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Minnesota's Pitching Pipeline Plan Failed in 2022


Twins Daily Contributor

Frontline starting pitching was the Twins' most significant need this winter, and the club decided to double down on young pitchers being ready to contribute. Clearly, the pitching pipeline plan failed for 2022, but is there hope for the future?

Image courtesy of Rob Thompson, St. Paul Saints

 

Last winter, it was clear to anyone looking at the Twins roster that the team needed frontline starting pitching. There were other off-season needs, but they only had Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober penciled into the rotation and many other question marks. Minnesota had the financial flexibility to sign frontline starting pitching, but the club decided to go in a different direction. 

With the pending lockout, the Twins front office watched most frontline free agent starters ink contracts with other organizations. Minnesota's lone signing before the lockout was Dylan Bundy, who figured to fit into the rotation's back half. It was tough to decipher how the Twins expected to fill the rotation, but the team's plan became clear as spring training inched closer. 

Following the lockout, Sonny Gray was the Twins' biggest offseason pitching acquisition. He was a clear frontline starter and pitched that way during the 2022 season. The team added Chris Archer to join Bundy at the back of the rotation, and Chris Paddack joined the club in a last-minute deal before Opening Day. All these arms impacted the 2022 Twins, but the club wanted to rely on the young pitching in the system to supplement the veteran arms.

Derek Falvey was brought to Minnesota because of his experience with the Cleveland organization. During his Cleveland tenure, one of his calling cards was cultivating young pitching, which has been a staple of the Guardians organization. Minnesota was going to start the 2022 campaign with Ryan and Ober in the rotation, but there were expectations that other young pitchers would join their ranks. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case, and Minnesota's pitching pipeline may have taken a step back this season. 

As the season began, it looked like the Twins had plenty of pitching prospects in the upper minors that had the potential to impact the roster. Minnesota had five upper minors starting pitchers ranked in their top-10 prospects, and others rounded out their top-20 list. Ryan had an up-and-down season as a rookie, but he is on pace to set the team's rookie record for strikeouts. Josh Winder and Cole Sands have combined to pitch just over 80 big league innings, with both missing games due to injury. Louie Varland saw his stock rise the most out of this group as he pitched well in the upper minors before making his big league debut in September.

Matt Canterino and Jordan Balazovic were arguably the team's top pitching prospects entering the 2022 campaign, but it was a lost season for both. Canterino dominated on the mound in 13 appearances, but he needed Tommy John surgery before the season's end. Balazovic was on pace to debut in 2022, but he struggled at Triple-A and is now getting back on track. Besides Varland, Simeon Woods Richardson helped his stock the most this season, and he deserves to make some starts for the Twins down the stretch

Many will blame injuries for the Twins' failures during the 2022 season. However, the lack of contributions from the pitching pipeline is also concerning. Not every pitching prospect can be successful throughout their professional careers, and there is hope that some of these arms will get healthy in the offseason. As Minnesota's focus turns to 2023, the front office might not be able to rely as heavily on the pitching pipeline when building next year's roster. 

Did the pitching pipeline plan fail in 2022? Is there hope for improvement in 2023? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

 


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Why should a front office get all the hype for Cleveland's pitching pipeline?  What about Cleveland's minor league pitching coaches?  Shouldn't they get most of the credit?  They are the people that actually molded these pitchers into major leaguers.  Maybe the Twins' minor league pitching coaches just suck!

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Maybe cancelling the 2020 minor league season hurt development more than fans think. The players all got a year older, but lost a year of development. Pitch counts, limiting times facing a line-up and 6 man rotations have had to also affect development, though I have no idea if there is data to substantiate this.

Pitching philosophy also has to play into it, Johnson leaned heavily on slider usage and max effort velocity, if this was taught system wide it could very well be part of the reason for the seeming uptick in elbow and shoulder problems throughout both the minor and major league teams. 

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29 minutes ago, mnfireman said:

Maybe cancelling the 2020 minor league season hurt development more than fans think. The players all got a year older, but lost a year of development. Pitch counts, limiting times facing a line-up and 6 man rotations have had to also affect development, though I have no idea if there is data to substantiate this.

Pitching philosophy also has to play into it, Johnson leaned heavily on slider usage and max effort velocity, if this was taught system wide it could very well be part of the reason for the seeming uptick in elbow and shoulder problems throughout both the minor and major league teams. 

Didn't every team have the same 2020 challenges?

Not buying that as any kind of excuse. 

My opinion: the "pitching pipeline(tm)" was wildly exaggerated. 

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What worked with the pitching pipeline? Duran, Winder, Jax and Ryan (though I would not count him as fitting into my pitching pipeline definition because we got him when he was in AAA). Varland, SWR, Headrick, Festa all moved up and did relatively well. The depth of pitching in the lower minors is good. Hajjar and Povich were huge successes, allowing us to trade them for Mahle and Lopez (which almost all in TD hailed as great at the times of the trades).

What failed? Balazovic and Canterino. Injuries always get some pitchers so Balazovic was the main person taking down the pipeline. But who else really failed to change some people's opinion of the pipeline from good to bad this year? Enlow was never going to rebound all the way to the Twins. 

I count Duran, Winder and Jax as success stories this year for the pipeline. Now, Winder will have to stay healthy and improve. If Varland, SWR, and Headrick would be as successful in 2023 as the three we had this year, that is a great pipeline to me. 

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Jax used up his rookie eligibility last year.  If we're talking about a pipeline, that was last year's delivery.  I don't want to keep counting the same guys.

Ryan not only was major league ready when he was acquired, but IMO the process of dealing away assets during a bad season should not count toward any concept of a pipeline.  I want good seasons.  I want the model of sustainable success that the new FO talked about in 2016.  Simeon Woods Richardson will get the same critique if and when he makes it to the majors - all well and good to acquire him, and kudos for finishing developing him, but it came about because we weren't competitive at a trade deadline so it doesn't count as a validation of a pipeline.

Off-season trades that are constructive are OK by me, as a way of replenishing the pipeline.  Ronny Henriquez counts as the pipeline, for me.  If we ever have off-season tanking, then no, such trades wouldn't.

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A pitching pipeline can and should come from every avenue. Trade, waiver wire, draft, and international FA. Falvey and Levine made a savvy move acquiring Joe Ryan in the Nelson Cruz trade and deserve credit for it. At the very least he’s a backend starter and likely a mid rotation starter.

The frustrating part of the pipeline is having a draft and develop example. Which Cleveland has several examples in the last decade who have become top of the rotation weapons. 

Every organization has a David Festa-esque player who does very well in the low minors because they are a 23 year old player. I’m not celebrating that if/when that player becomes a multi year mid rotation starter. 

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2 hours ago, mnfireman said:

Maybe cancelling the 2020 minor league season hurt development more than fans think. The players all got a year older, but lost a year of development. Pitch counts, limiting times facing a line-up and 6 man rotations have had to also affect development, though I have no idea if there is data to substantiate this.

Pitching philosophy also has to play into it, Johnson leaned heavily on slider usage and max effort velocity, if this was taught system wide it could very well be part of the reason for the seeming uptick in elbow and shoulder problems throughout both the minor and major league teams. 

100%... I've had people in the Twins and other orgs tell me that they thought the lost season would take 2+ years for pitchers to catch up. So, that is a big deal. 

While the Twins want to increase velocities and love spin rates, they also work with each player on a development plan for them individually. Same with hitters. They aren't looking to make cookie cutters. 

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8 minutes ago, Seth Stohs said:

100%... I've had people in the Twins and other orgs tell me that they thought the lost season would take 2+ years for pitchers to catch up. So, that is a big deal. 

While the Twins want to increase velocities and love spin rates, they also work with each player on a development plan for them individually. Same with hitters. They aren't looking to make cookie cutters. 

Why would it take twice the time to make up? And why doesn’t it appear that it’s effected other teams? There are tons of excellent young starting pitchers in the MLB today. 

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47 minutes ago, Vanimal46 said:

A pitching pipeline can and should come from every avenue. Trade, waiver wire, draft, and international FA. Falvey and Levine made a savvy move acquiring Joe Ryan in the Nelson Cruz trade and deserve credit for it. At the very least he’s a backend starter and likely a mid rotation starter.

The frustrating part of the pipeline is having a draft and develop example. Which Cleveland has several examples in the last decade who have become top of the rotation weapons. 

Every organization has a David Festa-esque player who does very well in the low minors because they are a 23 year old player. I’m not celebrating that if/when that player becomes a multi year mid rotation starter. 

Cleveland has more top starters come from other organizations than they have developed:

Traded for: Quantrill, Pilkington (still in development, maybe), Clevinger, Bauer, Kluber, Carrasco.

Drafted: Bieber (probably the cream of the crop), McKenzie, Plesac and Civale.

Drafted duds: Cody Anderson, Danny Salazar (free agent), Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko.

This is a quick look at their starters since about 2015 or 2016.

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11 minutes ago, Vanimal46 said:

Why would it take twice the time to make up? And why doesn’t it appear that it’s effected other teams? There are tons of excellent young starting pitchers in the MLB today. 

There are 6 starting pitchers 25 and under who have pitched enough innings to qualify for rate stats (1 IP per team game), 21 starting pitchers under age 28 who qualify. Not exactly tons.

But to be fair, there are only 46 pitchers who have pitched enough innings to qualify,,,

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There’s 11 pitchers in that top 20.

2 you traded, leaving 9. Of the 9…

1 completely broke

2 were slowed by injury (Winder, Sands)

1 was stopped by injury 

2 took meaningful steps (SWR and Ryan)

1 over achieved

1 basically started over (Enlow)

Meanwhile, Prielipp and Henrique seem like guys that could be top-20 worthy, and not that far away?

A mixed bag, The injuries always seem to make it feel worse. And the fact that the pitchers we got in the trades seem like damaged goods…that also makes it feel worse.

 

 

 

 

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52 minutes ago, mnfireman said:

Cleveland has more top starters come from other organizations than they have developed:

Traded for: Quantrill, Pilkington (still in development, maybe), Clevinger, Bauer, Kluber, Carrasco.

Drafted: Bieber (probably the cream of the crop), McKenzie, Plesac and Civale.

Drafted duds: Cody Anderson, Danny Salazar (free agent), Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko.

This is a quick look at their starters since about 2015 or 2016.

Thanks for pointing out the examples. 6 to 4 trade to draft. Everyone is going to have their own definition of a pitching pipeline and I frankly don’t care where they came from. What we need is a true success story as a draft and develop guy and that hasn’t arrived yet after 5 years (2020 withheld). Ober and Winder are almost there but both have their fair share of injury history. Neither have topped 100 innings in a professional season. 

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Let us not compare our development of pitching to Cleveland.  It is true that Cleveland finds pitchers via trades and every other avenue, but if you just look at 2022 and then look forward, Cleveland could be stacked with guys they drafted. Bieber, McKenzie, Civale, and Plesac are all good (as previously mentioned) but Sam Hentges may soon be converted to a starting pitcher. Then there are top prospects such as Espino, Williams, Bibee, Morris, Gaddis, Allen, Curry, and a couple of others all pretty equal to or more highly rated  than our top guys like SWR, Raya, and Prielipp. Quantrill came from San Diego and he is the lone outsider in the starting group. Cleveland is running crazy right now with possible options for pitchers. Like everyone else on any other team there is always the matter of health and opportunity, but Cleveland is primed for a run with their pitching staff. Expect Daniel Espino to arrive next year and I'm just guessing that Hentges may get stretched out but maybe he is more valuable as the lefty in his current bullpen role. Cleveland is the standard in drafting and developing pitchers.

For the Twins .... Let's hope the Twins can catch some luck with a few of their guys and get them going at the top level. Ryan (via trade), Winder, Ober, and Varland is a start but none of these guys are proven yet. Ryan had a fantastic year though. Simeon Woods Ricardson may be seen next year and hopefully Raya, Festa, and Prielipp come along in 2-3 years as well. Get pitching any way possible but also give the talented young guys some opportunity.

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28 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

Let us not compare our development of pitching to Cleveland.

Why would we not do this? That was exactly why we hired Derek Falvey specifically. To emulate their pitching pipeline and success over a decade. If he can’t do that, then he’s not going to lead us to anything and it’s time to move on. 

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I am willing to give this FO a full decade, but don't know that it will do any good. They seem to have difficulty recognizing talent and seem to underestimate risks. The pitching staffs struggle with development throughout the farm system and they traded away some of the young pitchers I was most excited to get (Graterol & Petty). I don't see FA pitchers wanting to pitch to our catchers or suffer from our defense and lack of offensive production. Overall I have more hope for every other Minnesota team, including the Lynx who are losing their best player and looked a mess, than I do for this team. By 2025, I better be wrong or the FO better be gone.

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The Twins have allowed 42 runs more than the Guardians over 150 games. 

Yet the Guardians are the praised and we have click bait about the failure of the pipeline. I repeat...  That's a 42 run differential over 150 games. 

The worst performance on our staff came from Vets. Yet it's the pipeline that has failed? 

 

 

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8 hours ago, Vanimal46 said:

Why would we not do this? That was exactly why we hired Derek Falvey specifically. To emulate their pitching pipeline and success over a decade. If he can’t do that, then he’s not going to lead us to anything and it’s time to move on. 

Do we have to wait a decade? Can Falvey develop a successful style of his own?

I'm not sure that trying to copy the Dodgers, Rays, Guardians, Braves, or Yankees will work for the Twins.

There must be some possibility that a team can achieve success using different combinations of other team's strategies that meld to form a separate identity. 

Going down the rosters of the Minnesota and Cleveland teams position by position and including the top ten prospects from their minor leagues does not offer much relief for the future. There needs to be some changes in the roster for the Twins to compete and we need our young players to step up. I'm hopeful, but both an abandonment of The Plan and an urgent focus on fundamental baseball in addition to making some roster additions are needed to make the Twins competitive in 2023.

If Falvey and crew insist that they are going in the right direction, which would be a failure to reflect on their practices, the Pohlad family should be alarmed.

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Like most sports, in baseball it is "what have you done for me lately" when it comes to evaluating the FO and the coaches.  After the Vikings beat the Packers, fans were ready to put the Vikings coaches and management on a pedestal.  After the Eagles game, people are wondering if we can beat the lions, if we can run the ball, if our defense can stop anyone, and if other teams are simply going to take Jefferson away from us.  One person posted that Monday night it was like watching a Zimmer team--the ultimate insult apparently.  I really think, however, that next year might be a make or break year for the FO.  If the Twins rebound and one or two of the Varland, SWR, Winder, and Prielipp group show well, and/or Mahle looks to not have a serious shoulder issue, I think the FO will have a lot of friends.  If that doesn't happen, the position players don't perform up to expectations, and the Twins falter again, I think the FO might be in trouble, and they probably should be after what would be 3 bad years in a row.  Time will tell.

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Has the pipeline created a dominate starting rotation and bullpen to be one of best in league, no it has not, and if that is what you want as success, then we did fail.  We were middle of the road overall staff, and the hope and plan was most likely to get guys in the minors to step up by mid season and push out the Bundy's and Archers.  However, so many long injuries tested our depth, and failing of a few.  

Personally, I think we showed we do have some type of pipeline.  No they are not top starting pitchers as of yet, but they have depth of guys that should be able to be competitive in starts, and hopefully have depth when injuries do hit.  Will we hit on every pitcher no, no team does.  But finding guys like Varland late in drafts and developing is something to be praised.  

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At this point it is tough to say. I would say we don't have a single pitcher that could be coined "Ace" outside of Gray. And even THAT would be pushing it at this point. I would say we have an organization full of #2-#4 starters where if each pitcher gave us 6 solid innings of 3-4 run baseball, we would be extremely happy. Of course, not every pitcher we draft is gonna be the #1, but if we have a 5 #2's, then I think that is a pretty good rotation. 

I agree that cancelling the 2020 minor league season has created a huge setback for the development of pitchers. Just think about it. Lack of innings, no live batters, no ability to get the feel for a game. All that mixed with our pitching staff's want for the pitchers to overuse the slider and max out the FB velo, has definitely spelled disaster for our young arms. And I would say that this is a recurring thing, not just for the Twins, but for all Orgs. 

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1 hour ago, Riverbrian said:

The worst performance on our staff came from Vets. Yet it's the pipeline that has failed? 

First, Cleveland continues to churn out reliable starters, despite the fact that they've been a winning organization for a while now. So yes, the Twins continue to fall far short of their example.

Second, it's not so much the run differential, it's also the durability. Cleveland's young staff has remained largely healthy. Ours has not. That's what I think people are referring to when they say the pipeline is busted. You don't praise a pitching staff for promise, and there's not much to be excited about when an Ober or a Winder arrive and can only make 10-12 starts a year.

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56 minutes ago, LastOnePicked said:

First, Cleveland continues to churn out reliable starters, despite the fact that they've been a winning organization for a while now. So yes, the Twins continue to fall far short of their example.

Second, it's not so much the run differential, it's also the durability. Cleveland's young staff has remained largely healthy. Ours has not. That's what I think people are referring to when they say the pipeline is busted. You don't praise a pitching staff for promise, and there's not much to be excited about when an Ober or a Winder arrive and can only make 10-12 starts a year.

My point of contention is with the use of the word failure. If injuries are the benchmark... well yeah... the pipeline has some issues. That's a whole different discussion. If they are watching pitch counts to stay healthy... it isn't working. 

However... again my point of contention is with the use of the word failure. I'll contend that Winder and Ober who provided 18 starts combined for us were better than Bundy and Archer. If the pipeline wasn't there... Chi Chi Gonzalez makes more starts for us. Without the pipeline things would have been a lot worse. It was not a failure... it kept us alive. 

Cleveland is being used as the gold standard. They have done well... I'm not knocking them but overall we are still talking about a 42 run differential over 150 games being the difference between Great and Failure. Those are thin margins for such a vast distinction.  

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17 hours ago, FlyingFinn said:

What worked with the pitching pipeline? Duran, Winder, Jax and Ryan (though I would not count him as fitting into my pitching pipeline definition because we got him when he was in AAA). Varland, SWR, Headrick, Festa all moved up and did relatively well. The depth of pitching in the lower minors is good. Hajjar and Povich were huge successes, allowing us to trade them for Mahle and Lopez (which almost all in TD hailed as great at the times of the trades).

What failed? Balazovic and Canterino. Injuries always get some pitchers so Balazovic was the main person taking down the pipeline. But who else really failed to change some people's opinion of the pipeline from good to bad this year? Enlow was never going to rebound all the way to the Twins. 

I count Duran, Winder and Jax as success stories this year for the pipeline. Now, Winder will have to stay healthy and improve. If Varland, SWR, and Headrick would be as successful in 2023 as the three we had this year, that is a great pipeline to me. 

Winder has a 5.19 FIP and has been shut down twice this season with a shoulder issue. That's a success? 

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1 hour ago, Riverbrian said:

My point of contention is with the use of the word failure. If injuries are the benchmark... well yeah... the pipeline has some issues. That's a whole different discussion. If they are watching pitch counts to stay healthy... it isn't working. 

However... again my point of contention is with the use of the word failure. I'll contend that Winder and Ober who provided 18 starts combined for us were better than Bundy and Archer. If the pipeline wasn't there... Chi Chi Gonzalez makes more starts for us. Without the pipeline things would have been a lot worse. It was not a failure... it kept us alive. 

Cleveland is being used as the gold standard. They have done well... I'm not knocking them but overall we are still talking about a 42 run differential over 150 games being the difference between Great and Failure. Those are thin margins for such a vast distinction.  

Winder and Ober combined for roughly 100 IPs this year. Depending on how you want to cut it, that's somewhere between 12-15% of the starter innings. Isn't it just as easy to spin it the other way and say their lack of contribution is caused this team to sink? I'm not saying it was a sound strategy, but clearly the FO was banking on these two and others to step in and wrestle away innings from guys like Bundy or Archer. 

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55 minutes ago, KirbyDome89 said:

Winder and Ober combined for roughly 100 IPs this year. Depending on how you want to cut it, that's somewhere between 12-15% of the starter innings. Isn't it just as easy to spin it the other way and say their lack of contribution is caused this team to sink? I'm not saying it was a sound strategy, but clearly the FO was banking on these two and others to step in and wrestle away innings from guys like Bundy or Archer. 

My personal opinion: The front office was never banking on Winder to wrestle innings away from Bundy and Archer. My guess was the front office was banking on the pipeline to be that quality depth that is necessary every year and it was necessary. Remember we started the year with a 6 man rotation, trading for 2 and signing 2 vets just to keep Winder as depth that would be needed later and I felt this was the first year in many years that we had actual starting pitching depth and we needed it.  

If you want to target anything in the rotation as an issue... Bundy and Archer were the 2 worst starters on the team and they led the team in starts. That is where I would begin. The pipeline kept us a float before the offense tanked in the stretch run. 

 

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23 minutes ago, Riverbrian said:

My personal opinion: The front office was never banking on Winder to wrestle innings away from Bundy and Archer. My guess was the front office was banking on the pipeline to be that quality depth that is necessary every year and it was necessary. Remember we started the year with a 6 man rotation, trading for 2 and signing 2 vets just to keep Winder as depth that would be needed later and I felt this was the first year in many years that we had actual starting pitching depth and we needed it.  

If you want to target anything in the rotation as an issue... Bundy and Archer were the 2 worst starters on the team and they led the team in starts. That is where I would start. 

 

I guess I don't see the distinction between "depth," and "banking on X pitcher to wrestle away innings." We know, whether it's injury or ineffectiveness, nobody makes it through a season with 5-6 starters. In the case of Bundy and Archer it was the latter, yet they were/are rotation stalwarts because there wasn't a single pipeline arm that could usurp them. To me, that's where introducing the term failure becomes appropriate. 

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