1. Livan Hernandez
Hernandez was signed after the Santana trade to give the coaching staff some confidence that the bullpen wouldn't have to throw 4+ innings a night in relief of an unproven young rotation. Innings are the one constant in his career - he's failed to reach 200 innings just once since he became a full-time starter in 1998, and that was when he threw 199.2 innings in 1999. This might be the year he misses the benchmark for the second time. I find it difficult to imagine him pitching consistently well enough to merit staying in the game 6 innings every night for 33 starts. His only effective starts this spring have been against lineups thick with bench players and minor-leaguers, and now he takes his 4.25 career ERA into the AL.
Best case: He gets off to a good start and the Twins trade him in June while his value is high
Worst case: He actually makes 33 starts for the Twins
SfC projection: 8-17, 185 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 70 BB, 90 K
2. Boof Bonser
Bonser disappointed in 2007 after posting promising numbers in 2006 and the minors. Just about every start, it seemed like he'd be really good for 4-5 innings, then hit the wall. The coaches impressed upon him to improve his conditioning, and he showed up to camp 20+ pounds lighter. His results in spring training have been encouraging. He still hasn't made 50 starts or thrown 300 innings in the majors, so it's not unreasonable to assume some growing pains for a young pitcher. If his new stamina translates into more strikeouts, and he maintains the solid control he's shown since the low levels of the minors, this could be the year he finally puts it all together.
Best case: Boof from late 2006
Worst case: Boof from 2007
SfC projection: 12-10, 190 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 50 BB, 170 K
3. Nick Blackburn
Blackburn had been progressing through the Twins' system at a modest rate, generally needing to repeat each level for at least a portion of a season before making the necessary adjustments and moving on. But something clicked in 2007, as he baffled the IL hitters with a long scoreless innings streak and earned a September call-up with Twins. He continued to dominate in the AFL, and put together a sparkling spring training to earn his spot on the roster. He's got just 11.2 major league innings so far, and the last 2 were pretty awful - he was blown to bits by the Tigers and Red Sox in the last week of the season. I suspect he'll have a few more growing pains in the early goings this year, just as Baker, Bonser and Slowey did in their initial stints with the Twins.
Best case: he holds his own and keeps his spot all season
Worst case: he struggles and is sent down to make room for Liriano
SfC projection: 4-5, 80 IP, 4.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20 BB, 40 K
4. Kevin Slowey
Slowey is my pick to click in 2008. He was the best pitcher in AAA last season, putting up a 1.89 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 133.2 innings. He struggled when the Twins called him up in June, but was very effective when he was brought back in September. After a rocky first 2 outings this spring, he's been solid the rest of the way. Particularly intriguing is the increase in strikeouts, up to more than one per inning in Grapefruit League play. His control is impeccable, he pitches to the corners, changes speeds - already a fairly mature pitcher. When this season is over, he'll be the one who had the most impressive campaign.
Best case: Greg Maddux
Worst case: Brad Radke
SfC projection: 16-10, 210 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 30 BB, 190 K
5. Scott Baker
Baker soared through the system, making his big-league debut in 2005, just two years after he was drafted. He ping-ponged between the Twins and Red Wings for the next two years, dominating AAA but never quite putting it together for Gardy. That seemed to change as the summer wore on last year, culminating in his near perfect game at the end of August. Like Bonser, he doesn't yet have 50 starts or 300 IP at the Major-league level, and once he puts this spring's physical setbacks behind him, I expect him to nearly match Slowey as the steady hand in the rotation.
Best case: Baker from the 2nd half of 2007
Worst case: Baker from the 1st half of 2006
SfC projection: 17-10, 220 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 50 BB, 180 K
I'm expecting these 5 guys to give the Twins 57 wins and 885 IP. But with Liriano, Perkins, Humber and Mulvey getting their work in at AAA, I don't expect the rotation to look very much like this in September.