Saturday, March 3, 2018

Contemplating the rotation depth

The 2017 Minnesota Twins used 16 starting pitchers. This sounds like a lot, and it is for a team with contention in mind. Cleveland, with the best rotation in the American League, started only seven pitchers all season. The Houston Astros, who won the World Series despite having nobody pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, started 11.

In a very real sense, though, the parade of starters for Minnesota was through the fifth slot in the rotation. The Twins' seven most frequently-used starters -- Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Aldabero Mejia, Bartolo Colon, Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes --combined for 146 of the 162 starts. The other nine combined for 16 starts.

What happened last year: They opened with a rotation of Santana, Gibson, Santiago, Mejia and Hughes, with Berrios in Triple A as Plan B. When Hughes and Santiago broke down, Berrios stepped up -- but they didn't have any other legitimate starting prospects in Triple A, and their choice was between pushing true prospects to the majors too quickly or using nonprospect minor league veterans.

The nonprospects got more calls than the prospects, although in the second half Felix Jorge and Aaron Slegers got five starts between them, and the Twins eventually added a few major league vets, notably Bartolo Colon.

The Nik Turleys and Tim Milvilles didn't get the job done. And my guess is that pitchers of that ilk won't be a 2018 factor.

Let's assume the Twins open with a rotation of  Jake Odorizzi, Berrios, Gibson and Mejia, wth Santana stepping in when the schedule demands a fifth starter and Hughes in the bullpen as Plan B / spot starter.

The Triple A rotation could feature five of Stephen Gonsalves, Jorge, Slegers, Dietrich Enns, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero, most of whom spent 2017 in Double A and all of whom are on the 40-man roster this spring.

That second six has a lot more to offer than did the likes of Adam Wilk or Nick Tepesch.

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