In 2013, the Minnesota Twins rotation was essentially in shambles from the get-go. Liam Hendriks started the team's fourth game of the season. Pedro Hernandez started the sixth.
Those two combined with Andrew Albers, P.J. Walters and Cole DeVries to make a total of 40 starts for the Twins last year. Now, they're all out of the organization, buried in Triple-A for other clubs (or in Korea) and unlikely to spend much if any time in the majors.
Meanwhile, the Twins have vastly improved their pitching depth, and that's reflected by the group that lies in waiting at the Triple-A level should the starting five experience anything resembling last year's plight.
As we know, the problems for the 2013 rotation started at the top. Opening Day starter Vance Worley was a mess, and the guy who would have held that assignment if he was healthy -- Scott Diamond -- also endured a horrible year.
But equally troubling was the lack of reasonable contingency plans behind the initially slated group, and that weakness was exposed repeatedly throughout the summer. Hendriks, Hernandez, Albers, Walters and DeVries were pretty clearly not major-league caliber talents, yet they combined to start about a quarter of the team's games while posting a 6.21 ERA.
This time around, the Twins are much more solidified at the top (their starting five have actually remained intact through two whole turns of the rotation) but ultimately it is inevitable that the team will need to tap into its depth when someone gets hurt or falls into a prolonged slump.
When that time comes, the options will be far more appealing than they were a year ago. The Rochester Red Wings rotation now includes two of the organization's Top 10 prospects in Alex Meyer and Trevor May, both of whom have looked sharp in early action. Kris Johnson, the eventual prize from Pittsburgh in the Justin Morneau deal, has put up a 2.70 ERA over his first two starts. Logan Darnell, who had a very strong season between Double-A and Triple-A last year, hurled four scoreless frames in his first start.
Incidentally, the only starter on the Rochester staff who hasn't performed well thus far is Scott Diamond, who was among the very last cuts for the Twins in camp.
Of particular interest among the group in Triple-A are May and Meyer, who have a real chance to make an immediate impact and become long-term fixtures. You obviously can't make too much out of the first couple starts of the season, but considering that command is likely the top question mark for both, it's encouraging to see that the two have issued a total of three walks in 19 2/3 innings (with a combined 23 strikeouts to boot).
In addition to those reinforcements waiting in the minors, the Twins have Samuel Deduno -- last year's most successful starter -- sitting in an ill-suited bullpen role waiting for a chance. He should actually be first in line, in my opinion, but he adds to an intriguing fallback mix that sets the club up for much more pitching success over the course of the year, even if things go amiss for some of the presently installed rotation members.
When you're done here, swing by Twins Daily today for:
* Cody Christie's rundown of Tuesday's Twins minor league action.
* Hang out and talk Twins with Seth and Jeremy.
* John's look at the best games to attend in the current Blue Jays series at Target Field.