Hans Birkeland Verified Member Posted March 5 Share Posted March 5 The Twins have a lot of pretty good starters, but a true No. 1 remains the missing piece in their championship puzzle. What's the most realistic method for acquiring one? Image courtesy of Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports With Jordan Balazovic sliding down the prospect rankings due to a tough 2022 season (and now a tough start to this 2023 spring), it appears that the number of organizational Twins pitchers who could reasonably project to being a top-tier MLB starting pitcher is down to two in Marco Raya and Connor Prielipp. Both haven’t pitched a lot due to injury, with Prielipp in particular only logging seven college starts since 2019. Raya has a small build with electric stuff, so paired with his injury history, his ability to hold up for twenty-five starts is a serious question. Teams like to have a number one starter, or “ace,” but the sad truth is that there aren’t enough to go around among the 30 teams. The Twins had a taste with Kenta Maeda’s 2020 season, and arguably Phil Hughes in 2014, but otherwise have been searching since Johan Santana left in 2008. The 2023 rotation may be the deepest the team has featured since then, but it clearly lacks a top-end guy to lead the group. By my count, there are 24 starters who could currently be described as an ace or No. 1. Here they are with projected fWAR for 2023 along with how they were acquired: Drafted or signed as international free agent: Shohei Ohtani (4.3) Shane Bieber (4.2) Triston McKenzie (3.3) Corbin Burnes (5.4) Brandon Woodruff (4.2) Alek Manoah (3.3) Julio Urias (4.0) Walker Buehler (2.9*) Logan Webb (3.7) Aaron Nola (5.0) Shane McClanahan (3.5) Trade: Luis Castillo (3.9) Dylan Cease (3.7) Joe Musgrove (3.6) Zac Gallen (2.9) Max Fried (4.0) Sandy Alcantara (3.8) Free agency: Jacob deGrom (5.7) Carlos Rodon (5.0) Gerrit Cole (4.9) Kevin Gausman (3.8) Justin Verlander (4.0) Max Scherzer (4.3) Zack Wheeler (4.7) That’s 24 guys for 30 teams. Seven teams – the Brewers, Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Blue Jays, Guardians and Mets – have two each, meaning only 10 aces remain among the other 24 teams. Most were signed or drafted, but outside of Castillo who was acquired at his peak, the trades were consummated with the future ace having had little or no major league success. Here’s why that might be the best avenue for the Twins: For starters, the draft and development approach hasn’t worked out especially well. Trading for established starters (Gray, Mahle, Maeda) has hurt the farm system, and has given the team a bevy of good, but not great, starting pitchers. All three of those trades were bold, but perhaps not bold enough. What the Twins do have, is a glut of high-minors bats who could help a team as soon as this year in Austin Martin, Matt Wallner, Royce Lewis, Ed Julien and Brooks Lee. All are decent-to-great prospects without an obvious role on the Twins, at least this year and the next. The Twins certainly hope with their newfound depth they can avoid asking all five to contribute in Minneapolis this year, meaning the team could take the reasonable gamble of dangling one or two from that player crop to seek out some high upside young pitching. It’s time for a challenge trade. The Marlins come to mind as a trade partner, as per usual. I would imagine top 10 global prospect Eury Perez would not be available, but the Fish may still listen on Edward Cabrera if one of the higher-end Twins is involved. He was once a top-50 global prospect who posted a 3.01 ERA in 14 starts last year in his age 23 season with potentially four plus pitches. He does have a lengthy injury history, however, missing time each of the last six years. A truly bold move would be to trade Lewis for Cabrera’s teammate, Max Meyer, another former top prospect recovering from Tommy John surgery this year. Meyer was the third overall pick in the 2020 draft, and is also a Minnesotan and a Gopher if that matters to you. He has a devastating slider and a fastball with some weird gyro movement a la Josh Hader. Like Lewis, he’s a difference maker if he bounces back from injury. On the other hand, betting on injured players hasn’t gone well for the Twins in recent memory. Let’s try some other names. Tanner Houck is a little more established, although it isn’t clear the Red Sox plan to use him as a starter, despite him being effective in that role, striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings with a 3.20 ERA. A former first-round pick, Houck throws a good slider (5.9 runs above average) breaking away from righties, and a quality sinker (5.3 runs above average) that breaks away from lefties. If I’m Houck, I want to go somewhere where I can start, even if it sounds like he is interested in an extension with Boston. Nevertheless, Boston could use lineup depth with upside. Mitch Keller of the Pirates took a big leap forward this past year after appearing to stall his first few years in the league, posting a sub-four ERA in 29 starts. He’s a former top prospect and had success converting to a sinker-slider pitcher last year. It’s notable that Pittsburgh also witnessed Cole and Musgrove’s careers being put in neutral before blossoming elsewhere, but its impossible to say whether Keller has another gear (or quality third offering) in him, or if he would be the Twins seventh number two/three starter. Going for Burnes either now or at the deadline wouldn’t be the worst idea, and would make the Twins a legitimate threat in the AL. However, it might cost them three of the five position players mentioned, in addition to someone on the major-league squad like Bailey Ober, and/or 2022 breakout prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez. Trading for someone less fully formed would cost a lot less of the team’s future, and could bring in someone to win that game of pitching-ace musical chairs for a longer period. It remains a dicey proposition, though. Who would you target? Or, do you hold out hope that one of the Twins’ current crop can take the leap to ace-dom? 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