Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve been providing a rundown on who the Twins will have in Spring Training camp at each position, including projected starters and backups, as well as long shots to make the Opening Day roster.
More than half of the Twins positional starters are basically set in stone, but we’ll take a look at the contenders where there is competition; many of the more interesting battles in camp will play out for backup spots as the spring progresses. And while even a strong camp will still mean relegation to the minors for a lot of these guys, they’ll be just an injury away from seeing time with the Twins at some point over the course of the season.
Scott Diamond broke through with a better-than-mediocre season, making him far and away the Twins’ best starting pitcher last season. Likely to regress this year, he is the most probable candidate to be the team’s Opening Day starter, health permitting, following December surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow.
Vance Worley, acquired in the Ben Revere trade, is returning to action following his own elbow surgery last year to remove a bone chip. He was a strong pitcher before experiencing the elbow issues and, while he will be switching leagues, he could very well be the Twins best pitcher early in the season.
A former first round pick of the Mets, Mike Pelfrey comes over as a free agent following Tommy John surgery less than a year ago. Pelfrey and the Twins are saying publicly that he will be ready to start the season, but don’t be surprised if he’s not. Pelfrey’s best year came in 2010 when he racked up 113 strikeouts in 204 innings pitched.
Many fans have blasted the two-year, $10 million deal the Twins signed with Kevin Correia, and the former Pirate was demoted to the bullpen last year. He could turn out to be a reasonable fourth or fifth starter, though, and he may eventually provide better value to the team as a long reliever.
IN THE MIX
Liam Hendriks also had a bone chip removed from his elbow in November and has experienced no setbacks. He pitched great in AAA last year but poorly for most of his time with the Twins. He showed promising signs of development late last season and is the most likely candidate for the fifth rotation spot going into camp.
Kyle Gibson returned to action late last year following Tommy John surgery and projects to be a stalwart in the Twins rotation for years to come. However, the team will keep him on an innings limit to ease his return post-surgery, and he’s as likely to end up in the Twins rotation to start the year as he is the bullpen.
Rich Harden was a dominant MLB starter at one point in his career until a mess of injuries saw him miss more and more time while becoming less and less effective as a pitcher. The hope is that his most recent surgery will allow Harden to return to something resembling his glory days, but the proof remains to be seen. He may be best used as a reliever at this juncture in his career.
Six of the seven pitchers listed at this point have injury-related concerns, from one degree to another. If enough of those players start the season on the DL, at Rochester or in the bullpen, Sam Deduno is probably the next pitcher in line to start for Minnesota.
Nick Blackburn is coming off of surgery and was horrible last year, but the Twins may give him another chance to earn his contract at some point this season. Brian Duensing has started in the past but is best used as a reliever; same goes for Anthony Swarzak, who injured himself at TwinsFest. Cole DeVries and P.J. Walters made starts for the Twins last season, but neither projects as more than a fifth starter at this point. Rafael Perez was a dominant setup man for Cleveland a few years ago; the Twins are going to give a shot at starting this spring. Pedro Hernandez came over in the Francisco Liriano trade and looks like a fourth or fifth starter at best; he’ll probably need more seasoning at AAA to reach that potential. Esmerling Vasquez made a couple of September starts for the Twins last year but pitched poorly and should start the season in AAA, too. Although he has some MLB experience, Shairon Martis pitched in AA and AAA last season and wasn’t particularly impressive. B.J. Hermsen, Trevor May and Alex Meyer will all eventually make starts for the Twins, and Hermsen and May might make it to the Twins at some point this season, but all are very likely to start the season in the minors.
It sounds like the Twins would like Diamond, Worley, Pelfrey, Correia and Hendriks to make up the rotation to start the season, but with so many injury concerns, it’s likely that at least one of those players will be shelved come April 1st. When all is said and done, the Twins starting rotation should be improved from last year, but will still probably look very different at the end of the season to keep an eye on 2014 and beyond.