Cole De Vries made his Major League debut on May 24 of last year, at age 27, and it didn't go particularly well. He allowed just three earned runs in five innings, but that doesn't account for a trio of unearned runs, nor how hard he was hit by the White Sox. Half of the six hits he allowed left the yard, and that's difficult to overcome.
The good news is that he was significantly better than that for his remaining 15 starts, sometimes disappearing to Triple-A for a couple of weeks before returning and being fairly consistent in his performances. When all was said and done, De Vries turned in 87.2 innings in 16 starts and one relief appearance, posting a 3.22 K:BB ratio and allowing 1.2 base runners per inning. His xFIP (4.72) and FIP (4.90) were both higher than his ERA (4.11), which is no small part due to being on a pace to allow 37 home runs in a 200-inning season.
In general, though, De Vries was effective enough to keep his team in the game...in spite of being homer-prone. One of his best performances came against Roy Oswalt, where he actually out-pitched the future Hall of Famer before being let down by his bullpen. But he still allowed the fewest base runners per inning among any Twins starting pitcher last year, partnered with Scott Diamond to be the only Twins starters to walk less than 5% of opposing batters, and posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio among the six starters who took the hill at least 15 times. Those are all great things.
So what's keeping us from talking about De Vries a little bit more often? Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worley, and Scott Diamond are the most likely four. After that we're more likely to talk about Liam Hendriks or Kyle Gibson, probably because they're younger and have minor league track records that are a bit more tantalizing. Gibson doesn't have the Major League experience yet, and while Hendriks does it's more than fair to say that De Vries has out-pitched him to this point in their careers.
De Vries can be an effective Major League pitcher, provided he continues his strong command and can find a way to keep his home run to fly ball ratio from ballooning too far over 10%. He has fly ball tendencies anyway, so he's going to be more prone to giving up the gopher ball than someone like Diamond, which makes it important for him to buck that red flag from last season before it becomes a trend. If he can hit a pace of 25 home runs per 200 innings pitched, that would be fantastic.
So far this spring, Cole has made three starts in five appearances, facing by and large MLB-quality batters, and has allowed four hits, three walks and a run in ten innings. While it's certainly not much to go on, he's certainly looked better than Hendriks and that's an observation that counts.
Having a consistent performer who won't kill you every time out at the back of the rotation is a good thing. And while the Twins seem to have plenty of those guys to go around right now, there are certainly worse decisions the front office could make for the fifth starter spot. Why not Cole?