Inbox: What are Twins doing to improve club?

Beat reporter Do-Hyoung Park fields fans' questions

April 12th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- Wednesday night's wild, forgettable fifth inning on the mound might have left a bad taste in fans' mouths, but otherwise, the Twins largely played solid baseball on their three-city road trip through Kansas City, Philadelphia and New York.

After the Twins showcased some timely late hitting in a two-game sweep of the Royals, played a pair of competitive games against the playoff favorite Phillies and beat up on reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom in New York, they now return home with the hopes that the weather will cooperate in allowing their schedule to stabilize at long last.

With Friday night's scheduled series opener against the Tigers postponed due to the inclement weather in the Twin Cities, let's dive into another installment of the Twins Inbox:

The braintrust of new pitching coach Wes Johnson, assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and pitching analyst Josh Kalk have already brought a lot of expertise to the Twins' staff in areas like biomechanics, usage of technology, pitch sequencing, pitch usage and tunneling to not only improve the quality of the pitches from the Twins' arms, but also to optimize the manner in which those pitchers are utilizing their arsenals.

Even in the small sample size of Spring Training and 10 regular-season games, we're already seeing improved velocity from pitchers like Martin Perez and Chase De Jong, and strong usage of off-speed offerings from others like Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda. That's not to mention the work that the Twins' catchers put in this offseason to improve their receiving -- which, in turn, helps the pitching staff.

As for when the team will need a fifth starter, that will be on this coming homestand. Perez will likely slide into the starting rotation at some point during the four-game series against Toronto, as the Twins' schedule finally dictates the need for a fifth starter. The team is slated for games in 12 consecutive days, even with Friday's postponement due to weather.

If you're asking when the team will acquire another starter altogether, I don't think there's much urgency for that at the moment. As I mentioned before, the Twins are fully committed to using Perez as their fifth starter at this time, and I don't think it's possible to properly evaluate his performance until he's out of his current bullpen limbo and able to find his rhythm again as a proper starter.

Fernando Romero will be back up in the Major Leagues at some point to pitch out of the bullpen, possibly later this homestand, when the Twins will expand their pitching staff with Perez moving into the rotation.

Manager Rocco Baldelli said in Spring Training that Romero will pitch meaningful innings for the Twins this season, but the team optioned him to the Minor Leagues to begin the year so that he could gain more experience coming out of the bullpen. He has been solid in two relief appearances for Triple-A Rochester so far, allowing only one hit in five shutout innings, though he has walked two and hit two batters.

For what it's worth, I also don't think it's fair at all to characterize Andrew Vasquez's performance as a "continued" struggle with command after one wild relief outing. Yes, it was a very rough inning, but it's worth remembering that he has a 3.65 career strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Minor Leagues with 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.51 career ERA. He also only walked two in five Major League innings last year and threw more than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes. Bad outings happen.

You're correct: It's way too early in the season to be passing judgment, and Marwin Gonzalez's hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity are still near his career marks, so I'd put the brakes on getting too worried yet. If anything, the Statcast data shows that he's seeing a higher percentage of breaking balls this year, and he's been getting on top of too many balls. It's not like he's striking out an extravagant amount or anything like that.

But regardless of how Gonzalez performs in the next month as the primary third baseman, there's no doubt that Miguel Sano will be the everyday starter at third upon his full recovery from the laceration to his right Achilles area. Sano is one of the young cornerstones of the roster as it is currently built, and his upside is well-documented. Gonzalez isn't necessarily going to be a "backup" anywhere, as the Twins view him as an everyday player -- but if there isn't a glaring need due to injury or otherwise, his starts wouldn't necessarily be at a set position.

Especially this deep into the season, I highly doubt it. The Twins have been vocally committed to using Perez as their fifth starter to this point in the season, and that order seems largely set barring injury. In the case of injury, the bulk of the Triple-A rotation now has Major League experience, and pitchers like Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Lewis Thorpe could be called upon to give the team innings and gain more experience with a continued eye towards the future.

At this point in the year, if the Twins were to look externally to reinforce their pitching staff, it would probably make more sense for them to seek trade options than to look into Dallas Keuchel, since a trade acquisition would be more of a known commodity given Keuchel's extended absence from the playing field. If the Twins remain in contention approaching the Trade Deadline, I do think that upgrading the pitching staff would be more of a priority than the position-player depth, which looks to be a deep, experienced, productive group early in the season.

Will Astudillo stay in the lineup when Sano returns and the Twins are back playing AL teams where Nelson Cruz is presumably hitting third again? And if so, where will he play?
-- Kurt H., St. Paul

Wouldn't be a Twins Inbox without the Willians Astudillo question!

It's still far too early to project what will happen when Sano returns to the roster -- these things tend to have a way of working themselves out, so to speak. As things currently stand, Sano would look to take the roster spot of Ehire Adrianza, Jake Cave or Astudillo upon his return. So far, I don't think anything about Astudillo's performance would indicate that he would be the odd man out in such a scenario.

Astudillo has continued to hit well, with a .348 average, four extra-base hits and even a walk through seven games, appearing third in the Twins' lineup for both games in New York. He looks to be, at minimum, a solid option off the bench, and that's not to mention the value in his defensive versatility, as he is able to fill in at catcher, all around the infield and in left field.

But again, there's still a long time left until Sano's projected return -- so check in again about this closer to that time.