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  • Position Battle: Fifth Starter

    A year ago, Vance Worley came to camp and impressed coaches enough to earn an Opening Day assignment. The right-hander carried hefty expectations, having been acquired as one of the main pieces in a trade that sent Ben Revere to Philadelphia and left the Twins without a clear center fielder (an quandary that, as Seth discussed yesterday, still persists).

    This year, Worley arrives in Ft. Myers under a much different set of circumstances. Following a disastrous first year in Minnesota, he's already fighting for his job, facing the possibility of winding up in the bullpen or on the waiver wire.

    Worley is just one of several hurlers who will need to step up and prove himself this spring in order to earn another crack at the Twins' rotation, and that is very much by design.

    The Twins hoped that Worley would join up with Scott Diamond, the only holdover from a mostly wretched 2012 starting corps, to provide stability at the front end of the rotation. In '12, both Worley and Diamond had achieved strong results, but last year their contact-heavy ways came to a head and the result was an endless barrage of hits as the two young hurlers combined to allow 231 hits in 179 innings.

    Both pitchers are still 27 or below, with MLB success not so far off in the rear view mirror, and it seems that both struggled last season at least in part due to physical limitations that should be lessened this time around. As you may recall, both pitchers were coming off supposedly "minor" elbow procedures in the previous offseason, and during the summer Worley -- who appeared somewhat heavy and sluggish to begin with -- battled shoulder soreness that ultimately led to his season being cut short in July.

    Worley's transformed physique has been an early talking point in Ft. Myers this month, as the righty reportedly showed up about 25 pounds slimmer than he did a year ago. He's more than ready to put last year behind him.

    Diamond has similar plans, and will be going head-to-head with Worley to lock up the final remaining spot in Minnesota's rotation. They'll both need to get past Samuel Deduno, who clearly outperformed them in 2013 but now may face physical limitations of his own.

    All three are intriguing to a certain degree, and all three are out of options, so this roster battle figures to rank as the most prominent in camp. Who's going to come out on top, and why? Let's dig in.

    Why Worley Will Win

    As mentioned before, the Twins made a significant investment in Worley and clearly viewed him pretty highly when they billed him as their No. 1 starter to open the season last year. He certainly lost a great deal of his luster with one of the most brutal pitching performances of any MLB starter, posting a 7.21 ERA and 1.99 WHIP before retreating to Triple-A, but he's still only 26 and if you subtract 2014 from the equation he's got a stronger overall track record than his competitors.

    While both Diamond and Deduno were essentially non-prospects who had been overlooked in other organizations and bloomed late as big-league pitchers, Worley reached the majors at age 22 and put up a 3.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 238/97 K/BB ratio over 277 innings in his first three seasons with Philadelphia. Those are quality numbers that gave every indication Worley could at least emerge as a decent mid-rotation starter in the American League.

    That upside remains, even if local fans saw nothing resembling it last season. The fact that he has apparently arrived this year in better shape and with greater resolve has to be viewed as an encouraging sign. Of course, he'll have a lot of work to do over the next six weeks in order to reenter the team's good graces.

    Why Diamond Will Win

    In 2012, Diamond established himself with a breakout season in which he was successful in many key areas that the Twins emphasize -- namely, he threw strikes (1.6 BB/9 rate) and kept the ball down (53 percent grounder rate and 17 homers in 173 innings). Because he conformed to the club's mold so well, it was no surprise that he was named as the only incumbent with a guaranteed spot in the 2013 unit.

    It's also no surprise that he was given an extended leash despite his inability to come close to replicating those results. The lefty delivered quality starts in four of his first five turns, and then everything fell apart. He coughed up six earned runs in back-to-back starts in mid-May and never really rebounded.

    His overall numbers in 2013 were bad, but when you take out his first five outings they are truly eye-popping: in 101 innings over his final 19 starts, Diamond went 5-14 with a 6.13 ERA, .881 opponents' OPS, 19 homers allowed and a 37/33 K/BB ratio. The aspects of his game that ingratiated him to the coaching staff in the previous season were nowhere to be found.

    Now, sandwiched between his ugly results in 2011 and 2013, Diamond's best season looks like an outlier. Still, the skills he displayed in 2012 won't be forgotten, and now that he's gone through a normal offseason with no surgery, the Twins will be eager to see if he can bring those back to the table, especially as the only left-handed candidate for a rotation spot.

    If he falters in exhibition play, Ron Gardenhire may opt to keep him around as a secondary lefty specialist in the bullpen behind Brian Duensing rather than expose him to waivers.

    Why Deduno Will Win

    Relative to the other two contenders in this race, Deduno was phenomenal last season. In 18 starts, he posted a 3.83 ERA while coughing up just seven homers in 108 innings. But whereas Diamond's successful 2012 campaign followed the Twins' blueprint to a tee, Deduno's approach fell on the opposite end of the spectrum; rather than hitting spots with precision, the Dominican relied on his unpredictable scattershot fastball and kept batters guessing along with his own catchers.

    The result was very little solid contact but also many stretches of poor command that led to extended innings and outings. With that being said, his control was vastly improved from previous years, suggesting that Rick Anderson was able to break through with the 30-year-old to some extent.

    Based on merit, Deduno should be the favorite in this competition, and if all things were equal he probably would be. But he underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in September and that might put him behind Worley and Diamond. Deduno has already thrown several bullpens and says he's good to go, but we'll see how sharp he looks when he takes the mound in a game.

    The effectively wild right-hander already walked a thin line, so if his pitches are moving a little less, or if his control deteriorates back to 6.0 BB/9 territory, he'll have a tough time coming out on top.

    Why To Keep An Eye On Others

    As things stand, there's only one rotation spot available and -- barring multiple injuries or total meltdowns -- one of the guys above is essentially guaranteed to end up in it. The Twins simply aren't the type of team to give up on a pitcher with potential value if they don't have to, and they can afford to be patient with youthful candidates such as Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer and Trevor May.

    However, as we all well know, injuries tend to strike in spring training. There's a decent chance that one of the four veterans expected to open in the starting five -- Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey -- will be unavailable once the start of April rolls around. That would open the door for one of the aforementioned prospects, or another dark-horse contender such as Kris Johnson, Brooks Raley or (my preferred option) Anthony Swarzak.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Battle: Fifth Starter started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 101 Comments
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      This will be a focus throughout spring training. On field performance is just one component IMHO. It is going to take good managin' and general managin' to provide depth, allow talent to move forward, and put the best possible rotation together.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      The Twins are going to have to cut bait with at least one of these guys, whether it's in spring training or a couple months into the season. They'll need to open up a spot for Gibson sooner than later IMO.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Gibson isn't young.....really wish that Pelfrey money was spent otherwise.....but he'll just sit in AAA for another half year, losing his value to the team, since his value is in actually playing in the majors. Sigh.

      I think Worley wins the spot.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Gibson isn't young.....really wish that Pelfrey money was spent otherwise.....but he'll just sit in AAA for another half year, losing his value to the team, since his value is in actually playing in the majors. Sigh.

      I think Worley wins the spot.
      His value is coming up and staying up and becoming the 2-3 the Twins project him to be. Does it really matter if it takes another month or so?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Nope, not if it takes a month or so. But my money is on the rotation they have and Worley, with Meyer and Gibson watching for at least half a year. If they think that is likely this year, why sign Pelfrey?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Nope, not if it takes a month or so. But my money is on the rotation they have and Worley, with Meyer and Gibson watching for at least half a year. If they think that is likely this year, why sign Pelfrey?
      When have the Twins ever maintained the same five starters they opened with for half a year?
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      I agree with you on Swarzak. He posted a 2.91 ERA over 96 innings in 2013, and a 1.16 WHIP. More importantly, Swarzy survived Twinsfest with no wrestling injuries! Worley or Diamond can swap places with him in long relief. Either Pelfrey, Hughes, Nolasco, or Correia will extend their time in Florida with a sore shoulder or a pulled hammy. I also wonder what Deduno could do out of the pen, not unlike the Perkins conversion.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I don't think we are going to agree. They have plenty of guys in AAA that could take Pelfrey's spot, I don't agree with the signing when you already have Deduno, Gibson, Meyer, Diamond, the lefty guy who's name I can't recall...I count 5 guys fighting for 2 spots. IMO, and I am not trying to convince anyone I am right, that's plenty, and that money and roster spot could have been used otherwise. We just disagree. No harm in that.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      I think it will be Deduno if healthy, Worley to the pen(he has worked there before) and Diamond to the waiver wire. That will be the best Twins result.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      I think 5th starter spot is Worley's to lose given his NL record. I also suspect somebody will come up with a sore arm, hammy or shoulder which will give Diamond/Deduno a shot. The Twins should trade somebody when Meyer is ready (or Gibson).
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      I don't think there will be a 5th starter. I think there will be a rotation of 4 starters, 4 spot-starters/long relief, 4 short relief/set-up/LOOGY, and 1 closer. There will be plenty of starts for the "spot" guys to display their wares and allow the flexibility to use a LHP (or RHP) based on match-up consideration as well as "go with the hot hand", yet provide cover for not reusing a "spot" guy because he had a poor game. The cover story is "options", flexibility to permit Gardenhire to use anybody he wants without a media circus due to using someone else to start a game. We have heard many times the word "options" with respect to pitching (plus this was the tactic used ten years ago). There really isn't a "defined" #5 guy anyway, so why claim there is one?
    1. JP3700's Avatar
      JP3700 -
      My prediction is that Diamond wins the fifth spot.

      As for Swarzak being in the rotation, I would do the opposite and put him into higher leverage innings out of the bullpen.

      He was devastating against right handed batters last year.

      4.56 K/BB 57.0 GB% .540 OPS against 2.02 FIP

      He doesn't have a weapon against left handed batters so he's more exposed as a starter and his fastball/curve plays up out of the pen. He might be able to add a tick or two on the fastball as well in shorter outings.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      At this point, there are 3 injuries that have to happen before Gibson likely gets a shot. Possibly more if they were to decide Gilmartin, Johnson, or someone of that ilk is unexpectedly given preference.

      I was really hoping we'd see the payoff from allowing him to sample the bigs last year and come in ready from the start this year. It's disappointing we may have to wait awhile to see that and who we have to watch in the meantime.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I don't think we are going to agree. They have plenty of guys in AAA that could take Pelfrey's spot, I don't agree with the signing when you already have Deduno, Gibson, Meyer, Diamond, the lefty guy who's name I can't recall...I count 5 guys fighting for 2 spots. IMO, and I am not trying to convince anyone I am right, that's plenty, and that money and roster spot could have been used otherwise. We just disagree. No harm in that.
      For what it's worth, I agree with you.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      At this point, there are 3 injuries that have to happen before Gibson likely gets a shot. Possibly more if they were to decide Gilmartin, Johnson, or someone of that ilk is unexpectedly given preference.

      I was really hoping we'd see the payoff from allowing him to sample the bigs last year and come in ready from the start this year. It's disappointing we may have to wait awhile to see that and who we have to watch in the meantime.
      I'm guessing Gibson is the first man up. By my count he's one injury or a poor start of the season by whomever wins the 5th spot away from Target Field. If the unthinkable happens and all 5 starters are healthy and having careers years, he may have to wait for Correia to be dealt.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Good write-up Nick.

      I'm rooting for the Vanimal. Deduno to the pen. I'm afraid Diamond will be the odd-man out.

      My best hope for Gibson is that the Twins flip Correia for an asset at some point, and Gibson has pitched lights out in AAA.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      I'm guessing Gibson is the first man up. By my count he's one injury or a poor start of the season by whomever wins the 5th spot away from Target Field. If the unthinkable happens and all 5 starters are healthy and having careers years, he may have to wait for Correia to be dealt.
      He's also behind Worley, Diamond, and Deduno. Possibly also Swarzak, Gilmartin, Johnson. Remember, I said 3 injuries before he gets a spot and those first three are all very possibly ahead of him on the "if someone gets injured" list.

      At some point Gibson needs to learn how to get big leaguers out. It's disappointing to not get to see that all year and even more disappointing why he's not getting that chance.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      I'm guessing Gibson is the first man up. By my count he's one injury or a poor start of the season by whomever wins the 5th spot away from Target Field. If the unthinkable happens and all 5 starters are healthy and having careers years, he may have to wait for Correia to be dealt.
      Which sadly brings up the question of why TR signed Correia for 2 years again.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      He's also behind Worley, Diamond, and Deduno. Possibly also Swarzak, Gilmartin, Johnson. Remember, I said 3 injuries before he gets a spot and those first three are all very possibly ahead of him on the "if someone gets injured" list.
      Worley, Diamond and Deduno are only ahead of Gibson because of their contract situations, and that will all get sorted out at the start of the season. I'd say that as long as he starts well in Triple-A, Gibson will likely be first in line to sub in.

      Are people actually concerned about finding space for a deserving pitcher? Too much rotation stability would be a nice problem to have.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Worley, Diamond and Deduno are only ahead of Gibson because of their contract situations, and that will all get sorted out at the start of the season. I'd say that as long as he starts well in Triple-A, Gibson will likely be first in line to sub in.

      Are people actually concerned about finding space for a deserving pitcher? Too much rotation stability would be a nice problem to have.
      If that sorting out is two of them making the bullpen, then it still puts him behind three.

      I'd feel a lot better about that finding space if it wasn't made more difficult by at least two guys ahead of him that I'm less than thrilled are there at all. Stability that isn't very talented or young or with much upside is not the kind of stability I want blocking Gibson.
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