It’s been stated widely just how bad the Twins’ starting pitching was in 2016. Plainly: it was horrendous, and an affront to the kind of pitching the team has had since the turn of the century. The Twins are revamping their rotation a little for the 2017 season, and hopefully they should be able to at least approach respectability. Here’s what the prospective starting pitchers have done thus far in spring training.
By far the best starting pitcher the Twins have had this spring. Whether he’s just found his best form already or he’s just facing the right teams, Gibson is pitching like the kind of guy the Twins drafted him to be way back in 2009. He’s made five starts, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA, a WHIP of 1.10, a BAA of .231 and allowing just four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings pitched. He’s not striking out a ton of guys (6.75 K/9), but he’s still being as effective as possible. Gibson should be finally ready to assume the position of top-three pitcher in Minnesota’s starting rotation.
Hughes has basically been himself so far this spring. He’s started four games (second-most on the team), has struck only nine players in 14 innings, has a BAA of .294 and his three home runs allowed lead the Twins. The Twins will basically have to work around his ingrained home run-prone pitching style and Gibson will be needing lots of run support this season as he’s in the third year of a five-year deal. One positive from this year’s spring training is that Hughes is currently sporting a rather impressive 21/6 groundout/air-out ratio, a nice change from years past when his pitching style has massively favored flyball outs. Whether this continues into the season will be a minor storyline to keep an eye on.
The third of the locked-in pitchers for the Twins, Santana has made just two starts for the Twins so far (he’s been participating in the World Baseball Classic) but with the elimination of the Dominican Republic in the WBC, Santana will be rejoining the Twins and is reportedly back on track to be the Twins’ Opening Day starting pitcher. Santana has pitched well in his appearances; in his two starts, he has yet to give up a run, earned or otherwise, though that number isn’t particularly impressive when he has only pitched five innings for the Twins thus far. He’s allowed seven hits and a walk for a WHIP of 1.60, a number that should hopefully improve with more time on the mound. Santana was the best pitcher Minnesota had last season, and it’s imperative he continues to pitch well this season if Minnesota wants to have a shot at competing for a playoff spot.
It’s hard to know how secure Santiago’s place is in the Minnesota rotation. On one hand, he gives the Twins an okay lefthanded arm that slots into a rotation that would otherwise be completely stuffed with righthanders. On the other hand, he’s pitched (and started) in just two games thus far and he has been shelled. He has the dubious honor of being second-worst on the team in ERA among those pitchers who have thrown at least one inning of spring training. In just 3 2/3 innings, Santiago has allowed seven hits, five runs (all earned), allowed two home runs, walked two and struck out five. Two spring training outings should not be the end-all be-all metric of a player’s success in the upcoming season, but Santiago needs to start pitching better if he wants to keep his turn in the rotation.
Mejia has been a surprising find thus far for the Twins this spring training. Not more than a heavy longshot at the beginning of camp, Mejia’s chances at a spot in the rotation when presumptive favorite for the final spot in the rotation Trevor May underwent season-ending surgery. Now the Twins are giving their #5 starter search their all, and they could be finding an option in Mejia. He’s a possible option for the Twins if they feel like they need another lefthander in their rotation, as it’s rare to find a team that rolls with just one southpaw starter. Across five appearances (one start) that encompass 10 1/3 innings, Mejia has allowed just nine hits, two runs (one earned), walked three and struck out 11. With the back-end pitching rotation struggles for the Twins, Mejia could be the dark horse that earns a spot out of nowhere.
Other possible candidates:
Vogelsong made a nice story when the Twins signed him in the offseason, but the truth is, it appears as though Father Time has caught up to Ryan Vogelsong. While he is technically still considered an option for the fifth starters spot, Vogelsong has allowed nine runs (seven earned) in just 8 2/3 innings pitched (five appearances, two starts). He has just five strikeouts, opponents are hitting over .315 against him and his velocity is nowhere near it was when he was killing it for the Giants a few years back.
Haley was the Twins’ Rule V selection from Boston, and Minnesota now has to keep him on the roster for the entire season, come to a trade agreement for his rights with the Red Sox, or send him back to Boston. He hasn’t been playing a whole lot better than Vogelsong. Entering seven games and starting two has seen Haley sport a garish 7.59 ERA, an equally pathetic .333 BAA and has walked three guys too. Haley has a lot of work to do, but his Rule V status affords him a few more Mulligans than other players. How long the Twins keep Haley would be a very interesting debates.
By far the most serious competitor of the pitchers in this section for the prize of hopping on the starting rotation wheel of fortune. Duffey has experience when things go bad and he’s a strikeout machine. Duffey’s presence for the Twins has been limited, and his four games pitched in doesn’t speak well for his ability to push himself onto the field. Duffey’s working with a 6.75 ERA after allowing seven runs (five earned) on .357 hitting percentage. He hasn’t walked anybody yet, but there’s only a matter of time before that happens, and he will need to make up for that inaccuracy with someone else.
It’s hard to know how serious Berrios’ chances are at grabbing a rotation spot. He hasn’t made a start yet and has thrown just four innings total. He’s given up one run in those four innings of work and has struck out six while walking three. Berrios is still a top prospect for the Twins, and his development into a starting role with the Twins will likely determine just how long it takes for them to return to relevancy.
Here are the starting pitching options available for the Twins. For anyone wondering, Trevor May would have been included if his injury hadn’t really pushed ahead until well into 15th game. More information about them can be discovered at minnesota.twins.mlb.com.
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