Friday, April 22, 2016

Options Emerging For Twins

Going into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins seemingly had one lone spot open in their starting rotation. Tommy Milone was out of options, and was seemingly guaranteed to be included. That left Ricky Nolasco as the veteran fighting to remain in the group. Now a few weeks into the year, there's a couple more added wrinkles to the mix.

First and foremost, it's worth noting how the Twins fourth and fifth starters have performed. Milone owns a 5.87 ERA having given up 10 earned runs in just 15.1 IP. He's been significantly bitten by the long ball, and has already surrendered four of them in just 3 starts. With strikeout rates up (7.0 K/9) and walk rates on par with his career averages, it's really been just keeping the ball in the yard that has kept Milone from succeeding.

On the other hand, Nolasco has taken steps forward after floundering in his first two seasons with Minnesota. Across three starts, he owns a 2.66 ERA and has given the Twins quality starts in two of his outings. While his strikeout numbers have decreased, he's walking next to no one, and limiting damage. Right now, there's really no reason to look to replace the former Marlins mainstay.

What is on the horizon for the Twins absolutely has to have them looking to improve at the top. Just one rung down in the organization, Triple-A Rochester has at least two guys that look big league ready. First and foremost, Twins top pitching prospect Jose Berrios.

On the season, Berrios has made three starts to the tune of a 1.06 ERA. He's striking out over 10 batters per nine innings, and while his walk numbers are up, they are generally not in line with his career performance. One of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, there's significant reason to believe Berrios would elevate the staff as a whole. I had him being promoted in May, and I still see that happening. Right now, I just don't know for who.

That brings us to arm number two, and somewhat of a curious inclusion. Alex Meyer has been almost equally as impressive at Rochester. He began the year with a scoreless innings streak of 15.1. In three games (two starts) he owns a 1.04 ERA, and he's held his walk rate in check at just 2.1 BB/9. Meyer throws hard, and his stuff could play in either the rotation or bullpen depending on where the Twins want to use him. If it's in relief that the door swings easier right now, I'd be asking him to hop on a plane sooner rather than later.

Not to be forgotten is 2015 standout Tyler Duffey. While he's taking somewhat of a back seat to the two aforementioned pitchers, Duffey's 1.72 ERA is now slouch of its own. He's walking too many batters (4.0 BB/9) but has otherwise pitched well. Having been a contributor for the Twins a season ago, there's plenty of reason to believe he's capable of being just that again.

If you want to take a step even further down the ladder, J.T. Chargois has to have turned some heads. The Double-A Chattanooga closer has pitched 5.0 innings without giving up a base hit. He's walked no one and his nine strikeouts have him rolling at a 16.2 K/9 pace. He throws some electric stuff, and I'd believe in him out of the Twins pen almost immediately.

Minnesota will start to see this problem (if we can call it that) pop up more and more in the coming seasons. As some of their top pitching talent rises to the top levels, room will need to be made. I think both Meyer and Berrios should probably be with the big league team almost immediately, and I'm not exactly sure where I'd put them. At some point, you may have to push out the Milone's or Casey Fien's of the world to advance your squad as a whole.

It's a proposition that Terry Ryan hasn't had to deal with for quite some time, but if the Twins are truly going to bank on their own hard work, it's one they'll need to start looking into.

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