Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mound Squeeze Coming To Minnesota

Right now, the Minnesota Twins have an unsustainable pitching output. While they find themselves near the top of Major League Baseball in ERA, WHIP, and BAA, the reality is that regression is coming. Regardless of how steep that hits, the reality for the Twins in the coming months, is that they should finally have some tough decisions to make on the mound.

For far too many of the previous seasons, the practice for Minnesota has been to simply swap out a broken down arm for the next man up. Whether in the rotation or the bullpen, the Twins have just swapped out an arm with a heartbeat for another. Although top tier pitching depth isn't something the organization has in spades, it's getting close to the point that the cream of the crop is rising to the top.

The rotation may be the most murky situation for the Twins braintrust to figure out. Ervin Santana and Hector Santiago are going nowhere, unless a trade presents itself. Phil Hughes has been serviceable, and at this point, seems to have put to rest any worry about fallout from his Thoracic Outlet surgery. While still raw, Adalberto Mejia deserves some run, and projects as a solid back end option. While Kyle Gibson has turned decent starts into mediocre ones due to a bad pitch or inning, there's not much place for him to go either.

Nearly ready to claim a spot back on the big league bump is top young pitcher Jose Berrios. He's been all but lights out in Rochester thus far, and has made two starts stretching out to just over 80 pitches. Through two starts, Jose owns a 0.64 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and has walked just one batter in 14.0 IP. It's absolutely fair to worry about his big league struggles, but he's mastered Triple-A and needs the next step.

There probably aren't too many other arms that factor into the rotation discussion in 2017 (unless Stephen Gonsalves gets healthy quick), but 2018 could see Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, and Felix Jorge knocking on the door. If Berrios is beginning to command room in the rotation, it's the pen that is going to have suitors in short order as well.

It's pretty apparent the Twins pen has been good to start the year. What is also easy to see though, is that it's relatively void of impact arms. Guys like Ryan Pressly, Tyler Duffey, and Taylor Rogers are probably entrenched as they should be. For the rest though, it will continue to be a "prove it" scenario on a nightly basis.

Mason Melotakis and Nick Burdi have both kicked off 2017 nicely. Neither has allowed a run, and both are piling up strikeouts. Pitching for Double-A Chattanooga, it's fair to assume they could be moved up quickly. Trevor Hildenberger has continued to throw well for Triple-A Rochester, and should also be forcing himself into the picture. If you want to throw in Tyler Jay and Jake Reed (neither has pitched yet in 2017), there's a good amount of mouths needing to be fed soon.

The crossroads Minnesota would welcome, is a scenario in which these top young arms are forcing out guys on the big league roster. Rather than simply realizing a Michael Tonkin or Craig Breslow can't hack it, the Twins could find themselves in position to pick the guys with the greatest upside. It's a scenario that has escaped the club for quite some time, but one that could help to turn the tides back towards relevancy.

Regardless of how hard regression hits this pitching staff, the help from Jason Castro, and a much improved defense is going to keep a good portion of it in check. It'd be a welcomed breath of fresh air to see Minnesota around league average in the heart of the summer, and find themselves in a position to take the next step from within.

Velocity, strikeouts, and staples are what a good deal of the next wave of pitchers should bring to Target Field. Replacing guys that are already capable with that level of ability is something we can all be a little bit excited about.