In less than four weeks, a sizable contingent of pitchers will report to Ft. Myers for spring training, with eyes on claiming a spot in Minnesota's rebuilt rotation. Rarely has it been so unclear at this point in the offseason who would comprise this vital unit.
We can safely assume that, barring injury, three of the five spots will be occupied by Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia. Beyond them, the situation becomes much murkier.
I'll go ahead and surmise that as long he holds his own in exhibition play, Liam Hendriks will claim one of the slots. He got some major-league experience last year, he seemingly has little to prove in Triple-A and we've seen plenty of quotes from Twins brass this winter indicating that he'll have every chance to earn a job.
If that proves true, we've still got one final spot that is very much up in the air. Since team officials have expressed that they're done making additions unless someone – as they put it – falls into their lap, it will likely be a spring competition between players already in the mix.
Certainly the Twins will expect Mike Pelfrey to be in their rotation at some point, given that they paid him $4 million, but he'll be just over nine months removed from Tommy John surgery when he shows up in Florida. He'll undoubtedly be limited early on and it's hard to imagine he can do enough to prove he's ready for an MLB job at the start of April.
I got the sense that the Twins would have loved to see Nick Blackburn step up and claim one of the spots, which makes sense since they'll be paying him $5.5 million, but he'll be going under the knife for yet another arm surgery on Wednesday and will be in a cast for six weeks, pushing him out of the equation.
The name I keep coming back to is Kyle Gibson. He hasn't pitched in the majors and has yet to experience sustained success at Triple-A, but the Twins are very high on him and after following up a rehab stint last year by pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he should be physically prepared.
But the Twins have emphasized their desire to take it slow with Gibson, leaving one to believe he might require at least a few weeks in Triple-A to prove his readiness.
Once you get past these names, the crop becomes pretty inspiring with a bunch of pitchers who should clearly be in the bullpen (Brian Duensing) or in Triple-A (Cole DeVries, Sam Deduno), and a good performance in a handful of spring outings should hardly convince anyone otherwise. Quite simply, the Twins need to hope that Gibson or Pelfrey (or both) provides overwhelming evidence that he should be there. Based on early scheduling, the team could choose to go with four starters for the first couple weeks of the season, which might increase their odds by giving them more time to prepare.
Who do you feel should be the frontrunner for that fifth spot?