The Twins probably have three starting pitchers written in ink before spring training even starts. Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, and Jake Odorizzi will likely fill the first three spots in some order. Michael Pineda has the inside track for the fourth spot, depending on his recovery from various injuries. That leaves just one likely opening for the remaining starter options — and boy do the Twins have options.
Reportedly the Twins view recently-signed Martin Perez as a starter candidate. He joins a group of prospects in the competition for that last spot. Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Adalberto Mejia, Kohl Stewart, Zack Littell, and probably a few other guys will all likely pitch innings for the Twins this season. With that many players in the mix, someone is going to have to shine early and often down in Florida to stake his claim on the fifth spot in the rotation.
Gonsalves and Romero are the highest rated prospects of the group, and both got a taste of the major leagues last season. Gonsalves pitched to a two and two record in seven appearances, and racked up 24.2 innings with a 6.57 ERA. FIP suggests he was a little better, but still not the savior the Twins need. Romero got a little more experience, with a three and three record in eleven games, and just under 56 innings pitched. Both his ERA and FIP were hovering around the mid-four range. This includes a couple of lights-out performances during his first call-up in May, as well as some solid starts later in the season. I would expect either of them to need a fantastic performance this spring to break camp with the Twins, but neither are far from the majors.
Kohl Stewart is perhaps a more interesting case. Stewart was a highly-touted prospect, but slid down the rankings as he struggled in the minors. Still, he pitched well after being promoted to Triple-A last season, and even better when called up to the Twins. Across 36 innings, he put up a 3.68 ERA facing MLB hitters. At 23 years old, he doesn’t have a lot left to prove in the minors, but also may be the victim of a roster crunch.
Littell is the wildest card of the bunch. He was acquired from the Yankees in the Jamie Garcia trade a couple years ago, and pitched well in the minors. He started a couple games last season for the Twins, but chiefly used as a “primary” pitcher that came on after an opener. His ERA wasn’t great, but if he can strike out a few more and walk a few less, that will change drastically. He’s likely near the end of the line in this group, but could be called up at any time as well.
Of the returning Twins, Adalberto Mejia has the most MLB experience. He was the return from the Giants for Eduardo Nunez, and started 21 games in 2017, working to a 4.50 ERA. He was a perfectly serviceable fifth starter that season, but was nothing spectacular, and the Twins went with other options in 2018, limiting Mejia to 22 MLB innings across five games. Still, if the Twins want a left-handed option in the rotation, he is probably one of their best choices at this time.
The other left-handed option is newcomer Martin Perez. Due to the fact Perez was signed on an MLB deal, I suspect he is the leader going into spring training, but his deal is just one year and one million dollars, so he could be cut if others outperform him. The seven-year veteran has pitched to a total ERA of 4.63 in 761 innings with the Rangers, his only previous team. He’s been a ten-game winner three times, and collected 13 “W’s” in his best season. 2018 was his worst campaign, so the Twins are likely hoping he can bounce back. He was once a promising pitcher, with a Rookie of the Month award on his shelf from August of 2013, and Rookie of the Year votes garnered that season, and is only 27 years old, so the Twins may have some backing to that belief.
Of course all of this may be moot. With the frequency of early season off-days and weather incidents — especially with a heavy home schedule — the Twins may just start the season with four starters, and an extra man on the bench. If they do go with five though, it will be an interesting competition.
Barring another signing/trade, who do you believe should be the Twin’s fifth starter for 2019?
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