CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Twins brought a glimpse of the future to Clearwater against the Phillies on Monday, as pitching prospects Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Aaron Slegers made the trip north to be available to pitch against the Phillies in relief of Kyle Gibson.
Slegers pitched two innings in the 4-3 loss, surrendering two runs on three hits, while Romero threw a perfect seventh inning with three strikeouts and Gonsalves pitched his way out of trouble with a scoreless eighth. Littell didn't see action.
Romero (No. 68) and Gonsalves (No. 78) rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects, and Romero is the club's second-ranked prospect, Gonsalves is third and Littell is 15th. Slegers is the only one of the four with Major League experience and isn't among the club's Top 30 prospects, although he retains his rookie status this year.
None of the four figure to make the Opening Day roster -- they're all expected to be part of the rotation at Triple-A Rochester -- but Twins manager Paul Molitor said he's excited about the future of the rotation and pleased to have some depth with up-and-coming starters who could find their way into the mix this season.
"Those guys are another year into their professional careers, and while most likely they won't be here at the start, we feel good about our options going forward," Molitor said. "It's just difficult to get these guys extended and get them innings. Once Minor League camp opens, we have to make sure they're in shape to get extended once the Minor League season starts."
Here's a deeper look at the four:
RHP Fernando Romero
2017 stats: 11-9, 3.53 ERA with 120 strikeouts, 45 walks and four homers allowed in 125 innings with Double-A Chattanooga
The skinny: Romero, 23, easily has the best pure stuff of the group, with a fastball that can reach triple-digits to go along with a plus-slider and a changeup. The 6-foot, 215-pounder has dealt with injury issues in the past, including Tommy John surgery and knee surgery that forced him to miss the 2014 and '15 seasons. He also ended last season on the disabled list with a right shoulder impingement. The Twins believe he maintains his velocity and repeats his delivery enough to remain a starter, but they could be tempted to use him in relief this season to bolster the bullpen and give him his first taste of the Majors as a reliever.
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
2017 stats: 9-5, 3.27 ERA, 118 strikeouts, 31 walks and 11 homers allowed in 110 innings between Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester
The skinny: Gonsalves, 23, has a fastball that sits in the low 90s but has good command and can be deceiving, as is evidenced by his 514 strikeouts in 478 1/3 innings in the Minors. The 6-foot-5, 213-pounder possesses a plus-changeup, and he's working to improve his curveball. He reached Triple-A last year but had a 5.56 ERA in 22 2/3 innings there, so he'll look to improve at that level and is expected to make his Twins debut at some point this season. He's also had minor shoulder issues in the past but is currently healthy.
RHP Zack Littell
2017 stats: 19-1, 2.12 ERA, 142 strikeouts, 41 walks and eight homers allowed in 157 innings between Class A Advanced (Yankees) and Double-A (Yankees, Twins)
The skinny: The first thing that jumps out about Littell, 22, is his line from last season, and dating back to 2016, he's 28-2 over his last 30 decisions in the Minors. Littell, who was acquired along with Dietrich Enns from the Yankees for Jaime Garcia at last year's Trade Deadline, has a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a curve that flashes plus and a changeup. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has a great feel for pitching and gets plenty of downward plane on his pitches, inducing a 53 percent ground-ball rate that rates above average despite his below-average fastball velocity. He's expected to open the year at Triple-A.
RHP Aaron Slegers
2017 stats: 15-4, 3.40 ERA, 119 strikeouts, 29 walks and 11 homers allowed in 148 1/3 innings with Rochester
The skinny: At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, Slegers is the tallest pitcher in the organization and has allowed only 38 homers in 601 career innings. He also had a ground-ball rate of 44.5 percent at Triple-A last year and has great control, walking two batters per nine innings in his career. His fastball averaged 91.5 mph last year and he also mixes in a slider and a changeup.
He was impressive in his Major League debut last season, allowing two runs on two hits against the Indians on Aug. 17, but pitched sparingly down the stretch and finished with a 6.46 ERA in 15 1/3 innings. He projects more as a back-end starter, but gives the Twins depth this season, as he doesn't have much more to prove at Triple-A.