Baseball is a sport predictable only in its unpredictability. I was ready. I had my article penned. Upon learning at the end of spring training that Tommy Milone had beaten out Mike Pelfrey for the fifth starter role (largely on account of his left-handedness) I predicted that Mike Pelfrey was going to turn into the new Wade Davis. The parallels were obvious, a very ordinary, albeit physically imposing starter who could dial up the velocity at the back end of the bullpen. Then, inevitably, something didn’t go according to plan. Ervin Santana was suspended for 80 games. Pelfrey immediately filled his rotation spot. Then, inevitably, something else didn’t go according to plan. Pelfrey was great. Through his last two start Pelfrey has thrown 14 innings of 1 ER ball giving up just 8 hits and striking out 11 in the process. I have always struggled to get behind Pelfrey (set aside a good 4 hours to watch him pitch a game) but in a young season, he has been the Twins most reliable starter.
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Across the board, the rest of the Twins rotation has been up and down. Phil Hughes has struggled to replicate the dominance he displayed in 2014 (although he had a slow start last year as well). Kyle Gibson has been steady. Trevor May has a critical outing which may determine his major league stay in a tough Thursday evening matchup with Chris Sale. With the return and timetable of Ricky Nolasco uncertain now seems a good time to look at the potential ‘next in line’ crop of pitchers from AAA Rochester with a shot at making the Twins.
Pitching has not been the strength of the Rochester Red Wings in 2015. They are currently 3rd from last in the league in ERA (4.22), 5th from bottom in WHIP (1.40), are second in the league in hit batters and lead the league in home runs given up (16). Despite this there are some prospects worth discussing, if changes are afoot for the Twins pitching staff.
Meyer, unfortunately, is just not ready for the Twins. Despite a decent showing spring training he has struggled mightily in AAA this season, giving up 22 hits in 18.2 innings to the tune of a 6.27 ERA to go along with 14 BB and 22 SO. Meyer has shown flashes of brilliance, like his line of 6.0-2-0-3-11 against Syracuse on April 23rd. Sadly, this performance has been the exception rather than the rule. Twins fans will have to practice patience with their top ranked pitching prospect.
Rodgers is an under the radar 11th round pick out of Kentucky. Twins fans would do well to remember his name, he will be up with the Twins at some point this season, provided his early season form holds. Rodgers has pitched a line of 27.0-20-6-10-23 through his first four starts. He pitched at least 6 innings in all four of his starts and has given up 1 ER or less in three of his four starts this year. Rodgers is a 6’3 lefty with a 90-93 mph fastball, which can touch 94 mph as well as a developing curveball and changeup and plus control. If current form holds, Rogers is next in line for a shot at the Twins rotation.
You won’t find Pat Dean in any list of Twins top prospects. A 3rd round pick in 2010, he has put up decent numbers over his minor league career. The only reason I mention him is he has had a particularly impressive start to 2015. Through his first 20 innings Dean has pitched to a line of 20.0-12-2-5-22. His sharp increase in strikeout rate is particularly of note. I wouldn’t expect this form to hold for Dean, but if it does, watch this space.
Another name worth watching in AAA is Lester Oliveros. Oliveros has floated around various minor league levels with both the Tigers and Twins, seeing major league time with the latter in 2012 and 2014. Oliveros is another Rochester pitcher off to blistering start, striking out 17 through 8.2 innings (mostly in relief but once as a spot starter) for the Red Wings. A 17.65 K/9 is enough to turn heads. Don’t be surprised to see Oliveros contributing to the Twins bullpen in need of strikeouts in the near future.