Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Twins Pitching Triple Hitter

As the spring training slate comes to a close, I couldn't help but find myself wondering about the pitching for the Minnesota Twins. The organization put forth the worst starting ERA in the majors a season ago, and the relief corps wasn't far behind. Going into 2017, it needs to be markedly better, and there's three different storylines I'm keyed in on.

First, let's start with the good. Kyle Gibson has been one of the best storylines for the Minnesota Twins this spring. Across seven starts, he's compiled 28.1 IP worth of work, and owns a 1.59 ERA. Although the sinkerballer has just 19 strikeouts, he's only issued five free passes, and has been incredibly efficient.

Coming off of his worst year as a major leaguer, Gibson has some late breakout appeal. He posted a 3.84 ERA along with a 3.96 FIP in 2015, and there was some real steam behind him being a star performer a season ago. Unfortunately that never got off the ground, and while defense hurt him, he didn't help himself much either.

Although spring numbers can be taken with a very small grain of salt, he's looked like a man on a mission. Gibson has been efficient, calculated, and very, very good. I don't want to suggest that it's because of his Florida performance that causes him to breakout, but a very good outfield should help him, and this could be the year we see Kyle Gibson look like the Twins former top pitching prospect was expected to perform.

Now, somewhere in the middle ground, we find Jose Berrios. Recently he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. I can understand that he wasn't ramped up after pitching (or not pitching enough) in the World Baseball Classic. However, if he was truly in play for the 5th starter spot, he could have easily been stretched out for 80 pitches by the time his first outing rolled around. The more I thought about the decision, the more frustration I found myself having.

Berrios is headed back to Triple-A again, and he'll be making his 31st start there, as parts of three major stints. For a top pitching prospect that's really blocked by no one, it's a relatively unprecedented move. Minnesota has a hopeful Phil Hughes, and an unnecessary Hector Santiago in their rotation. If the latter ended up bouncing Berrios, that's an unfortunate development.

At some point, the command has to develop for Berrios, and if Minnesota believes he's better off not working with Neil Allen every day, that's probably an indictment of their big league pitching coach. While I can understand the legitimacy of the reasoning behind his optioning, the optics behind it don't look good, and the Twins again decided against giving a high ceiling arm an opportunity.

Rounding out the trio is a situation that absolutely revolves around high ceilings. In the bullpen, I've often suggested the need to be either creative or good. As Minnesota heads north, it doesn't appear their seven relievers will be either of those things. In my last roster projection, I tabbed the group as being Kintzler, Belisle, Pressly, Wimmers, Haley, Breslow, and Rogers. Of that group, you could probably tab Pressly as good, with creative going to Rogers.

Over the offseason, the Twins knew relief pitching was an issue for them. Instead of throwing more money than maybe a player was worth at names like Romo, Holland, Feliz, or any number of others, they settled on one veteran While Matt Belisle has proved serviceable of late, he wasn't going to be near the top of anyone's relief help list. They enlisted Craig Breslow as a veteran who's reinvented himself, but even he was brought in on a minor league deal.

When the dust settled, Minnesota did nothing to greatly improve its pen from outside. Regardless of the fact that veteran relievers can be had easily on one-year deals (and flipped just as easily) Minnesota stood pat. Then they doubled down on the move by suggesting that none of J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, or Nick Burdi were ready for the big time.

It's absolutely fair to have reservations about those prospects, but if your pen isn't going to be good, giving them run is far from a bad ask. There was really nothing determined this spring that the Twins didn't already know on those prospects either, so the idea that they were on the outside looking in with no real talented veterans above them is a bit disheartening.

At the end of the day, the Twins are going to have to navigate some tough situations on the mound. The rotation remains relatively unchanged, and while Berrios can breathe life into it at some point, Santiago may be sucking it out for a while. Kyle Gibson could be on the verge of a breakthrough, and Paul Molitor desperately needs him to do so. In the pen, the lack of managerial acumen Molitor showed last season, combined with hit or miss arms, Minnesota could be looking at more blown leads than they care to admit to.

Baseball is a game of pitching and hitting, and if you don't have the former, the latter doesn't matter much. The Twins may win one, they're likely going to lose one of these storylines, and well, Jose, it rains...

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