Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Twins Starting Depth To Be Tested

After being recalled following a two-start stint at Triple-A, Kyle Gibson was back in the Twins rotation. Against the Orioles on May 22, Gibson surrendered six earned runs on seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He got the win (pitcher wins are stupid), but there was a clear picture of a pitcher in over his head. For now, he'll remain in the rotation, but during the game, it was worth wondering what would happen next for Minnesota?

In an ideal world, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, and Felix Jorge are all ready to compete at a significant level. That reality isn't one we're living in though. All three are at Double-A, and none are ready to make the jump to Triple-A or the big leagues any time soon. There's still a long term gameplan there, but expecting them to help Minnesota before late summer at the earliest is a fool's errand.

That leads us to upstate New York, and deciding what is available in Rochester. We have seen Nick Tepesch once this season. He lasted just 1.2 IP and while six of the seven runs he surrendered were unearned, it was an uninspiring performance unlikely to challenge big league hitters. If Kyle Gibson isn't the guy, and it's beginning to look like he may need more time figuring it out on the farm, then who is?

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would likely be tasked with deciding between Aaron Slegers, David Hurlbut, and Jason Wheeler at Rochester. None of them are 40 man players, and of the trio, Slegers is arguably pitching the best this season. While Wheeler has been in big spots previously, and pitched well in 2016, he hasn't gotten off to a great start this season.

Slegers was a 5th round pick back in 2013 out of the University of Indiana. He's now 24 years old, and a relative non-prospect. What he's done however, is put forth a consistent track record at every stop through the Minnesota farm system. His professional ERA stands at 3.57 across 494.2 IP. In 2017, he's totaled a 4.25 ERA over 42.1 IP and rarely issues walks (1.9 BB/9). He's never going to be a high velocity guy, and his career 6.5 K/9 is probably lofty at the next level. While the peripherals aren't flashy, there's reason to believe he's capable.

Thus far, the Twins have used seven starters, and there's a strong likelihood that number trends towards 10 by the time the dust settles. There's nothing more coveted in the game of baseball than starting pitcher, and even moreso, that of the quality variety. It's not fair to assume that every arm called up to the big league rotation is going to be an impact prospect, but if there's a place the Twins organization is starved, it's there.

At multiple points this season, the question as to whether or not Minnesota should deal Ervin Santana has come up. If there's something that highlights the necessity, it could be this. Should the Twins be presented with an offer that returns a solid pitching prospect or two, close to big league ready, there's a lot of appeal there. Right now, this team is much more exciting than many would have imagined, but there's no staying power in the starting pitching.

Over the winter, it makes a lot of sense for the Twins to supplement their offensive youth with an impact starter. There's a few names out there that make sense, and the club has money to spend. If the organization can roll out a rotation that includes a big name or two, along with Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia being internal options, they'll be well positioned a year from now.

It may have to be Aaron Slegers in the short term, and if Kyle Gibson continues to struggle, there's no reason not to give him a shot. Pinning your hopes to that level of prospect for the future though, doesn't make a lot of sense. The Twins have some top prospect arms in the system, but they'll need a safety net regardless, and having more impact arms is never going to be a bad thing.