Twins Minor League Pipeline is Loaded
Here is your warning.
Looking back at the 2013 season, the Cleveland Indians didn’t really ever need to worry about their American League Central rivals in Minnesota. At 66-96, the Twins were 26 games worse than the Tribe and finished in fourth place, three games better than the Chicago White Sox, and they were beat around by the Indians, as Cleveland won 13 of 19 games and outscored the Twins 96 to 67.
The Twins’ top player was once again Joe Mauer (5.4 WAR from Baseball Reference) and the team struggled significantly with a miserable pitching staff, a group that had a 5.26 starting pitcher ERA in 2013, 0.41 higher than the next worst team and finishing last in WHIP (1.54), innings pitched (871), and average allowed (.305, 24 points higher than the 29th place Colorado Rockies).
It seems like it has been a while since Johan Santana was around in Minnesota, the last time the club had a legitimate ace, and he hasn’t been with the club since 2007…that is, of course, unless you count the inconsistency of Francisco Liriano‘s rollercoaster Twins career as ace-like.
You can look at the current makeup of the roster for the 2014 season and think that things aren’t going to change a whole lot, and you’d probably be right. Outside of buying every decent arm in free agency, Twins fans will be looking at a rotation of Kevin Correia, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, and Andrew Albers, a group that combined to go 18-34 in 2013. While that is quite unfortunate for the fans, the future is what is going to be quite unfortunate for the rest of the AL Central.
You see, the pitching is on the way for Minnesota.
Kyle Gibson was a 1st round pick in 2009 and dealt with some injuries in 2011 and 2012, but in Triple-A last season, he posted a 1.16 WHIP, 2.92 ERA, and a 7.7 K:9 before free-falling upon a promotion to the bigs. He has a lot of potential still, and we’ve seen another former Missouri product bloom late in his career before, right, Max Scherzer? He may not ever be an ace, but Gibson has the goods to be an effective major league starter and should earn a rotation spot this spring.
Vance Worley didn’t look good in 2013, but he is just two years removed from going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.23 WHIP for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. He had an elbow surgery to clean up some bone spurs in September of 2012, and his numbers in Triple-A weren’t nearly as bad as his 7.21 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in ten starts in Minnesota; although, you couldn’t get much worse than that. He is still a back of the rotation starter, and could earn that role this spring.
Alex Meyer is a 6’9″ right-handed monster who the Twins snatched up from the Washington Nationals when they sent Denard Span to the capital last year. He is one of the top 25 prospects in baseball and he could be a huge asset as early as this season. Meyer struck out 10.8 batters per nine in 13 Double-A starts in 2013, and if he is over shoulder issues (a strain in 2013 cost him 83 days of the minor league season), Meyer could be the arm that Twins fans haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Minnesota has some excellent scouts and that became apparent last year when a 17-year-old left-hander from Australia with low-to-mid 90’s heat posted a 64:6 K:BB in 44 innings for the Twins’ rookie-level Gulf Coast squad. Lewis Thorpe is the name, and while it won’t be 2015 when he arrives (unless he forces the Twins’ hands), he is certainly a piece to look out for.
Jose Berrios was a first round pick in 2012 out of Puerto Rico and he pitched in full season ball last year for Cedar Rapids, tossing 103.2 innings, posting a 100:40 K:BB. He is “only” six feet tall and he’ll have the same worrisome labels that other short starters have had over the years, but give me the careers of Roy Oswalt, Johnny Cueto, Tim Lincecum, or Billy Wagner, and you can keep your labels. Berrios knows how to pitch and he’ll be very effective once he arrives, likely by late 2015 or early 2016.
Felix Jorge was 19 in the Appalachian League in 2013 when he struck out 10.6 batters per nine. In 122.2 career innings, Jorge has managed a spectacular 135:39 K:BB, 2.71 ERA, and 1.17 WHIP. He should get his first look in full season ball in 2014, and the 6’2″ right-hander is another solid arm within a tremendous system.
While Thorpe and Jorge may take some time to develop, they’ll be joined for the ride by one last dynamic arm. Last year’s first round pick, Kohl Stewart, only pitched 16 innings, but he did strikeout 16 while walking just three in his introduction to professional ball. His 6’3″ frame already possesses electric heat and stuff, but he will continue to progress and is the clear “future ace” for the Twins.
However, it isn’t the arms that are the most ferocious aspect of the Twins’ system. It is the impact offensive talent that is going to cause the biggest problem for Cleveland and the rest of the AL Central in coming seasons.
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are both within the first five spots on any intelligent prospect ranking site (like mine). On a recent podcast from Baseball Prospectus, Jason Parks said that a scout told him that “Buxton’s floor was that of Torii Hunter,” which means the worst that he could be would be is a five-time All-Star and a nine-time Gold Glove winner.
Buxton is elite, and while he is compared to Mike Trout due to his crazy five-tool skill-set, that is quite unfair, as Trout appears to be a generational talent, but I have also heard that Buxton could be Eric Davis in his prime. If you think of a guy with a 27 home run and 80 stolen base season (1986) and a 37 home run and 50 stolen base season (1987) doesn’t pique your interest, you may want to get yourself evaluated.
All Sano could be is a 40 home run masher, and while he is currently playing third base, he could be forced to DH or first and still be quite valuable. Sano continues to improve his on-base skills each season, which only makes his power play bigger, and after mashing 35 home runs at the age of 20 in 2013, he could rival Giancarlo Stanton for strongest man in baseball for the next decade.
Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario will race to the majors as potential long-term second basemen, and they are both capable of strong offensive production, though Rosario is much closer, as Polanco spent all of 2013 in the Midwest League, while Rosario reached Double-A.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The Twins will still have Joe Mauer, who is making the full-time transition to first base in 2014, through the 2018 season. They have Josmil Pinto taking over at catcher, who impressed in a small sample size in 2013 (.342/.398/.566 in 83 plate appearances), Oswaldo Arcia, who earned a longer look after a strong introduction in 2013 (33 extra-base hits in 378 plate appearances at the age of 22), and Brian Dozier, who appears to be a late-bloomer after raking 30 extra-base hits in the second half of 2013 at the age of 26.
Detroit may have the cash and players that intimidates the rest of the division, Chicago certainly has the market and ownership to be competitive, and the Royals may ride some solid young talent into annual consistency, but the truly terrifying team within the AL Central for the Cleveland Indians is the team that has lost 99, 96, and 96 games the last three seasons, the Minnesota Twins.
Now that you’ve been warned, how do you recommend the Indians compete against such a strong system in the coming seasons?