Monday, February 27, 2017

Twins Throwing Burners Out Of The Gate

While Spring Training is just a few games old, the Minnesota Twins have thrown plenty of pitchers. Coming off one of the worst pitching seasons in franchise history, it's incredibly important that Paul Molitor's club puts its best foot forward early this season. The immediate indications suggest there could be some excitement on the bump.

After making his spring debut, Trevor May reiterated to Cory Provus on the Twins Radio Network, that his goal is to work as a starter in 2017. He wants to eat innings, totaling over 200, and he wants to take a burden off the bullpen. As a guy who's now seen what an overtaxed relief corps can look like, his goal is an admirable one. In his Grapefruit League debut, the most exciting thing may have been just how quickly his pitches were crossing the plate.

Having averaged right around 93 mph in relief a season ago, May didn't see the sizable uptick that normally greets pitchers in the pen. As a starter, May worked mainly at 95, topping out at 96, and working above 94 for the duration of his 31 pitch outing. While it's not quite upper 90's heat, it is an increase that may not have been predictable. Although he did deal with back injuries a season ago, May hasn't ever been highly touted as a flamethrower.

What's also exciting is that May isn't on his own. Both Fernando Romero and Jose Berrios drew plenty of praise from the Fort Myers radar gun in their Grapefruit League debuts. Romero has been named to many top Twins prospect lists, and some have him as the best player in the system. With true ace potential, Romero is the outlier that seems to have gotten stronger post Tommy John surgery.

In his initial showing against the Washington Nationals, Romero pumped a fastabll that topped out at 98 mph, and backed it up with a slider that registered at 89 on the gun. A lethal combination that helped to rack up just shy of 10.0 K/9 at Fort Myers last season, Romero has done nothing to suggest he isn't one to keep an eye on. He has real ability to overpower big league hitters, and his command was more than promising in just over 90 innings pitched during 2016.

Although Berrios didn't spot his pitches as fluidly as the Twins may have liked, his first two spring innings showed promise as well. With Romero, he was the only other pitcher to register two strikeouts in his debut action, and his fastball touched 96 while sitting 94-95. At the big league level last year, Berrios averaged just north of 93 mph. His fastball has always had solid movement, and for a guy short in stature with an unfortunate ball plane, generating extra velocity is a definite positive.

Maybe most intriguing from the early spring velocity numbers is that it would give the Twins a new found weapon to their pitching arsenal. For an organization that has so often been comfortable pitching to contact, there's real strikeout arms that can contribute in relative short order. I wouldn't expect Romero to debut in the big leagues this season, but both May and Berrios should provide Minnesota better strikeout numbers than the rest of their starting contingent.

There's nothing wrong with having sinkerballers, or guys that generate outs by getting batters to put the ball in play. Pairing them with a stable of similar individuals doesn't challenge opposing hitters however, and on a nightly basis, the difference should be a bit more significant.

Derek Falvey has gone on record multiple times throughout the offseason suggesting that the way in which the Twins develop pitching will be challenged. They are going to collaborate from multiple different avenues, and are going to work towards pushing the envelope when it comes to results. It's a great idea in theory, and given the brief beginning to Falvey's Head of Baseball Ops tenure with the Twins, seems to be a believable plan of action as well.

Paul Molitor is going to need his pitchers to give him more this season if Minnesota is going to avoid another disastrous record. The expectation should be that the water level will be raised, but if this trend keeps up, the club will only stand to reap significant benefits.

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