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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. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      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.
      The least likely scenario is that everybody pitches just great. Most likely somebody will look awful, another guy will hurt himself, etc. We've all seen Gibson's stuff, which is borderline electric. He throws harder than the three main 5th starter candidates. In fact, he may be the guy that takes the place of one of the top 4, if one of them falters.

      That said, with so many unknowns it's kind of futile to guess how it will shake out this spring. The Twins now have even more borderline starters, so worrying about one guy getting hurt isn't quite such a big deal.

      Shoot, they're going to lose at least 85 again, aren't they?
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      I wasn't really in favor or against the Pelfrey sighing to be honest. I just felt after Nolasco and Hughes signed that bringing back Pelfrey was rather redundant since we had Correia. Not that they are exactly the same pitcher with the same style or stuff, just similar in quality level; a lot of starts and innings with a chance for double digit wins but about the same 4th or 5th starter level overall. I was hoping for one of a couple of LH's on the market just to break up the rotation.

      But that ship has not only sailed, it has a strong headwind and is far out to see. And frankly, while not my ideal choice, I can't argue with the Twins thinking. And really, while debate is understandable, no-one else really should argue as well. Not after three years of loses and aweful SP filled with not only poor performance, but disappointment and injury besides. Brining someone back who has experience, at least some solid, proven seasons, wants to come back and is a quality teammate, and who should invariably be better a year removed from his surfer comeback, is not a negative signing. Especially at an affordable price and only one year locked n after this one. (Easier to cut and run if necessary)

      I often make jokes about my crystal ball being in the shop. But if the Twins had one that worked, and KNEW Deduno would be back 100%, that Worley and Diamond would BOTH come in healthy and great shape and KNEW they would pitch to previous standards, and KNEW Gibson was strong and ready to stake a claim from day one, Pelfrey wouldn't have been signed. In fact, Correia and his solid performance from last season would have probably been moved somewhere else already, or at least soon.

      But there is no guarantees of any of that taking place. So I can't begrudge additional depth with the Pelfrey signing. Furthermore, had they not signed him, and the aforementioned SP candidates fallen on their faces, everyone would be complaining they should have signed additional depth this past offseason.

      All that being said, I will argue all day long Gibson is still a young pitcher. Not only is he far from ancient at 26, but he essentially missed a full season due to injury and rehab. You could argue his body and arm are only 25, if not younger, as many TJ patients claim their arms feel better than the years before. And he still only, really, has a little over one full season in AAA behind him. Last year was his "rehab" year. He was on pitch limitations, showed inconsistencies, polished things up, and then got promoted. Surprise, surprise, after an OK start or two he didn't look ready. Was he tiring? Was he trying too hard? Like many young players was he just a bit overwhelmed his first time up?

      I'd love Gibson to come in tossing bullets, take command of the #5 spot and never look back. But even a few weeks at Rochester to continue stretching out, getting his legs under him while one of the other candidates begins the season in that slot, and then coming up strong and confidant because someone is injured, performs poorly, or he just forces the Twins to make a move, does nothing to detract from his future.

      There are reasons to support Deduno, Worley and Diamond for the 5th spot. Deduno has the most nasty stuff, and if fully healthy, even if shows no improvement over what he did last year, he'd still be a quality and viable starter. Probably the best of the three. Worley was very solid initially with the Phillies before running in to an injury bug that slowed him. Then slowed him even more with his nightmare 2013. Healthy and slimmed down, we might see the pitcher we hoped to get, maybe even better. Diamond is LH, had a good milb track record despite average stuff, and was a real stalwart in 2012 until injury slowed him to close the season, and apparently affected him physically/mentally in 2013.

      As has been pointed out in this thread, and by myself elsewhere before, very few teams escape ST with all projected SP's 100% healthy to begin a season. There are blisters, pulled muscles, twinges, etc. I think it's very possible at least one of our SP's begins the season the DL. There might be room to stash one pitcher n the pen, to at least begin the season.

      I hate to simply cut bait on a young arm that has at least some potential, and has shown at least some MLB success, (which has been discussed at some length on TD threads). But I am also opposed to keeping those players around at the expense of other young, talented players; Thielbar, Tonkin and Pressly to name a couple. (Then again, you can break out the Gibson argument again for the bullpen)

      And really, how many teams have let go a potential #5 SP and end getting burned by it?

      I guess my whole point is things will tend to play themselves out. It's way too early to become stressed out as to what will happen and who deserves what. Don't misunderstand, speculation and hope and debate are awesome. And until we begin to actually play games, it's all we have. Lol

      But for the first time in a very long time, we have real depth and real options at our team's disposal. And that doesn't even include the likes of Meyer and May on the horizon.
    1. wabene's Avatar
      wabene -
      Quote Originally Posted by Monkeypaws View Post
      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.
      I'm with MP. The whole point of upgrading the talent is some lose out. Diamond is out. When somebody gets hurt or unperforms move on to the next. Let's create some competition and urgency for these guys. A job on a mlb staff should have to be fought for. Last couple years we complain about these guys so if we lose one or two what's the problem?
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Lest we forget, whoever starts the season on a 12 man staff, is not necessarily who is on staff come May or June.

      Just a hunch, but knowing from past experience how these things play out, and how recovering players claim to be ready to ready only to have set backs and need more time, and how teams can play with rosters a bit, I expect Deduno to spend a couple weeks or so in EST and/or milb rehab with Gibson at Rochester to begin the season, with Worley and Diamond on the ML roster at the expense of 2 of the three of Thielbar, Pressly and Tonkin. It's possible they could even alternate between the rotation and the pen early on.

      I would expect at least one to traded or waived a month in to the season, with subsequent promotion. And I believe Gibson to be up by first of June due to the same, or injury, with a trade or Correia a strong possibility by then.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Quote Originally Posted by JP3700 View Post
      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.
      Good stuff regarding Swarzak, it could make Burton (more) expendable. I hope someone not named Scott Diamond wins that fifth spot, though.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      All the complaining about Correia and Pelfrey will dissipate if one of them comes in and mows down lineups. In any case, as assets, veteran pitchers are highly tradeable commodities, especially if they are still throwing well in July. I like what the Twins have done, and if they have a surplus, that's a great problem to have. Likely though, one or two of the veterans will either suck or get injured and then it will be time to try the kids. Never have enough pitching, especially quality, veteran starters. So open the stable doors and let's see who can bring it in '14.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      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...
      The point is that other than Gibson maybe (and Meyer - whom the Twins will not make super-2 by any means) nobody of those is as good as Pelfrey. And Pelfrey is six and a half months younger than Deduno (for reference.) And if someone is knocking on the door, what they owe Correia will be negligible enough to jettison him mid-season if not performing.

      Again (as with the centerfield question) the question should be who of this bunch of pitchers will make the Twins a better team if he wins that spot and I think that's Worley, because he has the highest potential of the non-option bunch... Frankly, I think that behind Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey, the Twins would be better off with Worley and Meyer in the last 2 spots, but this is not happening any time soon...
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      I find it preposterous to complain about too many starting pitching options after last season. It's great that TR isn't banking on Deduno to repeat last year (or be healthy which is yet to proved) or Gibson to be ready, or Diamond to repeat 2012, or every NL soft tosser to be AL caliber. Someone will fail/get injured.

      Gibson will become a regular starter this season, but at least it doesn't have to be opening day or we can't fill out the roster.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      And I agree with Thrylos about Pelfrey. Once he hit his stride and before he tuckered out, he was by far the best pitcher on the staff. 2 years after surgery brings me optimism.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      Most will disagree with me, but my money is on Pelfrey to lead this rotation. I don't get all the whining about signing him at all. If there's no injuries Deduno takes the 5th spot. Worley or Diamond will come down with hangnails or something to hit the dl. I'm not sure how that works for waivers.

      Those wanting Gibson again, like last year will be disappointed. He could be trade bait, but I don't see anything special in him. I'd bring up Meyer before considering Gibson. Guess we'll find out sometime this summer.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Halsey Hall View Post
      Those wanting Gibson again, like last year will be disappointed. He could be trade bait, but I don't see anything special in him. I'd bring up Meyer before considering Gibson. Guess we'll find out sometime this summer.
      If you saw Gibson take a no hitter into the ninth with filthy stuff against a very good hitting team away, like I did last summer, I bet your mind might change...
    1. lee_the_twins_fan's Avatar
      lee_the_twins_fan -
      Diamond will be the 5th starter, IMO.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      And I agree with Thrylos about Pelfrey. Once he hit his stride and before he tuckered out, he was by far the best pitcher on the staff. 2 years after surgery brings me optimism.
      Ok, technically that is true and I do hope Pelfrey will becomes stronger and more reliable now that he's further removed from TJ, but stating that he hit his stride and was the 2nd best pitcher on that staff is really just saying he was the 2nd least awful starter they had last year, for awhile anyway.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sconnie View Post
      I find it preposterous to complain about too many starting pitching options after last season. It's great that TR isn't banking on Deduno to repeat last year (or be healthy which is yet to proved) or Gibson to be ready, or Diamond to repeat 2012, or every NL soft tosser to be AL caliber. Someone will fail/get injured.

      Gibson will become a regular starter this season, but at least it doesn't have to be opening day or we can't fill out the roster.
      I think you might be misconstruing the other side of the issue. It's not having too many options, it's having low-upside options possibly blocking Gibson/Meyer. Most fans won't automatically freak out just because Worley, Deduno or Diamond win the 5th spot. What some of us are worried about is the Twins not taking the best 12 pitchers north just because some guys are out of options.

      P.S. I might freak out if it's Diamond.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      I also predict that Pelfrey will be better than Correia, Norasko and Hughes. I don't know about the battle for the 5 spot but will also predict that Meyer will be at the top of the rotation by season end. I am hoping Gibson isn't far behind.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "all three are out of options" Are there options besides release, waiver wire or trade? Can the odd one or two simply agree to assignment to the minors even though they are "out of options". After all, they may still figure their best chances are to be patient and work their way on to the Twins staff rather than take their chances trying to break into a better rotation.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      "all three are out of options" Are there options besides release, waiver wire or trade? Can the odd one or two simply agree to assignment to the minors even though they are "out of options". After all, they may still figure their best chances are to be patient and work their way on to the Twins staff rather than take their chances trying to break into a better rotation.
      They would have to pass through waivers to elect to go to the minors. Given their track records, I think it's highly unlikely that any of them would pass through waivers. It's pretty much three options: we DL them, they make the roster, or they get claimed on waivers. I don't see any other way.
    1. scottz's Avatar
      scottz -
      I have been having this discussion with a co-worker for the last couple of weeks. I think - assuming the good health of all arms - that Deduno gets the 5th spot, Worley goes to the pen, and Diamond is the victim of zero options remaining. Like many have said here, the likelihood of my stated assumption seems pretty low, so that scenario probably is irrelevant. But if it comes to be, that my predicted outcome.

      I feel like they would have stopped their free agent pursuits at 2 signings if they were unprepared to let someone go if they had to. I think no matter what, Deduno is retained, simply because of the 3 out of options, he has the most recent success.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      "all three are out of options" Are there options besides release, waiver wire or trade? Can the odd one or two simply agree to assignment to the minors even though they are "out of options". After all, they may still figure their best chances are to be patient and work their way on to the Twins staff rather than take their chances trying to break into a better rotation.
      Out of options means that a player must be put on waivers so that another team may claim said player. If unclaimed, he can be outrighted to a minor league affliate or released. Players that have sufficient major leauge service time, if unclaimed, may elect to become a free agent.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      26 is the prime of a career, and is not young. The data is out there.
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