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Here's the state of Twins' rotation competition

March 3, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has been very open about the fact that he doesn't take Spring Training results all too seriously as he navigates the handful of roster battles that the Twins need to sort out before Opening Day on March 26. Still, he somehow needs

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has been very open about the fact that he doesn't take Spring Training results all too seriously as he navigates the handful of roster battles that the Twins need to sort out before Opening Day on March 26.

Still, he somehow needs to figure out who his temporary fifth starter will be until Michael Pineda eventually returns from his suspension in May. Complicating matters is the fact that several young pitchers -- Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe -- are involved in that competition but still working to evolve their game this spring. They join veteran Jhoulys Chacín, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal.

"There’s a balance to that," Baldelli said. "You want to see guys execute. Whether or not guys are working on things, you want to see them be able to go out there and execute. For instance, [Smeltzer] working on his slider was an important part of he was trying to accomplish. The other things he was trying to do, we want him to hold on to those things."

No matter what happens, it seems like a near-certainty that Dobnak, Smeltzer and Thorpe will all see time in the Majors this year in some capacity. But is there currently a leader in the clubhouse for that open rotation spot? Let's take a look as we near the halfway point of Spring Training.

Jhoulys Chacín
Spring stats: 2 G, 5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Why he will make the team: Despite being a veteran of 11 Major League seasons, Chacín is in camp with the mindset of shaking things up to resurrect his career after posting an unsightly 6.01 ERA last season for the Brewers and Red Sox. He said that he's working to throw the four-seam fastball up in the zone for the first time in his career (which he avoided for obvious reasons during his lengthy tenure with the Rockies) and is putting more confidence in the changeup that he has rarely thrown in the last several seasons.

There are several things that could work in Chacín's favor. Firstly, he's the only player in this group that the Twins would lose if they didn't offer him an Opening Day roster spot. Giving Chacín the fifth rotation spot would keep as many starting options in the organization as possible, and it would be a low-risk, high-reward move since Pineda is due back in mid-May and Chacín's upside is that of an experienced playoff starter with a career 4.03 ERA that pitched up to the National League Championship Series in 2018.

Why he won't: Well, Dobnak in particular has pitched pretty well this spring, and if the Twins enter the season with the mindset that every win matters given the perceived strength of the Indians and White Sox in the division, there could be a case for overlooking possible upside and just going with the hot hand in the short-term before Pineda and Hill return. The Twins might not get a full sense for how Chacín's adjustments play against hitters until later this spring, in a closer approximation of actual games.

Randy Dobnak
Spring stats: 3 G, 8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
Why he will make the team: Any spring results are generally to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, but there's still something to be said for how Dobnak has rolled through the competition so far. Even as he continues to work on throwing sinkers to his glove side and improving the depth of his changeup during games, he has still been hard to touch in Grapefruit League play, and the Twins obviously thought highly enough of his stuff and makeup last season to trust him in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.

Why he won't: Remember how Adalberto Mejía and Tyler Austin both made the Opening Day roster last season? They were both out of Minor League options. Roster considerations like that of Chacín sometimes take a good degree of precedence, and Dobnak also showed last year that he's supremely adaptable when shuttling between relief and starting and bouncing between Triple-A and the Majors. Dobnak has done nothing so far to remove himself from consideration, but this could depend more on how Chacín throws in the remainder of camp.

Devin Smeltzer
Spring stats: 3 G, 6.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
Why he will make the team: The ugly stat line this spring might be somewhat deceiving, because Smeltzer has spent Grapefruit League play experimenting heavily with a new slider that he added to his arsenal as a swing-and-miss pitch to lefties and a complementary offspeed offering against righties. Smeltzer is happy with the continued progress of the pitch, and he was already fairly effective without it last season, when he posted a 3.86 ERA in 11 games.

Why he won't: It's the same deal as Dobnak here. Smeltzer responded well to just about anything the Twins threw at him last season, and that flexibility could make him a useful weapon keep stashed without necessarily needing him on the Opening Day roster. Smeltzer could have a leg up as a possible long relief option, though, as he could provide another left-handed bullpen arm alongside installed closer Taylor Rogers to fill one of the openings in the relief corps as a swingman of sorts.

Lewis Thorpe
Spring stats: N/A
How he's doing this spring: N/A
Why he will make the team: Thorpe is likely the rookie candidate with the highest ceiling, and he showed flashes of that potential last season, when he struggled to a 6.18 ERA but posted more strikeouts (31 K) than innings pitched (27 2/3 IP). Pitching coach Wes Johnson affirmed before the season that the Twins think highly of Thorpe's arsenal, and that more advanced development of his offspeed pitches could give him a leg up on the rest of the pack as far as a longer-term rotation option moving into the future.

Why he won't: With all that said, Thorpe appears to be the longest shot to crack the Opening Day rotation at this point, largely due to his absence from camp for around nine days due to a personal issue. The left-hander had been throwing bullpen sessions but didn't throw a live batting practice on the Major League side before he left camp. He's certainly not ramped up to the point of throwing 50 pitches in games like his counterparts, and Baldelli didn't yet have an answer as to whether Thorpe would be fully ready for Opening Day.

"The ramp up for Thorpey will be deliberate," Baldelli said. "We're going to see where he's at physically before we get him out there and on a mound. That’s the plan. Whatever [Johnson] decides. ... Maybe it’s more like our medical staff will also assess him, too. We’re all going to take a little time and see where he's at before we send him out there."

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.