Minnesota Twins Rotation: Bring on the Kids!

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

For a rotation that was terrible in 2014, the Twins come into the 2015 season with an awful lot of ink committed to the group. The first four spots from a group that finished last in ERA and second-to-last in K/9 are mortal locks. Of course, it’s not exactly the same bunch, but by and large it’s close. There is, of course, one highly-priced newcomer — quick check, he probably follows you on Twitter — and plenty of young competition should any of the veterans falter.

The locks:

1. Phil Hughes
2. Ervin Santana
3. Ricky Nolasco
4. Kyle Gibson

The Hughes experiment went as well as anyone could have expected, and he was rewarded with a fancy new contract extension. Based on how he pitched at Target Field — a natural habitat for his skill set — there may be room for improvement yet. The Santana signing is intriguing; he routinely flashes ace-type stuff, and was top-10 in SwStr% last year. He’s among the most durable pitchers in the game, possesses a nasty slider and is moving to a spacious ballpark. That spaciousness will be a blessing and a burden, given the likelihood that Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia occupy two-thirds of that vast prairie. Nolasco was an unmitigated disaster. Not only was he outpitched by Hughes — who had a smaller contract and lower expectations — but among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings last season, just two had worse ERAs than Ricky: Kevin Correia and Edwin Jackson. Nolasco has bounced back from rough seasons before, but throw in a league change and that he’s entering his age-32 season, and it might not be pretty. I wrote up Gibson here, but I think he could be on the cusp of something special.

Hughes will be owned in every league, and that’s for good reason. Santana and Nolasco will likely be streaming fodder in shallower leagues — Ervin on the high end, Ricky on the low at least to start out — while Gibson could make for a nice sleeper. Barring injury, this is the top four for the Twins. Gibson outpitched Nolasco, but the Twins organization has typically gone with vets over kids in this scenario. It likely matters very little anyhow.

The No. 5 candidates (in no order):

Tommy Milone
Trevor May
Alex Meyer
Mike Pelfrey
Tim Stauffer
Logan Darnell

It’s sort of a mixed bag in here. Milone has shown himself to be a competent back-end guy. Not particularly sexy, but someone who can get outs in a big ballpark who again could easily be betrayed by this group of outfielders. May’s debut was not a pretty one, but he was far more competent in September (3.48 FIP, 9.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9) than he was in August (5.64, 7.1, 6.6). He’s about a half-step ahead of Meyer, who is clearly the better prospect but struggled badly down the stretch at Rochester before being shut down in his last start. Meyer has struggled with repeating his delivery, and quite frankly, going much longer than the requisite five innings typically requested from a starter. He’ll get many chances to crack this team in the rotation most likely, but his future could be in the bullpen. That’s quite a ways down the road, however.

Pelfrey is still around after inexplicably signing a two-year deal with the team prior to last year. Pelfrey barely pitched in 2014, and when he did was battered. He and the club are both pantomiming that he’ll get a shot in the rotation, but ideally he’d be shuttled to the bullpen, where he can throw a fastball and his preferred secondary offering and just see what he has. It’s not unreasonable for him to be a Luke Hochevar type. Stauffer is much better when he relieves than when he starts, but there’s no harm in letting him come to camp as a starter and dialing it back as camp wears on. Either way, he’ll be profiled more in-depth next week when I break down the Twins bullpen, where I figure he’ll be slated as a sixth-inning guy. Finally, Darnell is really just a possible back-end guy who has no fantasy prospects. He could end up in the bullpen, too.

With this bunch, Milone is low-end streamer fodder if he cracks the rotation. May will be a deep sleeper, and Meyer may be trendy depending on how he performs in spring training. Conservative money is on Milone, with May (considerably) more likely than Meyer to break camp if you ask me. If you’re still reading, I’ll take that as a yes.

Down on the Farm:

Jose Berrios
Kohl Stewart

Berrios had a cameo in Triple-A at the end of the season, and while it didn’t go well, it also showed just how highly the Twins think of the 20-year-old right-hander who has rifled through their system. Berrios handled Double-A nicely, and should do even better in a return trip this year as the team shifts operations to Chattanooga. A 2015 debut wouldn’t be out of the question for Berrios, but remains unlikely simply because of the “stability” in the big league rotation as well as the sheer number of guys he’d have to leapfrog to get that shot. The best bet for Berrios is a 2016 debut, perhaps if Nolasco is moved or someone suffers an injury. This is a name to tuck away, however.

Stewart said last weekend at TwinsFest that his goal is to find himself in Double-A by the end of the season. With prospects of Stewart’s ilk, that basically means a step beneath the major leagues. That might be a lofty goal, but the Texan right-hander has held his own in both seasons he’s spent in the farm system. Last year, Stewart’s slider usage was heavily regulated, leading to depressed strikeout numbers as the Twins had him work through some other things. All things told, a 2.59 ERA in the Midwest League as a teenager is still pretty solid, as he was about three years younger than most of his counterparts. There is a 0 percent chance Stewart makes any noise with the Twins this year, but he is the kind of talent that dynasty leaguers need to keep tabs on. A phenomenal season in 2015 puts him right in the thick of the discussion for 2016 and beyond.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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Does anyone double down on their mistakes more than the Twins? See Mike Pelfrey Matt Capps.