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Twins 2017 Minor League Relief Pitcher Of The Year

This award will not be a three-peat, and I think everyone’s thrilled about the reasons behind that fact. Trevor Hildenberger had won each of the past two Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Year awards, and was off to another incredible start, this time for Rochester. Just when it looked like he might be among the top choices for the award again, he got The Call.

With Hildy quickly establishing himself as a reliable member of the Twins bullpen, the door opened up for someone new to earn the title. There was no shortage of candidates. It was a special season across the entire Twins minor league system, and there’s no way you can win as many games as they did without a collection of stellar bullpen performers. After all the votes were tallied up, it was a Top-5 finisher in last year’s voting who took the crown.
Seven Twins Daily Minor League writers were asked to vote for the various awards. For the relief pitcher of the year, we each voted for five players. The player who was voted as #1 received five points, #2 received four points and so on with the #5 vote receiving one point. Results were tabulated and can be found below.

Short profiles of our top five are to follow, but first, some players worthy of honorable mention. These players also received votes.

Others Receiving Votes
  • Sam Clay – Fort Myers – 40 G, 8-0, 9 SV, 1.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 65.0 IP, 42 H, 32 BB, 63 K (8.7 K/9). Also pitched in three games for Chattanooga. Of the 10 earned runs he gave up with the Miracle, six of them were from his very first appearance of the season
  • Michael Tonkin – Rochester Red Wings – 31 G, 4-2, 5 SV, 1.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 41.2 IP, 31 H, 13 BB, 61 K (13.2 K/9).
  • Alan Busenitz – Rochester Red Wings – 24 G, 3-0, 2 SV, 1.78 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 35.1 IP, 19 H, 10 BB, 39 K (9.9 K/9).
  • Todd Van Steensel – Chattanooga Lookouts – 36 G, 5-3, 0 SV, 1.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 58.2 IP, 42 H, 25 BB, 59 K (9.1 K/9).
  • Drew Rucinski – Rochester Red Wings – 37 G, 2-6, 2 SV, 2.57 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 63.0 IP, 54 H, 10 BB, 57 K (8.1 K/9).
  • Nik Turley – Rochester Red Wings & Chattanooga Lookouts – 14 G, 2-1, 0 SV, 0.81 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 33.1 IP, 18 H, 11 BB, 38 K (10.3 K/9). These are only his stats as a reliever. He also started 16 games.
  • Alex Wimmers – Rochester Red Wings – 34 G, 7-3, 7 SV, 3.23 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 47.1 IP, 33 H, 11 BB, 48 K (9.1 K/9).
  • Ryan Mason – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 29 G, 1-2, 0 SV, 2.01 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 49.1 IP, 54 H, 11 BB, 43 K (7.8 K/9).

Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year
Here are the top five vote getters for Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.

5. Andrew Vasquez – Fort Myers Miracle & Cedar Rapids Kernels – 37 G, 4-1, 2 SV, 1.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 58.0 IP, 47 H, 21 BB, 85 K (13.2 K/9).

A 32nd-round pick in 2015 out of Westmont College, Vasquez appears to be a nice find. He returned to Cedar Rapids, where he left off at the end of 2016, and dominated. At the start of June, the big 6-foot-6 lefty got the call up to Fort Myers and just kept on rolling. Lefties in particular struggled, hitting just .200/.297/.200 (.497 OPS) off him. Yes, in 75 plate appearances, no left-handed batter mustered an extra-base hit off Vasquez. And home runs? Forget about it. In 108.2 innings pitched as a professional, Vasquez hasn’t given up a single homer to anybody -- left or right.

4. Hector Lujan – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 42 G, 3-1, 17 SV, 1.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 54.0 IP, 41 H, 8 BB, 54 K (9.0 K/9).

The Twins scouts did a really nice job with Westmont College in 2015. Lujan, who was a college teammate of Vasquez, was selected by the Twins in the 35th round that year. After a rocky first couple of seasons in the system, Lujan broke out this year and was a consistent force at the end of games for the Kernels. In fact, he led the Midwest League with 17 saves. What really sticks out for Hector is his impressive K:BB ratio of 6.75. He was able to average a strikeout per inning while issuing just eight free passes over 54 innings. Lujan was at his best during the stretch run for Cedar Rapids, as he gave up just one earned run over his final 20 innings.

3. Tom Hackimer – Fort Myers Miracle & Cedar Rapids Kernels – 43 G, 7-1, 13 SV, 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 61.1 IP, 30 H, 22 BB, 71 K (10.4 K/9).

The side-arming right-hander is much more than a gimmicky pitcher, but we know from guys like Hildenberger and Pat Neshek that relievers who drop down can be extremely effective. Drafted in the fourth round out of St. Johns University in 2016, Hackimer had an impressive debut season, but really turned heads in this, his first full year of pro ball. Just two other minor league pitchers gave up fewer hits per nine innings pitched than Hackimer (4.4 H/9) while throwing at least 50 innings. Sidewinders are usually extremely difficult on same-sided hitters, and Hackimer is no exception. Right-handed batters hit just .113/.231/.121 (.352 OPS) off him this season. It’s pretty tough for relievers to earn Player of the Week honors, but Hackimer was honored by the Florida State League as it’s best pitcher for the week of July 3-9.

2. Nick Anderson – Chattanooga Lookouts & Fort Myers Miracle – 44 G, 4-1, 11 SV, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 54.0 IP, 32 H, 10 BB, 57 K (9.5 K/9).

The Twins signed Anderson, who went to high school in Brainerd, out of the Independent Frontier League in 2015. He had a 3.58 ERA in his first taste of the Florida State League last season, but returned to dominate the league this year and ended up being a key contributor in Chattanooga’s championship run. While he fell just short of the award this season, there’s no doubt Anderson was one of the best relievers in all of the minor leagues this year, let alone just in the Twins system. Among minor leaguers who threw at least 50 innings, Anderson ranked sixth in ERA and seventh in WHIP.

Relief Pitcher of the Year
John Curtiss – Rochester Red Wings & Chattanooga Lookouts – 39 G, 2-0, 19 SV, 1.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 49.1 IP, 23 H, 22 BB, 68 K (12.4 K/9).

Curtiss’ year started with 22 scoreless innings for the Lookouts and in all he was charged with earned runs in just five of his 39 minor league appearances. The University of Texas product held opposing hitters to a .134 average this season, which was the second-lowest mark in all of the minors among pitchers with at least 40 innings. He also averaged 12.4 K/9 and didn’t give up a single homer while down on the farm. Minor league hitters were hopeless against him.

The fact that the voting was so close is a pretty strong statement in regard to how many great performances there were in the system, as MLB Pipeline selected Curtiss as its lone relief pitcher on the 2017 Pipeline Prospect Team of the Year. Guess how many minor leaguers pitched at least 40 innings and had a lower ERA, lower WHIP and higher K/9 than Curtiss. Two. And here’s the part you’re really going to like: one of those two pitchers is also in the organization. That would be Gabriel Moya, who the Twins acquired from Arizona in a trade for John Ryan Murphy.

It would have been interesting to see how the voting would’ve shaken out had Moya spent all year in the organization, as he had a 0.77 ERA, matching 0.77 WHIP, 13.4 K/9 and a Southern League-leading 24 saves this season. But just 14.2 of his 58.1 innings on the season came with Minnesota.

Curtiss finished fourth in last year’s voting, one spot ahead of Anderson that year, too. He joined the Twins in late August and has gotten his major league career off to a rough start, but he appears likely to fill a role in the Twins bullpen for years to come.

The Ballots
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
  • Seth Stohs – 1) Nick Anderson, 2) John Curtiss, 3) Tom Hackimer, 4) Hector Lujan, 5) Alan Busenitz
  • Jeremy Nygaard – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Tom Hackimer, 3) Alan Busenitz, 4) Alex Wimmers, 5) Nick Anderson
  • Cody Christie – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Michael Tonkin, 3) Hector Lujan, 4) Sam Clay, 5) Drew Rucinski
  • Tom Froemming – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Andrew Vasquez, 3) Tom Hackimer, 4) Nick Anderson, 5) Alan Busenitz
  • Steve Lein – 1) Nick Anderson, 2) John Curtiss, 3) Hector Lujan, 4) Tom Hackimer, 5) Andrew Vasquez
  • Eric Pleiss – 1) Sam Clay, 2) Nick Anderson, 3) Todd Van Steensel, 4) Nik Turley, 5) Michael Tonkin
  • Ted Schwerzler – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Nick Anderson, 3) Andrew Vasquez, 4) Tom Hackimer, 5) Ryan Mason

Feel free to discuss. What do you think? How would you rank them? How would your ballot look?

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22 Comments

Nice numbers from Vasquez and Lujan. They would have popped my eyes coming from 19 year olds, but from 23 year olds, guys above average league age, not so much.

 

Still, efficiency should be rewarded.

 

Nice numbers from Vasquez and Lujan. They would have popped my eyes coming from 19 year olds, but from 23 year olds, guys above average league age, not so much.

 

Still, efficiency should be rewarded.

 

I think both have a chance to be big leaguers. Both throw really hard and have good sliders. Good swing-and-miss abilities... Late-round draft picks from a small college (both from Westmont), could be late developers.

    • MN_ExPat likes this

I don't quite understand how Tonkin can be considered, especially since he had spent so much time in the show. He certainly has as many, and without looking it up, I would say more innings in the majors than Hildenberger. So I am not saying either shouldn't be considered, but I don't understand what disqualifies someone from your award. Busenitz has been wonderful in his appearances in the show, Curtiss pretty awful (and I see that two of the voters didn't even have him in their top 5, and Cody Christie didn't have Curtiss or Anderson in his top 5), and Wimmers, Rucinski, and Turley, also saw time up, but were still in the mix.

 

What was the line drawn that made someone ineligible? And congrats to your winner, Curtiss.

    • Mike Sixel likes this

My hope is the same every year. That 3 or 4 will become impact arm in the Twins bullpen. This was a pretty amazing year in the bullpens for Twins minors especially when you consider none of the top talked about relief prospects from the beginning of the year was in the mix.

 

I don't quite understand how Tonkin can be considered, especially since he had spent so much time in the show. He certainly has as many, and without looking it up, I would say more innings in the majors than Hildenberger. So I am not saying either shouldn't be considered, but I don't understand what disqualifies someone from your award. Busenitz has been wonderful in his appearances in the show, Curtiss pretty awful (and I see that two of the voters didn't even have him in their top 5, and Cody Christie didn't have Curtiss or Anderson in his top 5), and Wimmers, Rucinski, and Turley, also saw time up, but were still in the mix.

 

What was the line drawn that made someone ineligible? And congrats to your winner, Curtiss.

 

When I send out the ballots, I just basically say to vote for X number of hitters or pitchers and only to consider their minor league numbers. For the short-season, I say only to include short-season numbers. I put the non-specific qualifier of "spent most of their season in the minors" in there. 

 

These aren't "prospect" awards or rankings. This is minor league award stuff. Tonkin, for example, was sent down on May 9th or so. He had 5 weeks in the big leagues (during the minor league season). Busenitz had maybe 6-7 weeks in MLB while the minor league season was going. Hildenberger has had 9-10 weeks. 

 

But I like leaving it a little hazy (like MLB's MVP award, and let people interpret how they measure or evaluate Pitcher of the Year (in the minor leagues) on their own rather than just go with my opinions. 

 

Also, Cody sent me one list, which I entered, but then a couple of days later, he sent me a message saying that he had totally missed John Curtiss and to put him #1 and slide others down. .So, the rankings are still accurate. (I have updated Cody's rankings). 

With all these guys plus the trio that pitched a lot for the Twins this year and the injured guys (Burdi and Chargois), I think it is likely the Twins do not need to go out and get more than maybe one good reliever over the winter.

What will be interesting is how many are lost in the Rule 5, if any!

 

With all these guys plus the trio that pitched a lot for the Twins this year and the injured guys (Burdi and Chargois), I think it is likely the Twins do not need to go out and get more than maybe one good reliever over the winter.

 

Don't forget Tyler Jay...

I would expect the Twins would lose 1-3 relievers this off-season. Too many to protect and they are easy to stash on a major league club
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clutterheart
Sep 13 2017 12:33 PM

It would be fun if the winners got a $20 Twins Daily Chipotle Gift certificate or something.  According to Twitter most of these guys like that place.

 

 

    • Seth Stohs likes this

 

I would expect the Twins would lose 1-3 relievers this off-season. Too many to protect and they are easy to stash on a major league club

 

has any team ever lost 3 players in the rule 5? I can't imagine so recently, but I have no idea.

 

I just don't think that many players are taken anymore, and certainly not that matter like back in the day.

    • Vanimal46 likes this

 

I would expect the Twins would lose 1-3 relievers this off-season. Too many to protect and they are easy to stash on a major league club

 

I would expect them to lose 0. If they didn't get called up this season, aside from the injured guys, I really wouldn't sweat it.

    • Mike Sixel and Vanimal46 like this

 

I would expect them to lose 0. If they didn't get called up this season, aside from the injured guys, I really wouldn't sweat it.

 

They may lose 1 or 2, we'll have a thread full of scorching hot taeks, and it'll prove 4 months later that it doesn't matter. 

    • Dman likes this
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ashburyjohn
Sep 13 2017 02:04 PM

has any team ever lost 3 players in the rule 5? I can't imagine so recently, but I have no idea.

 

I just don't think that many players are taken anymore, and certainly not that matter like back in the day.

If the GM sees this train headed toward us, the way off of the tracks is a couple of trades that net us "anything" instead of "nothing". The benefit to the team acquiring the prospect is no need to actually keep the prospect on their 25-man all year. That's worth something, if only as a sweetener to a larger trade. Hey, we suddenly have several Brian Duensings!

Congrats to all of these guys for having a great season. Perhaps we'll see a Curtiss-like jump from AA to the majors next year for Hackimer. 

    • Mike Sixel likes this

The absence of Luke Bard is puzzling.He had a 1.332 WHIP, but that was driven by his ridiculous (.389 BABIP)other than that, his peripherals were better than most listed.

The absence of Gabriel Moya who had an ever better season than Curtiss (0.76 ERA, 0.775 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 2.4 BB.9)is inexcusable. He had the best season than any of the Twins' minor league relievers, wearing both the Twins' uniform and not, and in my book he is the Twins' minor league reliever of the year.

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Tom Froemming
Sep 13 2017 03:32 PM

 

The absence of Luke Bard is puzzling.He had a 1.332 WHIP, but that was driven by his ridiculous (.389 BABIP)other than that, his peripherals were better than most listed.

The absence of Gabriel Moya who had an ever better season than Curtiss (0.76 ERA, 0.775 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 2.4 BB.9)is inexcusable. He had the best season than any of the Twins' minor league relievers, wearing both the Twins' uniform and not, and in my book he is the Twins' minor league reliever of the year.

Moya only threw 14.2 innings in the Twins system. For me that just wasn't enough. If he had put up those numbers all year with this org, yes, he would have easily been my No. 1 guy.

 

Bard was excellent, but picking only five guys was extremely tough. Who would your five have been?

    • Seth Stohs and MN_ExPat like this

 

The absence of Luke Bard is puzzling.He had a 1.332 WHIP, but that was driven by his ridiculous (.389 BABIP)other than that, his peripherals were better than most listed.

The absence of Gabriel Moya who had an ever better season than Curtiss (0.76 ERA, 0.775 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 2.4 BB.9)is inexcusable. He had the best season than any of the Twins' minor league relievers, wearing both the Twins' uniform and not, and in my book he is the Twins' minor league reliever of the year.

 

I struggled to include Busenitz and he had 30+ innings in the Twins minors, so I couldn't put Moya's 14.2 innings in there. 

 

Bard was on my list to consider... Good point on the BABIP, but at the end of the day, I feel good about the 5 I voted for, and feel bad that I couldn't vote for 4-5 others. 

    • MN_ExPat likes this

 

The absence of Luke Bard is puzzling.He had a 1.332 WHIP, but that was driven by his ridiculous (.389 BABIP)other than that, his peripherals were better than most listed.

The absence of Gabriel Moya who had an ever better season than Curtiss (0.76 ERA, 0.775 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 2.4 BB.9)is inexcusable. He had the best season than any of the Twins' minor league relievers, wearing both the Twins' uniform and not, and in my book he is the Twins' minor league reliever of the year.

 

I made it a point to mention him in the explanation of my vote that I provided, but sorry, 14.2 innings in the system isn't enough to get my vote. This is a Twins organizational award, not a Diamondbacks one.

 

Bard didn't make my list because K's aren't everything. His total was awesome, but his ERA and WHIP say he wasn't better at keeping runners off the bases or from scoring than anybody else in the Top 5. He wasn't particularly close in the scope of relievers if you ask me, either. 

 

He did have a very stellar season though, I'm not taking that away from him - he was in consideration. I wouldn't put it past him to prove you right on the BABIP and peripherals things in the future either, but this vote wasn't about that for me. It was about who got the job done the best.

    • MN_ExPat likes this

 

 

Bard was excellent, but picking only five guys was extremely tough. Who would your five have been?

 

Using xPE

 

(Moran 169.3)
Moya 111.7 - only his Twins' numbers
Anderson 82.1
Hector Lujan 69.1
Bard 56.8
Hackimer 54.5
-----
(Turley 51.2)
(Hildey 44.1)
(Busenitz 38.6)

Vasquez 35.7
(Curtiss 32.6)

 

Moran had the best season but he is short season.Using xPE because it approximates SIERA the closest (good luck finding MiLB SIERA) and I think that SIERA is probably the best metric in evaluating pitching performance, esp. relievers (along with WPA, but even better luck finding those numbers.)  

 

Using xFIP the ranking goes like:

 

Moya 0.92
Vasquez 2.28
Tonkin 2.49
Bard 2.55
Anderson 2.58
---
Curtiss - 2.78
Lujan 2.83
Hackimer 3.27

 

The issue I have with xFIP is the artificially high weight on HRs, thus pitchers who suppress the HR, like Tonkin, are ranked artificially higher than where they should be.

 

ERA is just an awful metric for a reliever.A reliever who comes in with the bases loaded and 2 outs can walk 3, get an out and come out with 0 ER.WHIP should always be normalized for BABIP, esp. when you go across leagues, assuming that team defense is not equivalent among different teams.

 

Moran had a phenomenal season, he should be rewarded for it

 

    • h2oface likes this

 

When I send out the ballots, I just basically say to vote for X number of hitters or pitchers and only to consider their minor league numbers. For the short-season, I say only to include short-season numbers. I put the non-specific qualifier of "spent most of their season in the minors" in there. 

 

These aren't "prospect" awards or rankings. This is minor league award stuff. Tonkin, for example, was sent down on May 9th or so. He had 5 weeks in the big leagues (during the minor league season). Busenitz had maybe 6-7 weeks in MLB while the minor league season was going. Hildenberger has had 9-10 weeks. 

 

But I like leaving it a little hazy (like MLB's MVP award, and let people interpret how they measure or evaluate Pitcher of the Year (in the minor leagues) on their own rather than just go with my opinions. 

 

Also, Cody sent me one list, which I entered, but then a couple of days later, he sent me a message saying that he had totally missed John Curtiss and to put him #1 and slide others down. .So, the rankings are still accurate. (I have updated Cody's rankings). 

 

I get that it's not prospects. But Tonkin has spent multiple years in the show for some time. I think that would disqualify him more than all the others. Thanks for the (non?) clarification, though. Fuzzzy voting, I get it, now. Thanks for the reply. 

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Tom Froemming
Sep 13 2017 07:09 PM

 

Using xPE

 

(Moran 169.3)
Moya 111.7 - only his Twins' numbers
Anderson 82.1
Hector Lujan 69.1
Bard 56.8
Hackimer 54.5
-----
(Turley 51.2)
(Hildey 44.1)
(Busenitz 38.6)

Vasquez 35.7
(Curtiss 32.6)

 

Moran had the best season but he is short season.Using xPE because it approximates SIERA the closest (good luck finding MiLB SIERA) and I think that SIERA is probably the best metric in evaluating pitching performance, esp. relievers (along with WPA, but even better luck finding those numbers.)  

 

Using xFIP the ranking goes like:

 

Moya 0.92
Vasquez 2.28
Tonkin 2.49
Bard 2.55
Anderson 2.58
---
Curtiss - 2.78
Lujan 2.83
Hackimer 3.27

 

The issue I have with xFIP is the artificially high weight on HRs, thus pitchers who suppress the HR, like Tonkin, are ranked artificially higher than where they should be.

 

ERA is just an awful metric for a reliever.A reliever who comes in with the bases loaded and 2 outs can walk 3, get an out and come out with 0 ER.WHIP should always be normalized for BABIP, esp. when you go across leagues, assuming that team defense is not equivalent among different teams.

 

Moran had a phenomenal season, he should be rewarded for it

See, it's really hard to rank a top 5! You couldn't even do it! Lol :)

 

xPE treats all hits as equal correct? If that's the case I have a problem with that as an end all be all stat. There's also a bunch of stuff xFIP ignores. I also don't really love anything BABIP related, either. If you give up a bunch of hard contact, guess what, your BABIP is going to be high. It's not because you were unlucky. The opposite can be true too. Get a ton of infield fly balls, well then your BABIP is going to be super low. Are you lucky? Or are you just effective at pitching high in the zone?

 

Maybe all that stuff is great in terms of being predictive, but these are year-end awards. We're not trying to forecast who will be best in 2018 or say whose success was more sustainable (or at least I wasn't). Those are great stats, no doubt, but all I'm trying to say is I don't like the idea of picking any one number in particular. And any time you have these sort of "Most Valuable" awards there is some kind of opinion/difference in methodology that comes into play, which makes it all the more fun.

    • Seth Stohs, Steve Lein, Thrylos and 1 other like this

 

I get that it's not prospects. But Tonkin has spent multiple years in the show for some time. I think that would disqualify him more than all the others. Thanks for the (non?) clarification, though. Fuzzzy voting, I get it, now. Thanks for the reply. 

 

I personally never considered him, but I don't want to tell others how to think .


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