Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tommy Milone, A Product Of Reverse Reasoning

Minnesota Twins pitcher Alex Meyer throws a fastball during spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday, February 23, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
Last season, Terry Ryan pulled off what should be regarded as one of the better trades in quite some time. After picking up Sam Fuld on waivers early in the year to provide outfield depth, the Twins GM sent him back to Oakland for their playoff run and got a major league caliber starter in return. While Tommy Milone struggled with the Twins in 2014, it doesn't change the value he brings to Minnesota.

A year ago, the Twins began the season with a starting rotation that included Kevin Correia as their third starter. Fast forward to 2015, and Minnesota is in the midst of allowing Milone, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, and Mike Pelfrey battle for the final inclusion. By all measurable standards, the Twins have taken a significant step forward on the mound this year. Holding onto the 5th spot the tightest in the early going this spring has been Milone, but that may be just why he should cede the way to top prospect, Meyer.

Through two starts this spring (coincidentally, both have come against the Rays), Milone has given up four hits in five innings while striking out three. He has allowed no runs, and avoided working himself into less than ideal situations. Maybe most importantly, he has walked no one. In his six games with the Twins in 2014 (five starts), Milone posted a 4.6 BB/9. Although he was dealing with injury issues, his 7.06 ERA and 5.90 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was largely an outlier when looking at his career numbers (3.98 ERA and 4.21 FIP). With the solid start to the spring, and being viewed as the clear cut favorite to head north holding onto the 5th spot in the rotation, choosing someone different would be a gamble for the Twins.

As it stands, the Twins are more than aware of what Milone is as a starting pitcher. The soft-tossing lefty is not going to strike man guys out (career 6.5 K/9), and he's going to rely on his defense to help him (as noted by his FIP numbers). At 28 years old, he has pitched in the major leagues for four seasons, and what he will be is largely what he has already become.

On the other hand, the Twins have a starter in waiting when it comes to Meyer. The tall and lanky prospect has been known to push radar guns into the triple digits with a normal amount of consistency. His strikeout numbers (10.4 K/9) are something the Twins could immediately use in the rotation, and his career 3.15 ERA would rank amongst the best in Minnesota. What's stopping Meyer from claiming what is likely his rightful spot on the bump for the Twins, is his ugly walk numbers (4.4 BB/9 in 2014) and lack of command on the mound.

When looking at young pitchers, in terms of development, command is generally one of the last pieces needed to complete the puzzle. Although Meyer has seen success at the minor league level, the concern is that much is due to him simply being able to overpower hitters. Missing spots at the major league level will allow for unwanted baserunners, and high leverage situations that prove difficult to overcome. For Meyer, this was again witnessed in his first outing of the spring. Pulled after 1.2 innings of work, Meyer walked two, struck out one, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch; he did all of this without ceding a run and allowing just a .167 average against. This is where the Twins find themselves.

There's absolutely no denying that of the group competing for the final rotation spot, Meyer remains the one with the most upside. At 25-years-old, the days of being tied to the term "prospect" are nearly over, and results have to follow at the major league level. The Twins could travel down this path by including Meyer in the rotation, even at the expense of snubbing Milone. The club knows they have a fallback option with the former Athletics pitcher, and Meyer could prove to be a rotational mainstay for years to come. At this point, any lack of pinpoint accuracy throughout spring training or back in Rochester isn't going to be indicative of much.

Minnesota will probably opt to let things sort themselves out throughout the duration of spring training. The hopeful side would be that Meyer would pitch himself into the rotation, but at this point even if he doesn't, Paul Molitor may be best suited to gamble on the side of talent.