bean5302 reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, The 3 Most Upsetting Developments on the Farm This Year
Coming into the 2022 season, Twins Daily ranked Austin Martin, Jordan Balazovic and Matt Canterino as the first, fourth, and sixth best prospects in the organization, respectively. Not only were they high-caliber talents with polish and big upside, but they were all more or less on the precipice of major-league readiness.
In each case, things hardly could've gone worse. Whether performance, injury, or a combination, each of these critical assets saw his stock nosedive over the past summer, and it adds another layer of complexity for a front office trying to build its way back to contention.
With that said, hope isn't lost for any of these three. Let's take a look at each of their campaigns so far, as things come close to wrapping up here in September.
Austin Martin and the power that never came.
The prize of last year's José Berríos trade at the deadline, Martin was billed as a near-ready prospect right out of the gates. It was warranted, after he led all of Double-A in on-base percentage during his first pro season. Despite his resounding success, Minnesota sent Martin back to the same level this year, no doubt hoping he'd shore up his biggest weakness from 2022 – an absence of power to complement the excellent OBP – and earn a quick call-up to Triple-A or even the majors.
That didn't happen. Martin's power trended the wrong direction this year. After slugging .382 with a .127 ISO and five home runs in 418 PAs between New Hampshire and Wichita, this year he's slugging .317 with an .074 ISO and two home runs in 406 PAs at Wichita.
Martin has kept his on-base skills steady, with a .367 OBP despite the crummy .241 average, but his lack of ability to drive the ball with any authority almost renders it moot. Posting a .685 OPS as a 23-year-old in your second turn at Double-A, with no apparent underlying injury, is nothing short of disastrous.
Given all the injuries the Twins have faced this season, it's likely Martin would've gotten a chance at some point if he'd even modestly improved his production from a year ago. His drop-off eliminated that possibility and will leave him as something of an afterthought heading into 2023.
Martin's going to tank on national prospect lists, where he ranked around #50 by consensus coming into the season.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Martin would hardly be the first player to develop significant power rapidly in his mid-20s. In fact, two "shortstop" prospects who came before him in the Twins system serve as optimistic precedents:
Brain Dozier totaled 14 home runs in 317 games through his first three minor-league seasons. Five years later he would set an American League record by launching 42 as a second baseman in 2016.
Jorge Polanco hit 35 total home runs total in 598 minor-league games, and could barely muster an XBH in his early days. He hit 33 home runs for the Twins last year.
Jordan Balazovic's puzzling struggles in St. Paul.
We had Balazovic ranked as the #1 pitcher in the system coming into this year, following a strong campaign at Double-A where he posted a 3.62 ERA and 9.5 K/9 rate as a 22-year-old. Relative to other arms in the system, Balazovic had a more consistent track record and more established workload base, which is why it seemed feasible to envision him playing a significant role in the Twins rotation this year.
His abominable performance at Triple-A has done away with that notion entirely.
Balazovic started a month late with the Saints due to a knee strain. While he ostensibly put that behind him, staying healthy enough to take the mound each sixth day, he has never seemed right at any point. The right-hander's performance with St. Paul has been beyond awful. In 62 ⅔ innings across 20 appearances, he's 0-6 with a 7.47 ERA. Opponents have slashed .342/.412/.625 against him, as both his walk and home run rates have spiraled out of control. Balazovic has made 19 starts for the Saints and completed five innings ONCE.
In late June, Balazovic told Dean Spiros of the Pioneer Press his struggles were "like a puzzle; every day it’s something new."
"I’ve never pitched like this,” Balazovic said. “Last year (at Double-A Wichita) my numbers started to get worse in the second half because I was working on stuff. That’s kind of carried over to this season a little bit, but not to where it should be affecting me this bad.”
The big 6-foot-5 righty boiled his issues down to consistency and execution, but expressed hope he was getting closer to solving the puzzle. "I’m still hoping for that day," he said, "and I’m hoping that day is tomorrow."
It wasn't. The following day he needed 60 pitches to get through 2 ⅔ innings against the Iowa Cubs, allowing five hits (two homers) and two walks. His next time out he coughed up five earned runs in three innings against Omaha. These have been typical results for Balazovic this year, and as a result he's slid down a pitching pipeline hierarchy that's already been depleted by the Chase Petty trade and the development we'll look at next.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Balazovic didn't quite follow through on his "hoping that day is tomorrow" goal, but he might not have been far off? While he bombed in his next two starts, he's been on a bit of a roll ever since, posting a 2.52 ERA and 29-to-11 K/BB ratio with just three homers allowed over 25 innings in his past six starts.
Sometimes guys need to experience their worst to unlock their best. Balazovic has plenty of talent to rebound and get back on track.
Matt Canterino and the elbow that finally gave way.
Canterino's elbow is the only thing that's stood in his way. Drafted 54th overall in 2019 after blowing people away at Rice University for three years, the hard-throwing righty immediately started doing the same to professional hitters. In a 25-inning debut between rookie ball and Low-A, he posted a 1.44 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only eight hits allowed.
Then, the pandemic happened and wiped out the 2020 season. In 2021, he was limited to 23 total innings by a forearm strain (he posted a 0.78 ERA when he was able to pitch). This year, his elbow soreness re-emerged and while the Twins continually tried to navigate around it, treating surgery as a last resort, they eventually ran out of options. "It felt like we didn't have anymore stones to turn over," said assistant GM Jeremy Zoll.
Unfortunately, the efforts to avoid surgery only delayed it, and now Canterino's prospective impact has also been pushed well down the line. Since he didn't undergo Tommy John until last month, Canterino will likely miss all of next year rehabbing, meaning that by the time he's ready to fully return to the mound, he'll be a 26-year-old with fewer than 100 innings as a pro. It's really difficult to come back from that.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Difficult, but not impossible. The biggest cost of all this lost time would theoretically be missed development for a guy who's barely been able to get in-game reps since being drafted three years ago. For Canterino, I'm not sure it matters as much.
He's basically always looked like a guy ready for the majors when he's pitched, with raw stuff that speaks for itself. So long as that stuff remains mostly intact after the surgery, he'll have a chance to get back up to speed quickly and make his long-awaited impact on the bullpen, even if it's not until 2024.
Feeling bummed out? I hear you! Make sure to check back tomorrow when I break down the most uplifting developments on the farm for the Twins this year ... Good news: I couldn't manage to limit that list to just three.
bean5302 reacted to TwinsData for an article, Twins Tidbit: Results Against the Best Teams in the League
The above graph plots the results for every major league team against the five opponents currently on pace for more than 95 wins: Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. The x-axis is win percentage in those games and the y-axis is run difference per game. A few notes:
The Twins were far and away the worst team in the league against this set of teams with a 0.11 win percentage, going 2-16. Those losses were well-earned, with an average run difference of -3.67. In-division foes Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, and the White Sox will have played an almost identical schedule to the Twins, so comparisons between them are particularly appropriate. Even the lowly Tigers and gutted Royals have outperformed the Twins against the class of the league. The Twins' current deficit in the division can be attributed to their performance in these games. By contrast to the Twins' 2-16, the Guardians are a respectable 6-10 and the White Sox are 7-10. A similar performance from the hometown nine would have the Twins comfortably in first place in the AL Central. Luckily, none of the power five are divisional foes, so the Twins will still have a chance to squeak into the playoffs. We are all hoping for another shot at the Yankees or Astros in October. Right?
bean5302 reacted to Ted Schwerzler for an article, Short Starts Are Not a Minnesota Twins Thing
At the Major League Baseball level, most things are about the process working to dictate ideal results. Whether you view the concept of analytics as annoying or not, the reality is that they represent an application of information. When it comes to pitching, hitting, or virtually anything else on a baseball diamond, results are calculated by statistics derived from outcomes.
Every time that Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli steps onto the field and travels to the pitching mound hand-wringing ensues. Of course this is often because the removal of a starting pitcher is happening in the 5th inning or earlier. It’s not something done on gut feeling or through a knee-jerk reaction, but instead a reflection of what makes sense based on actual results.
Four pitchers have made the vast majority of starts for the Twins this season. Among them, Sonny Gray is the only one you would even consider for a top spot or two in a good rotation. Joe Ryan, while flashing signs of solid stuff, more closely resembles a number three or four pitcher. He’s been pulverized by teams above .500 all season long, and while that’s to be expected given his age and exposure, it doesn’t excuse the reality.
I have been vocal in that Dylan Bundy seems to be found value for Minnesota considering his output in spite of the predictive metrics. He is going to regress. Everything about his outcomes suggests regression will hit him hard. What the Twins have done is dance around having that reality smack them in the face to this point, and pitching him any more than he has would be playing with fire. Chris Archer is that fire that routinely burns both his manager and the bullpen beyond three or four innings. His stuff has been good, but the wheels fall off and things go awry.
Asking pitchers to face a lineup more than two times is not a bad idea, in fact it’s one that should be welcomed. In operating that way however, you need to have a stable of pitchers capable of completing that feat. There’s absolutely no argument to be made that the Twins had those arms when the season started, and now 36 pitchers into the year, they couldn’t be further from that being a possibility.
If there’s criticism to be had, it’s towards Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in failing to adequately supplement their starting staff. Major League Baseball as a whole has trended towards shorter starts for quite some time. Through the first handful of months this season, the average start was lower than five innings for the first time in history. With that reality, you’re effectively asking managers to massage a bullpen for something like four innings on any given night. That requires both high-end arms, as well as solid depth.
Minnesota had no arms capable of going deep into games when the season started, and their answer to a bullpen needing supplemental capabilities was a 38-year-old sidearmer in the form of Joe Smith. It’s great that rookie Jhoan Duran has been amazing, but it’s also been absolutely necessary for the Twins to stay afloat. His win probability added leads the league because of the weight being carried on his shoulders, and Baldelli wasn’t provided any additional answers until August. Jorge Lopez has regressed, and Michael Fulmer has been mediocre. Yes, Griffin Jax is a nice development, and it’s great Caleb Thielbar returned from coaching Division 2 baseball, but what are we doing here?
At the end of the day, the question as to why the Twins don’t allow starters to go deeper into ballgames really becomes why doesn’t Minnesota have better starting pitchers. It’s a process to develop arms, and very few will ever be a true ace. It’s also incredibly difficult to spend dollars on arms with 29 other teams vying for their services, and even less talent finding you desirable.
bean5302 reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Minnesotans Looking for Answers After Front Office Competency
Minnesota shored up its rotation and battered bullpen in front of the 2022 MLB trade deadline to near-universal acclaim from local and national media. With the team’s obvious needs met at the cost of a handful of good prospects, local fans are left wondering what happened.
“That’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works,” said Bruce Johnstone, a retired teacher from Alexandria. “You need to be like (former Vikings GM) Rick Spielman and draft quarterbacks who can’t throw or just forget to sign offensive linemen. Then you keep the job for 15 years. There are rules.”
The Twins acquired frontline starter Tyler Mahle from the Reds, closer Jorge Lopez from the Orioles, and setup man Michael Fulmer from the Tigers. The troubling display of attention to roster shortcomings makes Johnstone wonder when the next shoe will drop.
“When you’re the Twins, you sign the deflated shell of Bret Boone or pretend Matt Shoemaker just needs a few adjustments,” said the 66-year-old. “Getting the right people at a manageable cost feels like a thing that the Yankees or Red Sox do while we trade for Sidney Ponson. Something isn’t right. I want some answers.”
Brenda Perkins, a diehard Twins and Minnesota Wild fan, agrees.
“If you’re a GM, the thing you do is sign veterans to these giant [REDACTED] millstone contracts,” said the 35-year-old Plymouth native. “Put them on the payroll until they’re 58, watch their skills degrade in real-time, and destroy your salary cap for a couple decades. Reasonable moves made to help bolster a pennant run without mortgaging the future? What are we even doing here?”
It’s not just fans. Aaron Gleeman, Twins beat writer for The Athletic and celebrity spokesperson for Scribe’s Choice Neck Fan Solutions, LLC, says he is as surprised as anyone.
“This is out of the ordinary, to say the least,” said Gleeman. “It’s usually tweaks or sell-offs. I think a lot of us are using code SURPRISE to get 30% off a 1-year subscription to The Athletic. It’s remarkable.”
For his part, Johnstone is keeping it all in perspective.
“Two of those guys will need Tommy John before Labor Day. A piano will fall on Byron Buxton. Spencer Steer is the next Mike Trout. The alternative is too bizarre to contemplate: a Minnesota team made a series of shrewd acquisitions to improve their playoff chances. Yeah, right.”
bean5302 reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Choose Your Own Trade Deadline Adventure
DID THE TWINS MAKE A MOVE?
IF NO: Standing pat gives us every indication that the Twins hope the rotation’s slump ends, Kenta Maeda saves the bullpen, and the offense does the rest. I’m skeptical! THE END IF YES: DID THE TWINS TRADE FOR A STARTING PITCHER IF YES: I’m glad they did something, but I’m sorry to see (prospect name or names) go. THE END IF NO: What about the bullpen? I’m troubled! CONTINUE IF YES: DID THE TWINS TRADE FOR A RELIEVER IF YES: I’m glad they did something, but I’m sorry to see (prospect name or names) go. At least they didn’t trade Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps. I’m still very upset about that and I will die angry about it. I’m angry now! THE END IF NO: What about the rotation? I’m troubled! CONTINUE IF YES: DID THE TWINS TRADE FOR A CATCHER IF YES: I’m glad they added depth to the position with Jeffers’ injury, but I’m sorry to see (prospect name or names) go. And I'm troubled about the pitching! Very troubled! THE END IF NO: I think Drew Butera is a bullpen catcher for the Angels. A reunion has never made more sense. Bring back Sweet Drew! You can probably get him for some coupons. CONTINUE IF YES: DID THEY TRADE CARLOS CORREA DESPITE BEING IN FIRST PLACE AND AN OBVIOUS PLAYOFF TEAM EVEN IF THE PITCHING CONTINUES TO MAKE US ALL SAD IF YES: I hate this so much. You’re in first place, you stupid idiots. You fools. You fools. THE END IF NO: Good. You’re in first place, you stupid idiots. CONTINUE IF YES: DID THEY MOVE THE TEAM’S HOME GAMES TO DICK PUTZ FIELD IN ST. CLOUD, MINNESOTA BECAUSE THEY CAN’T AFFORD THE RENT IN THE NORTH LOOP IF YES: I guess I understand? Seems like a pretty long drive for a lot of season ticket holders, and they’ll have to share the field with the St. Cloud Rox, but they have a beer deck along the third base line. The rebuilt Ultimate Sports Bar is just down the way. The White Horse downtown has great food and killer drinks. Enjoy the Granite City! THE END IF NO: Good. That would be a weird thing to do? CONTINUE IF YES: DID THEY TRADE FOR JUAN SOTO OR AARON JUDGE OR SHOHEI OHTANI IF YES: I have died. I will not miss any of the players we traded. THE END IF NO: Glad I’m not dead, I guess. Woulda been cool though. THE END Congratulations! You've reached the end of the story.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.
bean5302 reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Minnesota’s Big Second Half Move Revealed: Keep Tony La Russa Employed
With obvious needs like bullpen depth and another starting pitcher staring them in the face, sources familiar with the Twins front office say they have a singular focus headed into the All-Star break:
The godless Chicago White Sox. In particular, the manager’s job security.
Tony La Russa, the 76-year-old DUI enthusiast and leader of the godless Chicago White Sox, has appeared befuddled and bewildered at times. His team, heavily favored to win the AL Central, has struggled mightily all season long and continues to trail the first-place Twins in the standings. Given the talent on White Sox roster, Minnesota is banking on the manager continuing to waste it at every turn.
“Obviously, we would love to reinforce the bullpen,” said a front office source. “The thing is, that takes money and prospects. Keeping Tony in charge on the South Side costs us nothing. We'll be putting a lot of encouragement on our social channels and via group chat with White Sox players and staff. Lots of 'Really admire what you're doing' and 'Looks like you're turning things around, we just hope we can get a wild card.' Stuff like that.”
Unlike godless Chicago White Sox teams of the past, this roster is loaded with likeable, talented players. Liam Hendriks, Tim Anderson, Dylan Cease, the unbuttoned majesty of Eloy Jimenez. Sources say it’s dumbfounding that they’ve been unable to catch an overperforming, banged-up Twins team with a threadbare bullpen. Minnesota aims to keep it that way.
“Another front-line starting pitcher would be terrific, especially if you’re looking towards the playoffs,” said the source. “But you have to get there first. Letting Tony cook is the best way to ensure that.”
Observers close to the situation agree.
“Not a lot of managers could pull off what La Russa is doing,” said a Twins coach. “He’s a legend for a reason.”
“I heard he might start every inning with an intentional walk on Saturday,” said an MLB source. “It’s unorthodox to be sure, but he says that it sets up the double play every time. That’s just facts. He’s a Hall of Famer.”
bean5302 reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Experts: Twins Letting Cleveland Win All These Games Might Backfire
In an otherwise positive season for the Minnesota Twins, one troublesome negative stands out: They keep letting the Cleveland Guardians baseball team win games they oughtn’t.
Late-game meltdowns by the bullpen in general and Emilio Pagan in specific have flipped the result of five recent Twins/Guardians matchups from likely Ws to definite Ls. Multiple baseball experts have confirmed to Twins Daily that this could eventually be a major problem for the current AL Central leaders.
“Are you seriously asking me if losing to a division is rival is bad,” said Phil Miller, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Twins beat writer. “Are you seriously asking me this? What is wrong with you?”
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s bad,” said legendary sportswriter and MLB TV personality Peter Gammons. “You’ve proven that there is such a thing as a stupid question. My god, man. My god. I’m friends with Pearl Jam, and you trouble me with this abject nonsense.”
“[EXPLETIVE] you,” said The Athletic’s Dan Hayes. “[EXPLETIVE] you. Really. I mean that. I will find out where you live.”
Indeed, the frankly hurtful responses from these and the other baseball experts who didn’t hang up on us or send poop emojis indicate that the Twins could be in real jeopardy of losing what looks like a very winnable division. Dr. Tanner Rosenblatt, a sports psychologist at the University of Iowa, thinks this may become an impediment to future success.
“Sportsmanship, even in the high-stakes realm of professional sports, is so important,” said Dr. Rosenblatt. “Playing fair, helping an injured opponent, exchanging jerseys after a game, things like that. While it’s admirable that (the Twins are) offering encouragement to a division rival by losing so many of these games in quick succession, this could impact Minnesota negatively at some point.
“It’s just hard to see how your bullpen eating [EXPLETIVE] night after night after night after night against your closest rival, all while turning the fanbase into cauldrons of defeated sadness, could be considered sustainable.”
"When I find out where you live, and I will, when you least expect it, I will be there," said Hayes. "Then ask me if turning a 10-game lead into a 1-game lead in 35 pitches is good. Northern Minnesota has countless acres of remote forest and farmland. No one will find you."
bean5302 reacted to Cody Christie for an article, Kenta Maeda On Track For 2022 Return
When Kenta Maeda had Tommy John surgery in September, it seemed likely to count him out of the team's starting rotation for the entire 2022 season. Now that might not be the case as he told Japanese reporters that he hopes to be back on the mound in September. According to the article, Maeda is on pace to start playing catch in mid-February. Hopefully, he will be playing catch as part of spring training, but the MLB lockout would need to be over for spring training to start on time.
Another reason for optimism with Maeda's recovery is an adjustment made to his Tommy John surgery. Maeda had a brace added to the impacted elbow to speed up his recovery time. This newer development can cut the recovery time from the standard 12-16 months to 9-12 months. Nine months after his surgery puts him on the mound in June, while 12 months would be September. At the time of the surgery, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said he is "hopeful for sure" that the right-hander will see the mound next year.
It will be intriguing to see how the Twins treat Maeda's recovery. By September, the team will know if they are in or out of the playoff race. Maeda has a chance to provide a late-season boost for a contending team. If Minnesota is out of the race, Maeda may still want to get back into a big-league game to prove he is healthy.
Minnesota's initial acquisition of Maeda looked like a solid move by the front office, especially for a team searching for starting pitching. Brusdar Graterol looked like he would be a reliever, and that's how the Dodgers have used him. There's no question that Maeda greatly impacted the Twins rotation during the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign.
In 11 starts, he dominated by posting a 2.70 ERA with an MLB-best 0.75 WHIP. He compiled an 80-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio and had a 160 ERA+. He set career-best marks in multiple statistical categories, including ground-ball rate (49.0%), walk percentage (4.0%), strikeout percentage (32.3%), swinging-strike rate (17.2%), and opponents' chase rate (40.8%). At the season's end, he finished second to Cleveland's Shane Bieber in the AL Cy Young voting.
Last season, Maeda experienced regression before being shut down with his elbow injury. In 21 starts (106 1/3 innings), he posted a 4.66 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP and a 113-to-32 strikeout to walk ratio. Multiple reasons may factor into Maeda's struggles. His elbow may have been bothering him before he went on the IL, and MLB's crackdown on sticky substances may have impacted his spin rate.
Dylan Bundy, Bailey Ober, and Joe Ryan are the three pitchers penciled into next year's starting rotation. Maeda would undoubtedly provide a second-half boost if his rehab stays on track. Organizationally, many of Minnesota's top prospects are pitchers close to the big-league level. Late in the season can be a time for younger pitchers to prove they belong. Will Minnesota want to give Maeda starts over some of their top prospects? That is a question to be answered later this year.
Do you think Maeda makes an appearance with the 2022 Twins? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
bean5302 reacted to Cody Christie for an article, 3 Twins Pitching Prospects Destined for the Bullpen
Finding solid relief pitching can be a challenging task for an organization. Relievers can burn bright for short periods and then burn out quickly. Many of the best relievers in Twins history were pitching prospects that were unsuccessful as starters, including Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan, and Taylor Rogers. The pitchers listed below are still considered starting pitchers, but their eventual development path may shift them to a bullpen role.
Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 8
Minnesota originally acquired Duran as part of the Eduardo Escobar trade. Since then, he has become one of the most exciting pitching prospects to come through the Twins farm system in quite some time. His electric fastball has been clocked at over 100 mph, even if the gun was a little hot. His off-speed offerings include a slider and a famous "splinker." With at least three big-league pitches, it's easy to imagine him sticking as a starter, but injuries impacted his 2021 season.
Last season, he started the year on the IL with forearm/elbow issues, which can cause lingering problems. Duran was limited to 16 innings pitched with a 5.06 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP. He flashed some electric stuff and struck out more than a batter per inning. After five appearances, he was placed back in the IL and shut down for the year. Luckily, he avoided surgery, but the bullpen may offer him a way to stay healthy and provide value with his dominant pitch mix. Even Baseball America thinks Duran will be in the bullpen by 2025.
Simeon Woods Richardson
Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 4
Woods Richardson has been part of two different blockbuster trades before his 21st birthday. At last year's trade deadline, the Twins acquired him along with Austin Martin for José Berríos. Both the Blue Jays and the Twins were aggressive with Woods Richardson last season as he pitched the entire season at Double-A, where he was over 4.5 years younger than the average age of the competition. Across 15 starts (53 1/3 innings), he posted a 5.91 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP and a 77 to 34 strikeout to walk ratio.
Currently, he utilizes a four-pitch mix, and he can add more velocity as he adds to his frame. He will likely repeat Double-A next season, where he will still be young for the level. Minnesota will give him every opportunity to make it as a starting pitcher, and a move to the bullpen would be multiple years into the future. However, his fastball and changeup are above average pitches that could translate to him becoming a dominant late-inning reliever.
Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 13
Sands was an intriguing pick when the Twins took him with a fifth-round pick back in 2018. He had posted a 4.73 ERA in three seasons in college, but he had projectability. Now, he has turned both of his offspeed offerings into plus pitches, and his fastball velocity has increased. Last season at Double-A, he posted a 2.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 80 innings. These improvements point to his potential to stick as a starter, but a shift to the bullpen may also be on the table.
He has yet to pitch more than 98 innings in a season throughout his professional career. If he is going to stick as a starter, he will have to increase his workload in the years ahead. Another issue was his walk rate more than doubled from 1.8 BB/9 in 2019 to 3.9 BB/9 in 2021. He's dealt with some arm problems in the past, so a shift to the bullpen may give him a better opportunity to impact the big-league roster.
Which pitching prospect is destined for a bullpen role? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
bean5302 reacted to Cody Christie for an article, One Twins Pitcher May Be a Perfect Opener
Tampa Bay has long been looked at for their front office prowess as they find ways to stay near the top of one of baseball's toughest divisions. Using an opener is one idea that originated in Tampa that other teams have adopted in recent years. In 2019, many teams jumped on the opener bandwagon, and there were mixed results.
According to MLB.com, "An 'opener' is a pitcher -- normally a reliever -- who starts a game for purposes of matching up against the top of the opponent's line-up in the first inning, which has traditionally been the highest-scoring inning, before being relieved by a pitcher who would otherwise function as a starter. This allows for a team to counter its opponent's first three batters with the pitcher it feels has the best chance for success against them."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli joined Minnesota from the Tampa Bay organization, so there was some thought to him bringing the opener strategy with him. Baldelli has turned to bullpen games in his tenure, but the opener strategy hasn't been used very often. With the Twins short on starting pitching, there is a chance the team is more likely to use an opener next season to cover more innings. The good news for the club is the team may have a perfect candidate to slide into the opener role.
Minnesota originally drafted Griffin Jax from the United States Air Force Academy back in 2016. His military commitment meant he had a unique path to the big leagues, but he debuted in 2021. Across 82 innings, he posted a 6.37 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP and a 65 to 29 strikeout to walk ratio. One of his most significant issues was he allowed 23 home runs. While those numbers don't look great, a silver lining may point to his future value with the club.
There's no question that Jax struggled to adjust to the big league level, but he was excellent during his first time through the order. Last year in the first inning, he posted a 2.57 ERA with a 13 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio. Batters only hit .160/.204/.240 (.444) with one home run in the first inning. Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see how Jax may be an opener candidate, but his early inning success wasn't just limited to the first frame.
Over half of Jax's innings pitched came in innings 1-3 when he would be facing a line-up for the first time. He held batters to a .184 batting average with a .266 OBP in those frames. He struck out 38 batters in 43 1/3 innings, which is nearly a full strikeout higher compared to his full-season rate. He did allow 12 home runs in innings 1-3, but seven of those homers came in the third inning when a lot of line-ups would be turning over for the first time. Limiting Jax to one time through the order might be the sweet spot to put him in a position to succeed.
There are other reasons the Twins might be interested in employing an opener strategy next season. Many of the team's top prospects are pitchers, and there can be challenges transitioning to the big-league level. Some pitchers will be on pitch counts or innings limits, and others are returning from injury. Putting Jax into an opener role can help transition some of these other young pitchers into the rotation.
Do you think Jax would be a good candidate to serve as an opener? Are the Twins going to use an opener more regularly next season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
bean5302 reacted to Nick Nelson for an article, There's a Very Simple Solution to Minnesota's Shortstop Problem
When the offseason resumes, Minnesota's front office will be feeling pressure to address its extensive needs on the pitching staff. But as things stand, they won't be able to dedicate their full attention to this focus.
Because as things stand, the Twins don't have a starting shortstop. Nothing even resembling a feasible option or fallback plan. That is, unless they're willing to change their position on Jorge Polanco's ... position.
A ready-made starter at shortstop
Polanco was the starting shortstop on the American League All-Star team in 2019. Of his 596 games started in the majors, 470 have come at short. He played the position almost exclusively until last year, when he shifted across the diamond to second base.
No one would deny this was a successful pivot for Polanco and the Twins. He was never a defensive asset at short, but showed standout ability at second, where he looked increasingly comfortable and natural over time. Polanco was able to shake off his power-sapping ankle issues and recapture his excellent standard of offensive production.
As a second baseman, Polanco got his career back on track and then some. He was the team's most valuable player.
In light of this development, you can see why the Twins would be reluctant to turn around and reverse course. As Dan Hayes of The Athletic mentioned when I posed the idea on Twitter, "It was not lost on [the Twins] that Polanco’s health was not an issue after early May and that he responded well physically to second base."
In Dan's well-informed estimation, moving Polanco back to shortstop is "somewhere around Plan M" for the Twins. And I believe it. But my question is ... should that be the case?
Clearly the Twins are not diametrically opposed to playing Polanco at short. He was their primary backup last year and started there 26 times. It's a question of how willing they are to shift him back into regular duties, as a temporary solution to a pressing problem. Maybe the M in "Plan M" stands for...
Making the best
This Twins front office prides itself on being flexible, adaptable, and opportunistic. Through this lens, when you look at all circumstances, sliding Polanco back to shortstop makes a great deal of sense.
Not only does his presence at second base leave a complete void on the shortstop depth chart – it also creates a logjam behind him at second. Luis Arraez is displaced to the point where he looks like a prime trade candidate. Behind him, young talents like Nick Gordon and Jose Miranda have nowhere to play regularly even if they're deserving. Top prospect Austin Martin also might be best suited at second.
Moving Polanco back to short for the time being would free up second base for one or several of these players to step in and receive valuable playing time. Meanwhile, it would prevent the front office from having to make a desperation-fueled move to address the shortstop vacancy.
What else is out there?
The high end of free agency at shortstop has mostly been picked over. The Twins aren't going to sign Carlos Correa and they're probably not going to sign Trevor Story. There are a handful of starting-caliber options remaining, in the Jose Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons mold, but they are not very inspiring. If just a few more names come off the board quickly when free agency fires back up, you're exclusively in backup territory.
Trades are an option, of course. But that means giving up assets that you could be using to acquire pitching.
Finding a shortstop who's going to pair with Polanco, and give you a better keystone combo than Polanco and Arraez, will be very hard. I say that while being fully aware of the defensive shortcomings yielded by the latter arrangement.
If nothing else, moving Polanco back to short would be a temporary fix designed to buy time. Until Royce Lewis demonstrates that he is (or isn't) the franchise's future at shortstop. Until they've had a chance to sort through second basemen like Arraez, Gordon, Miranda, and Martin.
Once a better shortstop option comes along, the Twins can move Polanco back to his preferred position across the bag.
Is this kind of back-and-forth player shuffling ideal or optimal? No, but "optimal" has sorta gone out the window at this point. Polanco's a veteran with plenty of experience at both middle infield positions. He's answered the call whenever needed. If anyone can handle the disruption it's him, and he'd be doing the team a hell of a solid.
Sorting through solutions
Even with the limited remaining options to address shortstop, I'm not saying this is the best one. If the Twins can find a viable taker for Josh Donaldson, or get a really good offer for Arraez, that changes the equation by alleviating the infield logjam. Similarly, if they can swing a no-brainer deal for a shortstop like Paul DeJong, I could get behind that.
But if the "solution" to their problem is signing someone like Iglesias or Simmons as a stopgap, and then struggling to find at-bats for better players buried on the 2B depth chart behind Polanco ... is that really any better than pivoting back to the 2020 setup?
The simplest solution to the front office's current problem at shortstop is right in front of their face. Are they willing to embrace Plan M?
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Order the Offseason Handbook
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
bean5302 reacted to Matthew Taylor for an article, 3 Realistic Free Agent Targets for the Minnesota Twins' Bullpen
It’s no secret that the Minnesota Twins’ bullpen struggled in 2021. Over the course of the season, the group of relievers finished 12th in the American League in both ERA and fWAR.
They did improve down the stretch, however, finishing 3rd in ERA from August 1st through the end of the season. Nevertheless, there are still holes to fill in the bullpen as Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Caleb Thielbar and Jorge Alcala are currently the only locks to make the opening day roster.
In identifying free agent targets for the bullpen, we want to be sure to look at targets that history has shown us are realistic options that the Falvine regime would consider signing. Since taking over the Minnesota Twins’ front office after the 2016 season, the Twins have only ever signed one reliever to a multi-year contract (Addison Reed, 2017) and have never spent more than $6M on a reliever on a one-year deal (Alexander Colomé, 2021).
For this exercise, we will be looking at free agent relief pitchers who figure to sign a one-year contract for around $7M or less.
Target #1: Collin McHugh
After opting out of the 2020 season, right hander, Collin McHugh just posted the best season of his career in 2021 with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 37 appearances last season, McHugh posted a 1.55 ERA and a sub-one WHIP. Additionally, McHugh bumped his K/9 up to double digits in 2021 for just the second time in his career. The key to McHugh’s success is his slider, which he threw on 53% of his pitches in 2021, allowing opponents to hit just .177 against the pitch. The Twins’ front office has shown an affinity for slider-tossing right handers, making McHugh a perfect fit for the 2022 Twins.
Target #2: Ryan Tepera
Although not a household name, Ryan Tepera has been a consistently solid reliever over his seven year career, owning a career 3.48 ERA and only posting an ERA over 4.00 in one of his seven seasons. 2021 was the best season of Tepera’s career, with an ERA of 2.79. Tepera is another slider-heavy right hander who has had success against righties and lefties. At 34-years-old, the Twins should be able to bring in Tepera on a one year deal, which would make a lot of sense for a bullpen that could use more right-handed depth.
Target #3: Brad Boxberger
After a rough 2019 season with Kansas City where he posted a 5.40 ERA, Brad Boxberger has put together back-to-back excellent seasons with Miami and Milwaukee, posting a combined ERA of 3.27 with an outstanding K/9 of 11. Boxberger relies on a mid-90s fastball with a devastating slider that generates a 35% whiff rate. When he limits walks, Boxberger can be a high leverage right handed arm, and figures to go for a salary that is in line with what the Falvey-regime has shown they are comfortable signing.
Which of the three reliever targets is most intriguing to you? Are there any other realistic reliever targets that weren’t noted here? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
bean5302 reacted to RandBalls Stu for an article, Anoka Man Thinks Buxton Should Pay Twins
Classic North Metro halfwit Tom Hanson has seen enough. With the Twins allegedly looking to move Byron Buxton, the self-taught expert on epidemiology thinks the franchise is overlooking the best path forward.
“He oughta pay them to play centerfield,” said the frequently-divorced electrician. “Bet he lands on the injured list reaching for his wallet, lol.”
Hanson, who frequently interrupted his interview to speculate on the accuracy of Dominion Voting Systems machinery, credits Buxton’s injury history with this outside-the-box notion.
“He’s hurt all the time, and the whole insurance game is a racket,” mused Hanson. “I bet they’ve paid more on premiums for him than salary. And I bet he hasn’t thanked them for either one.”
Hanson, who has been banned from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, the Star Tribune comments section, Rube Chat, YouTube, and the Perkins chain of family restaurants, said Buxton reminds him of another Twins great, and not in a good way.
“Joe Mauer must have taught (Buxton) that if you say you’re hurt, these suckers will believe you every time,” said Hanson. “I almost respect it. Must be nice to make $23 million a year to hit singles and then not even do that because your quote-unquote concussion hurts. Must be real nice.”
When told that one of the quoted figures for a potential Byron Buxton deal was 7 years for $100 million, Hanson was livid.
“You could have a lunch pail, 110% effort guy like Zach Granite or Jake Cave who’ll go out there every day and compete for a fraction of that, or you could have a prima donna like Buxton,” exclaimed Hanson. “The fact that they’d choose the latter is just another example of the woke cancel culture infecting our society.”
Hanson would not elaborate on what that meant but did say it also applied to his local school board, KARE 11 meteorologist Belinda Jensen, maternity leave, paternity leave, rap music, Home Depot, his first, third, and fourth wives, and Little Free Libraries.
bean5302 reacted to Andrew Mahlke for an article, Dave St. Peter's Meteoric Rise and How to Get a Job in Sports
On Monday, Dave St. Peter was kind enough to speak about his rapid ascension through the Twins front office and his career at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN. Now, this was a very cool opportunity. St. Peter’s late father, Dom, was a 1954 graduate of Saint John’s, making this opportunity for St. Peter to speak extra special.
For those of you who don’t know, I am a sophomore at Saint John’s. As a lifelong Twins fan and someone who aspires to have a job in professional sports some day, I knew this speech would be very inspiring and educational to me.
For those of you who also want to work in sports, or even if you are wondering just how St. Peter went from intern to CEO in only twelve years, I have a few main takeaways from this speech.
Be willing to put yourself out there and create a portfolio Growing up, St. Peter was a kid who knew he loved sports. He was always obsessing over statistics and was a sports fan no matter what the season was. He credited his father for passing the love of sports on to him.
St. Peter admitted that he was by no means a star athlete as a youngster. He played American Legion Baseball but was cut his junior year, motivating him to work harder.
He said he knew he wanted to work in professional sports and saw his path to doing so through the business world. So when he got to the University of North Dakota he decided to get a student job in the UND Sports Information Department and worked there for three years, covering various sports extensively. Additionally, he wrote for the UND student newspaper and was an aide for the Grand Forks Herald.
After doing all of these things, St. Peter knew he wanted a career in professional sports. However, being from Bismarck, ND, he did not have any local professional teams he could cover. So, in 1989 after college, he moved to the Twin Cities and lived with his sister in hopes of finding a job with one of the local sports teams.
One thing St. Peter had going well for him before applying for internships was that he had a great “portfolio”. At his speech, he told us that if any of us want to work in pro sports, we should build a portfolio. By portfolio, he meant a bunch of examples of your work that you could show to potential employers that showcase your skills and why you should be the one getting the internship. This could include projects, writing, even contributing on sites such as Twins Daily. It is important to put yourself out there, be confident, create a portfolio, and publish your work.
St. Peter applied for an internship with the Twins. Denied. He applied for an internship with the Vikings. Denied. He even applied for an internship with the new expansion NBA team in town, the Timberwolves. Denied. Finally, he was accepted on an internship to work for the Minnesota North Stars. After six months with the North Stars, he got an internship with the Twins.
Be flexible in what type of job you take In 2015, St. Peter said “When I started working in sports, if I had to pick one, I probably would have picked baseball. But I wasn’t at a point where I could be picky, I had to be broad. I was open to basketball, football, baseball, even the minor leagues, and certainly hockey.”
There are a lot of people throughout the country who want to work in sports. With a high demand for jobs in sports, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get to choose what job you want. St. Peter knew that hockey wasn’t his favorite sport, but he knew if that was his only opportunity to work in sports, so be it.
Additionally, people in sports have connections. It is likely that employees with the Twins know employees with the Vikings, employees with the Vikings know employees with the Timberwolves, etc. Below is a photo of St. Peter, Vikings GM Rick Spielman, Timberwolves President Chris Wright, Minnesota United President Nick Rogers, and Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka at a community event in 2017.
Even if you are offered a job that is not your first option, have a positive attitude and show your skills in that job because you never know what connections you may make. St. Peter’s first job with the Twins was managing a team pro shop. He said he wasn’t all that thrilled about working in retail but he knew he wanted to work in baseball so he kept a positive attitude and learned many valuable skills in this position including how to hire people, fire people, and deal with customers.
Be Patient Things won’t always go your way in the sports industry. That’s fine. St. Peter was turned down numerous times before he ultimately got a job in sports and worked his way up to Twins President of Baseball Operations. Recent World Series winning manager Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves has been a coach in the Braves system since 1982 and wasn’t named manager of the major league squad until 2016. Patience pays off.
Dave St. Peter being generous enough to come up to a college in the middle of November and speak to a bunch of college students shows why he has been so successful in his job. He understands the importance of giving back to the community that has supported his team so greatly over the years. He got to the top of the Twins organization not only because of his extensive baseball knowledge, but because he treats people right.
If you want to work in sports, put your name out there, create a portfolio to showcase your work, be flexible, be patient, and treat people the right way.
Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!
bean5302 reacted to Nash Walker for an article, 2021 Report Cards: Outfield
Expectations Projections Results Injury Leverage/Value *MINIMUM 200 PLATE APPEARANCES TO QUALIFY*
2021: 59 games, .251/.299/.423 (98 OPS+), 8 HR, 11 2B, 3B, 34 RBI, 22% K, 6% BB
Kirilloff went 0-for-15 to start his MLB career, with hard-hit outs dominating his results. Once a few dropped in, they didn’t stop. The rookie had an excellent 15-game stretch where he hit .306/.343/.581 (.924) with four homers and five doubles, separated by an IL stint.
Even with a torn wrist ligament, Kirilloff posted some of the gaudiest Statcast numbers in the league. He slugged just .423 on the season, but that number should’ve been over 100 points higher based on the quality of contact. His season ultimately ended in July when he chose to undergo surgery.
It was a disappointing finish to a promising debut. Assuming his wrist heals, Kirilloff figures to man a spot in the heart of the Twins’ order in 2022 and beyond. He also looked strong at first base and held his own in the outfield.
2021: 61 G, .306/.358/.647 (171 OPS+), 19 HR, 23 2B, 32 RBI, 9/10 SB, 24% K, 5% BB
Buxton’s season was nothing short of incredible. It was also incredibly short. Buxton appeared in 61 games, missing extended time with a hip injury and a broken hand. It was his brightest flash of upside, maintaining massive power and blazing speed and adding it to the best centerfield defense in the world.
Buxton had one of the best months in Twins history in an MVP April and looked on his way to the season-long award. The complete package of a superstar was on display. Buxton recorded 42 extra-base hits and 4.5 bWAR in just 254 plate appearances.
Therein lies the excellence and frustration with Buxton, whose future could depend on what the Twins decide to do this offseason. Will they extend, hold, or trade their most talented (and arguably best) young star since Joe Mauer?
2021: 121 G, .211/.306/.413 (98 OPS+), 19 HR, 21 2B, 3B, 54 RBI, 10/10 SB, 20% K, 11% BB
Kepler reverted to his offensive profile from the first three years of his career, which is a less-than-solid, low-OBP, low-AVG contributor. Then and now, Kepler is a borderline asset because of his superb defense in right field. Kepler ranked second to only Manuel Margot in Outs Above Average (8) among right-fielders.
But how much is that defense worth? It’s a tricky question. This version of Kepler is a below-average hitter and especially below-average for a right-fielder. He limits a lineup that carried more potential than results over the last two years.
Kepler was 19% better than the league in his last 182 games heading into the season, so maybe 2021 was just a down year. Or perhaps it was Kepler coming back to earth. The Twins have a decision to make on him this winter, with a potential $25.25 million owed through 2024.
2021: 121 G, .294/.357/.376 (105 OPS+), 2 HR, 17 2B, 6 3B, 42 RBI, 10% K, 9% BB
Arraez worked through a knee issue and hit his customary .317 with a .380 On-Base Percentage over his first 326 plate appearances. Rumblings of a potential batting title loomed until Arraez hit a snag at the end.
The 24-year-old throwback hit just .241/.291/.302 (.593) over his final 33 games. This stretch sapped his last line, making year three look more mediocre than anything. Arraez may have been hurting, worn down, or a mixture of both, but his streakiness is a significant development.
When he’s not roping singles or walking, it’s hard to justify keeping Arraez in the lineup. He can be a liability defensively with very little power. Arraez is under contract through 2025 but could be surprising trade bait this winter.
2021: 79 games, .223/.322/.350 (88 OPS+), 7 HR, 12 2B, 28 RBI, 35% K, 10% BB
It was a tale of two seasons for Larnach, who the Twins called up to provide left-handed spank when Kirilloff went down. Larnach immediately went 2-for-15 out of the gate and looked understandably over his skis.
Not so fast: a 3-for-5 game against Oakland kicked off an excellent stretch for the rookie. From mid-May to early July, Larnach slashed .274/.365/.452 (.817) with seven homers and seven doubles. He was controlling the strike zone like a veteran while hitting for power.
But this game can be cruel. Pitchers responded and started dicing Larnach up, beating him regularly with offspeed before gradually blowing fastballs by him. Larnach’s season turned. He went 13-for-88 (.148) with 43 strikeouts and 11 walks over his final 27 games.
The future remains bright for Larnach, but he may need some extended time in St. Paul to get things together at the plate.
2021: 58 games, .201/.291/.397 (89 OPS+), 9 HR, 10 2B, 16 RBI, 33% K, 7% BB
The primary beneficiary of the Nelson Cruz trade, Rooker was recalled on July 23rd and looked to be taking advantage of a new opportunity. He hit .281/.361/.625 (.986) with three homers in 32 at-bats after the promotion.
Rooker started 37 of the Twins’ next 55 games but hit just .203/.306/.375 with 50 strikeouts and 11 walks in 147 plate appearances. Rooker hit the ball hard and consistently found the barrel but struggled to make contact at times and didn’t walk much to make up for it.
With an open DH spot on the 2022 team, the Twins may benefit from giving Rooker more chances to tap into his immense power profile. For now, it’s still potential.
2021: 85 G, .294/.370/.537 (148 OPS+), 19 HR, 13 2B, 3B, 50 RBI, 18% K, 10% BB
Cruz capped off his unbelievable tenure in Minnesota with another terrific 85 games. He was once again the Twins’ best hitter and remained a terrifying power bat until he was traded before the deadline.
On top of his production, Cruz allowed the Twins to acquire Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman from Tampa Bay, with Ryan looking like a staple in the rotation for years to come.
Cruz hit .304/.386/.598 with 76 home runs in 258 games as a Twin, solidifying himself as one of the great signings in team history. The impact he had on the organization will be felt for much longer than he spent playing for them.
2021: 72 games, .236/.259/.375, 7 HR, 8 2B, 21 RBI, 6% K, 1% BB
Astudillo entered 2021 as basically a career league-average hitter in 95 games. He hit .295 with a 99 OPS+ in three seasons, with the ability to catch, play first and third base, and even pitch.
The beloved utilityman crashed at the plate in 2021. Astudillo’s .634 OPS placed him more than 25% below MLB average. He appeared as a catcher in only nine games, illustrating the Twins’ faith in him behind the plate.
Astudillo added some value with four electric innings out of the bullpen (2.25 ERA), but it seems his time in Minnesota could be over. He’s owed an estimated $1.2 million in his first year of arbitration.
RELIEF PITCHERS... COMING SOON!
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Order the Offseason Handbook
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
bean5302 reacted to David Youngs for an article, Twins Daily 2021 Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year: Louie Varland
Louie Varland spent his childhood on the dirt of ballfields across the northeast sector of the Twin Cities. The Maplewood native turned his successful tenure at North St. Paul High School into an even better pitching career at Concordia-St. Paul. After that? A 15th round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft by his hometown Minnesota Twins.
And after a sprinkle of 2019 games in rookie ball and just one full season of pro ball, Varland has distinguished himself as one of the most prolific pitchers in the entire Twins organization. For that, he's been voted as our 2021 Starting Pitcher of the Month.
Varland started the 2021 season with Low-A Fort Myers where he posted a 4-2 record and 2.09 ERA in ten appearances (eight starts). In that span he struck out 76 men and opposing batters hit a meager .208 against Varland. Those numbers earned him a promotion to High-A Cedar Rapids, just four hours from home. With his family able to finally attend games, Varland did not disappoint, going 6-2 with a 2.10 ERA in ten starts with the Kernels. While he didn't post as many strikeouts as he did in Fort Myers, Varland was more efficient, posting a stellar 0.99 WHIP and only 14 walks while holding opponents to just a .202 batting average.
Varland joined a talented Cedar Rapids rotation of Ben Gross and company upon being called up. That rotation was amplified towards the end of the season with Sawyer Gipson-Long, Cody Lawyerson, and Casey Legumina joining the rotation. Yet despite the addition of talented arms, Varland was the clear choice to start Game 1 of the High-A Central Championship Series against Quad Cities. Following a career-high 11 strikeout performance against Peoria on September 16, Varland dazzled in his postseason debut, tossing seven innings of six-hit, one-run ball while striking out four and walking one en route to a 2-1 Cedar Rapids victory.
There's no doubt that Varland's 2021 stat line makes him a clear-cut selection for this award. A 10-4 record and 2.10 ERA is pretty darn great at any level. For a pitcher to tally those numbers in his first full season?
Prior to this season Varland only had three professional baseball appearances, all with the Elizabethton Twins in 2019. Varland only started one of those games and compiled a slim 8 2/3 innings in that three game span. With the 2020 minor league season scrapped due to COVID-19, it's truly incredible that Varland was able to trailblaze such an incredible 2021 season. Congrats, Louie!
THE TOP SIX
Varland wasn't the only pitcher in the Twins' farm system to have a standout season. In addition to Varland, these five pitchers round out the top six starting pitchers in 2021 per the Twins Daily Minor League staff.
1. RHP Louie Varland, Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids (18 GS, 10-4, 2.10 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 103 IP, 82 H, 24 ER, 30 BB, 142 K)
Check out Seth Stohs' interview with Louie prior to his electric season and other Twins Daily content on Varland!
St Paul to Stardom: Louie Varland is the Real Deal Twins Prospect Varland Won't Stop at Pretty Good 2. RHP Cole Sands, Wichita (18 GS, 4-2, 2.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 80.1 IP, 59 H, 22 ER, 35 BB, 96 K)
Despite loads of movement in the organization, Cole Sands was an absolute workhorse for the Wind Surge all season. While many of his starts did not surpass five innings, it wasn't because of poor performance. Sands was as efficient as could be, holding opposing hitters to a .203 average on the year and touting seven scoreless starts. Ironically enough, one of Sands' two losses came on August 14 against Tulsa in a start where he recorded a season-high ten strikeouts.
3. RHP Jordan Balazovic, Wichita (20 GS, 5-4, 3.62 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 97 IP, 98 H, 39 ER, 38 BB, 102 K)
Arguably the most notable pitching prospect in the organization, Jordan Balazovic had a season full of ups and downs. When he's on, the 2016 5th round pick is unstoppable with his blazing fastball and deceptive off-speed pitches. We saw that on July 15th when the Ontario-native lit up the Tulsa Drillers with 11 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball.
On the flipside, Balazovic has struggled with control, command, and pitch selection at times leading to a few bad outings that have deflated his stat line. It's clear that the talent is there, Balazovic will continue to hone in on consistency as he reflects on his first season of Double-A ball.
4. RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long, Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids (19 GS, 8-8, 4.55 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 97 IP, 99 H, 49 ER, 27 BB, 137 K)
After a rocky month of May with Fort Myers, Sawyer Gipson-Long flipped a switch and was rock-solid through the summer, posting a combined 2.76 ERA in June, July, and August.
That stellar summer in the Sunshine State earned Gipson-Long a promotion to High-A Cedar Rapids on August 9th. Gipson-Long has qualities that resemble both Balazovic and Varland. Similar to Balazovic, Gipson-Long had some incredible outings this season but also saw a few outings get out of hand. Like Varland, Gipson-Long was drafted in 2019 out of Mercer and had just a few opportunities to get his feet wet in pro ball that year. After his first full-season of pro ball, Gipson-Long should be happy with his quality performance. Yet like any other young pitcher, experience and innings on the mound will help garner the young pitcher's consistency.
5. RHP Josh Winder, Wichita/St. Paul (14 GS, 4-0, 2.63 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 72 IP, 55 H, 21 ER, 13 BB, 80 K)
If it were not for injuries and bad luck, there's a good chance that Josh Winder would be higher on this list. After an amazing two months in Wichita, Winder was promoted to Triple-A St. Paul on June 28th. Winder dazzled in his first start with the Saints, throwing 5 2/3 innings of eight-strikeout ball while giving up one run. With all the momentum stacked his way, Winder was struck by a line drive in his next outing that removed him from the game. Two starts later, he was placed on the 7-Day IL for a shoulder injury and has not pitched since.
It's likely that the Twins are taking the safe route when it comes to Winder's rehab. And why shouldn't they? The 2018 draft pick has been impressive each season since signing and will only continue to improve. If Winder continues his progress once healthy it wouldn't be shocking to see him at Target Field at some point next season.
6. RHP Ben Gross, Cedar Rapids/Wichita (17 GS, 5-4, 4.06 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 95.1 IP, 99 H, 43 ER, 32 BB, 122 K)
Ben Gross closes out a talented crop of 2019 draft picks on this list. Gross was the heart and soul of the Kernels rotation prior to his late-summer promotion to Wichita. The 10th round pick has shown versatility on the mound with his pitch arsenal but also through how he retires hitters. Most of Gross' starts feature 4-8 strikeouts and a plethora of groundouts and pop flies. However, the 24-year-old diced on August 11th against Peoria when he struck out a career-high 13 batters.
While there's certainly work to be done, Gross has shown that he can be a consistent starter day in and day out. If things continue the way they are, he'll have the opportunity to showcase that consistency at a higher level.
RHP Tyler Beck, Cedar Rapids/Wichita (13 GS, 3-4, 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 84 IP, 64 H, 28 ER, 30 BB, 91 K)
LHP Charlie Barnes, St. Paul (16 GS, 6-4, 3.79 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 76 IP, 73 H, 32 ER, 24 BB, 62 K)
LHP Andrew Albers, St. Paul (16 GS, 7-4, 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 96 IP, 113 H, 40 ER, 11 BB, 85 K)
RHP Austin Schulfer, Wichita (24 GS, 6-8, 4.34 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 110 IP, 109 H, 53 ER, 49 BB, 105 K)
LHP Kody Funderburk, Cedar Rapids/Wichita (10 GS, 4-3, 2.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 67 IP, 46 H, 19 ER, 28 BB, 82 K)
RHP Sean Mooney, Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids (12 GS, 0-2, 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 42 IP, 22 H, 13 ER, 23 BB, 71 K)
Previous Starting Pitcher of the Year Winners:
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
Congrats to all those mentioned! Comment your thoughts below!