Despite the Twins’ lowly 5-9 start to the season, recent wins at New York and Tampa have given fans a glimmer of hope that the team might be competitive. Still, there are some rough edges on this Twins squad, and at some point they will need to call on some minor leaguers to fill holes or give them a boost. While Rochester and New Britain’s rosters are not stocked with potential superstars, there are a couple of players who could help, and they are almost ready to burst through the door into the Major Leagues.
In Rochester, lefty starter Scott Diamond has impressed in his first three starts. The 25 year old has earned a quality start in all three attempts, and he owns a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings with 14 strikeouts. Diamond did not allow a run in his first two trips to the mound against Syracuse and Pawtuckett, but he did surrender three in his last start versus Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Scranton is a hostile environment, filled with paper salesmen and deranged beet farmers, so we can forgive Diamond for that one.
Diamond’s struggled last season with a 5.56 ERA at AAA and an unimpressive performance in his stint with the Twins, but those struggles might be an anomaly. Before 2011, he had never posted an ERA above 3.50 in a full minor league season. In 2010, he earned a 3.46 mark between AA and AAA and struck out a respectable 7.0 batters per nine innings. He’ll never be ace material, but with luck Diamond could develop into a decent number three or four starter. That would certainly help the Twins feel better about trading fireballer Billy Bulluck to the Braves in order to keep him.
The Twins’ rotation has been the biggest weakness by far, and if things do not improve post haste, they will need to turn to Rochester for answers. Given his early season success and the fact that he is on the 40 man roster, Diamond has to be the first in line for a callup. He was set to make another start versus Lehigh Valley today, but rain intervened and postponed it a day. If Diamond shuts down the opposition again tomorrow, it will become increasingly difficult to keep him off the Major League team, especially if Francisco Liriano (scheduled to pitch Sunday in Tampa) delivers a fourth consecutive terrible start.
At the plate, Rochester middle infielder Brian Dozier got off to a sweltering start. Last Saturday, after he slapped two hits against Lehigh Valley, Dozier’s average stood at .441. He has since cooled down a bit, but he still owns a .310/.375/.466 line that would seem to erase all doubts about whether he could continue to hit the way he did in 2011. Dozier was one of the last players cut from the Twins during Spring Training. According to manager Ron Gardenhire, Dozier just needs to fine tune his approach to ground balls, and he’ll be ready for the Majors.
There are more obstacles in Dozier’s way than in Diamond’s. First, he is not on the 40 man roster, which means that Minnesota would have to drop a player from the roster in order to bring Dozier aboard. Earlier this week the Twins caused a minor firestorm by designating Luke Hughes for assignment. That move shows that the Twins do not have anyone they consider expendable on the 40 man roster right now; if they did, they would never have risked losing a hitter like Hughes. That could change, of course, if a Twin suffered an injury and had to hit the 60 day Disabled List. The other obstacle is that calling up Dozier would speed up his arbitration eligibility, a move that could cost potentially cost the team millions of dollars a few years down the road. If Dozier gets called up early in the season and becomes one of the top 17 percent of 2012 rookies in terms of service time, he would be eligible for arbitration after the 2014 season rather than 2015. Thus, his arrival could be delayed a few weeks. But if he continues to hit, that delay may become much shorter.
One other notable player who may make an appearance soon is Deolis Guerra. As recently as last summer, Guerra seemed to be speeding down the highway to Bustville. But then the Twins shifted him to the bullpen, and suddenly a new pitcher was born. Guerra, who had never posted an ERA below 4.89 in four previous seasons with the Twins, has been virtually unhittable this year. In six outings totaling 10.2 innings, he has struck out 10 batters against only one walk, and he has allowed only one run.
Guerra is on the 40 man roster, so that will not be a problem preventing his advancement to the Majors this season. He would probably need a stop in Rochester along the way; Guerra did see some AAA action in 2010, but that was before his rebirth as a reliever. Fortunately, the Twins might be able to afford to wait for him. In a development that is nothing short of shocking, the Twins’ bullpen has been quite effective so far.
Despite the obstacles, all three of these players are turning heads, and it would be a safe bet that all three will don a Twins uniform at some point in the season. Hopefully they will continue to play so well that the Twins are forced to speed up their arrivals in Minnesota.