The Twins will feel much better about reaching down to the minor leagues for help this season.
With veteran upgrades to the major league pitching staff and the return of all key position players from a year ago, the Twins enter the season satisfied that their top minor leaguers aren’t being thrown into the fire.
So a prospect like righthander Fernando Romero or lefthander Stephen Gonsalves — or even infielder Nick Gordon, now that Jorge Polanco has been suspended — won’t be rushed to the majors in an emergency. At least that’s how the Twins hope they’ve designed it.
“We lengthened out the depth of our major league team, and that helped solidify the next wave of talent that we think is going to have to play a role,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “You hope we don’t have to use quite as many as we did in terms of like last year.”
Nothing, of course, could have prepared them for last season, when a combination of injuries, poor performances and lack of depth put a strain on the system. The Twins used a club-record 52 players and 36 pitchers. They had to reach down to Class AA Chattanooga for righthander Felix Jorge and lefthander Randy Rosario for help. They scoured the waiver wire, taking fliers on Adam Wilk, Chris Heston and Tim Melville to make starts.
This spring, the trade for Jake Odorizzi and signing of Lance Lynn pushed starters Adalberto Mejia and Aaron Slegers to Class AAA Rochester for continued development. It also pushed Romero, the Twins’ No. 2-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, and Gonsalves (No. 3) back in the pecking order. But that order can change once games begin, and the pair loom as the starters most likely to make their major league debuts this season.
Gordon, ranked fourth, impressed manager Paul Molitor with a .409 batting average during spring training. He looms as insurance against an injury to Eduardo Escobar or Brian Dozier.
The Twins’ depth at shortstop stands out. They have Gordon; Royce Lewis, the first overall pick in last year’s draft; and Wander Javier, for whom they paid $4 million in 2015. All project as good offensive players, with Lewis, the top-ranked prospect in the organization, having a slightly higher ceiling than the other two.
“It would be hard to me to say that there is a unique trait that one has over the other,” Jeremy Zoll, Twins director of minor league operations, said about the trio. “That’s what makes each of them exciting.”
The front office focused on adding pitching depth in the organization, dealing for righthander Zack Littell and lefthanders Dietrich Enns and Tyler Watson. It helped the Twins’ overall farm system ranking rise into the top half of the league.
Other prospects who could debut this season include outfielder LaMonte Wade, who impressed in spring training with his plate discipline, and lefthander Tyler Jay, the sixth overall pick in 2015 who has fought arm problems but has the fastball-slider combo to thrive as a reliever. Lefthander Mason Melotakis and righthander Jake Reed could be summoned as relievers.
“We have added so many pitchers up here that it has spilled down in terms of depth and options,” Molitor said. “It’s not just pitching; it is positionally too. We tried to make sure that next wave is going to be a little more competitive.”