The Minnesota Twins have been known for their pitching over the last few years. It looks like that will change in 2008. It is only a matter of time before Johan Santana is traded. And Santana was really the only established starter the Twins have after losing Carlos Silva as a free agent. So here are the prospects in order of certainty that they will be in the rotation to start the season:
Scott Baker - A second round draft choice, Baker started last year at AAA after failing in an earlier opportunity in 2006. By the end of last season he had established himself as a mid-rotation starter. He will never be the staff ace, but his results actually improved as the season went along. A very good sign for a young pitcher.
Boof Bonser - Bonser has lost some weight over the off-season. He had problems last season pitching beyond the 5th inning. Whether the weight loss will correct that is an open question. Bonser has decent stuff, but he needs to pitch deeper into games. You just can't afford a starter who consistently relies on the bullpen to bail him out with less than 6 innings pitched.
Francisco Liriano - Some people would put Liriano at the top of this list. Certainly if he is completely recovered he has the highest upside of any Twins pitcher (not named Santana). But, while most pitchers eventually recover from Tommy John surgery, the question is whether he will be completely recovered and back in form to start the season. The other issue, one that a lot of Twins fans choose to ignore, is that Liriano really hadn't established himself as a major league starter when he got hurt. He had a good hot streak in 2006, but he still has only 20 career major league starts. That isn't enough to really evaluate what his results will be when hitters have seen him several times. He may be ready to replace Santana as the staff ace, but he could also struggle and/or spend the year at AAA.
Kevin Slowey - Slowey got a shot last year and got shot down and ended up back at AAA for most of the year. The Twins are really counting on him to have learned from the experience. The results he got after being recalled in September were encouraging. His upside is another mid-rotation starter.
Glen Perkins - Perkins got hurt last year and missed most of the year. There seems to be some opinion that he is not really a starter and will end up in the bullpen. He is another guy who pencils in as a mid-rotation starter. Maybe he ends up in the bullpen as Joe Nathan's replacement if Nathan gets traded, but given the uncertainties of the Twins starting pitching he is likely going to be given a full shot at winning a spot in the rotation. He has the advantage of being a lefty.
Nick Blackburn - Blackburn has come a long way in one season. Before last year, he looked like his upside was a long minor league career - a short minor league career being more likely. He was recently named the top Twins prospect by Baseball America. That seems like a huge stretch of over-exuberance. Despite BBA writer John Manuel's claims to the contrary, Blackburn's likely upside is a bottom of the rotation starter unless he turns out to have the control of Brad Radke. He was sent to Arizona this fall, apparently with instructions to work on changing speeds. That is not a good sign for a guy who lacks a dominating pitch.
Brain Duensing - Duensing is another mid-rotation guy. Like Perkins, he is a lefty which gives him an advantage to start. He has zero major league experience and chances are he will start the season at AAA.
Zach Day - Day has recovered from rotator cuff surgery. He is a long-shot, but if he is healthy he could win a spot as the veteran the rotation. His upside is probably a number five starter who gives you some innings.
Brian Bass - Bass spent last year at the Twins AAA affiliate after signing as a minor league free agent. Then he pitched well in winter ball in Venezuela, was re-signed and added to the major league roster in November. He is likely a longshot for the rotation. His upside is similar to Nick Blackburn's. They are the same age, although Bass signed out of high school so he has more professional experience.
Matt Guerrier - Guerrier is almost certain to be in the bullpen. But he may be given a shot at the rotation if the younger guys prove they aren't ready.
That sounds like the Twins will be very thin on starting pitching in 2008. That is probably why they seem to be insisting that they get at least one major league ready pitching prospect
in return for Santana.
A rotation of Baker, Bonser, Slowey, Day and Bass? Scary.
Edit: Add Humber to that list.