The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 11, 2013

Thoma column: Twins have a conundrum with pitching


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It's the Pitch-22 of the Twins rebuilding process.

Their single biggest problem is a completely inadequate starting rotation. And there is no obvious route to solving the problem.

Simply throwing money at veteran free agents is no solution. High-quality free agent starters aren't merely hideously expensive, they essentially don't exist.

Baseball Prospectus' list of potential free agent starters is riddled with names of past accomplishment and current problems: Johan Santana. Roy Halladay. Josh Johnson. Tim Lincecum. It's also jammed with names of established mediocrity: Jeff Francis. Daisuke Matusaka. Bruce Chen. Mike Pelfrey.

There are more than 50 names on the list. Somebody on it will doubtless prove worth his next contract, but most of them will prove to be bad signings.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Just to get to free agency, one needs at least six years in the majors. There are very few pitchers who survive six seasons in the bigs without sustaining some arm damage.

Growing your own rotation — clearly the route preferred by general manager Terry Ryan — isn't easy either. Look at how many high draft picks the Twins have invested in pitchers in recent years, and see how few have panned out:

2008: Carlos Guterriez (27 overall) and Shooter Hunt (31).

2009: Kyle Gibson (22), Matt Bashore (46), Billy Bullock (70), Ben Tootle (101)

2010: Alex Wimmers (21), Pat Dean (102)

2011: Hudson Boyd (55), Madison Boer (87), Corey Williams (117)

That's 11 pitchers taken and signed in the first three rounds in four years (I'm leaving out 2012 and 2013 because it's too soon to make any judgments). Five of the pitcher listed are out of the organization already, four of them out of organized ball altogether.

Of the other six, Gibson and Wimmers have had Tommy John surgery; Dean's numbers in Double A this year have been unimpressive; and Boyd, Boer and Williams, all in A ball, appear to be eventual bullpen candidates.

The high attrition rate among young pitchers is a discouraging reality. It takes a lot of pitching prospects to come up with even one competent major league starter.

One can still dream on Gibson, Alex Meyer, J.O. Berrios, Kyle Stewart and Trevor May, five arms on various levels in the Twins system of some expectation — but the odds say the Twins will do well if one of that quintet proves to be a reliable rotation anchor.

Pitch-22. (You might remember: 22 was Brad Radke's number.)

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.