2014 Starting Pitchers

Review of the field positions was relatively easy compared to the uncertainty of the pitching staff. In the last few years of 90-plus losses, the starting pitching has been a primary problem. While moves this off-season have improved the prospects for better results on the mound this year, there is still plenty of room for concern.

Three key acquisitions through free agency are, at this point anyway, what gives some reason for optimism. One hopes the starters will be consistent enough not to completely wear out the bullpen as was the case the past couple of years. Ricky Nolasco is probably the number one starter going into spring and Phil Hughes is my number two. Both should be capable of putting up innings and keeping the team in the ballgame regularly. The third free agent signing was actually a re-signing of Mike Pelfrey, who was with the Twins last year. I list him as my number three starter over Kevin Correia because Pelfrey had a decent year last year in spite of coming off TJ surgery the year before. One more year out and he should be better yet this year.

Number four is Kevin Correia, who surprised many of us fans last year and pitched fairly well, at least in the context of the other starters. He is not overpowering but last year was pretty consistent at getting to the sixth inning or later with the game still winnable. If he does that again in the fourth starter slot, he will be a solid member of the rotation. He is in the second year of a two year contract this year, so if he falters, he is unlikely to be on the roster after June.

Several pitchers will be vying for the fifth starter slot including some who have had some success in the Twins’ rotation in the past. When he has been healthy and not completely wild, Sam Deduno has been very good. In the rotation last year, he was arguably the best of the bunch. Because he had surgery over the winter, he may not be ready to really compete the first day of spring. In fact, he may not enough time to get fully ready for opening day. If he is healthy, he will need to be on the active roster to avoid losing him since he has no more options.

Scott Diamond is another contender who is coming off a down year after being quite effective in 2012. If he is able to bounce back this year, he would be the only left-hander in the rotation (assuming the first four remain as I’ve predicted above). Diamond is another player without options, so his chances of making the roster as a starter or reliever are slightly better than someone who has options.

Although his major league debut last year was anything but stellar, Kyle Gibson is still considered a major prospect with number one or two starter potential. If he is healthy and does well this spring, he may break camp as the fifth starter, but I expect him to begin again in Rochester and establish himself before being called up when another pitcher falters or is injured.

Vance Worley probably needs to at least be mentioned as a possible number five, but he is a long shot at this point. He might end up in the bullpen if the Twins want to keep him, but my guess is he will not make the team and will be subjected to the waiver process because he is out of options.

Logan Darnell and Trevor May are the two other starters on the 40-man who are not on the active roster. Though they have a slim chance of being the fifth starter, I expect them to be at Rochester or New Britain when the season opens.

Alex Meyer, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, is being talked about as being close to ready after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he would be making the jump from AA to the majors if he found himself in the rotation. I hope and expect he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself at AAA Rochester first. Maybe by mid-season depending on other circumstances, he will get the call up.

If I had to pick the rotation now, the first four are set and Scott Diamond would be my pick for number five with Deduno opening on the DL and Worley either released or stashed in the bullpen. Much can happen in the next couple of months, so I do not necessarily expect this prediction to hold.

Another Lost Season

With now less than a week before September is upon us, it is time to consider some options for September call-ups. A third lost season in a row leads one to be thinking more about the future than how the Twins will do the rest of the way this season. As a result, the September call-ups this year are more likely to see some extended playing time than simply being an extra bat on the bench or arm in the bullpen.

Starting pitching has been the most significant weakness this season for the Twins and right now there are some iffy members of the rotation to even complete this season.  Apparently the Twins are monitoring Mike Pelfrey’s innings count as he is in his first year back from surgery. I find that a bit odd in that he will become a free agent at the end of the season. As a result, the Twins’ caution with him may turn out to aid some other team.  Also, Samuel Deduno has had some arm issues that may end up limiting his starts the rest of the way.

Kyle Gibson pitched today for AAA Rochester and is scheduled for one more regular season start for them.  If the Red Wings make the playoffs – currently leading for the wild card slot – Gibson might get a start in the postseason, but with his innings limit, he may also be shut down the best of what New Britain has to offer called up for the playoffs to replace him in the rotation.

Liam Hendriks had another dismal outing and simply does not look like a viable option for next year’s rotation, although given the Twins’ propensity for second chances, he will probably be given another chance to earn a spot next spring. It is unlikely that he will be sent down now unless he is deemed useful in a Rochester play-off run.

As best I can tell, Scott Diamond is close to pitching his way back into the good graces of the major league team, but it also would make some good sense to keep him with Rochester in the event of their wild card or division championship. There is something to be said for playoff experience and “learning how to win”.

Two pitchers currently on the New Britain Rock Cats who have major league experience might be options for recall. They are Cole De Vries and Pedro Hernandez. Either might also be selected for Rochester if Gibson is shut down for the playoffs. Neither one has been stellar this season. Both have been injured and somewhat limited as a result. For the 2014 rotation, it would surprise me if either one is considered a front runner for the Twins. A highly touted prospect, Alex Meyer, may have a chance to crack the 2014 rotation, but I see him as unlikely for September, maybe more likely for the Arizona Fall League.

In the bullpen, Michael Tomkin is a very probable September call-up candidate, but only after Rochester is finished playing. He could gain some valuable experience as closer if they make the playoffs.

My best guess right now is the following will be part of the September rotation to evaluate their potential roles for 2014.  Kevin Correia is the only current starter with a two year contract, so he will stay. Andrew Albers has earned an extended look. If he remains healthy, Samuel Deduno has done well enough at times to deserve a longer look. As soon as Rochester is done, Scott Diamond will get his chance to redeem himself and return to a 2014 rotation option. That would leave Pelfrey and Hendriks as the next in line, maybe even going to a six-man rotation.

In the position player ranks, I’m guessing Eduardo Escobar, Darin Mastroianni are very probable with Chris Parmelee a long shot. If in the next few days Justin Morneau ends up being traded, his chances improve some. Aaron Hicks might get the call, but he has struggled so much both with injuries and in effectiveness since he was sent down, that I expect he will have to wait until spring to see if he can make the opening day roster again. Although it is very unlikely, I’d like to see Deibinson Romero called up and given full time at third base. In my opinion, Trevor Plouffe has been given enough time and has not produced consistently enough to count on him.

All in all, that is not a very exciting lineup of players for us to get excited about in September and for the future. We’ll have to hope for an active off-season for the Twins to bolster their chances to compete next year.

First Series Success

Surprise is always fun. Today, the Twins surprised me by winning their second game in a row and the first three-game series of the season. Compounding the surprise: it was against the prohibitive favorite of the AL Central Division and a pre-season favorite to win the World Series.

Today the bats broke out of their mini slumps and the Twins put 8 runs on the board. It was only a matter of time before the hits started coming in greater numbers than they produced in the first two games. It was particularly nice to see Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks come through in the eighth inning with run-producing hits, the first of the season for each of them. Every position player now has a hit, except Darin Mastroianni, who has played in two games, but has not yet made a plate appearance.

The most pleasant surprise has been the Twins’ starting pitching. Two quality starts in the first two games and 5 1/3 innings with no earned runs given up by Mike Pelfrey today. Two errors leading to runs extending the number of pitches enough that he was well into the 90’s in pitch count when he was relieved in the sixth. The bullpen managed to close out the game without giving up any runs, and that included the major league debut of Ryan Pressly in the 9th. Glen Perkins was warmed and ready but the Twins five-run spurt in the bottom of the eighth allowed him to be saved for appearance on the weekend.

Only Josh Roenicke was shaky out of the bullpen today, giving up a hit and walking two in 1/3 inning before being pulled for Robertson who got a strike out if Prince Fielder and Casey Fien who retired the final batter of the nerve-wracking seventh inning.

The pleasant surprise of this series demolished my prediction the Twins would start 0-3. I’ll take it! (And probably should refrain from too many bold predictions in the future.)

Rotation Roulette

The starting rotation for the first few games has now been set. Vance Worley gets opening day followed by Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Most likely Cole De Vries and Liam Hendriks will fill out the group at least until Scott Diamond is ready to return. No matter how one looks at this array of starting pitchers, it is not a World Series image that comes into view. Fifth place in the division is a more realistic picture.

With the whole off-season and ample payroll room to work out solutions, it is more than a little disappointing that this rotation is the best Terry Ryan could assemble for 2013. Was he counting on Kyle Gibson making the big league roster? Does he really believe the three former National Leaguers comprising the front end of this rotation are going to get the job done to be competitive this year? Did he miscalculate and lose other free agents he thought would bite on his offers? From my vantage point, these questions are unanswerable. I can only speculate, but it appears to me Terry Ryan knows this year is a place holder for the future and he was just trying to get some innings eaters – basically 4th and 5th slot starters – to bide time until younger arms are ready.

While I think Diamond paid his dues and pitched quite well for much of the year last year, the latter part of last season does not give me high confidence that he can sustain his performance level of last year. He is definitely a regression candidate for 2013, primed for a sophomore slump. I hope I’m wrong and he comes on strong right out of the chute whenever he is finally activated, but it does not seem like a good bet to me. At best, he is much more likely to be a future back of the rotation guy.

Beginning in just a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to start watching how it all will play out. Today Correia looked like he might be coming around (in his final spring start against Boston) and that is at least one reason for encouragement. Whether he and the others can make a positive adjustment to the American League is going to be one of the intriguing story lines to follow this year. My bet is Correia and possibly Pelfrey will be in the bullpen or gone by mid-season with Sam Deduno, Gibson, Rich Harden and/or possibly one or two of the young power arms acquired in the off-season moving into the rotation to gain experience for 2014 and 2015.

In spite of all the pessimism in this post, I am excited for the season to begin. It will be interesting to watch so many new faces, some young future stars, develop even if the won-lost record leaves something to be desired. If the Twins play better defensively and show improvement in consistency of good at-bats, that will be enough to return to a more optimistic outlook for 2014 and beyond.