Twins 2007 Bright Spots #3: The Young Guns

Coming in at story number 3 in the top 2007 Major League stories is the emergence of the young guns on the Minnesota Twins pitching staff. Names like Garza, Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins, Neshek, and Baker will help solidify the pitching staff for years to come, and the Twins expect to get Francisco Liriano back to full strength in 2008.

Sure the Minnesota Twins finished under .500 for the first time since 2000, but you have to believe that this current roster of players is a collective group that should be able to challenge in the American League Central for years to come. At the center of this core of players are the young guns in the Twins rotation and bullpen, who established themselves as Major League caliber pitchers in 2007. Included in the young revelation are Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn, all who figure to play a huge role in the Twins future success.

Baker and Slowey were the first to be promoted to the Minnesota Twins, and Slowey was very successful early on in his first stint in the Major Leagues. After a great first road start against the Oakland Athletics, Slowey faltered, as he was a victim of the longball, and did show his classic pinpoint control. Still, he came on strong, and should be challenging for a rotation spot in 2008.

Slowey got off to a strong start, faltered in the middle of the season, and then was very respectable once he was promoted to the Twins in September. In total, Slowey won four games against only one loss, and had a very respectable 4.73 earned run average. He began to show his great control late in the season, and ended up walking only 11 in 66.2 innings of work.

Baker showed flashes of brilliance during the 2007 season, and actually finished the season third on the Major League roster with nine wins. He made 23 starts for the team, appearing in 24 games, and tossed two complete games, including almost tossing a no-hitter. His best month was August, when he posted a 2.59 earned run average in six starts.

If Baker can pitch the way he did in August, he will continue to be in the mix as a starter for the Twins.

Matt Garza was the Twins first round selection in the 2005 draft, and he has shown why the Twins took him so high during his short time in the organization. After being one of the more dominant pitchers in Minor League Baseball, Garza has gotten his chance to succeed in the big leagues. He pitched well in spurts, and really only had one bad outing in 2007. Overall, he posted a 4.10 earned run average during the season, and allowed three or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 15 starts.

For Garza, he is a big part of the Twins future, and will be given every chance to take the ball every fifth day for the big league club.

For Perkins and Neshek, they will be a big part of the Twins bullpen for years to come. Perkins has shown that he can get batters out from the bullpen, and will be able to stay healthy working from the bullpen. Neshek is one of the Twins top late innings guys, and could be a replacement for Joe Nathan somewhere down the road. With Perkins working as a left-handed specialist, and Neshek showing the ability to get lefties and righties out in the late innings, the Twins have a chance to solidify their bullpen with some young arms.

Nick Blackburn was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, after being one of the top pitchers in the International League in 2007. He pitched well after getting his first call-up to the Major League level, though he struggled late. If he can continue to pitch the way he did against International League hitters, Blackburn could challenge as a starter of a middle reliever for the big league club in 2008.

The Twins have some of the best young pitchers in the American League, and their farm system is stockpiled with plenty of good young arms. With the way they can continue to develop young pitchers, the Twins should be loaded in the arms department for many years.

One side note is going to be the return of Francisco Liriano, who was an All-Star as a rookie in 2006. Though he is coming off Tommy John Surgery, Liriano will be counted on to be the number two starter for the Twins in 2008 if he is healthy. If he is back to full strength, the Twins will once again be a contender in the American League Central.

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