Minnesota Twins prospect Jhoan Duran made his season debut on Saturday night and did not disappoint. The No. 5 prospect in the Twins organization allowed three hits to the first four batters but turned things around, allowing one run and striking out six in three innings.
With a fastball clocked at 103 mph and a sinker that dives into the mid-90s, Duran showed why he’s considered part of the Twins’ future. The only problem is that Duran’s outing took place in St. Paul instead of with the major league team in Cleveland.
Duran is one of several prospects who were held back last year. With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the minor league baseball season, players didn’t have a chance to play competitive games. Instead, they were placed in a development camp at CHS Field or an instructional league where they played two months of simulated games.
No area was impacted by this more than the Twins’ starting rotation. Before the pandemic, they thought they could get by using Rich Hill and Homer Bailey as veteran stopgaps. With Duran and fellow pitching prospect Jordan Balazovic in Double-A, a best-case scenario could have seen either player making their major league debut in August or September.
Duran’s path could have looked similar to Brusdar Graterol’s. Minnesota accelerated the former prospect to the majors because of his 100 mph fastball. He became a late-season weapon in the Twins’ bullpen two years ago and later was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Kenta Maeda. Duran has the same kind of velocity and could have provided Minnesota another electric arm while giving him precious major league experience.
By giving Duran a late-season call-up, he could have been ready to join the Twins’ rotation this season. Instead, the Twins had to re-use their 2020 strategy by signing J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker as veteran stopgaps.
This is different from Derek Falvey’s approach in Cleveland. With several pitchers coming through the system, including Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale, they built an affordable bullpen and got tremendous results. Because of the lost season, Duran and other pitching prospects weren’t ready, and their debut was delayed.
The ripple effect isn’t limited to pitching. While most of Minnesota’s top prospects were at the developmental camp, a full minor league season would have better prepared them for this year.
Alex Kirilloff made his major league debut last October, but it could have come sooner had he been tearing it up in Triple-A. A late-season debut for Kirilloff could have eliminated a service time issue and had him replacing Eddie Rosario in left field on Opening Day. There’s also a chance Royce Lewis would have pushed for a roster spot and pushed Jorge Polanco to second base. With Lewis unable to get game action, the Twins signed Andrelton Simmons to a one-year deal.
It’s not certain that any of these players would have performed better than their veteran counterparts, but it could have affected the Twins’ offseason strategy. The lack of a minor league season last year could also affect how the Twins decide to handle the rest of this season. At 16-29, they own the worst record in baseball. The best course of action will be to sell off pieces in hopes of turning things around next year.
But the lost season creates another issue.
The Twins could create another Aaron Hicks situation. If they trade Simmons, Josh Donaldson, or Nelson Cruz, they will be more reliant on prospects to step in and replace them. With no veterans in front of him in 2014, Hicks was handed the starting center fielder job only to struggle and be traded three years later.
The Twins can’t put themselves in a situation where they overexpose their prospects for the sake of filling out their roster.
The 2020 season was rough on all major league teams, but it had a bigger impact on teams like the Twins. With their younger talent another season away, 2021 has become a lost year and could push a rebound further into the future.