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  • Young Arms Flourishing In Twins' System


    Nick Nelson

    The Minnesota Twins are finally experiencing a long-awaited turnaround as an organization, and while that is reflected to some extent on the big-league field, it is more evident as you examine a minor-league system that is suddenly stacked with quality young arms.

     

    On Tuesday, Seth wrote about the dilemma that the Twins face, with Tommy Milone forcing his way back into the picture by decimating Triple-A hitters while no spots in the MLB rotation are necessarily open.

     

    You know the times are a-changin' here in Minnesota when we're struggling to find room for a deserving starting pitcher rather than desperately cycling through ill-equipped replacements.

     

    Such scenarios figure to become more and more common over the next few years, with a veritable army of outstanding pitchers rising through the ranks.

    Image courtesy of Tommy GIlligan, USA Today

    TINSTAAPP is an (albeit clunky) acronym coined by Baseball Prospectus many years ago, and has been frequently thrown around by analysts as a cautionary note. It stands for "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect," and refers to the frequency with which promising young hurlers fizzle out by the time they reach the major leagues.

     

    That truism should certainly be kept in mind as we run through some of Minnesota's outstanding performers in the minors – nothing is close to guaranteed with any of them – but that's why the sheer volume of intriguing names is so encouraging.

     

    Here's a snapshot of the club's best pitching prospects, and a review of what they've been able to accomplish this year.

     

    1. Jose Berrios, RHP, Class-AA Chattanooga

    2015 Stats: 50.0 IP, 4-2, 2.88 ERA, 58/16 K/BB, 1.16 WHIP

    Age: 20

    ETA: Late 2015

     

    That Berrios has demonstrated such dominance is made all the more impressive by the fact that he won't turn 21 for another week, making him younger than all but one position player in the Southern League. He's going up against older and more experienced hitters and blowing them away. Berrios has a pretty good case as a Top 5 pitching prospect in all the minors right now.

     

    2. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Class-A Cedar Rapids

    2015 Stats: 36.0 IP, 3-1, 1.75 ERA, 47/7 K/BB, 0.83 WHIP

    Age: 20

    ETA: 2017

     

    Gonsalves ranked 13th on our preseason listing of top Twins prospects. When I profiled him, I marveled at his tremendous projectability as a 6'5" lefty with improving velocity and noted the following: "If he can put in a full season and maintain his performance in High-A, he'll surely vault into the Top 10 next year and maybe the Top 5." The 20-year-old returned to Cedar Rapids, where he finished last year with eight excellent starts, and has taken his game to another level as illustrated by his ridiculous K/BB ratio. Presumably, he'll be in Ft. Myers within a couple of weeks.

     

    3. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Class-A (Advanced) Ft. Myers

    2015 Stats: 35 IP, 4-0, 1.03 ERA, 36/6 K/BB, 0.83 WHIP

    Age: 21

    ETA: Late 2016

     

    Hu wasn't a high-profile acquisition when the Twins brought him in as a teenager from Taiwan in August of 2012, signing for a relatively modest $220,000. But while it's early, he's shaping up as one of the franchise's biggest successes ever on the international market. His absurdly good numbers in Ft. Myers would be easier to pass off as a fluke if they weren't exactly in line with what he did in Low-A and rookie ball the past couple years. When you hear the term "command-control guy" you might be tempted to affix a low ceiling, but Hu can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and has tallied strikeouts steadily at every level. He has also allowed only one home run in 148 pro innings. The Twins showed how highly they thought of him when they called him up to make a spot start in the first leg of a Triple-A doubleheader on Tuesday. Hu rose to the challenge with six innings of one-run ball, picking up the win and pushing his career record in the minors to 15-2.

     

    4. Alex Meyer, RHP, Class-AAA Rochester

    2015 Stats: 34.2 IP, 2-2, 7.02 ERA, 34/21 K/BB, 1.87 WHIP

    Age: 25

    ETA: Late 2015

     

    Obviously, Meyer doesn't belong in the same conversation as the three names listed above based strictly on 2015 numbers, but his ability and his history cannot be ignored. After competing for a spot on the major-league roster in spring training, the righty reported to Rochester where he's been battling through the toughest stretch of his pro career. His mechanics are out of whack, his already shaky command has deteriorated, and he's uncharacteristically giving up tons of hits. As ugly as things are right now, you have to believe that eventually the 25-year-old will get it straightened out and remind everyone why both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as a Top 30 prospect in baseball prior to the season.

     

    5. Tyler Duffey, RHP, Class-AA Chattanooga

    2015 Stats: 52.2 IP, 2-2, 2.56 ERA, 54/12 K/BB, 1.10 WHIP

    Age: 24

    ETA: 2016

     

    Duffey is a former college closer but you wouldn't know it from his consistently strong numbers as a starter in the Twins' system. He has routinely pitched deep into games for Chattanooga this year, averaging nearly 6.2 innings per start, and has held opponents to a .236/.282/.338 slash line while – somewhat surprisingly – averaging more than a strikeout per inning. The Southern League is a tough environment for pitchers so the fact that Duffey is achieving the best results of his career there bodes well.

     

    6. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Class-A (Advanced) Ft. Myers

    2015 Stats: 27.2 IP, 0-3, 2.93 ERA, 14/11 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP

    Age: 20

    ETA: 2018

     

    It hasn't been two years since Stewart was drafted No. 4 overall, and he has a 2.47 ERA in the minors, so it feels a little odd to have him ranked this low, but recurring injury problems and a disturbing lack of strikeouts have obscured his outlook. Since moving up to full-season ball, the righty has managed only 78 strikeouts in 114 innings (6.0 K/9) – perplexing for a pitcher of his elite pedigree. The good news is that he has managed to keep opposing bats quiet even without missing them, allowing only 115 hits and four homers in 134 pro innings. If he can get healthy and start dominating he'll climb very fast.

     

    7. Taylor Rogers, LHP, Class-AAA Rochester

    2015 Stats: 49.0 IP, 3-2, 3.31 ERA, 44/18 K/BB, 1.31 WHIP

    Age: 24

    ETA: Late 2015

     

    A young left-handed pitcher who has succeeded everywhere and has seen his K-rates rise as he's ascended the minors? Sign me up! Rogers is similar to Duffey in that his game is more polish than power, and like many southpaws he'll need to figure out how to handle righties to stick as a starter (they've got an .867 OPS against him this year despite his overall success) but Rogers is going to pitch in the big leagues – quite possibly before anyone else on this list.

     

    8. Felix Jorge, RHP, Class-A Cedar Rapids

    2015 Stats: 36.1 IP, 1-2, 1.98 ERA, 37/7 K/BB, 0.97 WHIP

    Age: 21

    ETA: 2018

    The Twins signed Jorge at age 17 out of the Dominican Republic for $250,000 back in 2011, and he immediately made a name for himself in the system with a couple of fantastic seasons in the rookie leagues. He lost some of his luster last year when he struggled immensely in his first exposure to full-season ball in the Midwest League, but now he has returned to Cedar Rapids and been spectacular. He's a wiry specimen, listed at 6'2" and 170 lbs, but if he can add a little to his frame while he grows he's got a chance to be a force.

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    The future is finally just months away, not years. TR has had some shaky free agent signings recently, but he has done a great job of transforming a week minor leagues into one of the best. We know not all will succeed, but if only a few of them do Twins baseball will regain the interest they had lost these last 4 years. With Meyer struggling mightily, we hardly care since the current starters are keeping us in games and these youngsters are ready should someone falter or get hurt. So nice to have a manager and pitching coach who make the players better. I'm back to watching 9 innings of baseball again!

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    Don't be surprised to see Duffy get promoted to AAA before Berrios.  He has done so every season and with great success.   Any word on his higher drafted college teammate Chargois? or higher drafted 2012 classmate Bard and Melotakis?

     

    Duffy could be one of those steals of the draft.  Gets it done!

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    The only problem with the "embarrassment of riches" notion is that the Twins rotation isn't actually good. 

     

    Now, the young arms are legit... but actually getting them into the rotation will require the Twins to make moves that they ordinarily do not make. They are loathe to drop players with large amounts of money left in their contracts and they hate to eat large portions in trade deals. Nor do they like dealing away quality starting pitcher prospects.

     

    Pitching is risky business, so opportunities tend to open up for one reason or another, but the Twins roster mismanagement worries me with respect to handling their young pitchers.

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    Any word on [Duffy's] higher drafted college teammate Chargois?

    As JT "SPIKE" Chargois' Adopt-A-Prospect Parent, I'm happy to say that he's well on the road to recovery from Tommy John at Ft. Myers. After one lousy outing at the beginning of April, he hasn't allowed an earned run in a month, and continues to rack up strikeouts (15 in his last 12.2 Innings) while getting into increasingly higher leverage positions.

     

    He's definitely profiling as a bullpen arm, unlike Duffey, and he definitely has longer to go (due to the surgery), but he may be a valuable piece as well.

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    The only problem with the "embarrassment of riches" notion is that the Twins rotation isn't actually good. 

     

    Now, the young arms are legit... but actually getting them into the rotation will require the Twins to make moves that they ordinarily do not make. They are loathe to drop players with large amounts of money left in their contracts and they hate to eat large portions in trade deals. Nor do they like dealing away quality starting pitcher prospects.

     

    Pitching is risky business, so opportunities tend to open up for one reason or another, but the Twins roster mismanagement worries me with respect to handling their young pitchers.

     

    Going to have to disagree here somewhat. First, the rotation is the best it's been in years, with room to be better. The verdict is not yet in on Nolasco's Twins career, but it wasn't a bad move at the time. He has 2 more years after this, but most of the guys in this list won't be ready for a year plus, so the timing, or management,isn't really all that bad. Really, only Hughes and Santana are locked in long term. There is no real commitment to Milone, Pelfrey is gone after the year, and it's possible Nolasco could be traded, even if it is partially a salary drop.

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    Were Thorpe healthy he'd obviously be on this list, putting us one name short of a top 10. Who would you add to the list to complete that list of 10?

    That would be an interesting little debate. Just off the top of my head (and probably overlooking someone), you'd have to consider Dean in Rochester; Baxendale and Wimmers in Chattanooga; Slegers, Lee and Eades in Ft Myers; and Batts in CR.

     

    Just because they've been doing well at higher levels, I'd probably go with one of the AAA or AA guys to fill out a top 10.

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    Were Thorpe healthy he'd obviously be on this list, putting us one name short of a top 10. Who would you add to the list to complete that list of 10?

     

    Romero?  Anyone know his timetable for returning?

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    Meyer with another pathetic outing last night. How much longer before a demotion to attempt to regain his confidence? It appears it may have to be to Fort Myers, although I realize there can't be too many 25-year-old prospects in A ball. So nice to have the other prospects performing well so that Meyer's woes don't spell the doom and gloom we felt in recent years.

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    Meyer with another pathetic outing last night. How much longer before a demotion to attempt to regain his confidence? It appears it may have to be to Fort Myers, although I realize there can't be too many 25-year-old prospects in A ball. So nice to have the other prospects performing well so that Meyer's woes don't spell the doom and gloom we felt in recent years.

    I think a stint in the pen to work on things might help.  Gain confidence, get mechanics worked out in 1 and 2 inning stints a few times a week in real game situations instead of once a week.  Can get repeatable reps that way and hopefully lead to consistency.  I don't think a demotion would do the trick because he will obviously blow away AA and high A hitters.  But that won't solve the underlying problem.  Unless that is simply a confidence thing right now.

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    Going to have to disagree here somewhat. First, the rotation is the best it's been in years, with room to be better. The verdict is not yet in on Nolasco's Twins career, but it wasn't a bad move at the time. He has 2 more years after this, but most of the guys in this list won't be ready for a year plus, so the timing, or management,isn't really all that bad. Really, only Hughes and Santana are locked in long term. There is no real commitment to Milone, Pelfrey is gone after the year, and it's possible Nolasco could be traded, even if it is partially a salary drop.

     

    The Twins' starters are 22nd in ERA, 26th in FIP, and 27th in xFIP. It's just not credible to say that the rotation is pitching well.

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    So how are the Twins winning? Not one player with All-Star caliber stats right now on the whole roster. Moli and his coaches, along with Torii (I believe), just somehow has this team believing they can win.

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    So how are the Twins winning? Not one player with All-Star caliber stats right now on the whole roster. Moli and his coaches, along with Torii (I believe), just somehow has this team believing they can win.

     

    Random variation. 

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