FORT MYERS, FLA. – If you think Alex Meyer’s lack of major league experience will keep him from making the Twins rotation out of spring training, think again.
If you have decided that Tommy Milone’s awful six-week run with the Twins last season gives him little chance to make this year’s team, don’t jump to conclusions.
If you believe that Trevor May is too raw or Tim Stauffer should stick to relieving or Mike Pelfrey shouldn’t stick anywhere, don’t underestimate what a new season — and plenty of competition for one spot — can bring out of a player.
The Twins open camp Monday when pitchers and catchers hit the sun-drenched fields at the newly renamed CenturyLink Sports Complex for their first official workout of 2015. And the battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation might be the main event on this card.
By signing free agent Ervin Santana during the offseason, the Twins figure to have four starting spots locked up. Phil Hughes leads the group, with righthanders Santana, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco expected to be behind him.
“The fact we still have a spot open is not a bad thing,” new manager Paul Molitor said. “We have some guys who are battling for it who have done it before, some guys who have just had a taste and some guys who might threaten who have never done it. I’m, very, very happy to know we don’t have to piece together a larger portion of that rotation.”
There doesn’t appear to be a preferred candidate, so someone such as Meyer, blessed with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a destabilizing slider and ranked among baseball’s better prospects, could make the team despite not having pitched in the majors before. Meyer was 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA at Class AAA Rochester last year and was scintillating at times.
Meyer is 25. It’s time for him to make a move.
“He ought to force himself on this club just by getting the job done in spring camp,” General Manager Terry Ryan said.
“He has better stuff than anybody we have, probably. His fastball is probably better than anybody we have. His breaking ball is probably better than anybody we have.
“Now it’s just a matter of him showing that type of dominance inning to inning and hitter to hitter.”
Ryan said the club is open to considering Meyer for a bullpen role if they believe he could adjust to the role and contribute.
Unlike Meyer, fellow prospect May is not being considered for the bullpen; if he doesn’t make the team, he would likely pitch out of the rotation at Rochester. He was called up in August and took his lumps just as many newbies do in the majors, going 3-6 with a 7.88 ERA.
But May, 25, showed the ability to make adjustments, getting quality starts in two of his last three outings. That included a victory Sept. 14 against the White Sox during which he gave up three runs over six innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts.
May has to prove he can build off how last season ended. The presence of new Twins pitching coach Neil Allen — who has had success developing young pitchers — should help.
As for the veterans, Pelfrey is back after June surgery to alleviate pressure on his ulnar nerve.
He is 5-16 with a 5.56 ERA in two seasons with the Twins and admitted in January that the club has not gotten what it paid for when they signed him as a free agent before the 2013 season.
Pelfrey, who is making $5.5 million this season, could land in the bullpen if he doesn’t make the rotation.
“It will be interesting to see what Pelfrey looks like in spring training,” Ryan said. “I’d like to see him emerge here as a guy. We’re going to make a tough decision on whether or not he’s going to be one of those five.”
Milone was traded from Oakland in exchange for Sam Fuld, which appeared to be nice move for a pitcher with a 6-3 record and 3.55 ERA with the Athletics before their acquisition of All-Star Jeff Samardzija forced them to send down the guy with options left. But Milone was 0-1 with a 7.06 ERA in six games (five starts) once he joined the Twins.
The Twins believed he struggled with a tired arm and stiff neck late in the season. Milone took cortisone shots in his neck in September and then after the season. When the pain returned in November, Milone when to see Beverly Hills specialist Dr. Todd Lanman, who found the problem.
“I had a benign tumor,” Milone said.
Milone now has a two-inch scar on the back of his neck from where the incision was made to remove the tumor. He threw on the side last week in Fort Myers and is ready to show the Twins the real Tommy Milone.
“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Milone said. “I didn’t pitch well last year [with the Twins].”
Milone doesn’t throw hard but is crafty and would be the only lefthander in the rotation if he made the team.
Stauffer seems destined for the bullpen.
He strikes out 6.1 batters per nine innings as a starter but 8.5 batters per nine innings as a reliever. But Stauffer wants another shot at starting after elbow surgery cost him all of 2012 and forced him into a relief role. So the Twins are going to give him a chance to impress them there.
“It’s always nice to have plenty of starting pitching,” Ryan said.
“If he can’t handle it, then he goes to the bullpen.”
Stauffer has posted a 3.63 ERA over the past two seasons with San Diego, with 84 of his 87 appearances as a a reliever. Putting together the bullpen will be much more involved than the rotation because there are more moving parts.
It all makes for an intriguing group. Five starting candidates for one spot, five candidates with different experience levels, different skill sets and who are motivated in different ways.
“It’s going to be a competition,” Pelfrey said. “but it’s going to make you better in the end.”