Monday, June 19, 2017

A Leap To Prevent A Dive: The Twins Looming Decision

The Cleveland Indians came into Target Field and punched the Minnesota Twins right in the mouth. Not only were the Twins swept, but their lead in the AL Central is all but gone. What's worse is that what took place over the weekend (especially Saturday) may happen more often than not. The unfortunate reality is that the Twins just don't have starting options.

For game one of a double-header against arguably the division's best team, the Twins sent out a sacrificial lamb in the form of Adam Wilk. The journeyman lefty has never been given more than 14 innings in an MLB season, and he owns a 7.36 ERA at the big league level. Simply put, he's not qualified to be attempting to retire major league hitters. All of this information was known going into the tilt with the Indians, and there wasn't much Minnesota could do about it.

Sure, Wilk isn't who the Twins would prefer to run out to the mound (he was DFA'd immediately following his outing), but they are sparse on options as well. Already nine starters deep this season, both Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago is currently shelved. There's been talk of both returning as relievers, but that is likely only to mask the sunk cost and unfortunate truth that effectiveness eludes them both.

That leads us to where the Twins currently find themselves. The 2017 season has 95 games left for the Twins, and they're 2.0 games back in a pretty poor division. Realistically though, the playoffs weren't something seen as a possibility coming into the campaign, and the slate thus far has provided quite a bit of surprise. With the window being fully opened (with a few pieces added) in 2018, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have to decide what to do with what's left of 2017.

On the farm, there's a few answers, but development will likely need to come into the question. The largest area of deficiency for the Twins still stands on the mound. Both starting and relief options have been lackluster at best, and the system itself has a few options for the big club to consider.

Adding to the starting options, Double-A includes the trio of Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, and Stephen Gonsalves. Both Romero and Gonsalves have an injury history, and are likely being monitored for health going forward. They represent no less than middle-of-the-rotation upside, and both (at their best) can be impact arms for Minnesota. Making the leap from Double-A is a steep one however, and a promotion may not be in the cards under more normal circumstances. Jorge can be a back-end big league starter, and while a quick promotion may stunt a little development, he could be argued to be the most ready.

If the Twins weren't in a place where they were having to draw straws for a starter every other night, there's probably no talk of any Double-A arms going anywhere but Triple-A Rochester. Given the circumstances though, the front office must at least consider if it's beneficial to provide a boost to the big league rotation with one of the top arms on the farm. There will be innings limits to monitor, and rough patches to be expected, but the alternatives haven't provided much more upside.

Out of the bullpen, similar scenarios reside for the Twins. Alan Busenitz was finally given a shot, but the farm still holds guys like Trevor Hildenberger, Mason Melotakis, Jake Reed, and John Curtiss. Hildenberger has paid his due at Triple-A and would be a worthy call at this point. Melotakis was recently promoted to Rochester, and probably could've skipped the level. Reed has pitched in Triple-A before, and Curtiss looks the part of a guy that can get big league hitters out.

Each of the aforementioned names have their warts, but the present more upside than a handful of the current relief contingent. The Twins would have less to lose throwing a reliever into a big league scenario than the starters they'd be considering, but the jump is still not one to be taken lightly. The pen is an area that needs vast improvement, and having not signed multiple vet replacements this offseason, it would appear that an influx of youth makes the most sense.

For a team that has a terribly negative run differential, and has been playing above water due in large part to offensive performance, real questions need to be addressed. At this point, I think we can safely rule out any reason for this team to be "buyers" in another month, but they maybe should consider supplementing from within. Although they'd likely have to disregard normal timelines, jump-starting a prospect's career at the big league level could provide benefits for all. If a young arm flops right now, they have knowledge necessary to compete a year from now. If things break right, Minnesota ends up with the needed influx of talent.

What is easily apparent however, is that this club can't continue to shuffle bodies on the mound. They won't play competitive baseball that way, and they aren't building for anything in that scenario either.

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