The Minnesota Twins are in a completely different place than they were at the start of the season. A team with playoff expectations now sits at the bottom of the American League Central, and injuries and ineffective pitching staff has a lot to do with that.
The rotation has been completely overhauled. Kenta Maeda is done for the year. Jose Berrios and J.A. Happ were traded. Matt Shoemaker was released. The only member remaining is Michael Pineda, who hasn’t pitched in a game since August 13th.
This has left a ton of innings available. Guys like Bailey Ober, Griffin Jax, Charlie Barnes, and more have earned starts that the Twins never thought they would get. I asked last month about whether or not any of these replacement pitchers could stick in the rotation for next year, and one man has: Ober.
Ober has emerged as the best pitcher available for the Minnesota Twins and he looks more and more like a key piece of this rotation after every start.
With this season already in the gutter, it’s time to look ahead, and we’re choosing to look ahead to Opening Day of next year, including the starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins next year. Could it be Bailey Ober?
This may seem like a crazy idea. Ober has pitched exactly 16 career major league games. He has an ERA just under 4.00. He’s a 26-year-old who hasn’t even broken rookie status. Just hear me out: here are three reasons Bailey Ober could get the nod for next year’s opening day start.
Reason No. 1: Ober’s Recent Hot Stretch
There’s absolutely no denying it: No Minnesota Twins pitcher was better in the month of August than Bailey Ober, and that was after a much improved July. Just take a look at how his stat lines have improved from month to month
- June: 5 GS, 0-1, 20.2 IP, 5.23 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 22-5 K-BB rate
- July: 5 GS, 1-0, 22.2 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 25-8 K-BB rate
- August: 5 GS, 1-1, 27.1 IP, 2.30 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 26-3 K-BB rate
Despite being on a careful pitch count, Ober has gotten better each month. If he has a even a similar September and October to his August and late July, he will finish the season with the team lead in starts (and possibly innings and strikeouts to boot).
Now I know, a good first season doesn’t mean much (looking at you Randy Dobnak), but Ober can actually back these numbers up. This leads me to my next reason: his impressive and consistently higher velocity.
Reason No. 2: Ober’s Velocity Breakthrough
Bailey Ober is an imposing figure at 6’9″, and 260 pounds. He’s always posted excellent numbers in the minors, despite only okay stuff, because as the Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman breaks down, his height and length offer great deception.
The Twins have always really liked him because there always seemed to be another level that he could reach. This offseason and during last year’s lost minor league season, as Gleeman writes, Ober found it.
Ober has gone from a guy who threw in the upper 80’s with a great mix and command to a pitcher who still had that mix and command, but could now reach mid-90s. It’s been one of the keys to his sudden surge, and it seems like it will stick. Something tells me he might stick around in the rotation awhile too.
Reason No. 3: No better Options
With Michael Pineda a free agent and Kenta Maeda out for the season and missing AT LEAST the start of 2022, Bailey Ober will be the only holdover from the 2021 rotation, unless the Twins plan on starting Jax or Barnes in 2022 (let’s hope that’s not the case).
Let’s say Thorpe and Dobnak come back as the Minnesota Twins wait for the team’s top prospects to arrive. Neither would get the nod over Ober after his performance to end the year. Even if Joe Ryan lights it up to wrap up the year, Ober’s numbers will be tough to beat.
The Twins will likely bring in some outside help. A reunion with Pineda is possible. The market is rich with talented arms. But will a re-tooling Twins squad reach into their pockets to bring in real talent? And will that talent (because it won’t be high-level) finish with better numbers than Ober has?
There’s a long offseason filled with a ton of question marks ahead. The Twins will have to make a lot of moves to build up a contender. Only one thing looks for sure at this point: Bailey Ober is the best healthy starter on this team, and he will have the chance to prove it in 2022.