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  • Twitter Mailbag: The Fernandez/Kershaw Path

    On Friday afternoon, I welcomed Twins and Twins minor league related questions on my Twitter account. A few people asked questions, but one really stood out as really interesting. So, I will answer that one first before answering the others more quickly.

    The first question was asked by Seth Postma. Great name, Great Questions. Right? In two tweets, he asked:

    Re: Stewart, Berrios, Thorpe, Gonsalves: Do you see a potential fast mover (i.e. Kershaw, Fernandez)
    And do you think the Twins will do that? Would they have done what Marlins did with Fernandez?
    Think about that just for a minute. Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award this year, his second Cy Young Award in the last three seasons (finished 2nd in 2012!). Jose Fernandez finished third place in this year's NL Cy Young voting and was the easy choice for National League Rookie of the Year.

    Though Fernandez is right-handed and Kershaw is a southpaw, they both made their big league debut less than two years after they were drafted out of high school. They were both first round picks, Kershaw seventh overall in 2006, and Fernandez taken with the 14th overall pick in 2011.

    Kershaw debuted in 2006 in the GCL with five walks and 54 strikeouts in 37 innings. He began the 2007 season in the Midwest League (Low-A) where he went 7-5 with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 97.1 innings. He gave up 72 hits, walked 50 and struck out 134. He was promoted directly to AA and made five starts to end that 19-year-old season. He was 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 24.2 innings. He struck out 29, but he also walked 18. He began the 2008 season (his age-20 season) back in AA, but he went 2-3 wit ha 1.91 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 11 starts. He struck out 59 and walked just 18 in 61.1 innings. On June 20, 2008, he made his big league debut. Now, his debut wasn't earthshaking. He was 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. In 107.2 innings, he gave up 109 hits, walked 52 and struck out 100.

    Of course, in five seasons since then, he has gone 72-41 with a 2.43 ERA. After walking 4.8 per nine in 2009 and 3.6 per nine in 2010, he has walked 2.5 per nine or less each of the last three years while striking out more than a batter per inning in all but 2013 (8.8/9).

    If you thought that Kershaw's ascent was quick and impressive, wait until you read about Jose Fernandez. The Cuban-born righty was drafted in 2011 out of his Tampa high school. He pitched in just two games after signing that season. As a 19 year old in 2012, he began in Low-A and went 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. In 79.1 innings, he gave up just 51 hits, walked just 18 and struck out 99. He was promoted to High-A where he went 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. In 55 innings, he gave up 38 hits, walked 17 and struck out 59.

    That's it for his minor league career. Mike Redmond decided that he would skip AA and AAA and make the Marlins' Opening Day roster. He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. He was shut down in September at 172.2 innings and had given up just 111 hits, walked 58 and struck out 187. As a 20 year old!

    Would the Twins have done that? I think we can safely answer "No" to that one! They wouldn't have a 20 year old skip AA and AAA. I think that's fairly definitive, and I don't think many (if any) Twins fans would disagree with the decision to let him start the season in AA.

    That's probably enough about two immensely talented pitchers who do not pitch for the Minnesota Twins. Let's talk Twins. Back to Seth's questions.

    I do believe that if a young pitcher put up the types of numbers that Jose Fernandez did, the Twins would move him quickly. However, I can't imagine a scenario where the Twins would be willing to have a player skip both AA and AAA, especially a player that youthful, coming out of high school.

    The Twins have proven time and again that they will move pitchers, particularly college pitchers who dominate, up the ladder quickly. We saw it with Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Brian Duensing, Logan Darnell, Scott Baker and several others.

    It's harder to know what they would do with that kind of performing high school pitcher, in part, because the Twins have not drafted very many high school pitchers in the early rounds in the last decade. We'll get to those that Seth mentioned, but Hudson Boyd was a supplemental first round pick in 2011. He was the first high school pitcher that the Twins drafted in the first round since 2004 when the drafted high school hurler Kyle Waldrop in the first round. Waldrop got hurt early in his career, and Boyd has really struggled adjusting to the pro game.

    Brad Radke was the Twins 8th round pick in 1991 out of Tampa. He moved fairly quickly and skipped AAA when he debuted in 1995 with the Twins. However, he was 22 years old already (old, right?). He also doesn't fit the mold of Kershaw and Fernandez.

    Willie Banks was the 3rd overall pick in the 1987 draft. He moved up one level each season and debuted in July of 1991 at the age of 22.

    Johnny Ard was the 20th overall pick in the 1988 draft. He put up those Fernandez-like numbers in rookie ball and Low A that same year and was very good the next two seasons before being traded.

    Pat Mahomes put up some very impressive numbers after he was the Twins 8th round pick in 1988, but he moved up one level early and pitched at AA and AAA in 1991 and debuted in April of 1992 at age 21.

    Honestly, if a high school drafted pitcher moves up one level each season and debuts in the big leagues at 22 years old, that is a pretty fast track. But it's nowhere near the Fernandez/Kershaw path. So, let's consider the pitchers Seth referenced.

    Jose (JO) Berrios - As a 19 year old, Berrios went 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. In 103.2 innings, he walked 40 and struck out 100. I like those strikeout numbers, but his odds of making it to the big leagues at 20 is pretty unlikely. He will turn 20 in May, so 2014 is his 20 year old season. That said, if he were to be with the Twins very early in 2015, he could debut at 20. I would think that the Twins would start Berrios in Ft. Myers in 2014, but there is a chance that he could make a few more starts in Cedar Rapids. There is an outside chance that he could finish 2014 with a couple of starts in AA. I think more likely he ends 2014 in Ft. Myers and spends all of 2015 in New Britain. I think if all goes well, he could debut in 2016, his age-22 season.

    Stephen Gonsalves - The Twins fourth round pick in 2013 was very impressive in his professional debut in the GCL and Elizabethton. He has the size and stuff to move up more quickly than many. However, he turns 20 years old early next July. So, simply put, he won't be the next age-20 superstar, but I believe he could move up quickly. I think he could be one that will spend all of 2014 in Cedar Rapids. I think he could get up to New Britain in 2015 and debut in 2016, at the age of 22. However, that is also very aggressive.

    Kohl Stewart - For what it's worth (and based on Willie Banks, it's not worth a whole lot), Stewart was drafted earlier in his draft than Fernandez and Kershaw were in theirs. He is the type of athlete and has the pitches to be a guy who will move pretty quickly, if he remains healthy. Unfortunately, his professional debut was ended by a sore shoulder. However, assuming he is healthy going into next season, he should start the season in Cedar Rapids (or at least get there when it warms up!). For him to meet the Fernandez path, he would have to dominate in Cedar Rapids and Ft. Myers in 2014 and debut with the Twins in 2015. Likely? Not really. Possible? I guess. That said, again if healthy, Stewart will likely move quickly, though I would expect him to spend all of 2014 in Cedar Rapids (just like I expected Byron Buxton to do in 2013!). He could pitch at two levels in 2015, and like the others, if things go well, he could debut in mid-2016, at the age of 21.

    Lewis Thorpe - Of course, Thorpe is the one with the highest probability of debuting with a strong 20-year-old season, but he has the furthest to go having just pitched in the GCL this year. He will turn 18 this coming week. If he pitches in Cedar Rapids in 2014, he will actually be ahead of the pace (so to speak) of of Fernandez and Kershaw. He's got tremendous, raw stuff, but the key word there is raw. He's very young, and his innings count may be the biggest deterrent to rushing him. His age-20 season will be 2016, so it's still very difficult to imagine a scenario where he would be up that quickly. It would involve him finishing 2014 in Cedar Rapids, and ending 2015 in New Britain. In that scenario, he could realistically debut as a 20-year-old in 2016. Again, that would be incredibly aggressive.

    To summarize, things have to play out pretty much perfectly for pitchers to follow the Clayton Kershaw/Jose Fernandez path to the big leagues by 20. It also takes tremendous risk on the part of the team. It assumes that the pitcher not only has the stuff to succeed, but also the heart and the makeup to overcome presumed struggles (though the award winners sure haven't found many struggles to this point).

    One thing to remember... I would consider a pitcher making it to the big leagues by 23 very good. Getting to the big leagues at 22 is very aggressive. Anything earlier than that is just incredible and very unusual. Joe Mauer debuted days before his 21st birthday. Miguel Sano should debut in 2014. If he debuts before May 11, he will still be 21 years old. If Byron Buxton debuts in 2014, he will be just 20 (and he has moved up at a pace faster than the Mauer path).

    I have no doubt that the Twins would be willing to move deserving pitchers quickly up the fast track, but I don't believe they would have them skip full-season levels with the exception of AAA. The four pitching examples referenced will most likely not debut by the age of 20, but there is a chance that they will all be big leaguers well before they turn 23. Consider that when Alex Meyer debuts with the Twins sometime in 2014, he will be 24 years old. And, he will likely debut about three years after being drafted.

    Great question, and there was the Seth-lengthed response to the Twitter question from Seth.


    Here are the other questions:

    From Keprios:
    @SethTweets what are the Twins doing organizationally to improve their coaching staff? ie Lack spanish speaking coaches.
    What we know so far:
    • Rochester: Manager - Gene Glynn, Hitting Coach - Tim Doherty, Pitching Coach - Marty Mason --- No change from last year.
    • Ft. Myers: Manager - Doug Mientkeiwicz, Hitting Coach - Jim Dwyer, Pitching Coach - Gary Lucas
    • Cedar Rapids: Manager - Jake Mauer, Hitting Coach - Tommy Watkins, Pitching Coach - Ivan Arteaga.
    • New Britain's coaching staff should be announced in the next week, and the Elizabethton and GCL coaches will be named at a later date.

    So the only change we know of at this time is that Gary Lucas and Ivan Arteaga flip-flopped pitching coach roles. Gary Lucas is a terrific pitching coach and moves up a level. Arteaga has been in the organization a long time too and did some really good things with some of the Miracle pitchers in 2013. However, in 2014, there is a good chance that big pitching prospects Yorman Landa, Felix Jorge and Randy Rosario will pitch in Cedar Rapids, so having Arteaga there makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see if any changes are made in New Britain and the rookie leagues.

    From jimaaa:

    @SethTweets@TwinsDaily the 25m in new tv money. Do you know if it Is one time or annually?
    The additional $25 million each team receives is because of the new TV deals with ESPN, Fox and the MLB Network. Those deals for for multiple years, so they will get that $25 million each of those years.

    And then a heads up, it's most likely those contracts will be even larger, and teams will likely get even more money to spend.

    Any thoughts or questions?

    Seth On Radio
    If you're up and about on Saturday morning, I will be a guest on Steve's Sports Saturday on am1100 in Fargo. Former NFL (Buffalo Bills) star and NDSU star and Detroit Lakes resident Phil Hansen will also be on the show. It is on from 9-11 (central time) and you can listen online here.
    Comments 27 Comments
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      It's Jorge Felix... people are going to have to bear with me on this one. I've been calling him Felix Jorge for probably three years... It's like when I went to Cedar Rapids for their season opener last year and they were playing Beloit. I'm pretty sure I tweeted Beloit thinking Cedar Rapids over and over again!
      Thanks Seth. Since first seeing your reference to the correction, I have been using Jorge Felix in all my comments over at TT. Also, giving you credit for clarifying our collective mistake. Hopefully, in time we will all get it correct!
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Some guys move quickly. Sale for example. Hard to explain how a guy drafted 13th overall moved up so fast. Heck, even our own Garza got a sniff pretty quickly. Scouts and coaches probably got their finger on that pulse pretty actively. If they don't get moved up overnight, i am guessing there is a reason.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      When was the last time the Twins signed an 18 year old Kershaw/Fernandez type? Bert all those years ago?
      Hitter wise, Carew, Hrbek, Gaetti, Puckett, Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer did not spend a lot of time in the high minors. The Twins had a little success with those guys.
    1. markos's Avatar
      markos -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      When was the last time the Twins signed an 18 year old Kershaw/Fernandez type? Bert all those years ago?
      Hitter wise, Carew, Hrbek, Gaetti, Puckett, Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer did not spend a lot of time in the high minors. The Twins had a little success with those guys.
      Morneau had over 1300 plate appearances in AA and AAA before becoming an everyday player at the majors, and Cuddyer had over 1600 PAs in the upper minors. Now part of this was due to being sent back and forth early in their careers, but I would still consider this a lot of time. By comparison, Arcia (454 PAs), Rosario (313 PAs) and Sano (276 PAs) would each need roughly two more full seasons at AA and AAA to match Morneau's time spent in the upper minors.

      I expect Rosario and Sano to be up much sooner than that, but I think it is reasonable to expect them to struggle at the majors for a couple of seasons as they get their bearings.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      When was the last time the Twins signed an 18 year old Kershaw/Fernandez type? Bert all those years ago?
      Hitter wise, Carew, Hrbek, Gaetti, Puckett, Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer did not spend a lot of time in the high minors. The Twins had a little success with those guys.
      The Wise One,

      I'm putting together some stuff on this. I was planning on rolling it out before some more Buxton and Sano projections...but might roll it out a little sooner.

      But yes, you're absolutely right.

      Carew, Hrbek, Gaetti and Mauer all went from AA or lower to Opening Day starters and never looked back.

      Puckett spent 1983 at Class A, then in 1984 he went to AAA for a monthwas the every day starting CF for the Twins by mid May.

      Cuddyer got a Sept call up from AA at age 22 (4 seasons in the minors), but ultimately would need parts of 2 seasons at AAA before coming a regular.

      The Twins promoted players aggressively from 1980-1982 and from 1999-2002. Lots of AA jumps to the pros, Sept call-ups, etc.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      The biggest problem that the Twins have in "rushing" their prospects to the major league level is management. They simply do not have a manager and coaching staff that is good at developing players. In fact, the current Twins staff appears to me to be uncomfortable with having young players in the lineup. They are intolerant of their mistakes and their behaviours.

      To rebuild a team you need to put the ball in the hands of young pitchers and place young hitters in the lineup that will simply exasperate you. They will make mistakes. But, you have to accept those mistakes as learning opportunities, find ways to correct them, and find out which players cannot improve upon their mistakes. You will lose ball games by the batches. It is investment for the future. The problem with the Twins team going forward, however, is that they have lost all of those ball game without gaining any future value of etting young players experience and weeding out the players that cannot make it. We have lost 95+ game for three consecutive seasons without developing a single player that is a sure bet to help us going into a winning future. That is the saddest commentary possible for the past three years.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by shimrod View Post

      A little off topic, but I think it relates. From my outside perspective baseball seems like the most hidebound, insular, and incestuous major sport. Tradition is great but I think many baseball professionals, given the choice between winning and sticking with tradition, would pick tradition every time. I've worked in environments that valued continuity over production and baseball sure looks like another example. In what other sport does every team employ the exact same strategy? Football has multiple offensive and defensive philosophies, west coast, the pistol, the 3-4, the 4-3. Basketball can boast the triangle offense, the corner offense, man or zone, etc. Baseball is stretching its limits with a defensive shift or offensive platoon.

      What I'm getting at is, just because the Twins coaches and managers have been in the game all their adult lives and are experts in their field doesn't mean they're automatically employing the best methods of producing what the fans want to see, a winning ball club. MLB looks like a prime candidate for a paradigm shift. Right now it's stuck in a self-perpetuating rut. No one gets a boss job until they've demonstrated they've internalized every hoary trope of conventional baseball. There is no innovation, at all.

      And as I implied earlier, my paradigm buster would be stomping on the accelerator with the top picks. Meyer should begin the season in the rotation, Stewart should be up by September. Sano should be the opening day third baseman and Buxton should be in centerfield by the all-star break. After three consecutive 90 loss seasons, what do we have to lose? If they fail at the MLB level send them back, and if failure at the major league level is going to permanently impair them they never had the strength of will to succeed anyway. Now's the time to find out, when we can cut our losses and still come out ahead by trading young talented players who were "simply over-promoted" (conventional thinking) for new prospects who may have what it takes to succeed. Slowly working up the promotion ladder a year at a time is fine for low level picks; top talents should be accelerated through the system.
      Although Seth seems to have covered this well, I'll throw in my 2 cents, because my buddy and I were just talking about this while watching the Denver - Kansas City game last night.

      I was of the opinion that baseball was more on the cutting edge than football, at least as it relates to advanced statistics and "playing the odds." Frankly, if you have Peyton Manning anywhere past his own 40 yard line on fourth down and short, you should be going for it. Each and every time.

      The statistics show that the win probability would go up quite a bit if football coaches were less conservative in their play calling. Pretty much every coach is going to punt on fourth down unless they have to go for it. It's almost maddening. Fourth down isn't the only scenario either.

      So speaking of paradigm shifts, if any sport is begging for one it's football. You can make an argument that baseball is too, but I doubt baseball is at all out of the ordinary. And oddly enough, the changes in the respective sports seem to happen in opposite "directions." You're seeing quite a lot of very creative and odds-driven strategy in the high school and increasingly in the college football world. It "trickles up." If anything, the creativity in baseball trickles down from the highest levels.
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