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Hayden Goethe, Published March 31 2013

Twins looking to develop their own ace

Fargo

To see the impact an ace can have on a pitching staff, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan won’t need to look beyond his own division this season.

Former AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander has anchored two Detroit Tigers teams that have played in the World Series.

The Chicago White Sox jumped into second place last season thanks in large part to the emergence of

23-year-old left-hander Chris Sale.

And the Kansas City Royals added a bona fide ace in James Shields in a trade with Tampa Bay in December.

The Twins will face Verlander and the Tigers in their season opener at 3:10 p.m. today at Target Field.

“Those are the types of guys that you’d like to have in your rotation,” Ryan said from Fort Myers, Fla., earlier in spring training. “Because if you have those guys, you can get away with a little less offensively.”

And that was the sole motivation for Ryan making a pair of trades this offseason that he admits caught many by surprise.

The Twins traded the top two center fielders on the team’s depth chart in the offseason. In both moves, Minnesota received young pitching in return.

The Twins shipped Denard Span to Washington for starting pitcher Alex Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander who was a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.

They then traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia, getting right-handed starter Vance Worley and minor league pitcher Trevor May in return.

Worley will step right into the Twins rotation this season.

Meyer and May need more time in the minors. They are both just 23 years old.

The Twins were last in the American League with a 5.40 ERA among their starters in 2012. They finished an AL-worst 66-96.

“We aren’t going to do much here until we get some starting pitching,” Ryan said. “It’s tough to get those guys. Most of the time, you have to get them when they’re young.”

The pursuit of pitching left Ryan making a pair of deals that he hopes will make the team better in future seasons, even if the losses of Span and Revere will be felt in the short term. But they were moves that Ryan said had to be made.

Minnesota has been without a top-of-the-line ace since trading two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to the New York Mets following the 2007 season. In the meantime, pitchers like Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Scott Diamond have assumed the role of de facto ace, with varying degrees of success.

Minnesota drafted pitchers with 12 of its first 16 picks in last June’s draft.

“There’s still work to be done,” Ryan said. “But there’s not an organization in the game that doesn’t have work to be done. … We’ve got a little bit more depth. We had a pretty good draft last year.”

Meyer posted a 2.86 ERA with 139 strikeouts in 129 innings in A-ball last season.

May had a 4.87 ERA with 151 strikeouts in 149 Xc innings at Double-A in 2012.

Ryan cautions anyone who spends a lot of time looking at strikeout numbers in the low minor leagues as a big indicator of future success. He points to Brad Radke, who was at the top of the Twins rotation from 1995-2006 yet only once managed to strike out 150 in a season, as proof that strikeouts aren’t required from an ace.

Ryan puts just as big of an emphasis on the ability to stay healthy and pitch a lot of innings.

“Verlander’s certainly the poster man for that type of description,” he said. “He’s an ace. He’s a workhorse-type guy.”

Ryan had his first extended look at Meyer and May this spring. And he’s hoping from the group of young pitchers in camp, a few emerge to lead future Twins pitching staffs.

But how soon the future will become the present at Target Field is unknown.

“I don’t get too overwhelmed with the hype and so forth,” Ryan said. “They’ve got enough stuff. There’s no doubt about that. I’m not ever going to put a timetable with those guys.”


Readers can reach Forum Assistant Sports Editor

Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558