Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Seeing Lincecum made me miss having an ace

As I touched on with my post from yesterday, I spent part of the last week in Arizona taking in some Cactus League action. One of the highlights for me during this trip was being able to watch Tim Lincecum take the mound for the Giants. It is rare to get to see a true ace especially one from the National League since the Twins don't face the NL on a consistent basis.

The Star Tribune did a good write-up over the weekend on the Twins' search for an ace since the exit of Johan Santana. As part of the piece they looked at seven current aces who are playing in Major League Baseball. According to the Tribune the National League has four of the aces with Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, and Clayton Kershaw making the list. The American League contains Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Felix Hernandez, the other three big time pitchers.

This list of true aces in baseball is small and finding them is even harder to do. Sabathia and Lee were big name free agents who got to their current clubs with big contracts on the open market. Halladay was traded away from the team that drafted him a couple of seasons ago for a handful of prospects. The Mariners were lucky enough to sign Hernandez as a 16-year old amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2002. Lincecum, Verlander, and Kershaw were all top ten picks in the MLB Draft.

Lucky enough for the Twins, the organization has a top ten pick in the draft this coming June. So this means there are good odds the organization will be searching for an ace with the number two pick. Unfortunately Lucas Giolito, the top high school pitching prospect, was recently diagnosed with an elbow injury and this will drop his stock in the draft. The Twins will turn their attention to other arms in the draft but having the number two pick should allow the team to select a potential star.

In recent years, the Twins have focused on pitching in the first round of the MLB Draft. From 2008 to 2010, the Twins took a pitcher with one of their first round picks. During some of those drafts, the Twins even went on to select pitchers with their supplemental round picks. Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers have encountered a few speed bumps on their way to the big leagues. Gibson was close to making it during last season but with his injury the team continues to search for a front-line starter.

The team has been looking for this front-line starter since they traded away their two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. It has been four full seasons since Santana last stood on the mound for the Twins and the team has struggled to find his replacement. His place in the starting rotation brought crowds to the Metrodome to see true greatness every time he was scheduled to pitch. The team had a better chance to win the game when the ball was in his hand and he helped the team to avoid long losing streaks.
When Santana departed for the Mets, there was still hope in the Twins organization that Francisco Liriano could develop into an ace. He was in the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery but his rookie year in 2006 was enough to get buzz swirling across the baseball universe. Now the Twins and Liriano are one year away from him reaching the free agent market and he has still not reached the potential he had in that rookie campaign. The Twins have seen flashes of brilliance from Liriano since he returned from Tommy John surgery but inconsistency has been his overall theme.

Almost every team in baseball is looking for an ace to have at the front of their rotation. If a person looks at the list the Star Tribune put together, there are only six team who can claim to have an ace on their staff. The Phillies are lucky enough to have two aces on their staff but they still failed to get the results they were looking for in the playoffs. It is important to have an ace to get a team through the gauntlet of the regular season and to help a franchise qualify for a playoff birth. But even as the Twins saw with Santana, an ace can't guarantee playoff success.

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