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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. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      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...
      And therein lies the crux of the dispute I think and why we won't see eye to eye on this. Many of us see 2014 as a lost season without a chance of contending. Since we believe that to be true all that really matters is who will make this team better in 2015 and beyond. I for one could care less if the Twins win 75 games or 65 this season. In fact I'd probably prefer the 65 where they'll at least get a better draft choice as a reward for the terrible season.

      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 don't think anyone would complain about too many starting pitching options if we had say the Cardinals' rotation. That's a great problem to have. On the other hand the Twins only have 1 pitcher that would even get a start in the playoffs for most teams. I fail to see how having six #5 starters is a good thing. I do see how it quickly could become a bad thing though if it prevents a highly touted prospect from coming up and getting a crack at the rotation.

      Let's not pretend that the Twins will just cut a player because a prospect (say Alex Meyer) is suddenly ready.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      I don't think anyone would complain about too many starting pitching options if we had say the Cardinals' rotation. That's a great problem to have. On the other hand the Twins only have 1 pitcher that would even get a start in the playoffs for most teams. I fail to see how having six #5 starters is a good thing. I do see how it quickly could become a bad thing though if it prevents a highly touted prospect from coming up and getting a crack at the rotation.

      Let's not pretend that the Twins will just cut a player because a prospect (say Alex Meyer) is suddenly ready.
      The Twins don't have six #5 starters, and the next time a highly touted prospect who is deemed ready is blocked, will be the first time.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      The Twins don't have six #5 starters, and the next time a highly touted prospect who is deemed ready is blocked, will be the first time.
      Except for last year, when the "youthful" Kyle Gibson was blocked by the likes of PJ Walters, Cole DeVries and Pedro Hernandez, instead of being called up in May. And Alex Meyer certainly won't be rushed this year, at least not until all the out-of option guys prove whether or not they deserve to be around- I even expect at least one or more of the recent offseason pitching acquisitions and/or Trevor May to get a start before Meyer does.
    1. TC Stunner's Avatar
      TC Stunner -
      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?
      I think the Pelfrey signing was a good one. He's now a year removed from TJ surgery. If he pitches like he did before the injury the Twins got him at a bargain and could potential trade him for a decent piece. If he struggles again then the Twins don't have that much invested in him. I personally think he's gonna flourish this year. As far as the 5th spot goes, I think its Diamond's to lose. The Twins want at least one lefty in the rotation so if all 3 pitch similarly I think Diamond gets the spot.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Unless his shoulder is gimpy... Deduno is the 5th guy and potentially the 1st guy.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      The Twins don't have six #5 starters, and the next time a highly touted prospect who is deemed ready is blocked, will be the first time.
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      Unless his shoulder is gimpy... Deduno is the 5th guy and potentially the 1st guy.
      Nolasco's potential post-season start was nixed by the Dodgers- is Correia much more likely to get that start? And not to put words in Ox's mouth, but based on last year's numbers, Hughes, Pelfrey, Worley, Diamond have to actually improve to be rated as #5 starter-level,

      Deduno has to stay healthy for a full season to be considered better than a #5/spot starter, while Correia left Pittsburgh because he lost out the #5 starter spot with the Pirates.

      That's the 6 guys I think Oxtung is referring to- with good reason.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      If Deduno is heathy I just don't see Worley or Diamond taking that 5th spot, and it sounds like Deduno is going to be healthy. I like Diamond better out of the pen than Worley, but I'd hate to lose either to waivers. Hopefully full rosters prevent either from getting claimed if it comes to that.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Pelfrey to the pen and DeDuno or Worley get the 4th spot, while Gibson and the rest battle it out for the remaining spot
    1. PseudoSABR's Avatar
      PseudoSABR -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      26 is the prime of a career, and is not young. The data is out there.
      That's totally bunk. Rookies begin typically begin 23-25, with Twins being the most conservative, so add an extra year of development. As this article shows the prime age for baseball players is anywhere between 27 and 31.

      Add in the context of injury and a college player, well, Gibson is hardly in his "prime."

      As you say, the data is out there. Are you actually doing the research? Or just looking for what confirms your assumptions? I don't mean to be harsh, but as far as digging through the numbers, you're not exactly proving your diligence.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Except for last year, when the "youthful" Kyle Gibson was blocked by the likes of PJ Walters, Cole DeVries and Pedro Hernandez, instead of being called up in May. And Alex Meyer certainly won't be rushed this year, at least not until all the out-of option guys prove whether or not they deserve to be around- I even expect at least one or more of the recent offseason pitching acquisitions and/or Trevor May to get a start before Meyer does.
      You are correct in that PJ Walters and Pedro Hernandez were on the roster for parts of May last year. When Gibson finally did get to the majors, what in Gibson's performance said that it was a mistake to leave him down there?
      That he pitched good games with good results is not an excuse. Liam Hendricks has done the same.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      Pelfrey to the pen and DeDuno or Worley get the 4th spot, while Gibson and the rest battle it out for the remaining spot
      I have zero confidence the Twins will give a rookie a spot over a well compensated veteran. No matter what the performances are and that's a huge part of the problem: this isn't going to be a true competition for 2 or 3 slots. 4 will be gifted and you can make a case that only one really deserves it.
    1. howieramone's Avatar
      howieramone -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      I have zero confidence the Twins will give a rookie a spot over a well compensated veteran. No matter what the performances are and that's a huge part of the problem: this isn't going to be a true competition for 2 or 3 slots. 4 will be gifted and you can make a case that only one really deserves it.
      Who wants true competition? I think most teams would much prefer to have all 5 starting pitchers set prior to ST. I would like to hear a case, that only one of Nolasco, Hughes, Correia, and Pelfrey deserve a spot in the starting rotation.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      According to reports from For Myers, Deduno is throwing bullpens at full speed. If so, he has to be the favorite. His numbers last year were actully much better than the 3+ Era suggests. He hurt his shoulder in August and continued to pitch with it for a few games. Prior to that, his ERA was sub 3. He's the only one of the the three who gets easy outs, which will be hard to come by in 2014.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      The Twins don't have six #5 starters, and the next time a highly touted prospect who is deemed ready is blocked, will be the first time.
      I wonder if the Twins will wait until July so Meyers wouldn't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      You are correct in that PJ Walters and Pedro Hernandez were on the roster for parts of May last year. When Gibson finally did get to the majors, what in Gibson's performance said that it was a mistake to leave him down there?
      That he pitched good games with good results is not an excuse. Liam Hendricks has done the same.
      Liam Hendriks pitched exactly two games with good results, over a three- year span in which he received six opportunities and dozens of starts. Gibson's debut was short and spotty. Coming off of elbow surgery, he was nearing his innings limit by the time he was called up. He pitched his best innings in the minors, when his arm was still fresh.

      Last year was his year to build arm strength. This year is his year to produce. They will find a way to make that happen by May at the latest
      .
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Liam Hendriks pitched exactly two games with good results, over a three- year span in which he received six opportunities and dozens of starts. Gibson's debut was short and spotty. Coming off of elbow surgery, he was nearing his innings limit by the time he was called up. He pitched his best innings in the minors, when his arm was still fresh.

      Last year was his year to build arm strength. This year is his year to produce. They will find a way to make that happen by May at the latest
      .
      Bingo! Once Gibson passed the arb date,in May, it made absolutely no sense for him to waste his best remaining innings in AAA. He builds his arm strength in the majors in May, he also learns more about what will and won't work for him. Putting Pelphrey on a AAA rehab assignment and replacing him with Gibson last May also would have been another possible wise move. It seems a little spendthriftingly shortsighted to hold Gibson back just to avoid potential Super 2 status.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by thetank View Post
      I wonder if the Twins will wait until July so Meyers wouldn't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season.
      Isn't the arb date some time in May, with the Super 2 date determined some time in June based on compiling all of the possible Super 2 candidates? (Much like Gibson last year).
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      I'm hoping it will be Deduno. Sure he had way too many walks, but he had the stuff to get himself out of jams. I love the movement of his pitches as players can't dig in on him. If Diamond is off by an inch, it gets pounded. Worley was not regarded as a big-time prospect in Philly and I'm afraid his good years will prove to be more aberrations than the norm. I also agree that Swarzak should be given at least a shot at starting. We all have to remember that we're not talking dominant, get-back-in-contention starting pitching here. Nolasco and Hughes have the ability to be decent #3 starters, but until we get the young studs up here playing .500 ball is the biggest dream Twins fans can have. And the scary thing is the pitching appears to be better than our hitting this year. 2015 can't get here soon enough for me.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Gibson has to get a long look in the majors this year. Did you know he's only one month younger than Worley?

      Whatever a player's prime age is, Gibson is rapidly approaching it, and there's not much else he can do in the minors to show that he's ready.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      And therein lies the crux of the dispute I think and why we won't see eye to eye on this. Many of us see 2014 as a lost season without a chance of contending. Since we believe that to be true all that really matters is who will make this team better in 2015 and beyond. I for one could care less if the Twins win 75 games or 65 this season. In fact I'd probably prefer the 65 where they'll at least get a better draft choice as a reward for the terrible season.
      Exactly. We disagree. And I cannot as a fan say that I would want my team to have another awful season and that should be the purpose of a major league team.

      My premise is that the Twins should try to be competitive each and every season and if they are not there is something wrong. Also, with the free agent pitcher signings that Ryan did, they better be competitive in 2014.

      If someone wants to watch baseball for the sake of watching baseball and not having his team win but see his team develop players, or be entertained, there are plenty of minor and/or independent league teams to follow.

      Minor League teams' purpose is to develop players.
      Independent League teams' purpose is entertainment.
      Major League teams' purpose is winning.\

      But that is just my opinion.
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