Derek Falvey has been tasked with building a pipeline of pitching talent since he was brought over from Cleveland to head up the front office. Minnesota has been intentional in targeting arms with upside that they can mold into solid workhorses. There were plenty of strong performances this season the farm, but only one took the title of Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year.
Before getting to the winner, here are some others that were in contention:
Pierson Ohl (Fort Myers) - 20 G 91.2 IP 3.53 ERA 1.178 WHIP 9.9 K/9 1.3 BB/9
Jaylen Nowlin (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids) - 22 G 71.0 IP 3.80 ERA 1.352 WHIP 14.1 K/9 4.6 BB/9
Travis Adams (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids) - 22 G 100.2 IP 3.93 ERA 1.162 WHIP 9.7 K/9 2.3 BB/9
#5 Marco Raya (Fort Myers) - 19 G 65.0 IP 3.05 ERA 1.077 WHIP 10.5 K/9 3.2 BB/9
Raya was taken in the 4th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft from United South High School in Laredo, TX. With the Covid shutdown and injuries over the past couple of years, 2022 was his professional debut. Skipping the Complex League entirely, Raya pitched as a 19-year-old for the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. Across 19 games and 17 starts, he was nothing short of dominant. Arguably the staff ace, Raya racked up strikeouts in bunches while doing a good job to limit damage. He’s got mid-90s stuff and is someone Minnesota could mold into a number three starter or better.
#4 Brent Headrick - (Cedar Rapids/Wichita) - 25 G 108.1 IP 3.32 ERA 1.080 WHIP 11.3 K/9 2.1 BB/9
Selected in the 9th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft out of Illinois State University, Headick has really seen the ceiling for his stuff grow. Last year was his first full professional season and he put up strong numbers for Low-A Fort Myers. Splitting time between High-A Cedar Rapids and Double-A Wichita this year, Headrick has become an anchor on the staff at whatever level he plays. Headrick has continued to rack up strikeouts in bunches, and has shown a very strong ability to command the baseball. He gave up a few more homers after the promotion to Double-A, but was every bit as dominant. When the Wind Surge advanced to the Texas League postseason, it was Headrick tabbed as the Game 1 starter.
#3 David Festa - (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids) 21 G 103.2 IP 2.43 ERA 1.090 WHIP 9.4 K/9 3.0 BB/9
Festa made quick work of Fort Myers after starting the season there following his 13th-round selection out of Seton Hall during the 2021 Major League Baseball draft. Pitching substantially for Cedar Rapids this season, he made adjustments to continue strong outings while the strikeouts took a slight dip. Just 22 years old, Festa has done a great job avoiding big innings by limiting the longball. In just over 103 innings this season, he allowed opposing batters to leave the yard only six times. For a late-round pick, the immediate development here has been incredibly encouraging.
Runner-Up Simeon Woods Richardson - (Wichita/St. Paul) 21 G 2.93 ERA 1.080 WHIP 9.7 K/9 3.0 BB/9
Acquired alongside Austin Martin from the Toronto Blue Jays when Minnesota sent Jose Berrios north of the border, Woods Richardson has been nothing short of dominant this season. Not being interrupted by the Olympic appearance as he was last season, Woods Richardson has settled into a routine. His 2.55 ERA at Triple-A St. Paul is even better than it was with Double-A Wichita, and he continues to average over a strikeout per inning. This is a top-half-of-the-rotation arm that Minnesota could call upon as soon as 2023.
2022 Minnesota Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year - Louie Varland - (Wichita/St. Paul) - 24 G 126.1 IP 3.06 ERA 1.259 WHIP 10.4 K/9 3.0 BB/9
Winning this award for the second season in a row is none other than Concordia St. Paul product Louie Varland. A St. Paul native, Varland was a 15th-round pick by the Twins during the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. After dominating Single-A in 2021, Varland continued his roll by earning a promotion to Triple-A late this season. After a 3.34 ERA across 105 innings with Wichita, Varland posted a dominant 1.69 ERA in four starts for the Saints.
As has been the case over the duration of his professional career, Varland has been a strikeout arm. This season he’s tallied 146 strikeouts while ceding just 42 walks. Once working in the low-90s, Varland has put in the offseason work to push his fastball in the mid-90s on a consistent basis with the ability to top out near 97 mph.
When Minnesota needed an arm for a doubleheader against the New York Yankees, it was Varland who was called on to make his big league debut. Brother, and Dodgers prospect, Gus Varland was in the stands to see Louie punch out Aaron Judge for the first strikeout of his career. Varland will continue to grow at the big league level, but he has looked the part of an arm with intrigue. He’s a hard thrower that works quick and isn’t afraid to trust his stuff.
Although the Twins may not have immediate room for Varland in the 2023 Opening Day rotation, there should be no doubt that he’ll make a handful of starts and be ready to make an impact when his number is called.
Previous Starting Pitcher of the Year Winners:
2021 winner - Louie Varland
2019 winner- Randy Dobnak
2018 winner - Tyler Wells
2017 winner - Stephen Gonsalves
2016 winner - Stephen Gonsalves
2015 winner - Jose Berrios
2014 winner - Jose Berrios
2013 winner - Taylor Rogers
2012 winner - BJ Hermsen