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  • Do the Twins Have an Ace in the System?


    Cody Christie

    Outside of Jose Berrios, the Twins have failed to develop top-of-the-rotation starters over the last decade or more. So, do the Twins currently have any prospects on the path to becoming an ace?

     

    Image courtesy of William Parmeter, Fort Myers Miracle

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    Defining what constitutes an ace is something fans have debated throughout baseball history. Some might view it as baseball's top 10-15 pitchers, while others might characterize it as the top pitcher for each team. As Nick wrote about earlier this week, Sonny Gray currently represents the top of Minnesota's rotational threshold, and some might not call him an ace. He is the team's best starting pitcher, and an off-season acquisition should be better or equal to him. So, does Minnesota currently have a pitcher in the system with ace potential?

    It could be easy to look at the Twins' prospect rankings and gauge ace potential by those rankings. However, pitching prospect development rarely follows a linear path. At this point last season, Simeon Woods Richardson saw his stock drop as he struggled at Double-A. Now, he is back on the prospect radar and has the potential to be an ace. Below there are five candidates that have varying levels of ace potential. 

    Connor Prielipp, LHP
    Current Twins Daily Prospect Ranking: 4th 
    ETA: 2025
    Ace Potential: High

    Prielipp has the best chance to be an ace out of all the pitchers in the Twins organization. Minnesota was lucky to have him fall to them with the 48th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. His fastball and slider are both MLB-ready pitches, and his changeup also projects to be above average. The Twins were confident enough in his pre-draft workouts to go over slot value to sign him. Minnesota will work him back slowly in 2023, but he has all the traits necessary to be an ace pitcher. 

    (Click here for more Connor Prielipp articles at Twins Daily.)

    Marco Raya, RHP
    Current Twins Daily Prospect Ranking: 9th 
    ETA: 2024
    Ace Potential: Medium

    Raya made his organizational debut in 2022 as a 19-year-old in the Florida State League. He impressed with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 65 innings. Over 82% of his at-bats came against older batters, which he held to a .571 OPS. According to MLB.com, he has four pitches that grade at 50 or higher on the 20-80 scouting scale. The biggest thing holding him back from being an ace is his size, as he is six feet tall and weighs around 165-pounds. Players like Jose Berrios and Marcus Stroman have shown ace potential while being his size, so there is plenty of hope for him to be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

    (Click here for more Marco Raya articles at Twins Daily.) 

    Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
    Current Twins Daily Prospect Ranking:  5th 
    ETA: 2022
    Ace Potential: Medium

    Woods Richardson has the best potential to be an ace pitcher out of the prospects in the mix for 2023. He turned 22 in September, and he already made his big-league debut. Woods Richardson struggled mightily during the 2021 season but bounced back nicely in 2022. He posted a 2.77 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with a 115-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 107 1/3 minor league innings. He likely starts next season at Triple-A, where he only made seven starts this season. His age, pitch mix, and prospect status give him a shot at becoming an ace. 

    (Click here for more Simeon Woods Richardson articles at Twins Daily.) 

    Louie Varland, RHP
    Current Twins Daily Prospect Ranking: 7th 
    ETA: 2022
    Ace Potential: Low

    Varland has been named the Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in back-to-back seasons. For most organizations, a pitcher winning that award multiple times would point to ace potential. However, it might also result from other pitchers in the organization not performing well. Varland dominated the upper minors on the way to making an impressive debut at Yankee Stadium. He has three above-average pitches, which can help him fit into the Twins' rotation for multiple years. It still seems unlikely for him to ever be considered the best pitcher in a rotation, even if he reaches his ceiling. 

    (Click here for more Louie Varland articles at Twins Daily.) 

    Matt Canterino, RHP
    Current Twins Daily Prospect Ranking: 14th 
    ETA: 2024
    Ace Potential: Low

    Canterino's potential has been hard to project throughout his professional career because he hasn't stayed healthy. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August, so he will likely miss most, if not all, of the 2023 season. Minnesota hopes this surgery can get Canterino back on track, as he was one of the team's top pitching prospects entering the season. When on the mound, Canterino has dominated with a true four-pitch mix and a fastball in the upper-90s. He arguably has the best stuff in the system, so his ace potential is tied to his ability to stay healthy, and remaining a starter.

    (Click here for more Matt Canterino articles at Twins Daily.)  

    Who do you think has the best chance to be an ace? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

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    Outside of Prielipp, the answer is no and Prielipp is still unlikely to get there.

    Of the top three you listed, I don't think any of them will necessarily be better than Ryan, let alone aces.  Varland and Canterino will be 25 next year. Usually, aces are fairly well established by that age. SWR will be 23 and might make the opening day rotation. 91 mph fastball pitchers aren't as valuable as they used to be. 

    On the plus side (sorta), our pitching philosophy doesn't really require aces. It just requires competency (which is hard to find). Maybe a few of these guys can turn into 4-5 inning, 90-100 inning/yr type pitchers that we'll all tell our grandkids about. 

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    The chances that any SP prospect even make it to the MLB & be good is low. To begin your professional career and progress to be an ace, the odds are very high that you won't make it. So since SWR is the closest to MLB ready, I'd say he'd raised the highest. Yet becoming an ace is iffy.

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    Good article that I am in complete agreement with.

    Love the Prielipp pick.  Will continue hoping that he can be our 'Chris Sale,' and move accordingly.  That would put him with the Twins come next August or September.  Expect none of us are as disappointed about his injuries as Canterino is.  Let's cross our fingers and say a few prayers that this young man can get back on track and realize his dream...whether that is becoming an ACE or just a real good pitcher.

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    36 minutes ago, gunnarthor said:

    Outside of Prielipp, the answer is no and Prielipp is still unlikely to get there.

    Of the top three you listed, I don't think any of them will necessarily be better than Ryan, let alone aces.  Varland and Canterino will be 25 next year. Usually, aces are fairly well established by that age. SWR will be 23 and might make the opening day rotation. 91 mph fastball pitchers aren't as valuable as they used to be. 

    On the plus side (sorta), our pitching philosophy doesn't really require aces. It just requires competency (which is hard to find). Maybe a few of these guys can turn into 4-5 inning, 90-100 inning/yr type pitchers that we'll all tell our grandkids about. 

    I agree.  Prielipp could be very good.  I also think that Marco Raya has the attitude of a #1.  Hopefully one of these develop, but they are a ways out from helping the MLB club.

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    I am the lone ranger on the David Festa bandwagon, my personal Twins minor league pitcher of the year. He competed at two levels this year and had by far the best numbers of any pitcher with significant innings. I believe he is hitting 98 mph and he has been healthy. In his playoff game, he went 7 innings with something like 10 K's and 1 hit allowed (and that game doesn't get included in of the stats when the year's minor league stats are posted). He's my pick.

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    29 minutes ago, farmerguychris said:

    Who wouldn't want a rotation of 5 Jose Berrios level pitchers?

     

    Berrios is not an ace, as shown in Toronto this season.

    I would also include Duran on this list, as several "ace" type pitchers initially began their careers working a season or two out of the BP.

    If 3 of 5 on this list become solid #2 or #3 starters then this team will be set up for success for the foreseeable future.

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    1 hour ago, gunnarthor said:

    Outside of Prielipp, the answer is no and Prielipp is still unlikely to get there.

    Of the top three you listed, I don't think any of them will necessarily be better than Ryan, let alone aces.  Varland and Canterino will be 25 next year. Usually, aces are fairly well established by that age. SWR will be 23 and might make the opening day rotation. 91 mph fastball pitchers aren't as valuable as they used to be. 

    Would you perhaps be willing to shed more light on this take beyond the Most of these guys are too "old" to be an 'Ace' track? (Apologies if I took too many liberties with the paraphrasing).

    Each one of the above players has fantastic "stuff", that can... and has played up at the highest levels.  Now this does not mean that I am endorsing a future Cy Young for even one of them, but I am curious if there is anything you believe holds them back beyond just their number of years?

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    11 minutes ago, mnfireman said:

    Berrios is not an ace, as shown in Toronto this season.

    I would also include Duran on this list, as several "ace" type pitchers initially began their careers working a season or two out of the BP.

    If 3 of 5 on this list become solid #2 or #3 starters then this team will be set up for success for the foreseeable future.

    You're missing my point.  I don't think Berrios is an ace either.  However, for us he was a solid #2 guy. 

    I don't care if we get a true 'ace' but would be pleased with five - #2 guys like Berrios instead of one - #1 guy and four #4 guys like we've had lately.

     

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    There are a lot of semantics in this discussion. about what constitutes an Ace? To me, its a more simple issue - good pitching is a common thread amongst most serious contenders. Good pitching means consistent solid performances above league-average that can be counted upon by the club for long stretches of the season.

    The Twins need as many good pitchers as they can get. If the Twins can put five good pitchers in the starting rotation they'll be headed in the right direction. (Assuming the BP is competent...)

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    Prielipp is far and away the best chance in my eyes. But an ETA of 2025 goes directly against the idea of him being the best bet. He missed last year, but will be hitting the ground running this season. He needs to end this season at AA at the lowest, if not AAA. He was a dominant college arm with 2 MLB ready pitches (according to some). That guy can't take 3 seasons to debut if he's a candidate to be an ace. I wouldn't even close the door on him debuting out of the pen at the end of 2023. They got Lee to AA in half a season so getting Prielipp there, or beyond, during a full season should be more than doable. He'll be on an innings limit, but that shouldn't stop him from advancing if he's shredding the low minors like he should.

    Prielipp making it to AAA or the majors in 2023 is the Twins best chance to develop an Ace anytime soon.

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    1 hour ago, MN_ExPat said:

    Would you perhaps be willing to shed more light on this take beyond the Most of these guys are too "old" to be an 'Ace' track? (Apologies if I took too many liberties with the paraphrasing).

    Each one of the above players has fantastic "stuff", that can... and has played up at the highest levels.  Now this does not mean that I am endorsing a future Cy Young for even one of them, but I am curious if there is anything you believe holds them back beyond just their number of years?

    Most of the national reports on these guys are not nearly as glowing. Admittedly, we'll see some upgraded reports when the next round of rankings come out over the next few months but none of these guys made midseason top 100 lists, for example. 

    Secondly, really good players generally make the majors early. While COVID mucked things up a bit, and there are a lot of exceptions, good players have debuted at 23 or younger. If you're 24 and still pitching mostly in AA ball ... eh.

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    Just now, farmerguychris said:

    You're missing my point.  I don't think Berrios is an ace either.  However, for us he was a solid #2 guy. 

    I don't care if we get a true 'ace' but would be pleased with five - #2 guys like Berrios instead of one - #1 guy and four #4 guys like we've had lately.

     

    Technically all of the teams starters outperformed Berrios this season.

    bWAR:

    Berrios -0.5

    Gray 2.3; Ryan2.2; Smeltzer 0.9; Varland 0.4; Paddack 0.2; Mahle 0.1 (2.1 w/ CIN); Ober 0.9; Archer 0.0; Winder -0.1 & Bundy -0.3.

    Berrios did have 172 IP and took the mound 32 times, so there's that. The Twins may have gotten Berrios' best years, and that says a lot because he is only 28.

     

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    2 hours ago, mnfireman said:

    Technically all of the teams starters outperformed Berrios this season.

    bWAR:

    Berrios -0.5

    Gray 2.3; Ryan2.2; Smeltzer 0.9; Varland 0.4; Paddack 0.2; Mahle 0.1 (2.1 w/ CIN); Ober 0.9; Archer 0.0; Winder -0.1 & Bundy -0.3.

    Berrios did have 172 IP and took the mound 32 times, so there's that. The Twins may have gotten Berrios' best years, and that says a lot because he is only 28.

     

    Pitching in the AL East is a little bit harder than the AL Central.😁

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    15 hours ago, gunnarthor said:

    Most of the national reports on these guys are not nearly as glowing. Admittedly, we'll see some upgraded reports when the next round of rankings come out over the next few months but none of these guys made midseason top 100 lists, for example. 

    Secondly, really good players generally make the majors early. While COVID mucked things up a bit, and there are a lot of exceptions, good players have debuted at 23 or younger. If you're 24 and still pitching mostly in AA ball ... eh.

    See... much better :).

    Can't say I 100% agree with the age thing, but that is a much better case for it.

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    We could have a few good pitchers in the minors with promise but not labeled and ace at the moment ...

    But the pitcher with a label of a possible ace in our system was traded for sonny gray  ...

    I said possible ace , the prospects either fail or exceed ...

    If the twins traded sonny gray today they would not get a pitcher labeled an ace in return and probably not even as good as sonny , we possibly over paid for sonny  but time will tell  ...

    That's my plan and I'm sticking to it  ...

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    All this ace talk is kind of unrealistic.  Just give me a solid #1, three #2 and one young guy who is ready to be a star.  I think that would be better over a whole year compared to 1 true ace plus four #3-4 guys (which we already have minus the ace).

     

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    On 10/27/2022 at 1:05 PM, FlyingFinn said:

    I am the lone ranger on the David Festa bandwagon, my personal Twins minor league pitcher of the year. He competed at two levels this year and had by far the best numbers of any pitcher with significant innings. I believe he is hitting 98 mph and he has been healthy. In his playoff game, he went 7 innings with something like 10 K's and 1 hit allowed (and that game doesn't get included in of the stats when the year's minor league stats are posted). He's my pick.

    I like Festa as a sleeper pick. It is rare for prospects outside of the first few rounds to succeed at the MLB level (except for overslot prospects that fall due to signability concerns e.g. Julien) but he certainly put himself on the radar this year with his performance. It is worth noting that his BAA and WHIP both went up quite a bit in High A versus Low A and Low A is a pitcher friendly league so I would only list him as an honorable mention but given his stuff he has a non-zero chance at breaking out further.

    If you could guarantee me that Canterino is healthy for his career I would say he has the best chance of being an ace but sadly the odds are stacked against him for that right now.

    Prielipp is currently their most likely ace prospect right now and I wouldn't underrate his chances of hitting that ceiling given he showed his stuff recovered pretty well in his predraft workouts. I have said it before and I will repeat it that snagging both Lee and Prielipp in the same draft this year is an absolute coup for the FO and they should be commended for taking advantage of those players being available to them. Even if Prielipp never amounts to anything due to injuries it should remain undisputed that the pick was a good one given his upside at that pick.

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