Finding A Jolt For The Bullpen
Through their first 120 innings pitches, Minnesota checks in with the 23rd best relief ERA in MLB (4.73). The 7.43 K/9 ranks 28th out of 30 big league teams and the 3.75 BB/9 checks out in the middle of the pack. Largely unaddressed this offseason (Matt Belisle being the only signing of note), the goal should be to address the bullpen before it goes off the rails.
Looking at what's out there, you can see some definite pieces. Brandon Kintzler is a solid reliever, even if his "stuff" remains questionable for working as a closer. Taylor Rogers fits, and Tyler Duffey looks like a real weapon. I still believe Ryan Pressly is more than his funk suggests, and Justin Haley being carried makes sense. That leaves both Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow, and you have to wonder if Minnesota isn't in a position to push for more on their own being promoted.
Triple-A Rochester has some intriguing arms worthy of a shot. Adding Drew Rucinski to the 40-man roster for a brief call up was confusing, if only because there were other options. Trevor Hildenberger, D.J. Baxendale, Aaron Slegers, and even Jason Wheeler could all use a look. If we're really trying to push the envelop though, Double-A is where the Twins greatest assets lie.
Both Mason Melotakis and Nick Burdi have been lights out to start 2017. Melotakis owns a 1.17 ERA across 15.1 IP. The 25-year-old southpaw has compiled a 7.0 K/9 while offering free passes at a rate of 2.3 BB/9. The former second-round pick has been at Double-A since 2014, albeit missing the 2015 season. He's compiled just under 50.0 IP across the last two years and he's shown an ability to strike batters out, while reducing the walks in 2017.
Another second-round pick, Burdi has come out with guns blazing this season as well. The 24-year-old right-hander can push his fastball into triple digits, and seeing him healthy after throwing just three innings last year is a major plus. Across 13.2 IP this season, he's struck out 11.9 per nine innings, and he's walking batters at a very strong 2.6 BB/9. While command has always been Burdi's shortcoming, it's something he seems to have honed in this campaign.
I have no idea whether or not the Twins would promote either arm straight from Double-A, but I would lean towards them not doing so. Both have velocity and wanting to see them pitch, more than just throw, at the next level might be worth a stop in Triple-A. Neither guy is going to be able to rely solely on speed at the big league level, and seeing evidence they could get big league hitters out is a must.
Regardless of how they get to the Target Field bullpen, both Melotakis and Burdi could be there by early summer. I'd expect at least a brief stop for both in Triple-A, but guys like Breslow, or even Adam Wilk, shouldn't stand in their way. Unlike a starting prospect, relievers don't necessarily need a long stay at the highest level of the farm system; give them a taste and move them on. J.T. Chargois put forth just 12.1 IP in AAA after 11.2 IP at AA prior to his promotion last year. A similar path could be had for both of these guys.
When they arrive, there's little reason to suggest it wouldn't be an immediate boost to the bullpen. Throw in a healthy J.T. Chargois or Jake Reed, and maybe a flier on one of those other names, and Minnesota will have reworked their relief corps from within.
Right now, there are some question marks as to how it will come together, and which guys can get healthy, but what Minnesota doesn't have in starting options, they have in relief. Both Burdi and Melotakis can lead the charge and let the dice fall as they may.