The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 31, 2013

Thoma: Sorting through the 2013 rotation

MANKATO — The Twins lost 94 games last season because the starting rotation was a six-month train wreck.

As they open the season today, it’s not easy to see that the rotation is going to be any better in 2013.

The Twins went into spring training 2012 figuring that they had a solid, veteran starting rotation: Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis.

It was never reasonable to expect that all five would come through. It was equally unreasonable to expect all five to fail miserably, but fail they did. The Twins wound up cycling 12 pitchers through the rotation (not counting Baker, who didn't make it out of spring training), each of whom made at least five starts and only one of whom performed well enough to be assured a 2013 slot.

None of the spring training five remain on the 40-man roster; only Blackburn remains in the organization. Of the pitchers on the 40-man roster, the only man to throw 200 innings in a major league season is Mike Pelfrey, and he's coming off Tommy John surgery.

The goal this year, then, is to establish a bona fide major league rotation, no easy task considering the rubble left by last year’s implosion.

The first two pieces are Scott Diamond and Vance Worley.

Diamond was the one success story in the 2012 rotation tryouts; the lefty came up in May, threw strikes, got ground balls, and compiled a 3.54 ERA in 173 innings. He also had a low strikeout rate, which is not a good sign; then he had elbow surgery late in the offseason.

Diamond opens the season on the disabled list, although he’s expected to take his place in the rotation April12.

Worley is the Opening Day starter. Acquired from Philadelphia in the Ben Revere deal, Worley has had two decent partial seasons in the Phillies rotation; last year ended early for elbow surgery, and now he has to make the transition to the DH-laden American League, with its deeper lineups.

Neither figures to be the best starter on a playoff-caliber team, but they can be playoff-rotation starters — the third and fourth guys in the rotation. 

The Twins’ goals this year with these two: Find if they can handle a 200-inning workload without breaking down and maintain their success. They haven’t done it yet.

Beyond turning those two into rotation anchors, the most important job is prospect Kyle Gibson, in the process of rehabbing his reconstructed elbow. Gibson was a fairly early cut this spring as his command wavered.

Gibson’s spring training struggles aside, he should pitch in the majors this year. The goal with him this year is to get him to the point that Diamond and Worley are now: Locked into the 2014 rotation, with the next step of becoming a truly established, reliable starter awaiting.

Gibson’s innings are to be limited regardless of where he pitches, and it would be easier to believe the Gibson goal will be met if he were opening in the majors. But it doesn’t really matter when he shows big league success this year as long as he does.

Gibson, Diamond and Worley are the three 2013 starters who truly matter.

Veterans Kevin Correia and Pelfrey, brought in a free agents, are essentially place holders for a younger wave of power arms in the farm system, a wave headed by trade acquisitions Alex Meyer and Trevor May and by 2012 draftee J.O. Berrios. We shouldn’t expect any of them to emerge in the majors this year.

Correia, Pelfrey and the survivors of the 2012 rotation shuffle — Cole De Vries, Sam Deduno, Liam Hendriks and others — aren't particularly good bets to emerge as usable pieces moving forward. If one does, that's a bonus.

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

 

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