This is the week where true baseball fans get giddy as players start to appear at their respective team’s spring training site. Where the sun shines longer, grass gets greener (well, not in the north), and the bats start smacking baseballs, the national pastime is back in full force.
The first full-squad workout for the rejuvenated Twins is February 27 in Fort Myers, Florida. We all know that there is competition for two outfield spots, but for a healthy pitching core, there’s not much to the starting pitching race. Yes, I know improvements must be made to the rotation who guided the club to a 83-79 second place finish in the AL Central last season. However, the top four slots should be a piece of cake to figure out, with only the fifth starter having to be determined in approximately 32 games this spring. Here are my top four starters and a couple of others competing for a coveted starting role.
In the number 1 slot should be veteran Ervin Santana. Santana, who will be in his second year in the Twins organization, was good after he came back from his 80-game ban last year. In 17 starts, Santana went 7-5 and had 82 strikeouts with a 4.00 ERA. Before joining the Twins, Santana was a one-time All-Star, pitching for three teams, including 8 seasons with the Angels. It seemed like Santana struggled a bit initially last season due to his absence, but expect him to rebound this year and have a splendid time in 2016.
Third-year Twin Phil Hughes is perhaps slated to be the number 2 pitcher. After Hughes registered a remarkable 16-win 2014 season, he had a mediocre 2015. Hughes was hampered by injuries last year, limiting him to 25 starts. The Twins gave him an extension after his first season, but Hughes went 11-9 and recorded just 94 strikeouts in those starts in addition to two bullpen appearances. The one-time all-star will look to rebound and get back to his 2015 form.
Kyle Gibson deserves to be slotted in as the third starter. Coming into his fourth season with the big league team, Gibson has continued to form into a great pitcher. Although never going to an All-Star game, Gibson should be attending the Midsummer Classic in due time. Gibson recorded the most strikeouts of his career last year with 145 that led to a 3.84 ERA. If the 25-year-old has a good spring, look for him to do some damage this year.
Yes, oft-injured Ricky Nolasco has to be the fourth starter. Although this turned out to be one of GM Terry Ryan’s bad deals, Nolasco should receive one last chance to show us what he can do when he is good. Engulfed by elbow and ankle injuries, Nolasco made just 9 appearances in a very unsettling year for him. In 2015, the California native’s record of 5-2 did not tell the whole story. Nolasco had an ERA of 6.75 and had 35 strikeouts with 14 walks. The 33-year-old’s career statistics are underwhelming for the large contract the Twins gave him in 2013 and he has voiced his displeasure about being in Minnesota. Nolasco must have a short leash in 2016, and should be replaced if he falters.
The 5th spot in the rotation is really up for grabs heading into spring training. The most likely pitcher to secure the spot is Tommy Milone, who went 9-5 with an ERA of 3.92 last year. Tyler Duffey, who had a decent half season in 2015, made a case to be in the role. Alex Meyer, who didn’t do so hot in his first go-around in MLB, will be in the mix. Jose Berrios has an outside chance of debuting in April, perhaps as the last starter. Berrios had an amazing year last year in the Minors, resulting in a 14-5 record with an ERA of 2.87 and 175 strike outs. Clearly, there are decisions to be made about who will start fifth for the Twins.
Who would you put in the starting rotation?
Written by: Michael L. Sack