Image courtesy of Kim Klement, USA TodayThe Twins bullpen has not been good again this year. Here are the numbers:
Bullpen ERA: 4.53 (25th)
Strikeouts: 345 (26th)
Walks: 132 (7th)
Batting Average Against: .269 (30th)
Also, the Twins bullpen ranks seventh in Innings pitched with 407.1 innings. That is largely the fault of the starting rotation. Even with the first halves of Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the starters’ ERA is 4.89 (26th). The 625.1 innings the Twins starters have thrown ranks 27th lowest. They are also in the bottom half of MLB in strikeouts, walks, and batting average against. Again, the bullpen has generally been OK (not good, but not horrific either) until they have to throw a lot of innings due to a run of short starts.
While the Twins were generally healthy during spring training, there were some things that were already known.
First, while Glen Perkins was trying to throw some bullpens, it was clear that he would miss an extended time at the beginning of the season. Trevor May was going to be transitioned back to a starter before his season ended before it started when he had Tommy John surgery.
In the offseason, the Twins spent $2 million on veteran Matt Belisle. He had four horrific outings early in the season. But then he was nearly flawless for about six weeks before becoming the team’s closer. He recorded saves in his first three opportunities before blowing one.
The Twins also brought in some veteran types on minor league contracts. Craig Breslow got the longest big league look before the Twins DLd him and released him. Drew Rucinski has seen some time. Independent ball signing Nik Turley made three starts that didn’t go well, though it looks like his future could be in the bullpen.
So, why did the Twins sign so few relievers when we knew that there was potential for it to be a huge concern?
Brandon Kintzler would likely be solid, if not a stereotypical closer. He was much better than anticipated, even earning an All-Star berth and appearance. Taylor Rogers was coming off a solid rookie season and looking to improve upon it. Ryan Pressly’s clearly got the stuff to believe in. Fair to say that hasn’t gone real well much of this season. Tyler Duffey made the move to the bullpen and needed an opportunity to develop in that role.
It was clear from the get-go that 2017 was going to be an evaluation year for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. That meant giving extended opportunities to several arms. Could Buddy Boshers be an alternative if (and eventually when) Craig Breslow didn’t pan out? Michael Tonkin got through 2016 without an option. Could he take a step forward in 2017?
The team also added Justin Haley in the Rule 5 draft and wanted to evaluate him. Just like claiming the likes of Adam Wilk, Chris Heston and Dillon Gee. Add arms and evaluate.
Already, we have mentioned nine names for eight (and ideally seven) bullpen spots. But then there were other injuries that started piling up toward the end of spring training.
JT Chargois and his upper-90s fastball had a terrific September for the Twins and could have been a key contributor this season. Instead, 2017 has been the third lost season for Chargois since the Twins drafted him in 2012.
Nick Burdi had a lost 2016 season, but in the season’s first month, he was throwing hard, and throwing strikes, and seemingly very closer to debuting with the Twins. Instead, he had Tommy John surgery in May and that will likely cost him much of the 2018 season as well.
Tyler Jay was moved from the role of starting pitcher to relieverin spring training. The idea was that he would be able to move up more quickly. Instead, he’s missed nearly the entire season with biceps tendinitis and thoracic outlet-type symptoms.
And Jake Reed stayed with the big league club through most of spring training, but in the final spring game, he pulled a muscle in his side and missed the season’s first two months.
If you want to add Mason Melotakis to this group, that may work because he was supposed to get to the big league club this year. Unfortunately, he pulled an oblique early in the spring and didn’t have an opportunity to pitch in big league camp. While he hasn’t been injured, his velocity is way down. His numbers at AAA Rochester have been quite good. But he was able to be DFAd, went unclaimed and was outrighted to Rochester.
Each of those guys was likely expected to be a key contributor in the Twins bullpen by this time in the season. Instead, they have received zero innings so far but Reed, and possibly Melotakis, has a shot of getting a call this season.
However, that has opened up opportunity for others. Alan Busenitz got the call first. He went up and down a few times, but with recent outings, he has shown good improvement. His mid-to-upper 90s fastball is good, and he has a good breaking ball too.
Trevor Hildenberger was the Twins Daily Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year in 2015and 2016. He came up in late June and has shown that he can get big league hitters out. On Sunday, he got four outs to record his first MLB save. While his fastball sits in the upper-80s most of the time, his changeup is really, really good. And he throws each of his pitches from a couple of angles.
Busenitz and Hildenberger should factor into the 2018 Twins bullpen options. Hopefully Jay and Reed, Chargois and Melotakis, and maybe even Burdi at some point, will get an opportunity and could factor into the bullpen.
But other names have surfaced for 2018 as well. John Curtiss had a very strong 2016 season, spending a month in Cedar Rapids before moving up to the Miracle. He also performed well in the Arizona Fall League. He’s been absolutely fantastic in 2017, both in Chattanooga and since his move up to Rochester.
Luke Bard was recently promoted to AAA after putting up huge strikeout numbers at Chattanooga. Ryan Eades has been solid in the bullpen. The Twins also acquired lefty reliever Gabriel Moya from the Diamondbacks in exchange for John Ryan Murphy. He’s put up silly numbers at AA all year. Nick Anderson has been, arguably, quietly, the best reliever in the Twins farm system all season. Todd Van Steensel has put up another year with great numbers, this time at Chattanooga.
And we don’t know what the ultimate roles will be for the likes of Fernando Romero, Dietrich Enns, Dereck Rodriguez or other starters in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
The cabinet is certainly not bare, and as Falvey and Levine have said, accumulating arms and talented arms is clearly a focus.
If you’re looking for a sleeper for 2018, look to the GCL where right-hander Michael Kohn has been pitching the last few weeks. A former teammate of Torii Hunter, Kohn threw for the Twins in a tryout and soon after the Twins offered him a deal. Kohn was eating lunch with another former teammate and former Twins reliever Kevin Jepsen when his agent texted him with the Twins offer. The Twins signed him to a two-year minor league deal that includes an invitation to big league camp in 2018. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since May of 2015 due to shoulder surgery. In 115 games (132 games) over parts of five seasons in the big leagues, he struck out 111. He has pitched five innings over five appearances in the GCL over the last two weeks.
And finally, there is Glen Perkins. The three-time All-Star hasn’t pitched since April of 2016. He had shoulder surgery, reattaching the muscle to the bone. It had to be incredibly painful, and clearly it has taken a ton of work to get back. His rehab stint in entering its final week. The Twins will (presumably) call him up and give him an opportunity. I’m realistic about how much he’ll be able to contribute down the stretch. I hope he can just be solid. This is most likely the final season of his career, unless his plans have changed due to these injuries. The Twins aren’t going to pick up his option. So enjoy what he’s got left. Hope for the best. Appreciate the work he’s put in to get back and remember how great he was for a three or four year stretch.
The Twins could certainly go out right now and add a reliever or two in a trade. The cost, in terms of dollars or prospects would not be high. Or, they could call up guys like John Curtiss, Mason Melotakis, Luke Bard and Jake Reed in September and give them a shot.
The cupboard for Twins relief pitching options is far from bare. I would again advocate in the upcoming offseason that they not go crazy on bullpen arms in free agency. Maybe one veteran on a one-year, low cost, low risk deal, and a couple more minor league signings. That’s it. And then find a manager and pitching coach (whether that is Paul Molitor and Neil Allen or not) who will be willing to go with the young arms.
- howieramone2, Dave The Dastardly, caninatl04 and 1 other like this