For the last few years, the majority of Minnesota’s rotation has been a piecing together of major league veterans striving to simply give the team plenty of innings over the course of the season. 2017 may be the last of those seasons though, because there are a number of talented youngsters expected to be MLB-ready by the middle of this year and early in 2018 as well.
Jose Berrios was the first of those young arms to make his MLB debut, starting 14 games for the Twins last year. The likes of Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, and Aaron Slegers are expected to join him throughout the year. For the time being though, get ready to see Berrios and a handful of other guys you’ve probably seen pitch in other major league uniforms.
1. Ervin Santana: Once a hyped arm out of the Dominican Republic, Santana has never reached the expectations that many had of him. His career 4.09 ERA after 12 years in the big leagues is indicative of that, as his is rather unexciting 2.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season was one of two halves for the now 34-year-old, owning a 4.06 ERA prior to the All-Star break before reducing that to 2.65 down the stretch.
Opposing hitters put together a .224 batting average against Santana in his final 88 1/3 innings of the season, striking out a solid 8.3 batters per nine during that span. The right-hander enters the third year of his four-year pact with Minnesota, a contract that will likely take him through to the end of his career. Despite his ups and downs, Santana remains the logical opening day starter, with the Twins having a rather unimpressive group of starters pitching behind him in the rotation.
2. Kyle Gibson: A former first round pick, Gibson’s rise to the major leagues has been slow and steady, but now he’s providing the Twins organization with valuable innings and is hoping to turn himself into a reliable starting pitcher. Though 2016 won’t be a year that Gibson will back upon very fondly, there were moments where we caught a glimpse of his potential.
The right-hander had to wait over a month to earn his first victory of the year, but seven innings of five-hit, shutout baseball against the Chicago White Sox was worthy of a victory. So too was the game in Boston on July 22nd when Gibson allowed one run on two hit across eight innings. At 29, Gibson still has a few years on his side to hold down the fort in Minnesota before the organization ushers in its talented array of young arms making their way through the minor leagues.
3. Phil Hughes: 2016 is a year the 30-year-old Hughes would rather forget. After a disappointing start to the season that saw him surrender at least three runs in six of his first seven starts, Hughes was hit on the kneecap while pitching in relief in a game against Miami. That incident ended his season prematurely, but the reports are that Hughes will be ready to pitch when pitchers and catchers report to spring training later this month.
After a couple of promising years with the Yankees, Hughes has endured a number of ups and downs with the Twins. His first year with the organization back in 2014 was a good one, holding down a 3.52 ERA across his 32 starts. That year, Hughes had a memorable second half run that saw opponents hit just .243 against him as he struck out 78 and walked just five. A repeat of those numbers is what Minnesota will be counting on if they are to have any sort of success in 2017.
4. Hector Santiago: 2016 was certainly a year of two halves for Santiago, who began the season in Anaheim before joining the Twins on August 1st. The left-handed hurler started the campaign on a really good note as opponents hit just .212 against him in the first month. He was even better in July, winning a perfect six of six starts and holding hitters to a .202 batting average, averaging 8.7 strikeouts per nine across his 35 1/3 innings of work.
That led the Angels to trade him to Minnesota, a move that only led to things going downhill for the veteran of six major league seasons. During his 11 starts and 61 1/3 innings as a Twin, Santiago’s strikeouts per nine innings dropped to just 5.4, while he averaged almost two homers allowed per nine and 9.5 hits per nine as well. The only thing that got better was the 29-year-old’s walk rate. Most notably, opposing hitters went from having difficulty with Santiago in July to having a .327 average against him in August. 2017 will be something of a make or break year for Santiago, who will become a free agent at seasons’ end.
5. Jose Berrios: Prior to the 2015 season, Berrios began the year as the Twins’ top pitching prospect and number two overall. He had a great season at both double-A and triple-A that year, putting together a 2.87 ERA across 166 1/3 innings. He had a very handy 9.5 strikeouts per nine while walking only about two batters every nine innings.
Despite a strong showing with triple-A Rochester last year, he couldn’t piece things together during his debut campaign with Minnesota. The right-hander limped to an 8.02 ERA in only 58 1/3 innings, walking nearly as many batters as he struck out. Berrios also allowed well above a hit per inning and gave up 12 home runs. With Minnesota in a transitioning phase, they have to keep giving the young 22-year-old opportunities, but the biggest focus for Berrios in 2017 should be to limit the number of free passes he surrenders. If he can start keeping runners off base, he should be able to improve upon the disappointing start to his career.