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    Seth Stohs

    Derek Falvey is often given at least some credit for the pipeline of starting pitchers that Cleveland has had over the past decade. Twins fans are starting to ask, “When will the Twins have that kind of pitching pipeline?” 

    Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily

    For years Twins fans have watched the Cleveland Baseball Club bring up pitcher after pitcher who finds success. In recent years, they have traded pitchers such as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger and still have a top ten pitching staff in 2021. 

    It seems to have started in July of 2010 when Cleveland acquired middling pitching prospect Corey Kluber as part of a three-team deal. At the time, Kluber was a 24-year-old just starting to put things together in Double-A. He was never a Top 30 prospect with the Padres, and he wasn’t a Top 20 prospect for Cleveland either. 

    Kluber debuted in 2011 with three games. He made 12 starts in 2012 and went 2-5 while posting a 5.14 ERA. In 2013, he gained a regular rotation spot, went 11-5 and had a 3.85 ERA. In 2014, he won his first of two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three in voting four of the next five seasons. 

    Mike Clevinger was Cleveland’s fourth round pick by the Angels out of junior college. Four years later, in August of 2014, he had not reached Double-A and was traded to Cleveland in exchange for reliever Vinny Pestano. Clevinger debuted in 2016 as a 25-year old. He split time between the bullpen and the rotation through the 2017 season before becoming a full-time starter in 2018. 

    Shane Bieber was Cleveland’s fourth round pick in 2016 out of UC-Santa Barbara. His timeline was pretty quick. He pitched at three levels in 2017. In 2018, he started at Double-A and dominated for five starts. He moved up to Triple A for eight starts and was great. He debuted in May 2018 at age 23 and moved up and down for awhile, but he’s been in their rotation ever since. He became an All Star in 2019 and was the unanimous Cy Young winner in 2020 at age 25. Bieber wasn’t a top ten Cleveland prospect until that 2018 season. 

    Aaron Civale was Cleveland’s third round pick in 2016 out of Northeastern. He spent all of 2018 in Double-A. In 2017, he began at Double-A but quickly moved up. The rest of that season, his age-24-season, bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and Cleveland. He posted a 4.74 ERA in 12 starts in 2020, and has started 2021 6-1 with a 3.30 ERA. Civale found himself just outside of Cleveland’s Top 10 prospect rankings. 

    Zach Plesac was Cleveland’s 12th round draft pick in 2016 out of Ball State. Three years later, he made his debut as a 24-year-old in May of 2019. Since then, he has posted season ERAs of 3.81, 2.28 and 3.93.  

    So again, what can we learn?

    1. Don’t write off any pitcher in the minor leaguers, even if they aren’t a top 30 prospect in the organization.
    2. It is normal for pitchers, even good ones, to bounce between Triple-A and the big leagues for a little while.
    3. You don’t have to debut at 23 or younger to become a star. 
    4. You can win Cy Youngs at age 25 like Bieber or 29 like Kluber. 
    5. You don’t have to go to a top college to become a good big-league starter. 
    6. Repeating a level doesn’t disqualify a pitcher from becoming a good starter. 
    7. Maybe the most important thing to remember is that you just never know.   

     

    Where are the Twins now?

    Jose Berrios is homegrown, though he was called up before the current regime took over. The current front office has signed Michael Pineda as a free agent (twice), J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker and others. They also traded for Kenta Maeda a year ago. In other words, they are still piecing things together as they wait for the pipeline to produce. 

    While Lewis Thorpe was signed and developed early under a past regime, he has also developed the past four or five years under the current regime. 

    Randy Dobnak is absolutely a success story, even if he never makes another start in the big leagues (which, by the way, after six shutout innings on Friday night, it won’t be). You know the story. Undrafted free agent from a Division II school. Signed from an independent league. Spent all of 2018 in Cedar Rapids. Pitched at four levels in 2019, including in the big leagues. Signed a long-term extension. 

    But, now we want (and really, really need) to start seeing the pipeline. Remember, the first year with Derek Falvey at the helm, there weren’t a lot of changes. There was a lot of evaluation. So in 2017, they started adding some additional technology (Rapsodo, high-speed cameras, added Trackman capabilities). They have also now been adding coaches and coordinators. Each affiliate has two pitching coaches. Each affiliate has at least one Spanish-speaking coach. They have had a minor league pitching coordinator with a couple of assistants. Each pitcher has an individual improvement plan that they get to be part of making. 


    So who are some of the pitching prospects that potentially could keep developing?

    Jhoan Duran (23) made his first appearance on Saturday night for the Saints. He was hitting 97-99 (the radar gun kept showing 102), though it was also clear he was shaking off some rust. The Twins acquired him in a trade from the Diamondbacks and have helped him develop as a starting pitcher. 

    The Twins current front office has traded for some other pitching prospects early in their development. Luis Rijo (22) came to the Twins from the Yankees in the Lance Lynn deal. He was a pitcher with good command of his pitches. By 2019, he was hitting 95 with his fastball. When the Twins traded Lewin Diaz to the Marlins in 2019, they received Sergio Romo and Chris Vallimont (24).  The hard-throwing right-hander made his Wichita debut on Saturday night and struck out eight batters in 4 2/3 innings. 

    Jordan Balazovic (22) should be returning to action soon. He has been working back from an oblique injury in Ft. Myers, but he is obviously very talented. He was the Twins fifth round pick in 2016 out of high school in Canada. A year later, the Twins were able to sign Blayne Enlow (22) after drafting him in the third round of the 2017 draft and keeping him from LSU. Enlow is now throwing 95-96 mph with a four-pitch mix that has come a long way.  

    Two other pitchers to watch are in St. Paul. Griffin Jax (26) was the team’s third round pick in 2016 from the Air Force. He was only able to participate part-time early in his career due to obligations, but he’s been a very consistent performer all the way up. Charlie Barnes (25) was the Twins’ fourth round pick in 2018 out of Clemson. Known for his changeup, he also has been quite good as he’s moved up the ladder. Both have been invited to big-league spring training the last two years. 

    Bailey Ober (25) made his MLB debut this week, a spot start in place of Michael Pineda. He has put up just silly numbers in his minor league career, though he has missed time with arm issues. When healthy, he’s really good despite not throwing real hard. 

    The 2018 draft brought the Twins a couple of very intriguing prospects. In the fourth round, they selected Cole Sands (23) out of Florida State. In 2019, he pitched at three levels and is starting well in Wichita this year. Wichita’s Opening Day starter was 2018 seventh-round pick Josh Winder (24). No one has increased their prospect value in the past year than Winder. After sitting 91-92 mph in 2019, he now is hitting 97 mph with a fastball and has a very sharp slider and a good change. 

    Also from that 2018 draft, lefty Kody Funderburk (24, 15th round, Dallas Baptist) and Andrew Cabezas (24, 18th round, U of Miami) have started out well with Cedar Rapids. 19th round pick, Austin Schulfer (25, UW-Milwaukee) has made three starts at AA Wichita already. Regi Grace (21)was the Twins 10th round pick out of high school in Mississippi, and he just had his best start with the Mighty Mussels. 

    The Twins grabbed Matt Canterino (23) with their second-round draft pick in 2019 out of Rice University. He was an advanced college pitcher when drafted, and then he ended 2020 at the Twins alternate site. He participated in the Twins depth camp at spring training and showed an upper-90s fastball to go with a terrific pitch-mix. 

    The Twins drafted and signed ten more college pitchers between the sixth and 19th rounds that year. And then in the 30th round, they drafted Tyler Beck, a closer from Division II’s University of Tampa.  He has started the 2021 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels and is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA. Through his first 12 2/3 innings, he has given up just three hits, walked two and struck out 15. Now, he is already 25, but he has taken a very circuitous route to where he is today and whatever he has been developing over the last year or more seems to be encouraging. 

    And that brings me back to Age. Of course, Age-to-Level-of-Competition is a factor in prospect rankings, it should be only a minor piece to an organization’s evaluation of a player. If that’s the case, the Twins never would have signed Nick Anderson out of the independent leagues, and the Marlins and Rays certainly wouldn’t have traded for him. 

    In addition, we just have to remember that the majority of these pitching prospects missed a full season of development. 

    Again, it may be hard to figure out which pitching prospects will become big leaguers, much less big league rotation members, much less All Stars. So what can you look for?

    1. Stuff - Obviously to get to the big leagues, a pitcher has to have some ‘stuff’. Stuff, in my opinion, means velocity as well as quality pitch movement and shape. Velocity obviously helps make it possible to make some more mistakes and get away with them, but we have also seen so many successful pitchers who top out at 91-92 mph. Those guys need to have quality pitches, movement, shape, sharpness. It is also important to remember that pitchers are able to improve upon those things. Josh Winder bumping his fastball from 92 to 97 is just one example. The technology the Twins have provides the coaches and pitchers to work together to increase velocity, find a more consistent release point, increase spin and more. 
    2. Command - As mentioned, a way to be successful even without triple-digit velocity is by being able to place the pitch exactly where you want to. “Control” just means that you don’t walk many batters. Command means that you are able to place the ball where you want it within the strike zone or just off it. 

    Obviously there can be more factors for a pitcher’s success as well, but those are the two biggest. In addition, having a high baseball IQ is good. Being willing to ask questions is a good thing. Talking to both Josh Winder and Matt Canterino, they learned from the veteran pitchers while at big-league spring training. However, Canterino also talked about getting to spend some time talking with Josh Donaldson about his stuff, what a hitter might be thinking in certain situations and more. Being willing to learn is very important. And finally, being able to understand that the process is more important than the results, especially lower in the minor leagues. If you are doing the right things mechanically, mentally, in your preparation, and understand that it is understanding the big picture, you can continue to learn. 

     

    Like all teams, the Twins have some very intriguing pitching prospects. A couple will make it. A couple may get a short stint. A few probably won’t get there. We will have a good idea of where the Twins front office and pitcher development programs are and will be going forward.

     

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    Nice write up. Looks like trading Huascar Ynoa was a gaff, and they just let Nick Anderson go for Brian who? It is a nice list, but we needed pitchers last year and the year before and the year before that, and this year and next year and the year after that.... I will believe it when I see these pitchers becoming stars and big leaguers. Right now, it is looking like Falvey didn't have that much to do with what was happening in Cleveland. The bullpen choices this year and the regression of all of them is not emitting much confidence, either. They can't even win one extra inning game! Right now, I doubt any other team is jealous of what the Twins have in the oven.

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    Seth, you effectively answered the question you asked in the second sentence of your article. Baseball players typically don't reach their peak until their mid-to-late twenties, with four to six years of physical and mental development needed. I agree with h20face that Falvey probably did not have a lot to do with establishing Cleveland's system but I think he certainly gained an understanding of what succeeded there as well as how and why it succeeded.

    Pitching always has been and always will be the most important part of baseball, but what applies to developing a pitching pipeline also applies to batting, fielding, and base-running. Scouting and player development are the linchpins. Acquire the right players and have a system that enables them to perform at their highest level. This in turn requires acquiring good scouting and player development people.

    Falvey has had to essentially rebuild the entire organization from scratch. Fans tend to be impatient and demanding (even fans other than Yankee fans), but in baseball it takes time to do things the best way, and it has been only four and a half years since he was hired. Factor in that 29 other teams are competing for the best people and this is a monumental task. My hope is that in another five years we will have in place a solid pipeline not just for pitching but for all positions.

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    1 hour ago, Richard Swerdlick said:

    Let's bring up some more to St. Paul and then to Target Field. I say goodbye to guys like Andrew Albers who will likely never pitch for the Twins again.

    While that sounds good in theory, the reality is those teams need arms to get through the innings too. While Albers may not pitch for the Twins again, he can help protect the prospects. 

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    2 hours ago, stringer bell said:

    Good article Seth. I think the key here is patience and many in the TD community are fresh out of that commodity. The homegrown guys should make an impact soon and hopefully some of them are high ceiling types.

    I think patience is important. Bieber took two years. Civale and Plesac took three years... But those were two or three "normal" years. Current minor leaguers lost a year of their development and routine, so we should expect that it'll take three or four years, even for college pitchers the Twins have drafted, to get to the big leagues... (and that isn't factoring in that there is that 'normal' MLB to AAA and back and forth). It certainly isn't something that we should have expected at this point, but it is something we should start expecting to see...

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    Nice article.  I still wonder which ones have the talent to make it in MLB.  The distance between AAA and MLB is really great and a lot of good prospects get lost there.  If you were to rate them - who are the top five MLB prospects - the ones you really expect to be in the rotation and do well?

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    Thanks, Seth.

    Assuming that this FO is successful in developing a Cleveland like pipeline, how long do you see it taking to get to the point that they are getting a couple pitchers from it every/most year(s)?

    Love seeing Duran hit 99 or 100+, but how hard you throw isn't as important as throwing it where you want to.  Expect I have referred to this before, but was at a Legion banquet maybe 20 years ago.  A former MLB lefty was talking and in the Q&A follow up some kid asked him how hard he threw.  He was a surly old guy and his response was a bit of a put down as he flatly said: 1) He didn't throw all that hard, and 2) Put the ball where you want to and you will find success.  He later said he often gets asked that question from people who know he didn't throw hard and is tired of it.  

    In his case success was more MLB wins than any lefty in the history of the game, even after missing a couple early years of his career while serving in combat in WWII.

     

     

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    I am a big believer in that minor league players should be brought up sooner than later for a big league trial. Good for the player and good for the big league team to see how the player reacts. If only a few of these early call-ups stick in the big leagues the organization comes out ahead. Particularly with pitchers I think, they have only so many bullets in their arsenal, why waste them in the minor leagues. If they can't cut it, their spot in the minor leagues will still be there waiting for them. I think you can learn more in two weeks in the big leagues than you can learn in a season in the minors. 

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    1 hour ago, roger said:

     

    In his case success was more MLB wins than any lefty in the history of the game, even after missing a couple early years of his career while serving in combat in WWII.

     

     

    Hmmm, wonder who that could be?

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    I do think the time to test the pitching pipeline we have so far is fast approaching. We're losing (again) today. It's becoming more and more clear that there is a very low probability of even some modicum of playoff contention this season. I'm glad to see that we're giving Kirilloff and Larnach a real run in the bigs, although I would like to see Gordon get the same kind of opportunity (maybe after SImmons is traded). I'd like to see more opportunity given on the pitching side.  I recognize that creating space probably requires some trades and it's a bit too early but I do think it's time to get things moving. I would definitely like to see Vasquez, Duran, Caterino, Ober, Cano and Winder get a shot this year and do it before September. 

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    Hard not to be excited about the Twins pitching pipeline. Duran was impressive for the Saints. Sands, Winder, and Vallimont are all pitching well in Wichita. Canterino and Enlow are looking great in Cedar Rapids and might be moved up soon. Balazovic will be back in action soon. I think Ober will be back with the Twins shortly, after Maeda's injruy. That's eight guys who are all excelling in the minors, several of whom have front-of-the-rotation potential.

    I hope the Twins can get Maeda healthy and resign Pineda, but I'm less confident that we'll be able to sign Berrios. At least two to four spots in the rotation will be open soon and goodness knows lots of opportunities for relievers. The Twins will sign new people of course, but this pipeline gives them some opportunities for competition and hopefully some homegrown high-end arms.

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    7 hours ago, stringer bell said:

    Good article Seth. I think the key here is patience and many in the TD community are fresh out of that commodity. The homegrown guys should make an impact soon and hopefully some of them are high ceiling types.

    Concur on needing patience. I think it's also important to recognize what is and isn't meant by a "pitching pipeline." Six Cleveland pitchers were named in the article -- Kluber, Bauer, Clevinger, Bieber, Civale and Plesac -- but it's worth noting that they debuted in six different seasons over a nine-year period. Six guys that good in nine years is impressive, but it's not like they averaging one or two new studs per year, which is how people seem to perceive it. 

    Similarly, I'd note that during that string, though Cleveland was always competitive, they only won their division three times during that run, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Of those six guys, only Clevinger and Bieber debuted during the pennant-winning seasons, with Clevinger making 10 starts in 2016 and Bieber 19 starts in 2018. In other words, they weren't debuting new guys while they were winning pennants. 

     

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    It's nice to know that there are starter prospects working their way up the minors, but I think part of the reason why we haven't had any recent arms come up is the lack of focusing on drafting pitchers highly. In all of the Falvine drafts (2017-2020), the only two pitchers were taken in the 1st or 2nd round: Landon Leach (who is no longer in the organization), and Matt Canterino. They've prioritized hitters in every single draft. They seem more confident in bringing in veteran starters on one year deals and fixing broken DFA'd relievers through these first few years managing the Twins. 

    I, for one, hope that we can be done with bringing in starters on one year deals like Martin Perez, Lance Lynn, Homer Bailey, JA Happ, and Matt Shoemaker and instead rely on our internally developed guys, or maybe go out and trade for a high-end starter? If Falvine wants this team to become more like the Rays (that's why they hired Rocco, I assume?), then start acting like it!

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    4 hours ago, roger said:

    Thanks, Seth.

    Assuming that this FO is successful in developing a Cleveland like pipeline, how long do you see it taking to get to the point that they are getting a couple pitchers from it every/most year(s)?

    Love seeing Duran hit 99 or 100+, but how hard you throw isn't as important as throwing it where you want to.  Expect I have referred to this before, but was at a Legion banquet maybe 20 years ago.  A former MLB lefty was talking and in the Q&A follow up some kid asked him how hard he threw.  He was a surly old guy and his response was a bit of a put down as he flatly said: 1) He didn't throw all that hard, and 2) Put the ball where you want to and you will find success.  He later said he often gets asked that question from people who know he didn't throw hard and is tired of it.  

    In his case success was more MLB wins than any lefty in the history of the game, even after missing a couple early years of his career while serving in combat in WWII.

     

     

    Great story my friend.  Thanks for sharing.  Unfortunately most people..including our front office believe pitcher wins is a useless stat. 

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    Seth, good work with your focus on the positive. I hope the Twins can get some solid careers out of a few of the young bucks you write about in the article. My take is that management is doing their best. One thing that I find unnecessary is any comparisons to past management, which many have done on Twins Daily. The current group is still green by comparison and we should remember they are are on a learning curve. Meanwhile, the players need to be responsible for their part  and the Twins roster has enough experience to perform at a better level. Those rookies given an opportunity need to play within themselves to succeed. Kirilloff has looked pretty good. Larnach looks a little pull happy. Now, it might be a good time to bring up a rookie to get some experience. The last spot in the bullpen should be available. Just one little drip in the pipeline might help.

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    1 hour ago, Seth Stohs said:

    For the record, I too believe that pitcher Wins are a useless stat. 

     Throw out over 100 years of history for the last 20 and the trendy cocktail stats, eh? All those great HOF pitchers. Credibility takes a hit here in my opinion. 

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    14 hours ago, h2oface said:

    Throw out over 100 years of history for the last 20 and the trendy cocktail stats, eh? All those great HOF pitchers. Credibility takes a hit here in my opinion. 

    Saying that wins are a useless start doesn't necessarily diminish the achievements of past greats. I'm sure Seth has some stats he approves of that illustrate that greatness.

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    Another point I took from this article is that none of Cleveland's finds were first or second round picks. Civale in the 3rd was the highest. Others came via trade.

    18 hours ago, Danchat said:

    the only two pitchers were taken in the 1st or 2nd round: Landon Leach (who is no longer in the organization), and Matt Canterino

    I think the philosophy here must be that bats are easier to project so you better hop on them early because everybody else can project them as well. Then with pitching being more of a crap shoot take many shots down multiple avenues. I've been paying attention for quite a while now and it appears we are comparatively loaded with pitcher protects. We'll see.

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    15 hours ago, h2oface said:

     Throw out over 100 years of history for the last 20 and the trendy cocktail stats, eh? All those great HOF pitchers. Credibility takes a hit here in my opinion. 

    Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher on the planet right now. Has been for a handful of years. No debate about it. Since 2014 his ERAs are 2.69, 2.54, 3.04, 3.53, 1.70, 2.43, and 0.68 this year. ERA isn't a trendy cocktail stat so I assume you're good with it. His wins since 2014 are 9, 14, 7, 15, 10, 11, 4, and 3. He has started 6 games (40 innings) this year and given up 3 ERs total, and has 3 wins to show for it. He has 2 games this year where he has driven in more runs than he's allowed and didn't get a win in either game.

    So, yes, pitcher wins are a completely useless stat. Just because we used it in the past when we didn't have the knowledge we do now doesn't mean it should still carry weight.

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    23 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    Nice article.  I still wonder which ones have the talent to make it in MLB.  The distance between AAA and MLB is really great and a lot of good prospects get lost there.  If you were to rate them - who are the top five MLB prospects - the ones you really expect to be in the rotation and do well?

    As of today, I would rank them: Duran, Balazovic, Canterino, Winder, Enlow, Sands... But, part of the point of the article is that it is impossible to know. Cleveland's guys came out of nowhere (not literally, but they weren't top prospects). So, we are all wondering which ones have the talent to not only make it to MLB but to stick there and succeed. 

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    22 hours ago, roger said:

    Thanks, Seth.

    Assuming that this FO is successful in developing a Cleveland like pipeline, how long do you see it taking to get to the point that they are getting a couple pitchers from it every/most year(s)?

    2021: Duran, Ober, Balazovic

    2022: Jax, Barnes, Winder, Canterino, Sands

    2023: Enlow, Funderburk, Grace

    While they will always need pitchers, obviously at some point, it just becomes about opportunity... Obviously it's imppssible to know what will happen... but the process is there. 

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    19 hours ago, IndianaTwin said:

    Concur on needing patience. I think it's also important to recognize what is and isn't meant by a "pitching pipeline." Six Cleveland pitchers were named in the article -- Kluber, Bauer, Clevinger, Bieber, Civale and Plesac -- but it's worth noting that they debuted in six different seasons over a nine-year period. Six guys that good in nine years is impressive, but it's not like they averaging one or two new studs per year, which is how people seem to perceive it. 

    Similarly, I'd note that during that string, though Cleveland was always competitive, they only won their division three times during that run, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Of those six guys, only Clevinger and Bieber debuted during the pennant-winning seasons, with Clevinger making 10 starts in 2016 and Bieber 19 starts in 2018. In other words, they weren't debuting new guys while they were winning pennants. 

     

    Absolutely true... And also they have had some guys that didn't make it. Or haven't made it yet. They have had guys who didn't make it and succeed. Maybe they didn't have the talent, but even then, the team probably deserves credit for getting a guy there when he probably never should have. 

    When the Twins were winning pennants in the past decade, they would bring up one or two guys each year. Liriano one year. Garza the next. Valencia. You want to get to the point where you aren't bringing up six guys a year. 

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