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Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Month - May 2023

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Twins Daily Contributor

Read and rejoice in the starting pitchers who thrived in the month of May.

Image courtesy of Ed Bailey (graphics by Thieres Rabelo)

An issue that popped up a little in this list is that of role assignments: pitchers in the minors often flip-flop between starting and relieving to eat up innings whenever they can. This poses challenges for those who acknowledge the delegation of title, as a starter with one relief appearance is still obviously a starter, but sometimes it isn't as clear-cut. I did my best to adhere to the spirit of the award while still understanding the sometimes silly nature of minor-league pitching order. 

Below are the names I thought most deserved to be on the list. Their ranking is entirely subjective; I value innings thrown, as those are outs, and outs are valuable, but also like to weigh strikeouts and peripheral numbers as they can differentiate between dominance and merely a pitcher getting lucky. In times when it's a toss-up, I valued the almighty ERA as the great equalizer—got that? Good; let's start. 

First, some honorable mentions:

LHP Brent Headrick, St. Paul Saints
Brent Headrick was second in the organization in strikeouts in May, punching out 32 hitters over 23 2/3 innings; run suppression proved his downfall, though, as he held a 4.18 ERA.

RHP Marco Raya, Cedar Rapids Kernels
May saw a rare perfect month as Marco Raya did not allow a run in four starts, striking out 35.0% of batters while walking just 2.5% of them. He only pitched 12 innings, though, which is why he was relegated to the honorable mention list. 

RHP Alejandro Hidalgo, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Alejandro Hidalgo’s ERA was a sparkling 1.84, but he walked 12 batters over 14 2/3 innings, revealing some good fortune under the hood. 

LHP Jaylen Nowlin, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Jaylen Nowlin led the organization in innings in May and walked just six batters. He also hit six more, though, limiting his placement to the honorable mention list. 

Now on to the main list:

5. LHP Jordan Carr - High-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, 21 IP, 24.1 K%, 1.71 ERA, 3.36 FIP
Jordan Carr is a quick lesson in why pitcher designation in the minors is silly: Carr started three games in May but entered in relief once on May 26th to piggyback off Marco Raya, eventually finishing the game with six excellent frames. Technically that’s not a start, but Carr was still tremendous in May. With just four earned runs over 21 innings, Carr’s microscopic ERA was supported well by respectable strikeout and walks rates. Maybe next month, he won’t be a partial victim of circumstance, but for this month, he'll slot in as the fifth spot on this list.

4. RHP Blayne Enlow - AA Wichita Wind Surge, 25 1/3 IP, 32.4 K%, 3.20 ERA, 3.77 FIP
An incredible lesson in patience and perseverance, Blayne Enlow rebounded from a middling 2022 season, making fools of Double-A hitters with revitalized stuff and excellent command. May was a continuation of April; Enlow gobbled up batters with two separate 10-K outings and a third start earning nine whiffs. If it weren't for a bizarre one-strikeout outing and another semi-blowup start, the 2017 draft pick could have reached even higher on this list. Still, Enlow is firmly back on the prospect map, and he could very well see major-league playing time sometime this season—something almost no one expected after the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster last off-season. 

3. RHP Cory Lewis- Low-A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, 19 2/3 IP, 34.6 K%, 2.29 ERA, 2.64 FIP
Cory Lewis was a strong contender amongst the top three pitchers I considered for starter of the month. He didn’t take the top spot, but third place is something to cherish for the 22-year-old. He was dominant in May; A-Ball hitters walked back to the dugout 27 times after facing Lewis—a total only trailing Brent Headrick and Blayne Enlow, respectively. With a 0.92 WHIP and a suffocating .169 batting average against, that Lewis ever allowed runs seems like a miracle. You may remember him as the main force behind a May 14th combined no-hitter, striking out seven over 5 2/3 innings of work. He will inevitably join the Kernels sometime in the coming weeks, bringing his knuckleball north to the state of Iowa. 

2. RHP Zebby Matthews - Low-A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, 18 ⅓ IP, 36.0 K%, 1.96 ERA, 1.19 FIP
1.19 FIP! Yeah, that’s real, somehow. You should know about Zebby Matthews by now; perhaps no Twins pitching prospect has dominated this season like Matthews, who earned a promotion to Cedar Rapids before two full months had even passed. It’s easy to see why, though, given that Matthews allowed just four runs in May, striking out 27 batters while walking just two. Two. That’ll get a guy sent up a level. High-A hitters, be warned: Matthews looks to be a force even the strongest-willed amongst us would prefer to avoid. 

1. LHP Aaron Rozek - AA Wichita Wind Surge, 22 2/3 IP, 22.4 K%, 1.99 ERA, 3.50 FIP
A comeback story as fine as any. Aaron Rozek made three starts in April, surrendering 15 earned runs over 10 frames of work—unenviable numbers from the Burnsville native. But be it fate, fortune, hard work, or a combination of the three, Rozek found himself in May, turning in just five total earned runs over 22 2/3 innings. He beat out a tough crowd to become Twins Daily’s May Minor League starting pitcher of the month.

In no start did he allow more than two earned runs, instead opting to hand his opponents one score before shutting them down for the evening; three of his starts were one-run endeavors. Those are difficult numbers to come by in an offensive-heavy environment like the Texas League. 

What are your thoughts on the starting pitching performances in the Twins minor leagues in May? How would you rank these pitchers? Comment below. 

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