A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how Ricky Nolasco's resurgence may be the most important part of the Minnesota Twins pitching situation in 2015. While I still strongly believe this to be, the second most important piece of the Twins pitching situation as we start the 2015 season is definitely going to be the battle for the fifth starter. The Twins have started to put together the pieces of a good rotation in 2015 with Phil Hughes, the signing of Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, and the continued improvement of Kyle Gibson. If the Twins can fill the fifth starter sport with a consistent starter, this could save the bullpen to keep them stronger in 2015 and also push this club closer to getting back to .500 or above.
With Spring Training now started, some things have started to shake out but we still have a battle ensuing to see who will win the fifth spot in this rotation. Below I will outline each of the candidates for the fifth starter spot and will also give my prediction for who wins the fifth spot battle. This is definitely a piece where I expect a lot of the readers to comment and also give their opinions as to who will win this battle. Please also vote in the poll to give your feedback as to who should be the Twins fifth starter. On to the potential suitors for the Twins fifth starter.
- Tommy Milone - While Milone didn't pitch very well after coming to the Twins in 2013, 0-1 with a 7.06 ERA in 5 starts, he does have a combined record of 31-22 with a ERA of 3.85. Tommy also posted a sub 1.3 WHIP and 6.5+ SO/9 in his first two complete seasons with the Athletics so there are signs that Milone can be an effective major league starter. Being a lefty helps his cause with the Twins having four right handers currently slotted in the rotation. Milone's spring has also helped as he has looked good in Fort Myers during two starts this spring. In a short sample size of five innings, Milone has yet to give up a run while only allowing four hits and striking out three. Tommy has established himself as a strong candidate for this role.
- Alex Meyer - Alex is another interesting situation as even though he has not yet pitched in the major leagues, he has shown the Twins everything that he could while pitching for Rochester at AAA in 2014. Besides being a high draft pick, Meyer has all the physical tools that you want in a starting pitcher, with a 6' 9", 225lb frame, high 90's fastball, and tough slider. His numbers at Rochester in 2014 showed that Alex is ready for the MLB level. Even though the win-loss record was just .500 at 7-7, he still showed his excellence and durability pitching for the Red Wings. With a 3.52 ERA in 27 games started and a .241 batting average against, Alex has showed that he is ready for the show both physically and mentally. It will be hard for the Twins to send their top pitching propect back to AAA for another season in 2015. Alex has also pitched well this spring with a 1-0 record in 3.2 IP and 3 strikeouts while only allowing three hits and no runs.
- Trevor May - May is another viable candidate to battle and possibly win this job. Trevor got a chance to pitch out of the Twins rotation in 2014 and had an up and down campaign during the season. May posted a 3-6 record in nine starts during 2014 and that showed in Trevor's ERA, which was 7.88 and his batting average against, .314. The Twins are hoping that continued improvement from May in 2015 may mean that he can again battle for this position. If spring 2015 is any indication, Trevor is looking better. The ERA is still high at 4.50 but again this is over a small sample size. One very positive note is that over two innings, May has struck out four batters while only giving up two hits.
- Mike Pelfrey - Pelfrey is an intriguing candidate for this battle as he potentially could be battling for both the fifth starter position or a bullpen position. There has been talk that if Mike doesn't win the fifth starter job, the Twins could look for him in an Anthony Swarzak type of role where he could fill in for starters and pitch relief from the bullpen although Paul Molitor has recently said they would rather not do this with Mike. This is definitely going to be a make or break season for Pelfrey in a Twins uniform. While not pitching strongly for the Twins in 2013-2014, this spring has looked solid for Mike as he has not allowed an earned run in five innings pitched so far and has two strikeouts with no walks. While these are small sample sizes, Pelfrey looks stronger and the command is improving. This would be a comeback story the Twins front office would love to see.
In my eyes, these are the four candidates fighting for the Twins fifth starter battle. There are other pitchers such as Tim Stauffer but in my opinion Stauffer has pitched himself out of contention for this role in 2015. In looking at Milone, Meyer, May, and Pelfrey right now, my prediction is that Tommy Milone will earn the fifth starter spot to start the season. This is no knock on Alex Meyer, who right now would be my second choice to make the rotation. The way that Milone has looked in 2015 though, along with his numbers in Oakland the past three seasons make Tommy a guy that the Twins would like to see make this rotation to have a lefty with the four right handers.
I don't think Meyer will be at AAA very long though as baseball is a long season and rarely do teams go through an entire season with just using five starters. With injury or performance, Meyer will be the first starter to be called up to slide in to the rotation of either one of these issues occur. In looking at May, I think a half to full season at AAA will give the Twins a better idea of whether May will be a part of the rotation or the bullpen. Finally, Pelfrey while looking better, I think loses this battle but if pitches well enough could be a viable trade chip for Terry Ryan to either get an outfielder or to add to an already well stocked minor league system.
So there you have it, Tommy Milone is my pick to be the Twins fifth starter, Who's yours? Vote using the poll below and please also comment below. We would like to hear who you think the Twins fifth starter should be and why.