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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: Young arms flourishing in Twins' system

The Minnesota Twins are finally experiencing a long-awaited turnaround as an organization, and while that is reflected to some extent on the big-league field, it is more evident as you examine a minor-league system that is suddenly stacked with quality young arms.
 
On Tuesday, Seth wrote about the dilemma that the Twins face, with Tommy Milone forcing his way back into the picture by decimating Triple-A hitters while no spots in the MLB rotation are necessarily open.
 
You know the times are a-changin' here in Minnesota when we're struggling to find room for a deserving starting pitcher rather than desperately cycling through ill-equipped replacements.
 
Such scenarios figure to become more and more common over the next few years, with a veritable army of outstanding pitchers rising through the ranks.
 
TINSTAAPP is an (albeit clunky) acronym coined by Baseball Prospectus many years ago, and has been frequently thrown around by analysts as a cautionary note. It stands for "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect," and refers to the frequency with which promising young hurlers fizzle out by the time they reach the major leagues.
 
That truism should certainly be kept in mind as we run through some of Minnesota's outstanding performers in the minors – nothing is close to guaranteed with any of them – but that's why the sheer volume of intriguing names is so encouraging.
 
Here's a snapshot of the club's best pitching prospects, and a review of what they've been able to accomplish this year.
 
1. Jose Berrios, RHP, Class-AA Chattanooga
2015 Stats: 50.0 IP, 4-2, 2.88 ERA, 58/16 K/BB, 1.16 WHIP
Age: 20
ETA: Late 2015
 
That Berrios has demonstrated such dominance is made all the more impressive by the fact that he won't turn 21 for another week, making him younger than all but one position player in the Southern League. He's going up against older and more experienced hitters and blowing them away. Berrios has a pretty good case as a Top 5 pitching prospect in all the minors right now.
 
2. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Class-A Cedar Rapids
2015 Stats: 36.0 IP, 3-1, 1.75 ERA, 47/7 K/BB, 0.83 WHIP
Age: 20
ETA: 2017
 
Gonsalves ranked 13th on our preseason listing of top Twins prospects. When I profiled him, I marveled at his tremendous projectability as a 6'5" lefty with improving velocity and noted the following: "If he can put in a full season and maintain his performance in High-A, he'll surely vault into the Top 10 next year and maybe the Top 5." The 20-year-old returned to Cedar Rapids, where he finished last year with eight excellent starts, and has taken his game to another level as illustrated by his ridiculous K/BB ratio. Presumably, he'll be in Ft. Myers within a couple of weeks.
 
3. Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Class-A (Advanced) Ft. Myers
2015 Stats: 35 IP, 4-0, 1.03 ERA, 36/6 K/BB, 0.83 WHIP
Age: 21
ETA: Late 2016
 
Hu wasn't a high-profile acquisition when the Twins brought him in as a teenager from Taiwan in August of 2012, signing for a relatively modest $220,000. But while it's early, he's shaping up as one of the franchise's biggest successes ever on the international market. His absurdly good numbers in Ft. Myers would be easier to pass off as a fluke if they weren't exactly in line with what he did in Low-A and rookie ball the past couple years. When you hear the term "command-control guy" you might be tempted to affix a low ceiling, but Hu can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and has tallied strikeouts steadily at every level. He has also allowed only one home run in 148 pro innings. The Twins showed how highly they thought of him when they called him up to make a spot start in the first leg of a Triple-A doubleheader on Tuesday. Hu rose to the challenge with six innings of one-run ball, picking up the win and pushing his career record in the minors to 15-2.
 
4. Alex Meyer, RHP, Class-AAA Rochester
2015 Stats: 34.2 IP, 2-2, 7.02 ERA, 34/21 K/BB, 1.87 WHIP
Age: 25
ETA: Late 2015
 
Obviously, Meyer doesn't belong in the same conversation as the three names listed above based strictly on 2015 numbers, but his ability and his history cannot be ignored. After competing for a spot on the major-league roster in spring training, the righty reported to Rochester where he's been battling through the toughest stretch of his pro career. His mechanics are out of whack, his already shaky command has deteriorated, and he's uncharacteristically giving up tons of hits. As ugly as things are right now, you have to believe that eventually the 25-year-old will get it straightened out and remind everyone why both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as a Top 30 prospect in baseball prior to the season.
 
5. Tyler Duffey, RHP, Class-AA Chattanooga
2015 Stats: 52.2 IP, 2-2, 2.56 ERA, 54/12 K/BB, 1.10 WHIP
Age: 24
ETA: 2016
 
Duffey is a former college closer but you wouldn't know it from his consistently strong numbers as a starter in the Twins' system. He has routinely pitched deep into games for Chattanooga this year, averaging nearly 6.2 innings per start, and has held opponents to a .236/.282/.338 slash line while – somewhat surprisingly – averaging more than a strikeout per inning. The Southern League is a tough environment for pitchers so the fact that Duffey is achieving the best results of his career there bodes well.
 
6. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Class-A (Advanced) Ft. Myers
2015 Stats: 27.2 IP, 0-3, 2.93 ERA, 14/11 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP
Age: 20
ETA: 2018
 
It hasn't been two years since Stewart was drafted No. 4 overall, and he has a 2.47 ERA in the minors, so it feels a little odd to have him ranked this low, but recurring injury problems and a disturbing lack of strikeouts have obscured his outlook. Since moving up to full-season ball, the righty has managed only 78 strikeouts in 114 innings (6.0 K/9) – perplexing for a pitcher of his elite pedigree. The good news is that he has managed to keep opposing bats quiet even without missing them, allowing only 115 hits and four homers in 134 pro innings. If he can get healthy and start dominating he'll climb very fast.
 
7. Taylor Rogers, LHP, Class-AAA Rochester
2015 Stats: 49.0 IP, 3-2, 3.31 ERA, 44/18 K/BB, 1.31 WHIP
Age: 24
ETA: Late 2015
 
A young left-handed pitcher who has succeeded everywhere and has seen his K-rates rise as he's ascended the minors? Sign me up! Rogers is similar to Duffey in that his game is more polish than power, and like many southpaws he'll need to figure out how to handle righties to stick as a starter (they've got an .867 OPS against him this year despite his overall success) but Rogers is going to pitch in the big leagues – quite possibly before anyone else on this list.
 
8. Felix Jorge, RHP, Class-A Cedar Rapids
2015 Stats: 36.1 IP, 1-2, 1.98 ERA, 37/7 K/BB, 0.97 WHIP
Age: 21
ETA: 2018
The Twins signed Jorge at age 17 out of the Dominican Republic for $250,000 back in 2011, and he immediately made a name for himself in the system with a couple of fantastic seasons in the rookie leagues. He lost some of his luster last year when he struggled immensely in his first exposure to full-season ball in the Midwest League, but now he has returned to Cedar Rapids and been spectacular. He's a wiry specimen, listed at 6'2" and 170 lbs, but if he can add a little to his frame while he grows he's got a chance to be a force.
 
~~~ 
 
There's tons of great stuff over at Twins Daily today. Swing on by and check out...
 
 
- Seth's recap of a day in the minors that saw Byron Buxton hit a grand slam. 
 
- The latest episode of the No Juice Podcast
 
- A look at the Twins organizational depth at catcher as the MLB draft approaches. 

TwinsCentric: Milone making a statement in the minors

When Tommy Milone was demoted to Class AAA  Rochester earlier this month, he was surprised and yet he said all the right things. He didn’t create a stir. He accepted the team’s decision and went to Rochester. He has, however, made a statement since he has been in Rochester. He has made a strong statement just how the Minnesota Twins would want him to, on the mound. On Tuesday night, he made his strongest statement yet.

If this were a court of law, Milone and his representation would step to the lectern with the following:

Exhibit A: In his first Rochester start (May 8), he threw 6.1 shutout innings. He gave up five hits, walked two and struck out eight batters.

Exhibit B: In his second Rochester start (May 13), he threw 8.0 shutout innings. He gave up three hits, walked none and struck out 12.

Exhibit C: In his third Rochester start (May 18), he threw 9.0 scoreless innings, his first professional complete game shutout. He gave up six hits, walked none and struck out 13.

Exhibit D: In his three Rochester starts (consolidated), he has thrown 23.1 scoreless innings. He has given up just 14 hits, walked two and struck out 33 batters.

I would say that is a pretty compelling argument for a return to the big leagues for Tommy Milone. There is no doubt that he is a big league pitcher. Simply, there is no reason for the 28-year-old southpaw to be in the minor leagues. Yet, that is where he finds himself. For now, at least.

Should Tommy Milone’s next start, Saturday or Sunday, be in a Red Wings uniform, or should it be at Target Field?

Well, this isn’t a court of law. There isn’t a jury of his peers, teammates, fans, observers. That decision is up to the Minnesota Twins front office, Terry Ryan and manager Paul Molitor. What they need to determine first is what type of roster alteration it would take to bring back Tommy Milone.

It’s easy to say that Tommy Milone deserves to be in the big leagues. What is more difficult is determining how to make it happen. There are many things to consider, so let’s dive into some of them.

Phil Hughes 

The 29-year-old is currently 3-4 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.29 ERA in eight starts. In 51 innings, he has walked five and struck out 35. Obviously after his historical 2015 season, he’s got a lot of leeway. That, and the fact that he’s signed through 2019. In other words, he’s not going anywhere.

Kyle Gibson 

The lanky right-hander will be arbitration-eligible after 2016 season. He is under team control through 2019 season. A year ago, he went 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in a very inconsistent first full season in 2014. Through his first eight starts of the 2015 season, he is 3-3 with a 2.98 ERA. In 48.1 innings, he has walked 17 and struck out 19. Many question whether he can remain successful with such a low strikeout total. That’s fair, but right now is not the time to take him out of the starting rotation.


Those two are certain to remain in the rotation. The next three could all be considered to take out of the rotation, though there are good, legitimate reasons to keep each in the rotation.

Ricky Nolasco

Nolasco was placed on the Disabled List after his first start. After some time off, he made one rehab start in Cedar Rapids. Since his return, he has gone 3-0 with a 4.11 ERA despite batters hitting .310 off of him. The numbers aren’t all that encouraging, and yet to the visual eye, he looked really good in his last start. The numbers don’t speak to the improvement, but in my opinion, the pitches he was throwing – especially a very good breaking ball – looked greatly improved. Then there is the financial side of the story. The 32-year-old Nolasco is owed another $25 million after this season. Because of that, the Twins should not shut the door on the possibility of him returning to what he was.

Mike Pelfrey 

The 31-year-old is healthy for the first time in several years, and he is pitching quite well. He is 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP in his seven starts. In 39 innings, he has walked 15 and struck out 17. His peripherals are not great, and like Gibson, it’s easy to wonder how sustainable his success may be. He is in the final year of his two year, $11 million contract. He began the season in the bullpen, though he didn’t pitch out of the bullpen at all because of Ervin Santana’s suspension. He’s got the nice numbers, but in his three May starts, he has failed to complete five innings twice.

Trevor May

We clamored for Trevor May to be promoted much of the first half of the 2014 season. He spent the final two months with the Twins last year. This spring, he was the one sent to Rochester out of spring training. Like Pelfrey in the bullpen, May never made a start for the Red Wings. He didn’t make a start in AAA. When Nolasco went on the DL, May was summoned. The 25-year-old has pitched alright at times. Overall, he is 2-3 with a 5.15 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 36.2 innings in his seven starts. In his three May starts, he is 0-2 with a 6.06 ERA and opponents are hitting .309 off of him with a .851 OPS.

So What Should They Do?

I frequently hear and read that the Twins should consider what is best for the team’s long-term future. In fact, I’m sure I’ve said that many times in recent years. However, at this point, I’m kind of tired of only thinking long-term. I want the team to keep winning now, and do what is best for the team now. That’s not to say “forget about the future” just that it can’t be the lone factor.

One thing we know is that Tommy Milone should be in the big leagues. Although the three battled it out in spring training, it appears that this decision really comes down to Milone, Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May. I see four possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Tommy Milone comes up to the big leagues to start, Trevor May optioned to Rochester.

Scenario 2: Tommy Milone comes up to the big leagues to start, Mike Pelfrey goes to the bullpen.

Scenario 3: Tommy Milone comes up to the big leagues to pitch out of the bullpen.

Scenario 4: Tommy Milone remains in Rochester and continues to start.

In my opinion, Scenario 3 really isn’t a good option. Scenario 4 may be the most likely scenario to happen, though it’s important to start thinking about MIlone coming up.

What I think will happen? My thought is that Trevor May has the numbers to justify heading back to AAA Rochester to continue to work on the things that have worked for him in the big leagues. Still just 25, it would not hurt May.

What I would probably do? It’s hard to know without being in the clubhouse or being privy to everything. However, I think that the Twins should do what they did this spring. I think that Tommy Milone should be in the rotation. I think that Mike Pelfrey can become a really good contributor out of the bullpen. I would stick with Trevor May in the rotation for the time being.

Summary

When a player feels wronged about being sent from the big leagues down to the minor leagues, they can handle it several ways. They can mope and not perform. They can complain through the media, or even request a trade. I think most would agree that the best way to handle the situation is to do exactly what Tommy Milone has done. He’s taken the disappointment and pitched better than anyone could have expected. He has forced the Twins hand at this point.

What will the Twins do?

Be sure to head over to Twins Daily and check out the articles, the forums and consider creating your own blog. Here are some stories from the day:

Be sure to also check out the other MinnCentric sites: Vikings Journal, Wild Xtra and Northern Pitch

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Follow the Twins Daily writers on Twitter: Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs, Parker Hageman, John Bonnes

Final, 5/27 R H E
Boston 21-26 4 7 0
Minnesota 28-18 6 8 0

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