The Minnesota Twins have built a reputation over the past few years as a franchise that can build promise within their organization. They have a plethora of offensive talent that is seemingly ready to not just arrive to the big leagues, but make a statement in the process. Players such as Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Royce Lewis (pre-injury) headline the top of most lists, giving Minnesota not only a ton of talent to look forward to, but also wait on for the right moment. Digging deeper, however, there grows an underlying, under-appreciated and optimistic trend. Locked within their prospect lists are a ton of offensive stars but it’s also their pitchers with promising futures.
While on the surface the positional players get a lot of the attention, when you analyze the lists, you’ll notice there’s a ton of pitching promise for the future, which could come to fruition within the next year or so. This is an organization that hasn’t normally spent big money on top name free agents and usually tries to go the sales rack route. Players like J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda aren’t necessarily names that will knock your socks off, but they seemingly get the job done. Sprinkled into that, we have Randy Dobnak, almost as an escape hatch for the team considering the source from where he was signed.
My point is, with Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda as your SP1 and SP2, that’s a pretty good base for a starting point with any rotation. They both give you the innings and strikeouts that any team would love, with the reliability and track record to give a team the confidence they need going forward. However, with Maeda signed until the end of the 2023 season and with Berrios due for Arbitration after this year, it remains to be seen for how long these two stay with the organization. While I don’t see Berrios moving anywhere else for awhile, it’s good to remember that this is a team that doesn’t normally like to spend big money or make big trades. If things continue as they are, it looks as if they’ll be looking from within to build that rotation for years to come. Do they have what it takes? It remains to be seen, but the potential is there. Outside of their top two pitching prospects, their list of players doesn’t yet scream long term and long inning success. There’s work yet to be done, but the potential is there. Sure Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran look incredibly promising and could solidify their spots within the Twins’ rotation, but let’s look at their next best options.
Looking through my Top 50 Twins Prospects List from earlier this year, there are a couple of arms that I really like right now, with the first one being Bailey Ober. I’ve gone through him more than once recently, so I won’t go much further here. Just know that his numbers are tantalizing and his delivery is unique given the stature of his body. He will need to prove that he can stay healthy, but starting his 2021 season in Triple-A is the most probable of outcomes for him. With incredible command, if he can continue his upward progression and maintain his 2019 gains, perhaps a debut later this season, even in a bullpen role, isn’t completely out of the question.
Looking at his numbers, moving up three levels of minor league baseball in one season is an incredible feat. And while his stint in Double-A is a small sample (24.2 innings pitched), it’s not too minuscule to rule out some sustainability. And while it’s unfair to expect Ober to repeat anything near these sorts of numbers going forward, it’s not completely out of the question to see someone with high command fool batters into a lot of swings and misses. What I’ll be looking forward to seeing from him this year is his fastball, which currently grades in at a low grade of 45. While it clocks in somewhere in the mid-80’s, I do wonder if it’s too slow to really get major league hitters out. Still, with nothing in 2020 to really build upon, it’ll be interesting to see what he changes, if anything, in 2021.
Another pitcher I am excited about is Chris Vallimont. Acquired from the Marlins a few years ago, he actually got better when he moved over to the Twins and has been stretched out to over 127 innings back in 2019. Armed with three above average pitches, he could be an innings eater for the Twins in the future. While he doesn’t possess ace potential, he does look to be someone that has good command as he doesn’t walk a lot of batters at all.
What I really like about Vallimont is how he showed massive growth upon his arrival with the Twins’ farm system. In 22.1 innings pitched, he drastically lowered his walk rate and increased his strikeout rate, giving him a career high K-BB% while surrendering no home runs. In fact, overall in 2019, he struck out eight or more batters in a game 10 times, including his final two outings for the Miracle. With a mid-90’s fastball, a decent changeup and a slider with potential, Vallimont is a name to watch in 2021.
The more I think about it, the more I wish that I had ranked him higher in my Top 50 back in January. At the very least, his Tier 4 ranking is a bit pessimistic, because of the brilliance he flashed in Spring Training this year. With three above average pitches (fastball, slider and curveball) and a developing changeup, Canterino showed this Spring that he is well on his way to becoming a mainstay with the Twins in the years to come, as he struck out seven batters over 4.2 innings pitched. Still, he lacks the long term experience and the command needed to elevate him to the next level.
Canterino seems destined to need another year of development and experience to work on his secondary pitches, but should the Twins need some bullpen reinforcements later this year, don’t be surprised if they give Canterino a call. Still, he projects more as a 2022 call up as he pitched just under 100 innings in each of his three seasons at Rice University.
Oh how quickly a season can change things, as Josh Winder improved on the velocity of his fastball quite drastically. During the shutdown of 2020, Winder was rumoured to have consistently topped out at 97 mph with his fastball, which is an approximate 5 mph more than he did for all of 2019. With more and more being learned from Summer Camp developments, Winder has become more intriguing as someone who could shoot up my rankings and tiers.
Much like Canterino, it’s safe to say that Winder is destined for another year in the minors, though at age 24, perhaps he gets pushed up quicker, especially if the increased velocity is the real deal. Still, it’s a very promising development for Winder, who, before the jump in velocity, originally looked destined to be a back of the rotation-type pitcher. Again though, it remains to be seen if this gain in velocity A) maintains its previous year’s gains and B) is effective on any batters above A level ball. He is still worth monitoring.
Looking at the above names, there is a lot to anticipate in 2021. While 2019 was a long time ago, the four aforementioned pitchers showed tremendous gains during their minor league system playing. While that was a significant time ago and in the past, it’s hard to gauge how their upcoming season will be, given that we don’t know the extent of their growth during the 2020 Summer Camp training. For Ober and Vallimont, a lot of my optimism is based on their in-game growth from 2019 with the potential I saw there. As for Winder and Canterino, seeing them put together what they learned in 2020 into game form during Spring Training was a great visual to note just how far they have come along since their last meaningful games. Only time will tell for how well these four pitchers will fare in 2021. They are still, however, names that I will be watching this season to see just how much they have learned and developed.
Dave Funnell covers the Minnesota Twins minor leagues for Prospects1500. Located just south of Toronto in the city of Hamilton, he's an hour away from Buffalo (and the Bisons). He's been a fan of baseball his entire life and doesn't have a favorite team, which hopefully gives way for objectivty in analysis. Dave is in multiple keeper fantasy baseball leagues and is active on Twitter at @sportz_nutt51.