Twins

The Minnesota Twins Pitching Depth Will be Tested in a 60-Game Season -- And That's Fine

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire (USA TODAY Sports)

All winter long, the Minnesota Twins added pitching help in the form of re-signing Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda, signing Homer Bailey and Rich Hill and trading for Kenta Maeda. The team already had Jose Berrios in tow. For good measure, they even brought in Jhoulys Chacin.

And when Spring Training initially got underway, there was chatter about if Randy Dobnak would have the chance to grab the fifth starter’s spot with Hill likely not ready until midseason. Sure, Chacin was in the mix, as were fellow youngsters Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, but it appeared as though Dobnak had the inside track.

Then COVID hit, and when the 2020 season was finally re-booted with Summer Camp, it appeared Hill was going to be healthy enough to round out a formidable starting five for the Twins — one that might have had Dobnak on the outside looking in.

Instead, Dobnak is coming off wowing his hometown crowd — well, kind of — in Pittsburgh in his eighth MLB start. Dobnak came in with a 1.59 ERA in his first seven MLB starts — the lowest a Twins pitcher has ever had — and kept it going with six shutout innings, scattering three hits with just a single strikeout against a largely listless Pirates offense.

To put it more bluntly: Dobnak has more starts this season than Odorizzi, Pineda, Hill and Bailey have….combined. 

In short, a lot of this chatter in the offseason is merely to amuse ourselves. Make no mistake about it — and please continue visiting Zone Coverage– but the truth is that an abundance of pitching depth always seems to figure itself out.

Think about the New York Mets just a few years ago. If memory serves, their organization had the following starting pitchers all at once:

That’s not even counting Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, who were also in that mix very early on in that situation. So, too, was Bartolo Colon.

And now? Harvey’s career is barely hanging on. Syndergaard is out for the season. Wheeler is with the Phillies. Matz is a nice mid-rotation starter. deGrom is perhaps the best pitcher on the planet.

But all that depth got the Mets was one 90-win season. Sure, they lost the World Series that year and lost a Wild Card game the next. But what it also suggests is that when you think you have enough pitching — keep adding more.

Now nobody’s saying the Twins have that kind of depth — that would be foolish. But they’re 10-2 and came into Wednesday second in the American League in ERA — and that’s without Berrios even really clicking yet.

That’s where the depth kicks in, and it’s kind of quirky in a 60-game season.

In a way, one would think that 60 games would allow teams like the Washington Nationals the ability to really dominate with their high-end pitching. In the postseason, there are so few games and they’re spaced out more, allowing teams to only throw their highest-leverage arms in games with the biggest stakes.

And while that’s not totally true in a 60-game season, the schedules could be manipulated a bit more with sporadic off days to keep the true aces — of which the Nationals have multiple — on the same amount of usual rest while skipping their erstwhile Nos. 4 or 5 starters.

But that kind of brings us to the next issue — pitchers have been getting hurt this season. Kind of a lot!

The weird ramp-up phase of just three weeks, following three-plus months of only individual workouts, on the heels of a halfway-completed Spring Training has left the league in a state of flux when it comes to pitching.

The incomparable Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer had a piece on it, and it basically underscored how severely pitching has been thrashed by injuries this season. Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber might miss the rest of the season. Kluber only faced three batters. Verlander faced none. Clayton Kershaw‘s season got underway late.

The list goes on. Miles Mikolas. Hell, with the Twins we’re talking about Bailey, Hill and Odorizzi. The Twins have exercised an abundance of caution with pitchers so far this season — and that’s not to say other teams have not, but we can only comment on what we know — and are still kind of patching it together with guys they didn’t necessarily expect to be in the rotation at this juncture.

But the Twins are better equipped than most. Pineda is expected to return sometime in September. Odorizzi is getting close. The injuries to Bailey and Hill, at least to this point, don’t seem that serious.

But even without those guys, the Twins still put themselves in a good spot with five or six legit MLB-caliber starters before even considering Dobnak, Thorpe and Smeltzer, each of whom put something on tape that’d at least make a dog turn their head sideways with intrigue.

And certainly the Twins hope they won’t have to dig even further into their cadre of pitchers to soak up big-league innings, but if they do there’s even still more potential.

Jhoan Duran is one of the most exciting pitching prospects the organization has seen in some time (No. 5 on the team’s midseason prospect update on MLB Pipeline), and with him at the team’s St. Paul camp, he’s just one call away from a big-league opportunity. In 23 appearances last year (22 starts) between High-A and Double-A, Duran fanned 136 batters in 115 innings (10.6 K/9) and held opposing batters to a .230/.306/.337 line.

Perhaps most impressively, he held batters older than him to a .226/.307/.345 line — meaning he wasn’t bullied by older, more established prospects.

The other intriguing youngster who is off the beaten path is Edwar Colina, the team’s No. 17 prospect. He flashed some big-time stuff in spring training, and posted a 2.96 ERA in 97.1 innings, almost exclusively between Fort Myers and Pensacola save for a quick trip up to Rochester that didn’t go too well.

Colina is a fastball-slider guy with big-time velo and movement, but might be used in the bullpen unless his changeup and/or command come along. But as a ninth or 10th option for a team’s rotation in what’s already a wacky year? Game on.

It might be hard for a team to find the next Dobnak in a year where no minor-league baseball is being played.

Heck, Dobnak himself started at High-A Fort Myers to begin 2019 and was in the big leagues by the end of it.

But the Twins are not only well-appointed with depth, but also well proportioned. Ideally, players would stay healthy enough to keep the youngsters from being over-exposed — but the Twins are in a good spot here.

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