Minnesota Twins: Can these 5 Young Arms stick in the Rotation for 2022?
By Otto Johnson
The Minnesota Twins are out of contention. The team is currently sitting at 50-65 and a whopping 17 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. They’re 15 games out of Wild Card. The team is toast.
When that happens, most teams tend to call up players without a lot of pedigree to fill the time and see if they can improve the roster, eat up innings, or even become a real part of the team going forward.
With J.A. Happ and Jose Berrios out the door, Matt Shoemaker released, there are a lot of innings to be had for young arms to come and eat up. Unfortunately, the Twins’ top pitching prospects (Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, and Simeon Woods-Richardson) aren’t ready.
The second tier of Twins pitching prospects (Matt Canterino, Blayne Enlow, and Joe Ryan) aren’t there yet either. Neither are the third level (Drew Strotman, Cole Sands, and Josh Winder). This leaves the lower end guys. Guys like Randy Dobnak, Bailey Ober, Griffin Jax, Charlie Barnes, and Lewis Thorpe. And there’s a lot of innings for them.
Dobnak, Ober, Jax, Barnes, and Thorpe have already combined for 28 starts and 166.2 innings midway through August. Those numbers should double by the time the year ends. With all the time they’re getting on the mound, this raises the question: can any of them stay in the team’s rotation past 2021?
If the team is serious about contending in 2022, they’ll sign a lot of starting pitching. Kenta Maeda is the only starter ove 26 that’s under contract for 2022, and that’s not going to win a playoff series, much less get a team there. With only five rotation spots, these five young arms have to use the rest of this year to prove they deserve a spot.
Here’s the issue: they really haven’t. Take a look at the stat lines for each of the five swingmen/starters:
Ober: 13 G, 13 GS, 57.2 IP, 1-1, 4.53 ERA, 1.300 WHIP, 62-16 K-BB ratio
Dobnak: 13 G, 5 GS, 43.2 IP, 1-6, 7.83 ERA, 1.649 WHIP, 25-12 K-BB ratio
Jax: 9 G, 5 GS, 38 IP, 3-1, 5.45 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 32-13 K-BB ratio
Barnes: 3 G, 2 GS, 13.1 IP, 6.08 ERA, 1.650 WHIP, 6-5 K-BB ratio
Thorpe: 4 G, 3 GS, 14 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, 5-4 K-BB ratio
While none of those look all that great, each pitcher has a shot to show something over the final two months of the season. Here’s a look at why each pitcher has a shot at being a member of the rotation past 2022, starting with the least-likely candidates.
Charlie Barnes: Barnes has never been one of the Minnesota Twins’ top prospects, but the organization has always liked how he’s limited walks and done well with strikeouts. In his first three games in the majors however, he’s struggled, with one of the worst WHIP and ERA numbers on the team.
He’ll get lots of time to prove that this was just a rough start, but he’s got a long way to go before he secures a spot next year. If he can miss a few more bats, he’d have a much better chance of sticking around, but it’ll be up to him to prove that he can.
Griffin Jax: Jax is similar to Barnes in that he’s never been a top prospect, but Jax has had a lot more success keeping his ERA down and limiting walks and hits. He’s never been a guy to pile up big strikeout numbers, but he’ll keep you in games.
Jax’s numbers may look bad, but if you break it down a little, there’s some promise. In his first five games pitched, he threw 17.2 IP and allowed 17 runs (8.66 ERA) with a 14-8 K-BB ratio. In his four games since, he’s thrown 20.1 innings and allowed 6 runs (2.66 ERA) with an 18-5 K-BB ratio. That’s a massive difference.
It’s clear that Jax is getting settled and doing a better job, and aside from Bailey Ober, he’s likely to get the most chances going forward. It’ll be up to him to prove what he can do with them.
Randy Dobnak: The once-beloved former Uber driver that once seemed like a key piece of the team’s future is now speeding towards a buyout of his contract when it becomes possible in 2025 if not a DFA even sooner.
His stuff has gone from average to batting practice level, and his recent string of injuries has led to even more concern. This season is likely Dobnak’s last chance to prove he can be an important member of the team going forward in anything other than a long reliever role.
Lewis Thorpe: Off the five pitchers, none has come more highly regarded than Lewis Thorpe. The one-time No. 12 prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ system, Thorpe had some of the best actual stuff of this group when he’s been fully healthy, but it’s been a while since the Twins have seen it.
The lefty has actually been pretty decent in the four games he’s appeared in this year, but he’s been injured and inconsistent over the past three years. Similar to Dobnak, he may only have one more chance to prove that he can last on this team.
Bailey Ober: The pitcher with the best chance to last in the Minnesota Twins’ rotation is easily Bailey Ober. It took Ober just four years to fly through the Minnesota Twins system, a meteoric rise for a 12th round pick with okay stuff who missed a year due to the pandemic.
At every level he pitched, he racked up strikeouts and limited walks, making it easy to see why the organization liked him. Over four seasons in the minors, he posted an ERA of 2.41, a WHIP of 0.956, 1.2 BB/9 and 11.1 K/9. Those are incredible numbers for some who never ranked in the Minnesota Twins’ top 20 prospects.
Ober’s lack of elite stuff means he can give up a lot of contact, but he doesn’t give up a ton of long hits or homers, helping support his numbers. He struggled quite a bit when he made the big leagues in the beginning, but he’s given up just 13 runs in his past seven starts. Similar to Jax, he appears to be getting a lot more comfortable.
In addition, he will continue to get lots of run the rest of the way, offering him the real ability to prove that he’s not just a flash in the pan. Whether he is able to do so should be one of the biggest storylines left this year.
The Twins have a whole bunch of elite pitching prospects coming up the pipeline, but it’s very unlikely that all of them pan out. Hopefully at least one of these other arms can join the group and give the Twins a solid pitcher going forward.