Minnesota’s Stealthy Rotation Rebuild

worley-570x427In the first 9 seasons of Ron Gardenhire’s reign as manager of the Minnesota Twins the franchise won 6 division titles and finished with a winning record in every season but 2007. Gardenhire’s teams have never made much noise in the playoffs but that has as much to do with the vagaries of the playoffs system as it does with the success of the organization. Six division titles and five 90-win seasons is in nine years is a remarkable stretch of success for a team that has never ranked near the top of the league in payroll, and it stands in stark contrast to the failures of the past 2 seasons. Many of those division title-winning teams were led by a solid offenses that worked like crazy to get on base and pitching staffs heavy on guys with great control and light on players with big strikeout ability. That organizational philosophy blew up in Minnesota’s face during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, as the Twins ranked 2nd to last in run prevention both seasons. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see the organization attack its weakest point by acquiring a trio of young pitchers to rehabilitate a wounded staff.

A week ago the Twins flipped centerfielder Denard Span for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer, a 22-year-old with the potential to dominate. Losing a player of Span’s caliber is tough to stomach, but when the return is a 6’8″ behemoth with the ability to dial up 97-98 mph on his fastball, you start to feel a little better. Meyer has yet to pitch above Single-A ball but he’s shown an elite ability to strike hitters out, posting a strikeout rate over 9 in 129 career minor league innings. If he can improve his change-up and become more consistent with his slider, Meyer could be an imposing arm at the top of the twin rotation. He will more than likely spend all of 2013 in the minors, but with some steady improvement the righty should be in the Twin Cities by the start of 2014.

While the deal to nab Meyer for Span is solid and has the potential to work out nicely for Minnesota, the deal they made with Philadelphia yesterday will be the one that goes down as the real coup. The Twins were able to flip Ben Revere for a pair of young arms in Vance Worley and Trevor May, the best pitching prospect in the Philadelphia system. Worley will immediately take one of the top 2 spots in the Twins rotation alongside Scott Diamond.

The former Phillie is just 25 and has 5 years of team control remaining, which gives him plenty of time to get comfortable with the expansive Target Field. Worley isn’t a hard-thrower, but he’s got 2-3 plus pitches and he locates everything he throws extremely well. In 277 career innings Worley has average 7.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, a rate that would have led all Twins starters a year ago. That alone is reason enough to like this move from Minnesota’s perspective, the fact that they were able to get May, Baseball America’s 69th rated prospect, thrown in as well makes this a great move for the Twins.

The addition of Trevor May, a pitcher with a deep repertoire and big strikeout ability. He’s already reached Double-A and has posted a strikeout rate of better than 9 at every stop he’s made in the minor leagues. An aggressive time frame puts the 23-year-old May in the Twins rotation starting by the middle of 2013, while a more conservative one has him arriving in 2014.

While all of these moves are nice, they probably going to mean very little in terms of on the field results in 2013. The front office will have to find an outfielder or two because right now their team’s defense looks like it’s been hacked apart by a machete. The Twins are also still going to have major rotation issues unless another arm or two is picked up, because most of the pitchers they currently have are very green. Liam Hendricks is just 24. Cole De Vries is going to be 28 and in his 2nd big league season. Scott Diamond, the staff’s ace a year ago, is 26. Most of their high-ceiling pitching prospects (Hudson Boyd, Adrian Salcedo, Kyle Gibson), including the newly acquired ones, are barely out of rookie ball. The outlook for 2013 looks a little grim, but the potential is there, and the amount of young, talented arms in the Twins system rivals any team in baseball now. For a franchise coming off of two straight 95+ loss seasons that’s the best thing you can hope for.

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