Stephen Gonsalves scurried through the clubhouse, trailing Kyle Gibson by about 25 feet.
“Why are we going this way?” he asked. “Because this is how you get to the field,” Gibson answered. Gibson then waited and extended his right hand, offering to walk Gonsalves past the batting cages and the video rooms to the Twins dugout.
This was mostly done in jest. It’s unlikely that the two of them walked out to the field hand-in-hand. And Gonsalves probably knew where the field was, he just got a bit turned around.
“I got to lean on Gibby a lot this year and last year,” said Gonsalves. “Just watched his work ethic and watched these older guys.”
But it would be hard to blame him if he was a little lost.
The 2013 fourth-round pick is one of the last pitching prospects in his peer group to get the call. Fernando Romero came up in May and pitched well for about a month before struggling in June and being sent down. Kohl Stewart, the fourth-overall selection in 2013, joined the team in August. And Aaron Slegers has three starts underneath his belt this year.
“It was great to see all my buddies go up,” said Gonsalves. “We’re always having a little competition between each other.”
He’s pitched to both of Minnesota’s pitchers, Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson, and has been teammates with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the minors. While Buxton remains in Triple-A rehabilitating from injury, most of Minnesota’s most-hyped prospects are now in the majors as September nears. While there may be more to come when the rosters expand for the final month of the season, the prospects that are supposed to help turn Minnesota into winners again are now in a Twins uniform.
“We’re going to have some options in September with rotation questions and how we want to do it,” said Paul Molitor when asked about how he’s going to handle playing and evaluating all the pitchers. “Whether it’s stay with a five-man, piggybacking some guys, because there’s obviously some people we’re going to try to little better look at in September. We’re not sure how that’s going to look yet. Romero and [Zack] Littell and all those people are going to get consideration too.”
The Twins have used “openers,” relievers who pitch the first inning before the starters come in, as a common practice in the minor leagues. But Minnesota has stuck to a more traditional five-starter, no opener structure in the bigs. The Twins have also dealt away key bullpen pieces — Fernando Rodney, Ryan Pressly and Zach Duke — at the trade deadline, which might make them less inclined to use an opener in September.
The team’s open-mindedness is an asset, however, when it comes to player development and general team culture. Ever since Target Field opened, the Twins have been accused of being behind the times when it comes to analytics and new-age baseball thinking, and have failed to develop pitching — major culprits when it comes to the organization’s losing ways.
“We’ve had a lot of openers. I’ve had one. Everyone else has had to down there,” said Gonsalves. “If you’ve got your closer out there. First inning is the highest ERA. Why not get him out there the first inning and get things rolling? That guy is throwing 97, 98, hopefully striking everyone out and getting the fans excited. Hopefully everyone is rolling from there.”
Gonsalves, 24, said that he dedicated this season to his grandfather, who passed away three years ago. The first person he called was his grandmother when he learned that he was coming up.
His fastball sits in the low-90s, and he throws a changeup, slider and a curveball. “I’m not overpowering, but I have four pitches I can mix in the strike zone pretty consistently,” said Gonsalves. “Fastball-changeup mostly, and I’ll show my split. We’ll work quick and hopefully not a whole lot of hits.”
Command, not velocity, was his biggest issue keeping him from the majors.
“He’s never been a particularly hard thrower,” said Molitor. “I don’t have the exact numbers, I’ve been looking at the lines more than the numbers, velocity-wise. He’s had command issues at times this year, [but] it seems like that’s been improving.
“Just the combination of using the elevated fastball, even at a lower velocity, still plays for him with his deception. And the fact that he’s got really good secondary pitches that he’s gonna need at this level.”
The Twins still have a top-10 farm system, and players like Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Brusdar Graterol are still years away from the majors. But many of the prospects that were supposed to help the Twins become winners again are in Minneapolis now, and fans can get a glimpse at them in action at the end of an otherwise disappointing season.
“It’s great when you get a chance to see young guys up here, whether it’s [the] first start or third start,” said Molitor. “It is energizing for guys to get out there and see where they’re at at this level.
“At the same time, I always say this: I’m still trying to win. I’m sure the players are. There’s no doubt about that. You don’t want to things just to do them, hopefully they make sense short term as well as long-term.”