The Twins starting staff will again be anchored by Johann Santana. Unlike previous seasons, however, there are many questions about who will man spots two through five. Brad Radke has indicated he will most likely retire. After a disappointing season, the Twins elected to exercise their option on Carlos Silva for $4,350,000. Francisco Liriano is another potential Cy Young winner, however, his mysterious elbow injury will cause him to miss all of the 2007 season now that the decision has been made for him to have Tommy John surgery. That leaves the Twins with three big questions regarding their starting rotation, four if you consider how Silva pitched in 2006. They will be active in the free agency market and likely sign at least one veteran, similar to a few years ago when they signed Kenny Rogers to a one year contract. Assuming Silva returns to be more like the pitcher he was in 2005, that leaves at least two of the starting spots to be filled by young pitchers from the system, with the leading candidates **Boof Bonser, 24 (#8/#9), **Scott Baker, 24 (#7/#2), **Matt Garza, 22 (#1/#22) and **Glen Perkins, 23 (#15/#11).
The Rochester Red Wings (AAA) had a total of fourteen pitchers start a game during this past season, led by Pete Munro, 31 (#29/-) with 29 starts. Munro, who is a minor league veteran with some major league experience, was signed by the Twins for the second time during the last off season. Munro had a 8-12 record in 30 games with 1 complete game shutout (162.1ip, 4.32era, 1.45WHIP and 97K/47BB). Another veteran minor league pitcher was Mike Smith, 28 (#33/-), who had a brief stay with the Twins giving up 4 runs in 3 innings during his only start against Kansas City. Smith was one of the top starters in the International League, finishing with a 11-5 record in 28 games (24 starts) with two complete games and one shutout (150.2ip, 3.88era, 1.39WHIP and 110K/57BB). Munro and Smith are both six year minor league free-agents who have not been resigned by the Twins.
**J.D. Durbin, 24 (#4/#33) rebounded from a disappointing 2005 with an excellent start last season. The "Real Deal" developed another arm problem causing him to spend the last half of the season on the disabled list after beginning with a 4-3 record in 16 starts (89.0ip, 2.33era, 1.31WHIP and 81K/50BB). Durbin's injury was unfortunate as he would likely have gotten a chance to make some starts for the Twins who auditioned every top Rochester starter at some point last season. Durbin will be out of options in 2007, therefore, he could be traded or released from the 40-man roster should the Twins be uncertain of his status for 2007. Lefty Jason Miller, 23+ (#23/#26) began the season in the Wings bullpen, however, was converted to a starter at mid-season when the Twins began shuttling pitchers between Minnesota and Rochester. Miller finished the season with a 3-8 record in 32 games (15 starts) including a late season complete game, two hit shutout over division champion Scranton (99.1ip, 3.81era, 1.38WHIP and 87K/36BB). Miller, who is a six year minor league free agent, signed with the Twins for 2007 and should be in competition for a Twins bullpen spot next spring.
Three top prospects split time between Rochester and the Twins. The biggest surprise may have been Boof Bonser who got three separate auditions with the Twins, making the most of his last chance putting himself into contention for a spot in the 2007 rotation. While with the Wings, Bonser had a 6-4 record in 14 starts (86.1ip, 2.33era, 1.19WHIP and 83K/35BB). With the Twins, Bonser was 7-6 in 18 starts with a 4.22era and 84K/24BB in 100.1 innings. Scott Baker was given every opportunity to solidify his role as a starter with the Twins, however, failed to pitch as well as he had in his rookie season. Baker was returned to Rochester at mid-season where he was 5-4 in 12 starts (84.1ip, 2.67era, 1.21WHIP and 68K/25BB). While with the Twins, Baker was 5-8 in 16 starts with a 6.37era and 62K/16BB in 83.1 innings. All indications are that Baker should be as good as Bonser, however, he will need a strong spring to claim one of the open spots in the Twins rotation. Matt Garza pitched briefly for the Wings while rocketing through the system from Ft. Myers to Minnesota. While with the Wings, Garza was 3-1 in 5 starts (34.0ip, 1.85era, 0.79WHIP and 33K/7BB). With the Twins, Garza was 3-6 in 10 games (9 starts) with a 5.76era and 38K/23BB in 50.0 innings. Garza is the Twins top prospect in the system and with Bonser, are the leading candidates to win two spots in next season's starting rotation.
Various other pitchers had some starts for the Wings, including relievers Henry Bonilla and Matt Ford who will be discussed with the relievers. Dave Gassner, 27 (#50/#43) returned from the disabled list late in the season to make 5 starts for the Wings with a 2-0 record (26.2ip, 4.73era, 1.43WHIP and 14K/9BB). Gassner was waived from the 40-man roster and is a free-agent whom the Twins will likely not resign. Other pitchers who made several starts for the Wings included Kyle Lohse, Dennys Reyes, and Ryan Glynn, who made one start early in the season before being released. Glen Perkins was promoted from New Britain at the end of the season to make one start (4.1ip, 2.08era, 2.54WHIP and 3K/5BB) during the regular season. He also made several excellent starts in the playoffs before his promotion to Minnesota where he was a member of the Twins playoff roster.
The New Britain Rock Cats (AA) began their season with five of the top starters in the organization, three of whom were on the 40-man roster and another who had been a first round pick. In what was a most disappointing season for New Britain fans, the starters and hitters couldn't seem to put it together and the Cats finished in last place. Their top starter early in the season was Adam Harben, 22+ (#28/#8) who was traded to Chicago in late August for Phil Nevin. Harben, who held hitters to a .149Ave with a 0.98WHIP in 21.3 innings during April, finished with a 4-9 record in 29 games with 22 starts (122.2ip, 3.96era, 1.51WHIP and 74K/67BB). Harben had been on the 40-man roster and is now with the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL as a member of the Cubs organization. **Errol Simonitsch, 23+ (#30/#7) led the Rock Cats with 26 starts in 27 games with a 8-14 record (148.2ip, 4.48era, 1.51WHIP and 89K/39BB). Simonitsch is pitching for the Solar Sox in the AFL and depending on his performance in spring training, will either return to New Britain or move up to Rochester. Glen Perkins was both brilliant and disappointing for the Cats, often pitching excellent for four or five innings before giving up several runs in another Rock Cat loss. Perkins started 23 games and actually had decent numbers (117.1ip, 3.91era, 1.31WHIP and 131K/45BB) for someone with a 4-11 record that included 2 complete games and one shutout. After the Cats season ended, Perkins moved up to Rochester and on to Minnesota for the playoffs. The fourth starter at the beginning of the season was Justin Jones, 21 (#49/#27) who also pitched well in his early starts, however, couldn't get past the fifth inning and was returned to Ft. Myers after making 6 starts. Jones had a 2-2 record in his brief stay with the Cats (27.2ip, 3.25era, 1.63WHIP and 29K/15BB). Jones was waived off the 40-man roster after the season and it is unknown whether or not he will return in 2007. The fifth starter at the beginning of the season was Nick Blackburn, 24 (#32/#4) who was another starter who struggled at times following an excellent 2005. Blackburn was 7-8 in 30 games (19 starts) with 2 complete games and one shutout (132.1ip, 4.42era, 1.35WHIP and 81K/37BB). With this starting staff and up to four first round picks playing for the Cats, last year's performance is puzzling at best.
Several other pitchers made a few starts including Tristan Crawford, Justin Olson, Jay Sawatski, and John Thomas, who all will be discussed with the relievers. Like J.D. Durbin, Colby Miller, 24 (#62/#37) has a ton of potential, however, has been plagued with arm problems for the past several years. Miller spent much of this season on the disabled list prior to a rehab stint in Ft. Myers and two starts in 5 appearances with the Cats late in the season (17.2ip, 2.55era, 1.02WHIP and 8K/10BB). Colby was a six year minor league free agent who has resigned with the Twins for 2007 in what could be his final attempt to remain healthy and earn consideration for a promotion to Rochester or beyond.
Several pitchers moved up to New Britain during the season, including Matt Garza who was one of the top pitchers in the league in his brief stay at New Britain (57.1ip, 2.51era, 0.94WHIP and 68K/14BB) when he was 6-2 in 10 starts. Kevin Slowey, 21+ (#2/#3) also moved up from Ft. Myers, compiling a 4-3 record in 9 starts (59.1ip, 3.19era, 1.06WHIP and 52K/13BB). Slowey left the team in late August to pitch for Team USA in the qualifying tournament for the Olympics where he was the winning pitcher in the championship game over host Cuba. Following his trip with Team USA, Slowey joined the Red Wings in the playoffs picking up a win over Toledo in game two of the championship series. Slowey is currently one of the top pitchers on the Mesa staff in the AFL as he prepares for next season when he could join the Twins starting rotation by September, if not earlier. Lefty Brian Duensing, 23 (#21/#23) began the season in Beloit prior to moving quickly to Ft. Myers and then on to the Rock Cats where he was one of their top starters during the last few months of the season. Brian had a 1-2 record in 9 starts (49.1ip, 3.65era, 1.40WHIP and 30K/18BB). Duensing, who will likely begin the 2007 season in New Britain, has seen his stock rise with the Twins as he has moved quickly through the organization since being drafted in the third round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Nebraska.
Everyone expected the Ft. Myers Miracle (Hi-A) staff to be solid last spring, however, most did not expect that their top two starters would be amongst the best in minor league baseball. Matt Garza began his trip to the majors in Ft. Myers where he dominated the league with a 5-1 record in 8 starts (44.1ip, 1.42era, 0.86WHIP and 53K/11BB). Although Kevin Slowey remained with the Miracle until the all-star break, where he struck out three on nine pitches in his only inning and was selected the player of the game, Kevin was as dominant as Garza with a 4-2 record in 14 starts (89.1ip, 1.01era, 0.68WHIP and 99K/9BB). Nine walks in 89.1 innings with more than a strikeout an inning is reflective of the pitcher we will hear more about next spring when pitchers and catchers report to Florida. After Garza and Slowey moved up to New Britain, Anthony Swarzak, 20 (#13/#13) assumed the role of staff ace and did not disappoint. Swarzak, who had a 11-7 record in 27 starts (145.2ip, 3.27era, 1.31WHIP and 131K/60BB), pitched like an ace during their playoff drive and put the Miracle into position to win their playoff series giving up only one run in seven innings of their crucial third game versus Dunedin. Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to hold their 2-1 lead sending the Miracle home after round one. Even though he was only 20, Swarzak has made the progress to move on to New Britain next season and could be looking at a spot with the Twins by September, 2008 at the age of 22. Kyle Aselton, 23 (#42/#25) is another unheralded player who had the second highest number of starts (22) for the Miracle as he compiled a 9-5 record (97.1ip, 3.79era, 1.47WHIP and 90K/54BB). Aselton, who was an eleventh round pick in 2004, will likely move on to New Britain sometime next season. The fifth starter on the Miracle staff at the beginning of last season was John (J.T.) Thomas, 24+ (#54/#67), who spent some time at New Britain prior to being released last summer. Thomas started 5 games for the Miracle with a 1-1 record (24.2ip, 4.01era, 1.22WHIP and 24K/3BB).
Justin Jones was returned to Ft. Myers from the Rock Cats early last season, compiling a 1-3 record in 12 games (10 starts) prior to going on the disabled list (58.0ip, 5.20era, 1.75WHIP and 32K/22BB). Jones, who has been described by scouts as having very good stuff, has not pitched to his ability and it is questionable whether or not he will return to the Twins in 2007. Another pitcher who split time between starting and the bullpen was Josh Hill, 23 (#59/#46). Hill pitched in 33 games (13 starts) with a 6-6 record (107.0ip, 4.88era, 1.36WHIP and 80K/42BB). Several relievers had a few starts, including Ryan Callahan, **Jose Mijares, Dan Powers and Jay Sawatski who will all be discussed with the relievers next week. Two pitchers made a number of starts on rehab assignments, including Dave Gassner (3gs, 0W-1L, 12.0ip, 3.75era, 1.08WHIP and 2K/2BB) and Colby Miller (5gs, 3W-4L, 50.0ip, 5.22era, 1.48WHIP and 30K/25BB). One of the top pitching prospects in the organization is 2004 first round pick Jay Rainville, 20 (DNP/#12). Rainville developed a nerve injury during spring training and spent the entire season on the disabled list following surgery. Jay was pitching during the recently completed Fall Instructional League and all indications are that he will be back in top form next spring. He will likely begin the season in Ft. Myers where he pitched so well during the last half of the 2005 season when he was only 19.
Starters joining the team during the season included Brian Duensing, who began at Beloit and ended his season with New Britain. Duensing had a 2-5 record in 7 starts (40.1ip, 4.24era, 1.36WHIP and 33K/8BB). The third of the high school pitchers taken in the first and second rounds of the 2004 draft, Kyle Waldrop, 20 (#26/#28) was promoted to Ft. Myers last summer where he picked up a 3-2 record in 7 starts (8 games) including 1 complete game (45.1ip, 3.57era, 1.43WHIP and 25K/17BB). Waldrop will likely join Rainville in next spring's Miracle starting rotation, however, is a talented young prospect who should move up another leg in the organization sometime next summer. Another less known top prospect is Venezuelan Oswaldo Sosa, 20 (#6/#58) who had the sixth best performance of any pitcher in the system in 2006 following a #58 ranking in 2005. Sosa began the season with Beloit moving to Ft. Myers last summer where he had a 4-1 record in 6 starts (34.2ip, 2.08era, 1.18WHIP and 27K/18BB). Although he was only with the Miracle a short time, Sosa had the third best era on the Miracle team behind only Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza. The final pitcher to get a few starts at the end of the season was Jeff Manship, 21 (#11/-). Manship was a highly rated pitcher who most thought would return for his senior season at the University of Notre Dame, thus, he dropped to the Twins in the fourteenth round of the 2006 draft. Manship signed with the Twins late last summer after coach Paul Mainieri left Notre Dame for LSU. Manship began his career with the Twins GCL team and moved across the lot to the Miracle late in the season when they were in need of a starter. Manship had a 0-0 record in 3 starts (8.2ip, 2.08era, 1.04WHIP and 12K/2BB). Early indications are that Manship is a special prospect who may begin next season at Ft. Myers and will likely rise rapidly through the organization.
The Beloit Snappers (A) were a very young team last year and their pitching staff was no different. The starter with the most innings was lefty Ryan Mullins, 22 (#40/#15) who was somewhat inconsistent following his excellent season at Elizabethton following being picked in the third round in the 2005 draft. Mullins had a complete game shutout late in the season, finishing with a 5-8 record in 26 starts (156.1ip, 3.86era, 1.34WHIP and 139K/53BB). The three top starters at the beginning of the season, who all moved on to other teams during the season, were Kyle Waldrop, Brian Duensing, and Oswaldo Sosa. Waldrop had a 6-3 record with the Snappers in 18 starts (110.0ip, 3.85era, 1.15WHIP and 62K/17BB). Duensing was the first to move after beginning with a 2-3 record in 11 starts (70.1ip, 2.94era, 1.17WHIP and 55K/14BB). While with Beloit, Sosa had a 9-7 record in 20 starts (117.2ip, 2.75era, 1.17WHIP and 95K/36BB). The fifth starter at the beginning of the season, who had been the top pitcher in the Appalachian League in 2005, was Adam Hawes, 22+ (#60/#14) who is a tall Canadian with an excellent big breaking ball as his strikeout pitch. Hawes had a 4-4 record in 24 games (14 starts), however, injuries put him on the disabled list several times during the season causing his performance to drop substantially (87.1ip, 4.02era, 1.48WHIP and 65K/27BB).
Three of the most exciting young prospects in the Twins organization were on the Beloit staff this past season. Alexander Smit, 20 (#25/#21) is a Dutch native who was signed as a sixteen year old. Smit began 2005 in Beloit before being returned to Elizabethton where he averaged nearly 2 strikeouts per inning working out of the bullpen. He began 2006 in Beloit's bullpen, however, became a special pitcher after he was inserted into the starting rotation last July. In late June, Smit had a 2-1 record with a 4.45era/1.61WHIP in 32.1ip out of the bullpen with 32 hits and 38K/20BB. Smit finished the season with a 7-2 record in 34 games (13 starts) with (108.1ip, 2.99era, 1.20WHIP, 77 hits and 141K/53BB). As the Snappers made their drive for the playoffs with their entire infield on the disabled list, Smit went 5-1 in 76.0ip with a 2.37era, 1.03WHIP and 103K/33BB. Smit should begin next year in Ft. Myers and a move to New Britain is not out of the question if he pitches like he did this past July and August. Eduardo Morlan, 20 (#12/#24) was the Twins third round pick in the 2004 draft. Morlan has had to deal with nagging arm problems the past few years, however, this young pitcher reportedly has a 100mph fastball which earns him a spot on most peoples top 10 prospect lists. It is unclear whether Morlan will eventually be a starter or reliever as he split his season with 18 starts in 28 appearances. Morlan had a 5-5 record with 1 complete game and 2 saves (106.1ip, 2.29era, 1.09WHIP and 125K/38BB). The most successful pitcher in the Twins organization the past two seasons has been Yohan Pino, 22 (#10/#31). Pino pitched much of last season out of the Snappers bullpen, joining the rotation late last summer after Waldrop, Duensing and Sosa moved on to Ft. Myers. Pino, who has a combined 33-5 record the past three seasons at the Dominican Summer League, Elizabethton and Beloit, was 14-2 this year in 42 games with 7 starts (94.0ip, 1.91era, 0.95WHIP and 99K/20BB). Pino is another of the Twins young stars who will compete for a spot in what may be a very crowded rotation at Ft. Myers next spring…with Aselton, Rainville, Waldrop, Sosa, Manship, Mullins, Hawes, Smit, Morlan and Pino all candidates for the starting rotaton!
Zach Ward, 22 (#19/-) was acquired from the Reds in the Kyle Lohse trade. Ward had a record of 7-0 in 20 games with a 2.29era and 0.97WHIP with 95K/37BB in 114.0 innings with Dayton prior to the trade. Following the trade, Ward struggled with Beloit when he was 1-4 in 6 games with a 5.93era and 1.33WHIP with 23K/11BB in 30.1 innings. For the season in the Midwest League, Ward had a 8-4 record in 26 games (144.1ip, 3.06era, 1.05WHIP and 118K/48BB). Ward will likely join the above group in competition for a starting spot at Ft. Myers next spring. The other pitcher making a few starts for the Snappers was Jose Cordero, who will be discussed with the relievers.
A strong starting staff led the Elizabethton Twins (Rookie) to the Appalachian League Championship Series for a second consecutive season. The leader of the staff in innings pitched and wins was Dominican Republic native Jose Lugo, 21+ (#46/-), who had been selected by the Twins last off-season as a Minor League Rule 5 selection. Lugo, who appeared in 28.1 innings of relief with a 1-4 record and 4.45era for the Beloit Snappers prior to the Appalachian League season, had a 8-4 record with the Twins in 13 starts (73.1ip, 3.56era, 1.25WHIP and 70K/21BB). Alex Burnett, 18+ (#35/#56) is one of the top young prospects in the Twins system. Burnett, who didn't turn 19 until late July, had a 4-3 record in 13 starts with 1 complete game shutout (71.1ip, 4.04era, 1.11WHIP and 71K/13BB). Jose Castillo, 21 (#48/#55) is a Venezuelan who was also 4-3 in 12 starts (71.0ip, 3.17era, 1.23WHIP and 56K/23BB). Brian Kirwin, 18+ (#64/0) is a young man who was considered a potential first round pick in the 2005 draft, that is before he injured his knee playing football his senior year of high school. He was considered a lock to attend UCLA and fell to the Twins in the eleventh round. The Twins were able to sign him prior to leaving for college, however, he did not pitch until this season when he was assigned to Elizabethton. He was brilliant at times, however, somewhat inconsistent which could be expected due to his not pitching a lot since his junior year in high school. Kirwin was 5-5 in 13 starts (64.0ip, 5.63era, 1.41WHIP and 58K/23BB). The final starter on the staff was 2006 ninth round pick, Sean Land, 21 (#57/-), who is a University of Kansas product. Land compiled a 3-5 record in 11 starts (60.2ip, 4.45era, 1.40WHIP and 57K/27BB). This entire starting staff will likely move on to Beloit for the start of the 2007 season.
Several relievers also got a few starts, including Matt Fox, Patrick Bryant, Brandon McConnell and Armando Gabino. The first three will be discussed with the relievers and Gabino was released prior to the end of the season. Fox merits special mention because he missed all of 2005 after being a first round supplemental pick in 2004 and could be a top prospect if he recovers fully from his injuries.
The Gulf Coast League Twins (Rookie) staff was led by 2006 third round pick Tyler Robertson, 18 (#61/-), who had a team leading 4 wins with 2 losses in 10 starts (48.2ip, 4.25era, 1.42WHIP and 54K/15BB). The ace of the staff was David Bromberg, 18 (#44/-) who had a 3-3 record in 10 starts. Bromberg, who was a draft and follow after being drafted in the thirty-second round of the 2005 draft, also had 2 complete games and 1 shutout (50.2ip, 2.66era, 1.18WHIP and 31K/18BB). Omar Alcala, 19 (#68/-) is a lefty from the Dominican Republic who had a 1.46era in the DSL in 2005. Alcala had a 3-1 record in 10 starts (53.2ip, 4.02era, 1.34WHIP and 41K/26BB). The tallest starter in the system and maybe all of baseball is 7'1" Dutch native Loek Van Mil, 21 (#70/-). Van Mil had a 1-2 record in 10 games with 8 starts (43.2ip, 3.30era, 1.56WHIP and 24K/17BB). Another draft and follow from 2005 was twenty-second round pick Curt Leavitt, 19 (#79/-) who had a 0-2 record in 9 games with 6 starts (32.0ip, 7.59era, 1.91WHIP and 33K/16BB). The third draft and follow from 2005 was thirteenth round pick Michael Allen, 19 (#73/-). Allen had a 0-2 record in 6 starts (22.0ip, 4.91era, 1.68WHIP and 22K/8BB). Others making a few starts were David Gassner, who made 2 starts on a rehab assignment, and reliever Adam Revelette. Robertson, Van Mil and Allen were all in this fall's Instructional League. With the exception of Van Mil, who may move up to Beloit next spring, all of this group will likely move on to Elizabethton in 2007.
With Santana and Silva the only returning veteran's for 2007, two or three starters will likely be selected from amongst the most experienced prospects including Bonser, Garza, Baker and Perkins. Two other prospects, Durbin and Slowey, could join this group with an excellent spring training. None of the other large group of top prospects will be ready to help the Twins until 2008 at the earliest.
The top ten rated starting pitchers in the system, based on their comparative performances during 2006 were:
Matt Garza (#1 - 149.887pts) - Ft. Myers, New Britain, Rochester, Minnesota
Kevin Slowey (#2 - 148.509pts) - Ft. Myers, New Britain, Team USA, Rochester
J. D. Durbin (#4 - 119.957pts) - Rochester
Oswaldo Sosa (#6 - 119.270pts) - Beloit, Ft. Myers
Scott Baker (#7 - 119.083pts) - Rochester, Minnesota
Boof Bonser (#8 - 118.743pts) - Rochester, Minnesota
Yohan Pino (#10 - 111.210pts) - Beloit
Eduardo Morlan (#12 - 109.628pts) - Beloit
Anthony Swarzak (#13 - 107.178pts) - Ft. Myers
Glen Perkins (#15 - 106.354pts) - New Britain, Rochester, Minnesota
*Jeff Manship (#11 - 109.987pts) - Was ranked 11th, however, pitched only 14.1 innings for the GCL Twins and Ft. Myers Miracle