As the Twins continue to play well and occupy the second American League wild card spot, Twins CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have had to weigh the potential benefit of calling up top prospects against the damage an early call up could do to their continued development in the minor leagues.
This season, the duo has generally been conservative in calling up young pitching prospects, though they did give two spot starts to Felix Jorge earlier this season. As top prospects Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero have progressed and pitched well this season, Twins fans have increasingly called for the club to give those young pitchers a shot in the big leagues, particularly as the team continues to stay in the playoff hunt.
When the Twins had an opening a couple of weeks ago against the White Sox, I questioned whether Gonsalves should have been called up to make the start. They opted to go with Tim Melville instead, who got shelled by the White Sox and DFA’d a day later.
I asked Falvey about Gonsalves, and some of the factors that went into not giving the Twins’ No. 4 prospect a chance in the big leagues so far this season.
“When you look at a young pitcher transitioning through the minor leagues, you want to see guys hit certain benchmarks, in terms of innings, pitching at certain levels, fighting through the last stages of a long season,” he said. “And Stephen, since he’s transitioned to Triple-A, we’ve seen a little bit of both.”
Falvey indicated that since Gonsalves has gotten to Triple-A Rochester, there’s been a bit of inconsistency that’s natural for a pitcher who hasn’t had a lot of innings in the high minors and is pitching deep into the season. Indeed, Gonsalves has posted a 5.56 ERA and 1.544 WHIP in 22.2 IP at Rochester after pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 1.031 WHIP in 87.1 IP at Double-A Chattanooga.
“We’ve seen really good outings from him, where he’s in a great position,” he said. “We’ve also seen probably the natural fatigue that a pitcher goes through late in the year, and he’s had some of those outings too. So all of those factor into our consideration, and Stephen’s someone who’s really important to us moving forward, so we want to be thoughtful about his development alongside what can help us here. I got a chance to see him down in Rochester recently and he put himself in a great position, and I’m excited about what we’ll see from him in the future, but as it stands right now we felt like that was the best environment for him.”
Romero, who pitched with Gonsalves for most of the season at Double-A and is seen as an equally high-level prospect, also opened eyes this season with a strong performance. Although he’s struggled a bit at the end of the season and has seen his workload curtailed, Romero has a 3.53 ERA and 1.352 WHIP in a career high 125 innings this year.
There’s a belief by some in the organization that Romero may be a future ace, and they’ve been justifiably conservative with his innings and pitch count, particularly late in the season. Romero hasn’t pitched since August 24, when he gave up five earned runs in five innings. Falvey was non-committal about whether Romero will be shut down for the year, but it doesn’t sound like he’s dealing with any serious health issues.
“He’s [Romero] somebody who dealt with some small setbacks a little bit along the way late in the year,” said Falvey. “Some it’s fatigue, some of it’s soreness. You expect some of that late in the year. We managed his innings down the stretch with that in mind.”
Innings aren’t the only metric the Twins have been tracking with their young pitchers generally, and Romero in particular, as they try to manage fatigue and the stress a long season puts on young arms. Romero also underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the 2015 season.
“You don’t just look at innings totals, you look at velocity, quality of stuff, consistency of strikes, all the things that also are part of the conversation around fatigue. And we felt like for him [Romero], we had to be more cautious, especially with him coming off surgery. So, very different situation between what he’s going through and what Stephen’s going through because he has had the surgery and we want be a little more careful about the arm rebuild.”
Although it’s unlikely Twins fans will see Gonsalves and Romero this year, Falvey did make clear that factors like minor league playoff races don’t play a large role in their decision to call them—or anyone—up. The Twins have been criticized in the past for keeping players down to compete in minor league playoff games.
“Certainly, the goal is to win here. And if that player can help us win here right now we’ll go and get him,” he said. “We also recognize that there’s some benefit sometimes to guys continuing to play. So we weigh those two against each other, but the priority is here.”