In 2017, 16 different pitchers started games for the Minnesota Twins. Most of those starts, of course, went to the top seven guys. Of those 16 starting pitchers, only eight are still employed by the Twins.
So who will be in the starting rotation mix for the Twins in 2018? Let’s take a look by breaking down the team’s options into a few categories.
The Top Guys
While none of these guys are a true ace, they are all solid pitchers, and would be in the top two or three guys on a majority of MLB teams.
Jose Berrios - The hope here is that he can become the team’s true ace. The reality is that right now he is probably a solid #2/3 pitcher on a good team. That’s a fine ceiling, if that is as high as he reaches. Five years ago, no one would have even predicted that for him. Since this is his age-24 season, its likely he is nowhere near his peak yet.
Jake Odorizzi - Despite a down year in 2017 in which he was an exactly replacement-level pitcher, he’s only 27 and already accumulated 8.1 bWAR. He was set to enter the season as Tampa’s #2 starter, and if he can return to form, easily fills the same role for the Twins.
Ervin Santana - The closest thing to an ace the Twins have had lately, most would consider him more of a #2 starter as well. The big question at this point is around his injured finger. How long will it take to recover, how well will he pitch after recovery, and will the injury recur? The best case scenario is that he can come back as strong as he was for much of 2017, when he lead the league in complete games. I imagine Bert Blyleven was very proud of him.
Kyle Gibson - Here’s our other rotation lock. For the first time in awhile, Gisbon is being pushed to the bottom half of the rotation, where he compares favorably to other #4 and #5 pitchers. Will we get “Good Gibby,” or “Bad Gibby” more this season? In 2017, he got off to a rough start, but after being sent to the minors, came back strong, and was quite possibly the Twins best pitcher down the stretch. Byron Buxton helped him pinpoint a weakness in which he was tipping pitches, and it seemed to help immensely. If the Twins get “Good Gibby” more often than not, They will be in pretty good shape for a starting rotation. Without that, they’ll have to rely on the question marks and prospects too heavily.
The Question Marks
These are the guys with some track record of success, but huge questions at this stage. One of these first three will probably start the season as the #5 starter.
Phil Hughes - Just a few years ago, Hughes set an MLB record for limiting walks, and the Twins rewarded him with a massive extension. Since then, he has been very limited by shoulder injuries, and has had a full rib removed in two different surgeries in an attempt to fix the issue. He pitched reasonably well in April and the first part of May last season, but injury clearly impacted his effectiveness. If he can stay healthy, he could be a serviceable #5 pitcher, but that is a huge if.
Anibal Sanchez - The one-time, Tiger stud pitcher has had several poor years, but the Twins signed him, thinking they have identified some changes that could make Sanchez effective. Playing in front of the Twins defense will be a huge upgrade for him as well.
Adalberto Mejia - While he has a much shorter track record than the other guys in this group, he pitched will enough as a rookie last season to be considered for the #5 spot. His other advantage is being the only lefty on this list so far. However, unlike his competition, he still has options, and therefore can be sent to Triple-A Rochester easily.
Tyler Duffey - He looked good as a starter in 2015, but suffered a sophomore slump in 2016, and was sent to the bullpen in 2017. The Twins were talking about stretching him out as a starter before adding Sanchez and Odorizzi to the mix. With the crowded bullpen and rotation at this point, he will face tough competition no matter where he ends up.
Trevor May - Like Duffey, the Twins have used him as both a starter and reliever. May likely won’t be back in action until at least May, as he’s already been added to the 60-day DL to make space on the 40-man roster for Anibal Sanchez. May will definitely get a look as a starter at some point though.
The Long Shots
Most of these guys will get at least a few starts for the Twins this season, but would have to be incredibly impressive to start the season in the rotation
Aaron Slegers - He acquitted himself well in his three starts last season, and moved from “non-prospect” to “legitimate shot at 5th starter” prior to the Twins two most recent acquisitions. He also has options, so expect him to be the guy collecting air miles for double-headers and spot starts.
Dietrich Enns - The Twins acquired him from the Yankees in the Jaime Garcia trade saga, and gave him one MLB start before he hit the disabled list. It didn’t go terribly well, but he should get a shot at redeeming himself at some point this season. He is just the second lefty on this list.
Felix Jorge - His one start in 2017 wasn’t great, he gave up nine runs. He did manage to pitch 7.2 innings, and help preserve the bullpen, which is something. He is a better pitcher than that, and is probably the first of the “prospect” pitchers to get a shot.
Stephen Gonsalves - He’s never pitched at the MLB level, and likely will be greatly benefited by spending some time at Triple-A Rochester. He probably has the highest ceiling of the “prospect” pitchers the Twins have.
Fernando Romero - Like Gonsalves, the Twins haven’t called Romero up yet. He is the third of the four guys I am calling the “prospects” with a chance to crack the bigs sometimes this season. If the Twins make it this far down the list, either something very bad happened, or Romero is having a great year.
Zack Littell - The other guy who the Twins got from the Yankees for Garcia, he is the farthest “prospect” from the MLB with any reasonable chance to make the Twins this season.
That’s 15 pitchers. Hopefully they don’t need all of them. History says they might though. What do you think? Who do you think we’ll see pitching in a Twins uniform this season?