On Sunday night I hopped on Leading Off the Podcast with fellow Twins Daily writers Matthew Braun and Cooper Carlson. During the course of our discussion the Twins bullpen got brought up. In this space previously I wrote about how Minnesota may have the best bullpen in baseball. That’s still crazy to think about given where we were entering 2019, but it’s a very real possibility. What’s also plausible is that their pitching depth could serve them extremely well in what may materialize this year.
When looking at the prospects of a shortened season it stands to reason that no division winner is better off. Their margin for error becomes less, and the nuance normally sorted out over the course of 162 games gets lost in the fray. If, however, Major League Baseball is set on increasing double-headers, lessening off days, and expanding rosters, well then Rocco Baldelli’s crew could be in luck.
As things stood at the time of play stoppage, Jhoulys Chacin was locked in a battle with Randy Dobnak for the 5th starter spot. The veteran had performed far worse over the course of Spring Training, but the ALDS game two starter has options remaining. Chacin was awful in 2019 but was great the year prior. With weeks remaining prior to the scheduled Opening Day, a decision was bound to force itself.
On top of figuring out who specifically would round out the rotation Minnesota would need to juggle things a little over one-month in, and then again mid-summer. Both Michael Pineda and Rich Hill have been expected to assume rotation spots although neither were destined to begin the year there. Given his exploits when healthy, and the impact prior to suspension in 2019, both Hill and Pineda respectively could be looked at as significantly impactful arms.
Before ever assessing who slides in where, we can then take a further look down the line. Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran, the Twins’ top two pitching prospects, were never likely to debut in the year ahead. However, both Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe had made strong contributions in 2019 and would be called upon to repeat those performances when the opportunity presented itself this season.
So far what the year ahead looks like remains little more than a guessing game. Any suggestion of a single-site operation in Arizona would have to get unexpected buy-in from players, and then also address the numerous staff and operations people necessary solely to produce a televised contest. It’s certainly a nice thought to dream on, but until we have more concrete answers as to where we’re at with things, the pieces remain moving parts in a hypothetical bubble.
No matter how the deployment of baseball in 2020 happens however, it should be fair to assume that the league will attempt to get in as many games as possible. Noted above, that likely includes significant condensation in the form of limited off days and doubleheaders. For an organization like the Twins, having something like 10-12 big league caliber starting arms on the 40-man roster suddenly becomes a substantial asset.
All offseason it was the goal of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to acquire an impact arm, someone capable of displacing Jose Berrios at the top of the staff. Now more than ever though, it may come down to their ability to assemble a stable that never begins the game as a significant underdog. A chief reason that a lesser schedule hurts the best teams is because the impact of the top players is felt less. Conversely that means that the ability of the floor, or the fringes of the roster, become that much more impactful.
Depth is the key to sustenance over time, and when you shrink time, being able to realistically rely on more contributors is a must. Baseball is going to get weird this season if it gets going at all. Maybe the Twins can grab a weird World Series along the way. Virtual parade or otherwise, we’ll celebrate just the same.
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