Can Phil Hughes turn it around?
Hughes won 16 games in 2014, walking 16 batters all season and giving up only 16 home runs. Then came 2015, during which he gave up 13 more homers — his 29 led the majors — in 45⅓ fewer innings. Back inflammation limited his effectiveness. Hughes’ fastball averaged a career-low 90.7 miles an hour last season while his changeup averaged 84.4. That’s not a good variance. He is in better shape and motivated to put last year behind him. And it’s an even-numbered year: Hughes won 18 games in 2010, 16 in 2012 and 16 in 2014.
Will Kyle Gibson take the next step?
Gibson has been getting a little better each season. Last year, he set career bests in innings pitched and ERA. At 28, he should be hitting his prime. Gibson now faces the final frontier: putting hitters away. He has one of the best sliders in the league and flashed an improved changeup that he relied on more in 2015, but he averaged 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings, a figure they’d like to see improve. He seems to have the repertoire to strike out more hitters than he does. If he can figure that out, he will take off.
Who will start on Opening Day?
Hughes made his first Opening Day start ever last season and figures to be in line to do it again in 2016. Ervin Santana has had a more productive career but is in his second year with the Twins and, frankly, it would be a surprise for him to get the start after he drained team morale with a drug suspension last season. Kyle Gibson was the Twins’ best starter last season and deserves consideration as well. The signs point toward Hughes. We will know as soon as pitching coach Neil Allen sets his spring rotation.
What to do with Ricky Nolasco?
As camp starts, Nolasco, still due $25 million over the next two seasons, looks headed to the bullpen. He is 11-14 with a 5.64 ERA in his first two seasons with the Twins, making only eight starts last season because of surgery to repair a right ankle impingement. He doesn’t appear to have much trade value, and he won’t have a chance to make himself very marketable if he is a reliever. The Twins and Nolasco will have to figure out a way to make things work. But he’s in excellent shape and should be motivated to pitch as well as he can.
When will Jose Berrios get the call?
Berrios, one of the top prospects in the game, looked ready for a promotion back in August but was passed over for Tyler Duffey. Then he was passed over for a September call up. He has poured all his focus into his offseason work (video can been viewed on his Twitter feed) and is in camp to prove he’s ready to join the rotation. He’ll probably begin the season at Rochester, but a strong camp will cement his place in the pecking order to be summoned if help is needed in the majors.
LaVelle E. Neal III