Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Looking North

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It certainly looks like the Minnesota Twins will be heading north with the same 1-2-3 starters that they left Fort Myers with last season; Ervin Santana in the number one spot (fresh off his loss for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic), spring training stud Kyle Gibson as the number two, and the ever-mediocre Phil Hughes in the three hole.

It appears that swapping starting spots between the tall (6-6), underachieving Gibson with the heavy-duty (6-5, 250) Hughes is the best we are going to see opening the 2017 season. Gibson, for all of his promise, has but 32 wins under his belt to date (plus a major arm surgery) and Hughes, considered a lock for MLB stardom when drafted by the Yankees years ago, shows inconsistency when not getting rocked while pitching for giant money (nine million dollars per) in Minnesota.

Big Phil used to gas the ball up to the plate in the mid-90’s, but now works to paint the corners in the high-80’s while relying heavily on his off-speed stuff, particularly the changeup. Why the team gave him big cash when he had already lost major league pace on his fastball remains a mystery, but it does reveal why Brian Dozier was being shopped for a starter during the off-season.

For a team that lost 103 games to trot out the same top-three starters doesn’t seem to most baseball people like a very good sign. And then mixing in guys with names like Santiago, Duffey and Mejia for the bottom three spots and you are going into the opener looking like a MLB squad destined for mediocrity. Nothing really looks better or improved in a substantive way. Only time will tell with these three, but for now the top Minnesota starters have not initiated a run on season tickets.

The bullpen doesn’t inspire major confidence either, with some tweaking and experimentation the most notable changes from 2016. Can Brandon Kintzler succeed as a closer and will the rehabbing Glen Perkins be any kind of factor in the pen this year?

Can righties Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle, along with lefthanders Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow, lead a youthful relief corps? Arms from the farm could emerge in the form of Alex Wimmers who impressed this spring or from the talented but underachieving Jose Berrios. Both could find themselves throwing to solid defensive catcher Jason Castro in Minneapolis this summer, should they perform up to expectations.

This is a team that is breaking camp while retaining most of the challenges of last year. While in Arizona at the SABR analytics conference, I had a chance to ask Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer (architect with Theo Epstein of the World Series champs) what he thought of new Twins leader Derek Falvey. He was unhesitating in his reply; “Derek is a great choice for that franchise, and he should do well. He’s very strong with pitching…”

That is what the man said, just outside the men’s restroom at the Phoenix Hyatt, following a panel discussion. More on that later. Then came another big statement from Hoyer: “It was time for a change up there. Terry Ryan is a friend, (but) the new leadership in place has a lot of potential. And I like Paul Molitor. They need help with their pitching.”

We will see what happens this year and into the future, of course, but the Minnesota Twins have gone the analytical path in bringing in bright young management – which is the way of the game now. Epstein won a couple of titles (2004 and 2007) in championship-deprived Boston while in his ’30’s and then ended Chicago’s 108 year drought in 2016 – age 42.

Jed Hoyer is also in his early 40’s. Derek Falvey just turned 34. He played a little baseball, low level stuff. He’s as different from Terry Ryan as night is from day. But so far, the pitching staff closely resembles what it looked like when Terry was running things, precisely one year ago. If Falvey has a special talent for finding/analyzing/understanding pitching – and pitchers – bring it on!

In the meantime, we will go Santana, Gibson, Hughes…

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