Twins 2019 Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year
Image courtesy of Daniel Venn, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Graphics by Finn Pearson)For the first time since Twins Daily’s MiLB writers have been voting on this particular award, there wasn’t much of a consensus for the top spot, whereas in the past if it wasn’t unanimous, it was relatively close. All three of the past four winners (one repeated) of this award have also gone on to pitch in the major leagues, so winning the award has been, to a degree, predictive of future success.
The system wasn’t littered with as many pure strikeout relievers as they had last year, but there were still several standouts as the MLB bullpen got plenty of reinforcements throughout the year from the minors, including one who appears high on this list.
Six Twins Daily Minor League writers voted for the various awards this year. 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 performers are to follow, but first, some players worthy of honorable mention. These players also received votes.
Others Receiving Votes
- Tom Hackimer, Fort Myers Miracle/Pensacola Blue Wahoos – 36 Games, 6-2, 1 Save, 2.54 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 33 H, 27 BB, 75 K (11.9/9IP)
- Adam Bray, Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Rochester Red Wings – 35 Games (9 starts), 4-4, 1 Save, 2.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 93.0 IP, 76 H, 26 BB, 83 K (8.0/9IP)
- Hector Lujan, Fort Myers Miracle/Pensacola Blue Wahoos – 33 Games, 2-4, 6 Saves, 2.76 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 58.2 IP, 57 H, 15 BB, 55 K (8.4/9IP)
- Melvi Acosta, Fort Myers Miracle/Pensacola Blue Wahoos – 28 Games (8 starts), 7-5, 4 Saves, 3.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 86.0 IP, 87 H, 29 BB, 79 K (8.2/9IP)
- Alex Phillips, Fort Myers Miracle/Pensacola Blue Wahoos – 42 Games (1 start), 5-3, 9 Saves, 2.96 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 67.0 IP, 48 H, 21 BB, 74 K (9.9/9IP)
- Sam Clay, Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Rochester Red Wings – 45 Games (1 start), 4-4, 10 Saves, 3.25 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, 69.1 IP, 70 H, 28 BB, 72 K (9.3/9IP)
Here are the top five vote getters for Twins Daily’s Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.
#5 – Zach Neff, Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle: 38 Games (1 start), 6-3, 8 Saves, 2.97 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 72.2 IP, 63 H, 24 BB, 89 K (11.0/9IP)
Neff was the Minnesota Twins 31st round selection in the 2018 draft out of Mississippi State University after spending the first three seasons of his collegiate career at Austin Peay University. After signing last year, he reported to the Elizabethton Twins before getting a late bump to finish with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. That’s where he began the 2019 season, and he was dominant with the Kernels, posting a 2.31 ERA and striking out 11.5/9IP through mid-June before being promoted to the Miracle. As to be expected, he wasn’t as good in the Florida State League but still struck out 10.4/9IP and racked up six of his eight saves while finishing the game in 13 of his 19 appearances with Fort Myers. As a left-hander he carried reverse splits on the year, holding righties to a .569 OPS versus .622 from lefties, but (literally) the only difference was in slugging percentage, as his only home run surrendered on the year was to a left-handed hitter. In the monthly awards during the season, Neff received honorable mention once and was #3 for the month of June, where he had a 1.40 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in eight appearances.
#4 – Derek Molina, Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle: 26 Games, 2-1, 11 Saves, 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 41.0 IP, 31 H, 11 BB, 61 K (13.4/9IP)
Taken in the 14th round of the 2017 draft, Molina has steadily climbed the ladder in his two full seasons, appearing with Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids in 2018, and the Kernels and Miracle this season. At each stop, he’s had great strikeout numbers and ERA’s, but this year he also added control to his game by cutting his walk rate nearly in half from the year prior. After striking out 46 hitters in 29 2/3 innings with the Kernels to start the year, he was promoted to the Miracle to finish his season. If not for a shoulder injury that ended his season on July 12th, he may have been much higher on this list. That’s because what’s truly amazing about Molina’s season, is if you take out the first two games he pitched, and his last, these were his numbers on the year: 0.50 ERA, .183 BAA, .458 OPS allowed, and 53 K’s in 35 2/3 innings pitched. He appeared on the monthly award list in May (#4), and took home the top honor in June.
#3 – Moises Gomez, Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle: 32 Games, 1-4, 10 Saves, 3.59 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 52.2 IP, 28 H, 21 BB, 78 K (13.3/9IP)
I’ll admit I was a little surprised Gomez didn’t appear on more ballots from our voters, but of the three he did, I wasn’t the only one who ranked him #1. What stood out for me is that he maintained a sub-1.00 WHIP while having a K-rate north of 13/9 innings on the season and allowing just a .155 batting average and .507 OPS to opposing hitters. He was even more oppressive to same-sided hitters, holding righties to a .464 OPS and striking out 40.8% of them. He did not throw his first pitch until the calendar turned to May, but from then on, he was a model of consistency along with periods of dominance. In no single month did hitters post a batting average higher than .184 while in the month of June he had a 0.51 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings, and followed that up in July by posting a 1.93 ERA. It’s no coincidence those were the months he appeared on the award lists at #2 and #4 respectively.
#2 – Cody Stashak, Pensacola Blue Wahoos/Rochester Red Wings: 33 Games, 7-3, 4 Saves, 3.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 53.1 IP, 45 H, 9 BB, 74 K (12.5/9IP)
After being selected in the 13th round of the 2015 draft out of St. Johns, Stashak began his professional career as a starting pitcher, and a pretty good one at that. Over his first three steps on the organizational ladder he combined to go 19-11 with a 3.28 ERA. But when he made it to Double-A, the Twins shifted him to the bullpen and something crazy happened: his strikeout rate nearly doubled from subpar into elite territory. He set a career high in this number during the 2019 season with his 12.5K/9IP mark, and he rode that from Pensacola all the way up to 12 appearances (to this point) with the Twins. It’s a career path that should remind you a lot of Taylor Rogers’, and that’s definitely something to be excited about. He was especially dominant this season when he reached the Rochester Red Wings and triple-A’s “juiced ball,” which you probably wouldn’t have expected. With the Red Wings he racked up five wins with a 1.44 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 14 games, striking out 34 in 25 innings along the way. During the season he appeared on the monthly award lists in April (#5) and July (#3)
#1 – Anthony Vizcaya, Fort Myers Miracle/Pensacola Blue Wahoos: 41 Games (2 starts), 3-3, 11 Saves, 1.82 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 74.1 IP, 51 H, 30 BB, 83 K (10.0/9IP)
For the second year in a row, the winner of this award has the initials “AV,” as Andrew Vasquez took home this award for the 2018 season. Given this recent history, my advice to Twins scouts would be to keep these initials in the back of their mind when scouring the college ranks, independent leagues, and Latin winter leagues for new prospects.
Vizcaya got his professional career started in the Cleveland Indians organization, but floundered in rookie ball for two seasons before ending up playing sporadically back home in Venuzuela from 2015 to 2018. Twins pro scout Rafael Yanez liked something he saw from Vizcaya during his 2018 season there and the organization signed him in January. He hit the ground running in Fort Myers, serving as their closer to start the year and picking up seven saves in fifteen appearances before being promoted to Pensacola. He took flight at that point, improving his ERA from 2.22 with the Miracle to 0.78 with the Blue Wahoos.
In his last eight appearances in the Florida State League and first six appearances in the Southern League, he pitched to the tune of a 0.00 ERA, .159 BAA, and struck out 34 in 24 1/3 innings along with picking up seven saves. He had only two appearances on the season where he surrendered more than one earned run and closed out the 2019 campaign with another stretch of twelve games where he didn’t allow an earned run and held opponents to a .508 OPS against.
As a right-handed pitcher, he also held reverse splits on the year as he was lethal against lefties, holding them to a .152/.259/.202 slash line and only four extra-base hits (zero homers) in 117 plate appearances. He frequented the monthly award lists during the season, appearing on the lists for May (#2), June (honorable mention), and taking home the top honor in August for that stretch mentioned above.
Congratulations to Anthony Vizcaya for being named Twins Daily’s 2019 Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year and for also making a big impression in his return to affiliated baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization!
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1) Moises Gomez, 2) Cody Stashak, 3) Alex Phillips, 4) Derek Molina, 5) Anthony Vizcaya
- Cody Christie – 1) Anthony Vizcaya, 2) Alex Phillips, 3) Sam Clay, 4) Zach Neff, 5) Derek Molina
- Tom Froemming - 1) Cody Stashak, 2) Anthony Vizcaya, 3) Zach Neff, 4) Derek Molina, 5) Hector Lujan
- Steve Lein – 1) Moises Gomez, 2) Anthony Vizcaya, 3) Tom Hackimer, 4) Derek Molina, 5) Cody Stashak
- Ted Schwerzler – 1) Melvi Acosta, 2) Sam Clay, 3) Adam Bray, 4) Hector Lujan, 5) Moises Gomez
- Matt Braun – 1) Zach Neff, 2) Derek Molina, 3) Cody Stashak, 4) Sam Clay, 5) Hector Lujan
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