Arms Race: Will the Twins Front Office Regret Losing High-Impact Arms?
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsThe Falvey and Levine regime, let’s call them The Falvgime, deserves credit for the rapidity of their organizational overhaul. After a year of assessment and modest additions in 2017, they have added exciting, progressive coaching voices such as James Rowson and Garvin Alston. They have beefed up their research and analytics department both quantitatively and qualitatively, adding reputable names such as Josh Kalk, John Manuel and Daniel Adler. (If you haven’t listened to Adler’s recent appearance on Ben Lindbergh’s Effectively Wild podcast, you’re doing yourself an injustice).
It’s easy to be swept up into The Falvgime hype train, but what are the mistakes they have made along the way so far? Are there any opportunities missed which may end up as organizational regrets?
Let’s rewind a few years to June 4th 2012. The 2012 amateur player draft will forever be remembered by Twins fans as the draft that landed them Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios. If both Buxton and Berrios continue their respective careers at their current trajectories, this draft would be remembered as monumentally successful.
The 2012 Draft also marked a trend of the Twins drafting an increasing number of high velocity arms, adding Luke Bard with the 42nd pick, Mason Melotakis with the 63rd pick, and J.T. Chargois with the 72nd pick. More on those three shortly. The 2012 draft also netted the Twins Tyler Duffey at 160th overall, and Taylor Rogers at 340th overall, both of whom have become significant role players in the Twins’ bullpen.
Of the three 2012 draft arms, only Melotakis remains. The 27-year-old Bard was claimed by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, after amassing a 2.76 ERA over 65 innings between Chattanooga and Rochester in 2017. Bard managed a 13.6 SO/9 in those innings. Chargois was claimed by the 104-win LA Dodgers last week after being placed on waivers to make extra space available on the Twins 40-man roster. Chargois, also 27, has been plagued by injuries, but is intriguing as the Twins former top relief prospect and one of only five Twins pitchers to throw a pitch 99mph or higher since 2008.
Reaction to Chargois being claimed has been mixed, with most cautioning against a snap reaction until the Twins fill the final spot on their 40-man roster. Thad Levine indicated some regret in the Twins’ loss, telling Twin Cities’ media "we were 29/30ths of the way there." The Dodgers are certainly an interesting team to claim Chargois, having put together the fourth best bullpen ERA in 2017, the third best strikeout total, and the second best batting average against in MLB.
Melotakis successfully passed through waivers during the 2017, much to the ire of Twins fans, who struggled to understand the rationale of placing a former top (left-handed) relief pitching product who was having an excellent season at risk. All three of the Bard, Melo, and Chargois triumvirate had struggled throughout their minor league careers with injuries, and that may well be a decisive factor in the front office’s decision-making process. It does, however, seem that the organization has let significant arm talent slip from its grasp in Bard and Chargois, right when they appeared ready to make a more significant major league contribution.
Rewind again to 2014. Nick Gordon was selected fifth overall by the Twins. Minnesota proceeded to select an entire bullpen after him, including several more high velocity arms such as Nick Burdi (second round), Jake Reed (fifth round) and John Curtiss (sixth round). It’s easy to pretend as if the old Twins regime did nothing about the teams’ bullpen struggles year after year, but it was a problem which was recognized and drafted toward several years before Derrick Falvey and Thad Levine took over the organization.
Burdi fits the familiar pattern of the Twins 2012 drafted relief pitchers. He has a massive arm with the ability to hit triple digits. In 104 MiLB innings, he has managed 142 K's. Burdi seemed to be putting it all together at AA in 2017, giving up just one earned run in 17 IP until Tommy John surgery derailed his season. Burdi was selected by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft before being traded to the Pirates.
John Curtiss and Jake Reed are the two remaining arms from the 2014 draft who have made the steadiest progress towards the major league team, Curtiss making, and struggling in, his MLB debut last year. Curtiss dominated minor league competition to the tune of 68 K's in 48.1 IP and a miserly .135 avg. Reed spent 2017 split between Chattanooga and Rochester, turning it up at AAA and giving up a 2.05 ERA whilst striking out 25 in 30 innings. Both are strong contenders to contribute at the major league level this year.
Looking through the Twins current top 30 prospects as a whole (MLB Pipeline list), there’s still some depth at reliever. The names featured are Tyler Jay (8th), John Curtiss (20th), and Jake Reed (26th). The recently departed Chargois was listed at 21. While this may be in no way indicative of how much help the Twins bullpen may receive from the minor leagues in 2018, it raises an interesting question. Did "The Falvgime" completely press the reset button on Twins relief pitching prospects when they took over the organization? While this seems counter-intuitive the front office has certainly been more aggressive at exposing relief pitching options via waivers and the Rule 5 draft than we might have expected.
The common denominator surrounding high-end relief pitching prospects the Twins have lost is a history of significant injuries. It seems likely that on a team with several necessary areas of improvement (between the rotation and the bullpen) Falvey and Levine have been careful not to pin their hopes to prospects who have struggled to stay healthy, perhaps recognizing that they are entering a window of contention with the Tigers and Royals entering rebuilds and the White Sox in the midst of one. They have taken some gambles with exposing these players, some seemingly paying off, others have not.
What do y’all think? Has "The Falvgime" made mistakes in how they have handled Twins’ relief pitching prospects? Do you think they should have prioritized keeping Bard and Burdi? Will they regret losing Chargois?