Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Next Hurlers For The Twins

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Twins roster was expected to be about youth and inexperience. Having welcomed Korean slugger Byung Ho Park into the fold, Minnesota then was expected to turn their attention to internal youth. With top prospects littering the ladnscape for quick call ups, it was the expected narrative to begin the year.

Now through the first month of the season, Paul Molitor has utilized Taylor Rogers, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, and will shortly call upon Alex Meyer. That leaves us at a point of wondering what else may be coming. Despite promoting many top prospects to the big league club, the Twins still have one of the best farm systems in the game. On the mound, Minnesota is working to turn a corner, but wondering who's next is where we are currently at.

There's some fun relief options that should see their major league debuts in 2016. Players such as J.T. Chargois, Nick Burdi, and even Jake Reed could all be on the horizon for Minnesota. For the purposes of this dissection however, the focus will remain on starters, and two key individuals to be clear.

First and foremost, Stephen Gonsalves has emerged as what should probably be considered the Twins next best starting pitcher prospect. He began the 2016 where he ended the 2015 season, with the Fort Myers Miracle. Somewhat similar to Jose Berrios before him, Gonsalves has made a habit of hoping levels due to strong performances mid season.

After posting a 2.61 ERA and a 6.2 K/9 at High-A Fort Myers a season ago, his 2016 has started off even better. Through his first four starts, Gonsalves owns a 1.44 ERA and has struck out 8.6 per nine while issuing just 2.2 free passes per nine. He's already given up two home runs in just 25.0 IP (after giving up just 4 in 134.1 IP in 2015) but that's really his only blemish.

Gonsalves is a 21 year old, and won't hit 22 until the middle of the summer. A 4th round pick out of high school in the 2013 draft, he's impressed at virtually every level he's appeared at. With the roster shuffle at the top, a promotion for Gonsalves should be right around the corner. I'd expect him to make the bulk of his starts this season at Double-A Chattanooga, and that could make him an option to reach the Twins in late 2017.

He's probably not going to be a huge strikeout guy at the big league level, but he'll be serviceable at worst, and has the ability to get quality hitters out. His consistency has been a strength of his, and he's a very level headed athlete as well. Gonsalves is no doubt a name to keep an eye on, and a guy who should continue to shoot up prospect ranking boards.

That brings us to number two, and a guy that I've had Jekyl and Hyde type feelings on, Kohl Stewart. Drafted 4th overall by the Twins in 2013, Stewart was expected to be a potential top of the rotation ace for the Twins. The development has taken longer than expected, but for a high school kid, it's not totally out of the ordinary.

After a great professional debut season in 2013, Stewart took a step backwards at Cedar Rapids in 2014, and fell off mightily in 2015. He's a guy that had just begun focusing on baseball full time, and injuries to his arm were a part of his early time with the Twins. What he's done to start out 2016 however has to put him back on the map.

Like Gonsalves, Stewart is starting this season at Fort Myers once again. He made 22 starts for the Miracle in 2015 with pretty mediocre results. This season however, he owns a 1.93 ERA across four starts while striking out 10.0 per nine and issuing just 2.3 free passes per nine. Across 23.1 innings pitched, it's hard to describe Stewart as anything but exceptional.

A Texas native, Stewart continues to have some maturing to do. He's notably not the greatest guy to deal with, but I know that's something the Twins have worked with him on. As he continues to make strides on the mound, the attitude adjustments and maturity will likely follow in kind.

I'm not sure that the Twins will move Stewart as aggressively as Gonsalves considering his struggles the past two seasons. He's also 21, but doesn't turn 22 until October. I want to see Stewart continue this performance for at least half of the year at Fort Myers, and if things go well, give him the promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. That would put Stewart on track to begin in Tennessee for 2017, and push for Triple-A Rochester.

Despite falling off almost all top 100 prospect lists this season, Stewart could do wonders for his stock by putting together a 2016 like he has started out. Regaining the ace status, the Twins could be using him to bolster their rotation sometime in 2018. For Stewart, it's been a tough road thus far, but 2016 has been a very encouraging start.

Minnesota has a handful of other guys that are interesting starting options down the road. 2015 1st round draft pick Tyler Jay is working as a starter for the first time in his career this season. Then there's players such as Felix Jorge and Randy Rosario. They would all seem to be a bit more along the lines of wishful thinking (at least as a starter Jay may be), but the club is far from depleted on the mound.

As the Twins continue to turn over into a new era fueled by blossoming youth, they'll need to continue to rely on internally developed pitching prospects to help pave the way. Thankfully, the next two top tier options seem plenty poised to carry the torch.

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