It’s one of the hardest things to do in baseball, and the Twins are a shining example of what happens when you don’t.
The team’s woes of 2016 are a direct result of their failure to develop quality starting pitching.
To understand how glaring that failure has been, consider:
Despite efforts by the organization to improve its scouting, drafting and development of starters, the Twins have not seen one of their draft picks blossom into a capable starter since Matt Garza, who was selected in 2005.
And some would say Garza’s 82-91 record and 4.02 career ERA don’t stamp him as a success. If not Garza, then you have to go back — way back — to Brad Radke, the righthander who is the last pitcher drafted and developed by the Twins to appear in an All-Star Game.
Radke was drafted in 1991 — which means there’s a generation of Twins fans who have not seen the organization draft a starter who has enjoyed a productive career.
“Every team in the game wants homegrown pitching,’’ General Manager Terry Ryan said. “It gives you a little bit more affordability in other areas. It gives you some comfort level in knowing where they are.”
The Twins are aware of their track record and, in recent years, have altered their strategy in their quest to build a deeper pool of in-house pitching prospects. Righthander Jose Berrios, who debuted earlier this season, could be the first of a wave of homegrown starters the Twins hope will end the development drought.
“It is something that has been an organizational void for a long time,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ director of player personnel. “We try to put it in perspective. We did the research on other clubs, and not a lot of them are doing great.”
Not much to show
To get an idea of where the Twins stand with developing their own starters, look at their drafts from 2002 to ’12. This period was selected because players in this range should be pitching in the majors today.
Examining the statistic called Wins Above Replacement — which is used to determine a player’s overall contribution to a club — it reveals an organization struggling to build a rotation from within.
During that period, the Twins have developed only two starters with a career WAR in the double digits — Scott Baker (14.7) and Garza (14.1). They went through a period from 2006 to ’08 in which they received 0 WAR from the starters they drafted.
That gap led to free-agent signings of Carl Pavano, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and others.
“We got to the point where we were like, ‘Where are our holes?’ ” Ryan said, “and it was in the rotation.”
The Twins aren’t the only team that has struggled to develop starting pitching depth. Just look at the AL Central.
The White Sox, like the Twins, have had two pitchers who have posted double-digit WAR ratings during the same period — but they are Chris Sale (28.9) and Gio Gonzalez (20.2). Gonzalez no longer is with Chicago, but he became a quality commodity who was dealt to land talent at another position.
The Royals developed Zach Greinke (51.2 WAR), who was dealt to Milwaukee for a package that included outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar — two pieces of last year’s World Series-winning club.
Detroit boasts Justin Verlander (45.9) and Rick Porcello (13.2). It shows how developing starters is a challenge, but all these teams have hit on at least one star who can change the fate of a franchise.
This exercise doesn’t factor in international signings — but keep the following in mind:
Since 2002, the Twins have had only four foreign players signed by the club start a game for them. Liam Hendriks (28), Yohan Pino (11), Juan Rincon (three) and Carlos Pulido (one). And Pulido was in his second tour with the team when he joined them in 2003. Johan Santana, Carlos Silva and Francisco Liriano were signed by other clubs before they came to the Twins in trades.
“No surprise,” Radcliff said. “We have been staring at [a lack of international help in pitching] for a long time.”
What are they doing about it?
Within the past five years, the Twins changed their approach. Because of losing records, they received higher draft picks and a better chance to land top-end arms.
They focused on power potential — as well as more inventory.
“We did our research,” Radcliff said. “We didn’t select enough [pitchers]. We didn’t even give ourselves a chance in the ’90s and 2000s.
“The attrition rate, how they fall off either by not being very good or getting injured, You never have enough pitching.”
They also have drafted some pitchers — such as Tyler Duffey in 2012 and Tyler Jay in 2015 — who were relievers in college but showed potential to develop into starters.
“It’s easier,’’ Ryan noted, “to find relievers.”
The Twins have taken great pain to shield their pitching prospects from overuse. At the lower levels of the minors, Twins teams use six-man rotations, and as a general rule don’t allow for more than a 20 percent increase in innings pitched from year to year.
The past few years, Duffey, Berrios, Kyle Gibson — who led the Twins in WAR last season — Pat Dean and Logan Darnell all have reached the majors as homegrown talents. Fans clamored for Berrios to be called up last season, but the Twins didn’t want to add to the 166 innings he threw between Class AA Chattanooga and Class AAA Rochester.
The Twins did roll the dice with Duffey, who was in the majors during the second half of the season and contributed to a playoff chase. He jumped from 149 ⅓ innings in 2014 to 196 ⅓ innings in 2015.
“There’s a history in young pitchers coming up here and then extending them beyond the increments you are talking about,” Ryan said.
In the pipeline
The Twins like their current stable of starting pitching prospects. Berrios had a rough baptism when called up in May but has made adjustments at Rochester and is close to a promotion.
Jay, a lefthander taken sixth overall last year; Kohl Stewart, a righthander drafted fourth overall in 2013; and lefthander Stephen Gonsalves, taken in the fourth round in 2013, all have been promoted to Class AA Chattanooga.
Internationally, righthander Felix Jorge recently was promoted to Chattanooga. Righthander Fernando Romero is at Class A Fort Myers and throws a mid-90s fastball with a good slider. Lefthander Randy Rosario hit 96 in spring training and is making progress at Fort Myers.
Australian lefthander Lewis Thorpe has a lot of promise but has been slowed by Tommy John elbow surgery last year and, more recently, mononucleosis.
Overall, it’s a group the Twins believe could make up the majority of the rotation in the coming years — a homegrown splash for which they are desperate.
“I think you’d probably have to go back to the Liriano, Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak group in 2005 for a good comparison [to the current class of minor leaguers],” Twins minor league director Brad Steil said. “I don’t know if we have anyone right now that has the pure stuff that Liriano had before his injury, but our depth might be a little better now than it was back then.’’