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Which of These Young Arms Will Make the Most Starts in 2023

The Twins had a handful starting pitching prospects that made brief appearances in the big leagues during the 2022 season. Three of these pitchers, Louie Varland, Simeon Woods-Richardson, and Josh Winder, are likely to make appearances for the Twins during the 2023 season. Which of these three is most likely to spend the most time in the Twins' starting rotation?

Image courtesy of Lon Horwedel, USA Today Sports

Louie Varland, Simeon Woods Richardson, and Josh Winder all made their MLB debuts during the 2022 season. Winder was the only one of the trio to exceed his rookie status this season. 

Right now, the Twins projected 2023 Opening Day rotation is made up of Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda, and Bailey Ober, dependent largely on health. There is the possibility the Twins could roll out a six-man rotation as they did this season, but it is too early to tell if that will be the case for 2023. 

All three of these pitchers will likely make starts for the Twins during the 2023 season whether by earning a spot in the rotation or filling in for an injured starter. Based on what was seen from these pitchers during the 2022 season, here is my ranking of who will make the most starts. 

1. Louie Varland
The Twins two-time Minor League Pitcher of the Year showed great promise in his five late-season starts in September. Varland posted a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings and earned his first big-league win on the season's final day. 

Earning the Minor League Pitcher of the Year award will also help Varland’s case to start the season with the Twins either as the Twins fifth/sixth starter or long reliever. If Varland is not in the back end of the Twins' starting rotation for Opening Day, he will surely be the first guy to be added in for another due to injury. 

Varland made 23 minor-league starts between Double-A and Triple-A. He remained healthy and made the most starts of any pitcher on this list. 

With how many injuries the 2022 Twins suffered, it would not be a surprise if the front office gives the North St. Paul native a similar role as Bailey Ober/Chris Paddack had as the team’s sixth starter to start the season. 

To put an estimation on how many starts Twins fans could expect from Varland in 2023, it’s safe to guess he will take anywhere from 10-15 starts along with a few appearances out of the bullpen.

2. Simeon Woods Richardson
Twins fans were fortunate to see one start from Woods Richardson before the regular season ended. He had five innings of work in his start against the Detroit Tigers and allowed two earned runs.

Woods Richardson also missed time last year due to COVID-19. He made 22 minor-league starts prior to his one with the Twins. His best stretch came during his stint in St. Paul, where he made seven starts and posted a 2.21 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, striking out 38 batters in 36 2/3 IP. 

Woods Richardson turned 22 on September 27, meaning age is on his side to start his 2023 season at Triple-A St. Paul. His best chance of making the Opening Day roster appears to depend on the health of others.

It is likely he will make anywhere between eight and 12 starts this upcoming season, maybe more..

3. Josh Winder 
Josh Winder struggled the most out of these three pitchers this season as he was just one of the many Twins who missed time due to injury. He exceeded his rookie status with his 67 big-league innings pitched. 

As a starter, Winder struggled at both the major league and minor league levels. He posted a 4.79 ERA across 50 2/3 IP in his 11 starts with the Twins. In the minors, he posted a 5.00 ERA across six starts (one rehab in Ft. Myers) with the Saints. 

Winder’s injuries affected his performance this season and given his workload and results, it’s possible the Twins could convert him into a full-time long reliever. They would likely make him a long relief man with the opportunity to turn into a high leverage reliever as Griffin Jax was this season for the Twins.

Winder’s pitch usage is also similar to that of Jax’s during the 2021 season as both were throwing mostly fastballs, 40.1% for Winder in 2022 compared to 45.9% for Jax in 2021. With the slider as their go-to breaking ball, 33.3% for Winder in '22 compared to 31.1% for Jax in '21, Jax turned his slider into his go-to pitch throwing it 48.4% of the time this year according to FanGraphs. 

The Twins may have a second reclamation project with a former top prospect in Winder as they did in Jax this year. If the Twins opt for this route, then don’t expect any starts from Winder, but since that is only speculation as of now, expect five or fewer starts from Winder in 2023. 

Three Other Options
Three young pitchers to keep an eye on to possibly be added into the Twins rotation at some point in the season are Jordan Balazovic, Ronny Henriquez, and Cole Sands. However, given the depth ahead of them on this list, it is looking unlikely they serve more than relief roles if and when they pitch for the 2022 Twins.

Balazovic struggled mightily throughout the 2022 season with the Saints and only began to see success toward the end of the year after battling a nagging knee injury all year. He will surely start his 2023 season with the Saints.

Both Henriquez and Sands saw time with the Twins this year, mainly as long relievers. Sands had a stretch of three starts for the Twins from May 31 to June 12, but pitched much more effectively as a reliever. Henriquez only pitched out of the bullpen in three relief appearances for the Twins. He made 14 starts with the Saints over the summer but was found to be more effective piggybacking with the starter. 

Balazovic is the most likely to make a start for the Twins next season. If the Twins see great success in either Henriquez or Sands, they will be given another chance as a starter. However, it is more likely that if those two are making starts, the rotation depth is in dire straits. 

All three of these young pitchers will play more important roles with the Twins pitching staff in 2023 than they did in 2022. Twins fans can expect to see them all at different points of the season. And hopefully, when Varland, Winder, and Woods Richardson arrive on the Twins roster, it is because of their earning a spot rather than constantly replacing an injured teammate. 

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My money is on Varland.  SWR could probably used another 12-15 starts at AAA.  Winder, at 26, isn't really a "prospect" anymore...it's time for them to find a role he can be successful in and with his struggles in '22 it may just be in the 'pen.  

So Varland is your #6 starter as of now and SWR could be #7.  My hope is they add a top (ish) of the rotation piece and slide Ryan into the #5 spot.  That makes Ober #6, Varland #7 and SWR #8.

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I think your estimates are accurate. Winder has to end up in the pen. He simply doesn’t have enough stuff to be a starter and his shoulder isn’t likely to tolerate a starter’s workload. Last thought: why would you need six starters when they throw 4-5 innings per start?

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Great article.  I would bet on Varland the most.  The starting pitching staff, plus those waiting in the wings are kind of shaky at the moment.  Gray looks good, Mahle the same.  But these guys have injury history so while hope is nice, it's scary to rely on them.  Ryan looks pretty solid.  I was very impressed with his season.  Winder, Ober, are very questionable.  Twins need to add one more veteran starting pitcher for 2023.  Like last off season twins may be looking for luck.  I hope that doesn't mean we will have to do with more bargain basement staff like Archer and Bundy were this year.

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Honestly, wouldn't surprise me to see Maeda start the season in the bullpen. Especially with coming of TJ surgery, I could see him getting that to help stretch out. But I could be wrong and that they do that during ST for sure. But of all these pitchers, I think Varland definitely gets the most starts during the season. 

I think Winder will end up as a bullpen arm similar to Jax who was also similar to May when he was with the organization. I think this will more suit his style as he did show that he had some dominant stuff but IDK if it was the Twins' philosophy or injuries, but he seemed to peeter out after 4 innings of work, sometimes 5 innings. 

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I like Varland and his rise has been a wonderful story, but I think SWR is the pick to make the most starts from this group. He's got the stuff and is arguably a more complete pitcher than Varland, who is still developing his cutter/change. But for next year it might be a coin-flip on who gets the most chances.

But I'm also a big SWR fan and see his upside as being a bit higher. Both kicked butt in AA last year, SWR might have been a bit better in AA. Neither one looked scared in the first chance at MLB, which is great.

The starting pitching depth is looking good for 2023, and I'm pretty happy with Varland and SWR pushing for the 5th spot out of spring training and being the 6th-8th options if/when injuries happen.

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I suspect Varland in 2023, but SWR for career. 

If it is SWR and Blaze in 2023 as 1/2 from that list, the probably means the Twins had a good season as those two forced the issue by dominating AAA and carrying it over to The Show.

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Varland, Woods Richardson, Ryan, and Ober should all make 90% of heir scheduled starts in 2023.

Winder may see more action in the pen, as well as starting candidates Sands and Henriquez, all three may become future Griffin Jax-like guys.

My bigger question is who breaks spring camp!

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I was impressed by Winder early last year in both roles, even if his K numbers were lower than hoped for. And then he had the shoulder issue and just wasn't the same pitcher the rest of the year. And from what I've read, his FB was the pitch hit hardest and most often last year. But is that skewed by his second half? Because again, I liked what I saw to begin the year.

I'd be tempted to put Winder #1 on the list if he's 100% and ready to go. But for now, I think I'm going to go with Varland in the top spot.

I think I agree that SWR might have the better career and greater impact, but will be behind Varland to begin with. 

FWIW, if one of these guys end up being a really good middle/long swing man, that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

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17 hours ago, HerbieFan said:

My money is on Varland.  SWR could probably used another 12-15 starts at AAA.  Winder, at 26, isn't really a "prospect" anymore...it's time for them to find a role he can be successful in and with his struggles in '22 it may just be in the 'pen.  

So Varland is your #6 starter as of now and SWR could be #7.  My hope is they add a top (ish) of the rotation piece and slide Ryan into the #5 spot.  That makes Ober #6, Varland #7 and SWR #8.

Agree with you about 90%. But with no slight to Maeda or Ryan, I'm not sure a 100% Ober might not be our 3rd best starter right now.

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