Starting pitchers are the most important players on a major league baseball team.
The Minnesota Twins are proving that this season.
Despite having a good lineup and solid bullpen, the Twins have one of the worst records in baseball.
That is due to the starting rotation.
The five expected starters to be in the opening day rotation are not on the current active roster (two are already no longer in the organization, one is free agent and one has a team option for over $9.25 million next season).
Here are my power rankings of the starting pitchers in the mix for next season’s opening day rotation.
No. 1 – Scott Diamond. The left-hander has been the best starter all season for the Twins, but had a rough week that included a 2 1/3 inning start at Texas. He posted a 6.75 ERA in just over nine innings pitched over two starts this week. The most recent outing was a five-run, seven-inning start against the Seattle Mariners. He has dropped an appeal of his six-game suspension and should start again either Monday or Tuesday.
No. 2 – Samuel Deduno. The right-hander backed a rough outing against the Texas Rangers with a dominating start against the Mariners over the last week. His seven shutout inning performance against the Mariners was the best start of his career. It included nine strikeouts and no walks.
No. 3 – Cole De Vries. The right-hander is another pleasant for the Twins this season. He shutdown baseball’s best lineup in most recent start. He held the Rangers to one run over five innings while striking out five.
No. 4 – P.J. Walters. The right-hander is the third player that did not open the 2012 season on the Twins’ 40-man roster. He has been on the disabled list since mid-June, but has been okay in several rehab starts for the Rochester Red Wings. He had his worst outing over the last week when he allowed seven runs over three innings.
No. 5 – Liam Hendriks. The right-hander was one of the top pitching prospects for the Twins at the start of the season. He was dominant in the minors, but struggled in the majors until his most recent outing. Even though he has yet to get his first big league win, he has had a couple starts this season worthy of a win.
No. 6 – Brian Duensing. The left-hander has been in and out of the rotation over the last few seasons. Statistically, he is better as a reliever and I believe the Twins are better with him in the bullpen. With that being said, he is still one of the five best healthy starters right now. He was shelled by the Rangers in most recent outing, nine runs in 2 1/3 innings.
No. 7 – Anthony Swarzak. The right-hander is another guy that has bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. He, like Duensing, is statistically better as a reliever and does more for the Twins in that role. Again, he is capable of being a starter and deserves that chance. He had two relief appearances over the last week, including a 2 2/3 inning outing after Diamond was ejected in Texas and mop-up inning Wednesday against the Mariners.
No. 8 – Nick Blackburn. The right-hander is the only opening day starter under contract with the Twins next season. Unfortunately, he has been pretty bad this season. Aside from a good start or two this season, he has been terrible. Over the last week, he posted a very good start for the Red Wings. He allowed one run in six innings. As long as he continues pitching well for the Red Wings, he will remain in the mix for next year’s rotation.
No. 9 – Esmerling Vasquez. The right-hander only has eight starts in 31 appearances on the season for the Red Wings, but has been dominant as a starter. Over the last week, he had a very good start with one run in six innings with three walks and seven strikeouts for the Red Wings. He is a candidate to join the 40-man roster and receive a call up in September.
No. 10 – Kyle Gibson. The right-hander is pitching very well, with the exception of his most recent start, while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He breezed through the low minor league levels before allowing four runs in three innings in his only start for the Red Wings.
No. 11 – Jeff Manship. The right-hander has been called up to pitch in the bullpen several times over the last few seasons. He has struggled in that role for the Twins, but has been very good as a starter in the minors. He pitched five shutout innings in two relief appearances for the Red Wings over the last week.
No. 12 – Pedro Hernandez. The left-hander was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a trade in late July. He is currently on the disabled list for the Red Wings, but has been very good at triple-A.
No. 13 – Shairon Martis. The right-hander was acquired in a minor league trade early in the season. He has a major league starting experience, but has struggled to remain there. He had two outstanding starts this week for the Red Wings allowing three runs over 13 1/3 innings with four walks and seven strikeouts.
No. 14 – B.J. Hermsen. The right-hander has been very good this season in the minors. He remains a long shot at next season’s rotation, but is one of the top 20 prospects in the Twins organization. He had an okay start for the double-A New Britain Rock Cats over the last week with three runs over six innings.
*Please note that all statistics and outings are through Aug. 29.