FORT MYERS, FLA. – I think the Twins would be best served by making Alex Meyer their fifth starter.
I told that to Twins General Manager Terry Ryan.
He told me to knock it off.
For once, the competition for the fifth starter’s role in Twins spring training camp isn’t about the lesser of several evils. This spring, there are intriguing, promising, talented, experienced options.
Meyer, who will make his first spring appearance Monday against the Pirates, is either the Twins’ top pitching prospect or the oldest of their top pitching prospects. He might have the best stuff of any starter in camp.
Mike Pelfrey has won 15 games in a big-league season and when healthy can throw in the upper 90s. Tommy Millone won 12 games in 2013 and 13 games in 2012 and would give the Twins a lefthander in the rotation.
Tim Stauffer started 31 games for the Padres in 2011 and went 6-2 with a 3.50 ERA last year while pitching mostly in relief. Trevor May beat Meyer, his peer, to the big leagues last year, and after experiencing embarrassing control problems pitched better toward the end of the season.
Any or all could pitch for the Twins at some point this season.
Meyer is the one among them who could wind up being the Twins’ best starter this season.
If a starting pitcher has a chance to be your best starting pitcher, he should be in the rotation.
When the Twins traded Denard Span to Washington in 2012, Meyer was their target. They need that trade to start looking productive this summer.
If Meyer is the fifth starter and pitches well, that would allow Pelfrey to become a power arm in the bullpen, and Millone, Stauffer and May to either bolster the bullpen or wait for the inevitable call-up from Class AAA Rochester.
If Meyer winds up in the bullpen, the Twins will have traded Span for low value. If Meyer winds up at Class AAA, it will be a signal that, at 25, he is a work in progress instead of an impact player.
That’s why I think Meyer should be the leading candidate to win the fifth spot.
“You’re ahead of yourself,” Ryan said. “There are people who are going to argue with you. There are other people out there who are going to compete for that job and believe they’re ahead of Alex Meyer, because of their track record and experience.
“One of them is Tommy Milone. He’s got a lot more experience than Alex Meyer. He’s got somewhat close to the same stuff. He’s won 13 games in the big leagues. He isn’t going to want to hear that … stuff.
“There are guys competing out there who want to send Alex Meyer back to the minors. Alex better realize he has to earn this thing. Which is a good position for us to be in.
“Stauffer is another guy. He had a good year in San Diego about three years ago. He’s no slouch.”
Pelfrey is intriguing because he’s throwing so well early in camp and has told the front office he wants to make good on the two-year, $11 million contract he signed. “Mike’s a good man,” Ryan said. “I’m hoping things turn for him. He certainly wants to earn his keep. He has a shot at the fifth spot, and if that doesn’t work out, he has a shot at the bullpen.”
The Twins have repeatedly failed to develop starting pitchers with stuff and longevity. Brad Radke might have been their last homegrown ace, and he survived more with guile than velocity. Ryan traded for Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mays and Rick Reed, and he signed Phil Hughes as a free agent.
Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have been typical of recent Twins starters, who experienced some success but lacked staying power.
The Twins need Meyer and Kyle Gibson to become successful big-leaguers. If Meyer doesn’t make this rotation, I believe that’s a bad sign for the franchise, even if Ryan disagrees.