The Twins’ pitching pipeline is better than we think. Twenty-five years ago, when Tom Werner first hired Lou Pine and Joe Danger in the Twin Cities, no one thought that this would be a major league success. But after two seasons, the Twins are 20-5, and every fan wants more.
The real secret to the Twins’ success is that they have one of the youngest pitching organizations anywhere in the league. Unlike other teams, the Twins spend the majority of their money on high-end, premium arms. Their top three prospects – Lackey, Snell, and Sanchez – have combined to go 9-3. That kind of ‘paycheck’ is hard to find in baseball, especially with the free-agent market being so glutted with qualified pitchers.
The other reason that the Twins have such a strong system is that they don’t spend their money as other clubs do on marginal players. Unlike say, the Angels, who are notorious for dumping an awful lot of high-priced contracts into the trash, and then signing the relatively cheap but talented free agents, the Twins don’t do that. They spend what they have and they spend it often. The result is a nucleus of very good players, each of whom has an All-Star quality season behind him, and every starter is above replacement level.
The best part of this pitching prospect pipeline, beyond the obvious fact that the Twins have some exceptionally talented pitchers, is that the whole thing runs off of the great baseball analytics program that the Twins have recently installed. The P Statcast system was developed by a group of MIT graduates, and it works marvelously. It provides Twins coaches and front office personnel with every bit of information that they could ever need about the performance of every player in the Twins lineup. In addition to the statistical profiles, the system also provides box scores and pitching stats for every single player. As a result, the Twins know exactly which pitchers are throwing best and which ones aren’t just by the numbers. It’s a great tool for scouting because it gives coaches a lot of valuable information about individual players.
There’s more to the ‘Pitching Pipeline’ than just pitching though. It also means that a young position player, or perhaps a corner infielder, is set up to succeed long-term because he is so well-groomed and ready to contribute now. This makes for a strong player because he already has two very good offensive skills at his disposal, as well as a professional hitting skill that will be with him forever. A true No. 1 hitter can only go so far in professional baseball, and in particular, in the Twins’ division, until he is ready for the next level.
The’Twins’ pitching pipeline is also set up so that position players have a better chance of sticking around for long periods of time because the Twins know what it takes to develop great position players into Hall of Fame players. They have spent the last three decades developing some of the best position player prospects in the game, and they know what it takes to turn top prospects into All-Star caliber players. That’s why the Twins organizational approach to coaching in the big leagues is built on a solid foundation of player development. Position players are expected to hit, run the bases, field a baseball, and catch baseballs. Developing these skills is more important than developing power, although that still does make a difference as well.
In part, the’Twins’ pitching pipeline is better than we think because the front office put so much time and effort into developing the most talented player possible. Many franchises build a great nucleus of players, go out and sign as many of them as they can, and then, after a few years, trade them to another team. The Twins haven’t done that yet, but they certainly will in the future. There are two obvious reasons why that will occur: they love their players, and they want to win as badly as any other fan base. It’s almost impossible to find another fan base with as much enthusiasm as the Twins do. That means that the organization has every incentive in the world to keep its players happy, to develop them into the best players that they can be, and to help those players succeed beyond their natural ability.
If the Twins continue to develop such a strong culture, then the’Twins’ pitching pipeline will continue to get better. That starts with their Dominican players. They have the bodies and arm strength to play every position in the majors, and they have the attitude to succeed, to meet the challenges of everyday playing. In short, the best position players are developed in the arms of some of the best coaches in the game.