Monday, August 24, 2015

New Shift In Twins Rotation On The Horizon

Pitch-to-contact, sinkerballers, and soft-tossing lefties have become the types of definitions tied to Twins starting pitchers for most of recent memory. While Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, and Tommy Milone still fall into those categories, the horizon is suggesting a change is coming. It has started with Tyler Duffey, but a new wave is looking to take over.

Duffey is far from a strikeout machine, owning just a 7.4 K/9 across four minor league seasons. However, his eight strikeout performance against the Baltimore Orioles was the highest output for the Twins since July 5th when Ervin Santana set down that same amount. Duffey fanned seven Indians hitters in his second start, and owns a respectable 9.2 K/9 despite striking out just one batter in his MLB debut against the Blue Jays.

Although Tyler Duffey shouldn't be expected to lead the Twins in strikeouts any time in the near future, he is part of the turnaround that the rotation should eventually see, even if he's not a part of it.

Recently, I took a look at what the 2016 starting rotation might look like for the Twins. As of that writing, I didn't have Duffey in it. The righty has operated in relief previously, and I think that may be where his long term value lies for the Twins. However, those prospects that should eventually graduate into the rotation (only one of which I have there to start 2016), are of a different breed.

Jose Berrios leads the way when it comes to pitching prospects making their Twins rotation debut. He owns a 3.09 ERA on the season, and an impressive 9.3 K/9. At Triple-A Rochester, Berrios has struck out eight or more batters in six of his nine starts. As a whole, his slight stature doesn't seem to be a detriment when blowing fastballs by opposing hitters. What's better though, is that Berrios isn't alone.

There's still plenty of reason to hope that 2015 is a throwaway year for Alex Meyer. He's no longer a top prospect, and it's silly to assume he is a sure-fire top of the rotation guy. What he does do though, is strike people out. Despite the ugly 5.0 BB/9 mark, Meyer has racked up strikeouts at a pace of 9.4 K/9. If he can get his control issues honed in over the offseason and work back towards being a starter, the Twins would then have two major league ready mow-down types.

Looking through the farm, they aren't alone. Although further off, Stephen Gonsalves is absolutely someone to keep an eye on. His strikeout totals have dipped some at High-A Fort Myers (6.2 K/9 as opposed to 12.6 K/9 at Cedar Rapids), but at just 20 years old, he's still developing the ability to pitch and command the zone.

Much like Gonsalves, former first round pick Kohl Stewart still should be billed as the strikeout type. Stewart has struggled somewhat with the transition to pitching full time, but his 10.8 K/9 in his first pro season is just two years away. Also 20, Stewart's dip to 5.0 K/9 at High-A Fort Myers isn't as concerning as it would be further on down the line. Both players absolutely need to show some level of rebound, but the upside remains.

It's probably fair to argue that it's unlikely all four of the mentioned pitching prospects pan out at the big league level. What is fair to suggest though, is that when they do, the Twins standard will be pushed for the better because of it. Considering the benefit and importance that strikeouts play in any given start, the Twins turning over their rotation towards a more power approach would be a great thing.

It won't be long before Twins Territory is seeing Jose Berrios push the envelope, but if a couple of his organization mates can follow suit, the Twins stand to gain.

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