2017: The Year In Debuts
Image courtesy of Daniel Mick (Daniel Mick Creative)It will likely not surprise anyone to know that of the 14 players to debut, 11 of them were pitchers. The first four pitchers on the list below are no longer with the organization. Of the remaining players, it’s not difficult to see a potential role for each of them at some point in 2018 or beyond.
As someone who follows the Twins minor league system so closely, it’s fun to watch several of these players work their way through the entire minor league system and get that big league opportunity whether it’s a long-term gig or just a short-term opportunity. That’s part of why I write the Twins Prospect Handbook, and why I encourage Twins fans to do so each year. The 10th Annual Twins Prospect Handbook (2018) is now available in paperback or e-book.
Justin Haley - April 5
Haley was the Rule 5 draft pick who came to spring training. He made the Opening Day roster and in the team’s second game, he recorded the final three outs of a Twins win. Two outings later, he struck out six in 3.1 scoreless innings to record his first MLB save. He went on the disabled list twice before being offered back to the Red Sox where he finished the season in AAA.
Jason Wheeler - May 30
Wheeler had worked his way up the Twins minor league system since being drafted out of college in 2012. He had been added to the Twins 40-man roster after the 2015 season. He was removed late in the 2016 season, but he kept working, making starts and finally got the call in late May. In his first inning (8th inning against the Astros), he issued a one-out walk but then coaxed a double play. Then the Astros scored two runs off of him, singles by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, in his second inning. He pitched in relief again the next night. After that series, he was DFAd and claimed by the Dodgers. He also pitched in the Orioles organization.
Randy Rosario - June 2
Rosario was the Twins Daily Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Month in May. He gave up just one run on four hits and two walks in 13.2 innings in Chattanooga. He struck out 18. The Twins had a need at the start of June, and Rosario was called up directly from AA. In his first inning, he came into the 8th inning against the Angels with the Twins ahead 11-2. He worked a 1-2-3 inning. Former Twins outfielder Shane Robinson was his first strikeout. He also got Albert Pujols out. He came back out for the ninth inning and gave up three runs. He worked in one more game, and gave up five runs in 0.1 innings. He was sent down and finished the season with the Lookouts. He was DFAd after the season and claimed by the Chicago Cubs.
Nik Turley - June 11
Turley signed a minor league deal with the Twins and didn’t even get a big league spring training invite. However, in the season’s first two months, he gave up 33 hits, walked 15 and struck out 84 batters in 52.2 innings. Fans (at least those who follow the Twins minor leagues) were clamoring for him to be called up. He made his debut in San Francisco. He gave up four runs on eight hits over four innings. He walked none and struck out four. He made two more (not-so-good) starts before being sent back to the minors. He came up twice more throughout the season and ended the year in the bullpen. Following the season, he was DFAd and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Alan Busenitz - June 17
Busenitz came to the Twins from the Angels in the Ricky Nolasco/Alex Meyer/Hector Santiago deal. Busenitz may be the best of the traded players. He came up for the first time in mid-June. He struck out the first batter he faced, MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. He walked a batter and gave up a hit in his first inning. He worked a second inning (and gave up a homer to Francisco Lindor). He went up and down a couple of times before coming up for good for the final two months. By season’s end, he became a reliable bullpen arm for Paul Molitor late in the season.
Trevor Hildenberger - June 23
Hildenberger was well known to Twins Daily readers as he was the Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year in 2015 and 2016. He was well on his way to a third straight award when he was called up in late June. In his first game, he came in for the ninth inning with a 5-0 lead. Roberto Perez was the first batter he faced, and the first strikeout victim. After a double, Hildenberger got Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez to ground out to end the game. It didn’t take long for Hildenberger to become the most reliable, and used, reliever in the Twins bullpen.
Felix Jorge - July 1
Jorge washttp://m.mlb.com/cut.../239860898/null directly from AA Chattanooga as the 26th man and started the second game of the doubleheader against Kansas City. He gave up two runs in the first inning, but then he put four straight zeroes on the board. He gave up a leadoff single in the 6th inning and was taken out. That man later came around to score. He recorded his first MLB Win. He went down after the game, but four days later, he came back up to make a second start. This time he didn’t get out of the third. He was sent down again after that game and didn’t return. However, he showed enough stuff that he should remain on the 40-man roster and continue to get opportunities.
Zack Granite - July 8
Zack Granite was scheduled to play in the AAA All-Star Game, but Jason Castro went on the 7-Day disabled list and Granite was called up.
When Castro came off the DL, Byron Buxton was hurt so he stayed, and he played well. In his major league debut, Granite was called on to pinch-hit late in the game. He worked an 11-pitch at bat before popping out. His first hit was a double just out of the reach of Jose Altuve.
Late in the season, Granite got hold of one for his first Major League home run.
And while he may not be quite Byron Buxton in center field, Granite can cover some serious ground in the outfield.
Dietrich Enns - August 10
Enns came to the Twins with Zack Littell from the Yankees in exchange for lefty Jaime Garcia. Just a couple of weeks later, he was called up to make a start in Milwaukee. In it, he went just 2.1 inning and gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits. The highlight of that game for him was probably getting his first big league hit. Five days later, he came out of the bullpen and gave up two runs in five outs. He was sent down, and then he spent most of the rest of the season on the disabled list. He remains on the 40-man roster.
Aaron Slegers - August 17
Aaron Slegers has gradually worked his way up the Twins system, one year at a time, and in 2017, he was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year for a very good season in AAA Rochester. In mid-August, he was added to the 40-man roster and called up to start Game 2 of a doubleheader as the team’s 26th man. Through six innings against Cleveland, he gave up just one run. He got a strikeout to start the 7th, but then he gave up a hit and was removed. The game-tying run scored after he left. But Slegers gave up two runs on two hits and two walks over 6.1 innings. He was sent down after the game but came back up with the September call ups. He remains on the Twins 40-man roster and should be a candidate for starts in 2018.
Mitch Garver - August 19
In mid-August, Robbie Grossman dove for a ball, collided with Byron Buxton and broke his thumb. Grossman was placed on the DL, and Mitch Garver was called up. In his debut, he struck out as a pinch hitter. The next day, he went 1-4 with a walk. His hit, as expected, was an infield single. He had a total of nine hits in 46 at-bats including three triples and a double. At this point, Garver appears to be the backup catcher option for the Twins heading into the 2018 season.
John Curtiss - August 25
Curtiss was the Twins Daily choice for Minor League Relief PItcher of the Year in 2017. It’s been a quick ascension for Curtiss in the last two seasons. He began 2016 in Cedar Rapids, then was promoted to Ft. Myers a month later, and then pitched in the Arizona Fall League. He began this season in Chattanooga and moved up to Rochester midseason. He was surprised when he got his promotion to the big leagues. In his debut, he came into the 9th inning with the Twins leading Toronto 6-1. He struck out the first batter he faced, Steve Pearce, and then got fly outs from Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak to end the game. His fastball/slider combination make him a potential late-inning option for years to come.
Niko Goodrum - September 2
Goodrum could have become a free agent last offseason, but instead he quickly re-signed with the Twins. He moved up to AAA and put together a solid season while showing he is capable of playing all over the diamond. It was that skill that likely got him called up on September 1st. He mostly played right field and second base for the Twins in his brief time. He didn’t get many at-bats, but he was able to record his first major league hit, an infield single. Goodrum was DFAd following the season and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers
Gabriel Moya - September 12
Gabriel Moya came to the Twins in late July in a trade with the Diamondbacks for John Ryan Murphy. He was so good all year in Double-A, that MiLB.com named him the top relief pitcher in all of the minor leagues this year. He continued the dominance and helped the Chattanooga Lookouts to a share of the Southern League championship. As soon as that series was done, the Twins added him to the 40-man roster and called him up. He worked 6.1 innings over seven outings. In his debut, he came into the ninth inning with the Twins leading 16-0. He issued a one-out walk to Wil Myers, but he struck out Jabari Blash to end the inning and the game.
Congratulations to each of these players! Share your thoughts on these debuts and these players.
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