Minnesota rotations of the last half-decade have featured a couple of impressive veteran campaigns and few other positives. For an organization with such emphatic focus on acquiring and developing young arms to receive not one convincing standout season from a youthful starter over such a span is damning. It also tells you all you need to know about the club's perpetual run prevention problems.
In this light, what we've seen from Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia over the past week has been borderline revelatory. It's important to not get carried away on the basis of three starts, but there's plenty of legitimate reason for encouragement.
Obviously, Berrios has been nothing short of incredible in two starts since rejoining the team. He has gone 7.2 in both turns, and the only run scored against him came on a wild pitch. Opponents have not been able to muster anything against his blazing heater and bendy breaking balls. This is the player we expected based on Berrios' mastery of the minors and truly special pitch arsenal.
He obviously won't sustain an ERA below one, and he may not ultimately pan out as a true No. 1 type, but Berrios is clearly becoming more comfortable and doesn't turn 23 for a few more days. After generating some doubt with a disastrous debut in 2016, the Puerto Rican righty is regaining his status as a rotation building block that the Twins sorely need.
He may be joined by Mejia, who picked up his first big-league victory in the second half of Sunday's double-header with a strong effort against the Royals. The southpaw had a couple of pitches tail into the sweet spot of Salvador Perez's righty bat and leave the yard, but was otherwise exceptional, cruising through seven innings on 89 pitches while throwing 67 percent strikes.
Mejia doesn't have the lofty ceiling of Berrios, but seems to have a pretty high floor, which might have factored into the Twins surprisingly handing him a rotation spot out of camp. The left-hander's erratic April audition in the rotation was quite uncharacteristic, and on Sunday he looked much more like the pitcher his numbers advertise. The guy with a 1.21 WHIP and 86-to-19 K/BB in 93 innings at Triple-A.
If he's throwing his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider for strikes, and getting anything from his changeup, Mejia has a reliable formula for success. He executed the plan on Sunday, as he did in four starts for Rochester during his demotion. He turns 24 next month.
Pitching is the currency of baseball – more specifically, young and controllable pitching. The Twins have been bankrupt in this area for entirely too long, leading to the destitute state that triggered a front office overhaul. But Berrios and Mejia are harbingers of a shifting tide, and on another note of optimism, Twins Daily's No. 2 prospect Stephen Gonsalves finally made his season debut at Chattanooga on Saturday, tossing four solid innings while easing back into action.
Gonsalves missed the first six weeks rehabbing a sore shoulder, but all signs point toward him being back at full strength. If he picks up where he left off with the Lookouts last year (8-1 with a 1.82 ERA following a June promotion) he'll quickly be in the mix as an option for the Twins. Same goes for his Double-A rotation-mate and fellow 22-year-old Fernando Romero, who has been inconsistent but is most importantly healthy. He possesses the ability to get on a roll at any time, and is already on the 40-man roster.
It's been a long time since the Twins have had such volume of available or tangibly close good young arms. And given the state of their rotation, the timing couldn't be better.
Mejia's redemptive performance on Sunday followed a deflating one from Phil Hughes, who lasted only four innings while coughing up five runs on three homers. It was his third straight crummy start, and afterward the veteran landed on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort. He'd been throwing with the lowest velocity of his career and allowing loud contact at an extraordinary rate, so at this stage there's no evident beneficial impact from offseason shoulder surgery. In fact, Hughes spoke after the game of a "dead feeling" very similar to the symptoms that led to his thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis. Quite troubling.
Fortunately, the budding emergence of Berrios and Mejia enables the Twins to give Hughes a break without worrying too much. It also lessens the urgency of a successful return for Kyle Gibson on Monday night, though that would certainly help.