AAA to step in for league minimum. Until the scouting reports catch up, even a fringey AAAA pitcher can eat enough innings and keep the game close enough.

Some home town examples like Slowey and Blackburn come to mind.

 

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If this organization doesn't start developing #1 and #2 starters then all the #3, #4, #5 starters in the world won't make a difference unless the only goal is to close out a losing season like this one. It doesn't really matter if you have 3 of these guys or a whole stable full of them. They won't take you to the next level no matter how many of them you have.

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To me Jax and Ober are like found money you didn't think you had. The Odds of either of them making a difference at the MLB level was very low. So even as 4th or 5th starters they have ton of value considering we had been buying guys for those spots recently.  Also if something clicks you never know they might just be a mid number 3 starter.  At any rate if they can maintain their current production they are very valuable for the next 4 years.  Hopefully the other 8 guys can fill in a couple more spots and then maybe we only need one free agent pitcher or trade for a pitcher away from having a dominant staff.

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I don't get to watch games often. Haven't made it to Target Field in awhile, and I mostly listen on the radio, so yesterday's YouTube game was a treat.

I'm not in any way an expert on pitching, but I came way very, very impressed with Ober. He had remarkable command and poise. If he's a harbinger of things to come, the Twins have a very solid chance at being competitive within a year or so.

I say this as a huge FO skeptic and a generally grumpy Twins fan overall. But there might be signs that an organizational plan is coalescing here. I hope so.

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3 hours ago, rv78 said:

If this organization doesn't start developing #1 and #2 starters then all the #3, #4, #5 starters in the world won't make a difference unless the only goal is to close out a losing season like this one. It doesn't really matter if you have 3 of these guys or a whole stable full of them. They won't take you to the next level no matter how many of them you have.

Is anyone arguing against that?

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The bitching about any acquisition that isn't an ace or Mike Traut is getting very tedious.  Until we can fill the roster with 26 superstars. good players, especially cheap controllable pitching has great value. How much difference have Ober / Jax / Minaya and Gant made in just the past 2 weeks?  The concept that #1 and #2 SPs are really important to dominance is not exactly a novel concept but neither is the need for good cost controlled players to fill out a roster.

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Yes and the Twins are good at filling out the roster with cheap players with team control.  That is the biggest reason our pitching is near the bottom in MLB and why we are where we are!  I hope these prospects pan out and produce a winning team.

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Every team has to fill out a starting rotation.  Ober and Jax have been able to fill the void left by injury or ineptitude.  Are they top of the rotation guys?  No, but any team that isn't a large market team needs cheaper options at the back of the rotation and they've been effective in doing so.  Is it early to say that the pipeline has arrived?  Yes.  But these guys do at least provide evidence that the FO may know a thing or two, which has been lacking to this point.

Pitching takes time to develop.  Baby steps suck sometimes, but patience is a virtue for a reason.

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I'm not sure I care if the Twins develop an ace. I mean, great if they do, but it's hardly necessary. The Twins front office just needs to make a sales pitch to the Pohlads and be willing to sign a top rotation arm. It's not like the Twins don't frequently have $20-40MM on the roster in 2-4 rotation arms they signed every year. Just make it 1-2 rotation arms for the same cost.

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I guess I read this differently than some others here. I read this as "hey, these guys don't have great stuff, weren't top prospects, and weren't really expected to be MLB contributors, but look what they're doing. If these low level guys have been developed into useable arms, even if it's just a short stretch, we can look at that and have hope that the big name guys can come up and be the kind of arms we need."

I didn't see anywhere in here that Ted suggests these 3 are the future of the Twins starting staff or are what we've all been hoping for in homegrown, top-of-the-rotation arms. He doesn't even suggest that this is what we should expect from the rest of the prospect arms and should be happy about it. My read on the article is simply that there's light at the end of the tunnel and reason for optimism. If the lesser thought of arms can produce at this level we can have reasonable expectations that 1 or 2 or 3 of the 10 bigger named guys can perform at the level we want/need.

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I’ll say it. I wear Bailey Ober colored glasses. This guy is not a number 5 starter. He is a potential playoff caliber starter. The four seamer plays up because of his release point being so much closer to home plate than the average pitcher. He has great command. The games I’ve seen, which is all but one, when he gets tagged, it’s been the change up that hurts him. If he can stay healthy, he will be a mlb starter for a long time. You can tell he is very deceptive when guys are consistently late swinging at a 92-94 mph fastball.

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13 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

It's not like the Twins don't frequently have $20-40MM on the roster in 2-4 rotation arms they signed every year. Just make it 1-2 rotation arms for the same cost.

It’s a side discussion, but I completely agree. For roughly the same price as a Perez/Pineda combo, or Pineda/Bailey/Hill, or Happ/Shoemaker, the Twins could have had Darvish + another pre-arb pitcher making the minimum. For the same price. 

“Shoemaker’s contract is cheap, this is a no risk signing, because the Twins can just drop him if he doesn’t pan out”

we see some version of that argument every year (no offense to any specific Twins fans out there!)

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14 minutes ago, Hosken Bombo Disco said:

It’s a side discussion, but I completely agree. For roughly the same price as a Perez/Pineda combo, or Pineda/Bailey/Hill, or Happ/Shoemaker, the Twins could have had Darvish + another pre-arb pitcher making the minimum. For the same price. 

“Shoemaker’s contract is cheap, this is a no risk signing, because the Twins can just drop him if he doesn’t pan out”

we see some version of that argument every year (no offense to any specific Twins fans out there!)

Agreed.... But you can't do that if you don't have any pre arb pitching..... Now they do, apparently, so they can concentrate on fewer, better, free agents. 

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43 minutes ago, Cornholio said:

I’ll say it. I wear Bailey Ober colored glasses. This guy is not a number 5 starter. He is a potential playoff caliber starter. The four seamer plays up because of his release point being so much closer to home plate than the average pitcher. He has great command. The games I’ve seen, which is all but one, when he gets tagged, it’s been the change up that hurts him. If he can stay healthy, he will be a mlb starter for a long time. You can tell he is very deceptive when guys are consistently late swinging at a 92-94 mph fastball.

It's easy to go Obervoard after a couple of good starts...

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Ober has 4/5 stuff and could be 1/2 in a rotation.  Kyle Hendricks and Greg Maddux outpitched their "stuff," and it was due to great command and changing speeds effectively.  Ober has these traits, along with another these two guys prominently have:  composure.

I can't think of another Twins prospect over the years who fits this description.  Maybe Radke.  I think Ober is Radke good if the arm holds up.  A big if, of course.

Barnes is nothing...he may eat some innings. 

Jax is sort of interesting, though.  I haven't really formed an opinion on him.  I certainly didn't think much of him until recently.  Reviewing his stats, it does appear he learns well and adjusts to his competition.  I suppose it's possible he could spend years in the 4/5 spot and turn into what Pineda has turned into, though from very different origins.

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This is great they are developing lower round draft picks into MLB quality pitchers.  The next step I want to see if they can develop the high draft picks into top of rotation starters.  We will see soon if that happens.

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2 hours ago, PDX Twin said:

It's easy to go Obervoard after a couple of good starts...

I see what you did there. Except it’s not just a couple good starts. He’s been successful at every stop, from his freshman year of college. I hope he is the Twins no. 5 starter. That just means the other four are better. But I believe, given good health, that Ober will be in the rotation for many years. And be very successful.

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