Francisco Liriano: arm trouble. Kyle Lohse: traded to the Reds. Scott Baker and Boof Bonser: ineffective. David Gassner and J.D. Durbin: injured. Make no mistake about it--the plague that's attacking our starting rotation is putting the Twins in serious jeopardy as far as postseason hopes are concerned. Who holds the hope of Twins Territory, literally, in the palm of their hands? Let's take a look at the suspects.
Ubelmann has the jump on me here, and it's not the first time. Mike Smith is a 28-year old right-hander whose brief stint with the Blue Jays in 2002 is his only Major League experience. Prior to his time in Toronto he'd put up successful, but not great, numbers. Here's what his history looks like.
Year Age Level IP GS ERA K/9 WHIP
2000 22 A- 51.0 12 2.29 9.71 1.14
2001 23 AA 93.0 14 2.42 7.45 1.14
2002 24 AAA 121.2 20 3.48 5.62 1.22
2002 24 MLB 35.1 6 6.62 4.08 1.78
2003 25 AAA 131.1 21 5.00 6.10 1.51
2004 26 AAA 109.0 15 5.28 5.94 1.61
2005 27 AA 170.2 28 4.48 5.96 1.43
2005 27 AAA 3.2 1 9.82 4.91 2.18
2006 28 AAA 125.1 19 3.52 6.75 1.31
For more on Smith I'll direct you to ubelmann's article once again, since I don't need to repeat what he's said. I'll leave the evaluation of Smith with one thought: the fact that this is the guy we have to call upon to fill out spots in the rotation is exactly the kind of emergency situaion he was brought in for...but I'm still scared.
Pete Munro, Henry Bonilla, Jason Miller
When you see their lines on the season, it's obvious why Smith was chosen to be brought up. He's the best of the bunch still left.
Name IP GS ERA K/9 WHIP
Munro 128.0 22 4.43 5.70 1.46
Bonilla 73.2 7 4.52 5.50 1.32
Miller 69.2 10 3.88 8.01 1.49
Remember last year, when the Rochester starting five was better than some starting fives around the majors? Liriano, Baker, Bonser, Gassner and Durbin...just thinking about it still makes me feel warm inside. Now, this isn't so much the case. By next year, things might be back to 2005's promise, but right now it's slim pickings in Rochester.
This is the choice loaded with controversy, be it legitimate or artificial. One thing my mom always taught me was to write a list of pros and a list of cons when you were faced with a decision you couldn't make a choice on. Let's do that with Garza.
Pros for Cons for
Unseen Arbitration/Future Affordability
Good pitch arsenal Relies too much on fastball
Most talented option Rushing a prospect
Solid at every level Not enough time in AAA
Desperate times He's not ready
It's hard to decipher the voice from the noise surrounding the Twins 2005 1st round draft pick. While it's true that he's been successful (to an insane degree in some cases) everywhere he's pitched so far, the Cons for Callup have to win out. Just because he's the best option, unfortunately this doesn't mean he's the RIGHT option.
Reports on Garza have spoken at length about his reliance on his fastball. While this gets you by easily enough in the minor leagues, where most hitters are still adjusting to better pitching, any Major League hitter can wait on a fastball no matter how much movement it has. It doesn't matter if you throw 100 mph; if you don't have two other pitches you can throw for strikes, one of which had better be GOOD, you're going to get hammered. It seems Matt Garza, as great as he's been, hasn't shown the confidence in his breaking and offspeed balls necessary to be successful with the Twins. In the midst of what should be a push for October, a Major League club isn't going to call up a guy who's succeeded on the back of one pitch. They shouldn't, either.
Year Level IP GS ERA K/9 WHIP
2005 Rook 19.2 4 3.66 11.44 1.02
2005 A 56.0 10 3.54 10.29 1.21
2006 A 44.1 8 1.42 10.76 0.86
2006 AA 57.1 10 2.51 10.67 0.94
2006 AAA 27.0 4 2.33 7.33 0.81
While 22 isn't extraordinarily young for a starting pitcher, Garza has only 204 minor league innings under his belt. He's never thrown more than 57.1 innings at any level.
Those are the two things that keep me from calling for a Garza sighting. One: he relies too heavily on his fastball. Two: there's no track record to speak of at any level. In the majors, you'll be lucky to get through the order once on just a fastball, much less three times. What happens when he pitches against a team of MLB hitters for the second time in a season, or the third time? Garza is our best option remaining in the minor leagues, but he's not ready yet. There's no reason to bring him up now, even when the Twins are so desperate, when success will probably elude him from the start. Giving him a little more time in the present will pay off bigger dividends in the future.
While he started 95 games in the minors between 2001 and 2004, Guerrier has started only 2 games with the Twins, both back in 2004. It was quickly discovered that Guerrier lacked enough quality on enough of his pitches that he wasn't effective on Major League hitters over a long period of time. Nothing has changed since then. He has four pitches, all of them effective to some degree, but none of them are dangerous, and none of them are good enough to serve as an "out" pitch.
Matt Guerrier does have the history and the stamina to be a starting pitcher, if only in the short term. The one question you could ask fairly is whether or not Guerrier is better than Mike Smith. I'm pretty sure I don't want either one of them in my rotation. Of course, I could be wrong. I hope I am. After all, you never know...Matt Guerrier could turn into a poor man's Greg Maddux.
At the game on Tuesday, Lauren asked if Pat Neshek could start. Since then, I've had it asked a few more times. Let's scout Neshek's history. While we all know Neshek was being groomed as a closer, specifically over the last two seasons between Rochester and New Britain, most of us don't know where he fit into the scheme of pitchers beforehand.
Well, it doesn't look good. Pat Neshek started exactly ONE game in the Twins organization, back in 2003 with the Rock Cats. He had 5 appearances with the Cats, going a total of 7.2 innings...including his start. I'm going to assume he didn't last very long. Let's assume that Pat Neshek won't be in the running to fill a spot in the rotation.
If he were, however, these are the two concerns I would have. One: Neshek has four pitches, but he relies primarily on his fastball and his slider (I think). These are two good pitches, but are they enough to allow him to survive over the course of three times through a batting order? Two: Neshek's success is partially derived from the unorthodox throwing motion. While it's an advantage when you're facing each batter once, not just as a different release but as a total change of pace for the batter, would this advantage be neutralized if a hitter is seeing him more than once per game? Does the hitter become accustomed to the throwing motion, turning an advantage for Neshek into just another throwing motion?
Again, moot point as Neshek has no history to speak of as a starter with the Twins organization.
Options at AA
Frankly, these guys just aren't options right now. Not only would you have to find spots on the 40-man roster for some of these guys, but some of them are having trouble getting guys out at AA; they're not ready for the Twins. Not yet. Just a little while longer...
But there are a lot of promising arms with the Rock Cats. Glen Perkins, Errol Simonitsch, Nick Blackburn, Justin Jones, Adam Harben and Justin Olson are all talented, and I'd bet on three of them starting in Rochester next spring if Ryan doesn't use them as commodities in the offseason. While Simonitsch and Harben are having their moments, this has been a decent year for both of them. Perkins, in spite of a 2-10 record, is pitching very well. If Justin Jones could stay healthy, he might be something special with all his nasty stuff.
There just aren't a lot of great options right now. Unless the Twins could get something like a Pedro Astacio through waivers, which is probably the best quality of player we could get and it still probably won't happen, we're stuck with the above options.
The best thing that could happen is for Francisco Liriano to rest his arm over the next couple days and come back healhty. Cross your fingers. After that, either Baker or Bonser need to find a way to keep the ball down and hit their spots so that one of them can reliably fill out the back of the rotation.
You never know, Mike Smith might be a decent stop-gap, but he already has a ceiling imposed on him by his age and the numbers he's posted in the minor leagues. Matt Garza isn't ready. Neshek and the guys at New Britain aren't options. Guerrier isn't more than a one-off guy, and although that might be all it takes to get Liriano back and ready to go that doesn't mean I want to see it come to fruition. You can always try out Pete Munro, Jason Miller or Henry Bonilla, but none of them have the upside of Baker or Bonser.
In the end there are options, but none of them are very appealing. Right now I'm hoping the baseball gods have mercy on Liriano, the Twins, and us as fans (in that order). Right now I'm hoping that Scott Baker finds whatever it is he needs to find to get back to being the promising pitcher he was last fall and in April. And I'm getting behind Mike Smith. I've just become a very, very big Mike Smith fan.
Jump on the wagon...there's lots of room.