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Constructing the Best Bullpen Mix to Finish 2019

The Minnesota Twins have struggled to find a completely effective bullpen mix in 2019. With all the moving pieces recently and an overused Taylor Rogers, here is an attempt to find a competitive bullpen for the stretch run.
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
Stop me if you have heard this before. The Minnesota Twins could use some better pitching performances. Early in the season all the focus was on the bullpen, and while it has more recently shifted to the starters and a stretch of dismal starts, all the changes with the relievers do cause us to wonder what should the Twins bullpen look like for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs.

The good news (if there can be such thing about something you struggle with) about the Twins bullpen struggles is that they are not alone in those struggles. The Dodgers, Cubs, Braves, Padres, and even the Yankees among others have had their own hiccups along the way, whether it be performance or injury related.

As a reminder to ourselves, here is what the bullpen looked like coming into Opening Day 2019.

RHP Trevor May
LHP Taylor Rogers
RHP Blake Parker
RHP Trevor Hildenberger
RHP Ryne Harper
LHP Martin Perez
LHP Adalberto Mejia
IL-RHP Matt Magill

Now Perez’s inclusion was obviously the early season luxury of being able to roll with a four-man rotation. Besides Perez’s move to the rotation we have also seen Parker, Mejia, and Magill all let loose and Hildy has been sent down, hurt, and is now trying to make a comeback. The task at hand today is trying to assemble the best bullpen with what is available to the Twins for the stretch run as they try to outpace the Indians once again like they did to begin the season.

Constructing the Bullpen for the Rest of 2019

For starters, Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, and Ryne Harper will have a place in the bullpen barring any injury. Even after allowing a grand slam to Carlos Santanna Sunday, Rogers is still the best reliever this team has and still one of the best in the league at what he does. As food for thought, there was this informative tweet from Aaron Gleeman regarding Rogers’ usage.



This makes it all the more important to find reinforcements for the bullpen so that Rocco can give Rogers some rest. Romo was brought in to be part of the backend of the bullpen and has a 1.59 ERA since coming on the scene. He has only allowed the one run since joining the Twins. Harper has done nothing but get the job done this season holding a 2.96 ERA in 51 games. While he is the third reliever mentioned here, the Twins need Harper to fill a role in the sixth and seventh innings and not end up as the third-best reliever on this list in order for the team to be competitive with playoff caliber teams.

The polarizing Sam Dyson will and needs to be part of this bullpen as well for the Twins to be competitive. They went out and traded three prospects for him for a reason. While Rogers is the Twins best reliever and Romo can and has saved out some games, Dyson is really the guy that can help effectively take a load off of Rogers. The good news is Dyson looks ready to come off the IL as soon as Tuesday. Now just hopefully whatever needed to happen during those 10 days happened and he is ready to be the good Sam Dyson the Twins traded for.

Tyler Duffey and Trevor May are two that carry baggage of memories with them for fans. It is sometimes hard to shake the memories of bad Duffey from our minds and see that he has continued to pitch well in relief in 2019. His ERA is a respectable 3.23 even if his 4.11 FIP gives a little reason for concern. Duffey has also turned in seven straight scoreless appearances and hasn’t given up multiple runs since July 6. Giving Duffey a run of 13 appearances with one run or less. Right role, Duffey has value for a competitive team.

May had us all excited when he pulled back and nearly hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Unfortunately that has been bookended by a stretch toward the end of July where he took a loss, blew a lead, and blew a save and allowed seven runs over three games and on the other end the solo shot he allowed to Tyler Naquin. May is likely the best representation of a power arm this bullpen currently has and his 3.74 ERA and K/9 north of 10 lands him a spot here.

That gives us a foundation of Rogers, Romo, Dyson, Harper, Duffey, and May in the bullpen for the stretch run, but this is where I would like to do some searching to see if we can put someone else in that final spot or two for the bullpen. Cody Stashak, Zack Littell, and Randy Dobnak have all had some flashes but when I am looking at the Astros and Yankees come postseason, if I could get a different pitcher in their spot that would be great.

Quest for Outside Help

The Twins could always look outside of the organization to the waiver wire to see if they could pick up a veteran reliever who has been cast off by his club. I would have been all on board the Twins taking a chance on Kyle Barraclough but he wound up with the Giants on a waiver claim. That leaves at last check relievers like Tony Sipp, Greg Holland, Trevor Rosenthal, and David Hernandez to look at.

Obviously none of these guys are having great seasons and come with risk and that is why they were sent through waivers. Sipp and Holland feel like the most likely to gain some attention out of this group (Holland to the Nationals is currently drawing some strong steam). Sipp purely because he is a lefty and Holland because he is a “proven closer.” Neither looks to have much upside as Sipp may just be nearing the end at 36 and Holland looks to have lost velocity and is being hit as hard as ever in his career. I think the Twins should and will pass here.

Turning to the Farm

That leaves in-house options to round out the bullpen. The safe in-house option is to continue rotating Triple-A arms like the Twins have been and maybe add Ryan O’ Rourke, who was recently brought back into the system.

If we are willing to not keep it safe this seems like the spot where we lean on some Rob Antony steam and call on Brusdar Graterol. We are all likely familiar with Graterol as the top arm in the Twins farm system. While he has generally been working as a starter, his shoulder injury will cause him to need to rebuild some strength to regain length to his outings, making a bullpen role perfect for him down the stretch.

Graterol would add plenty of velocity to the bullpen since as a starter he can regularly hit triple digits. The shorter appearances out of the pen would also allow him to maintain extra velocity on his slider making it that much more effective of a pitch. At 20-years-old it feels very anti-Twins, but this is a new regime and they seem ready to unleash Graterol if it helps the team compete.

It may even be worth taking a look further down the line of Double-A Twins pitchers. Jorge Alcala, who was acquired in the Ryan Pressly trade, has the velocity that is exciting for a bullpen arm as he can also touch triple digits. The problem is, like Fernando Romero who I haven’t included on this list, he hasn’t fully harnessed his pitch arsenal and is struggling with a 5.96 ERA.

Another 2018 trade deadline acquisition in Jhoan Duran (Eduardo Escobar trade) could be someone who the Twins could try. Duran joins Graterol and Alcala as someone in the Twins system who can hit triple digits on the radar gun. He has had a solid season as a starter even though he has struggled since being promoted to Double-A Pensacola with his ERA jumping to 5.29 over three games from 3.23 over 16 at High-A Fort Myers. If he can smooth things out in the next couple weeks the No. 9 prospect by both Twins Daily and MLB Pipeline could join Graterol as an aggressive promotion to the major league pen.

If I am the Twins, I believe this is the bullpen I am rolling with going forward.

CL Taylor Rogers
CL Sam Dyson
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Ryne Harper
RHP Trevor May
RHP Tyler Duffey
RHP Brusday Graterol
(if Twins stay with a three-man bench)
RHP Jhoan Duran or Triple-A rotation

This obviously hopes for a Dyson return to form to take some pressure off of Rogers, but Taylor is still the shutdown guy whenever that is needed. The biggest weakness in this pen is that there is still only one lefty. So I wouldn’t hate it if someone wanted to try to shift Martin Perez or Devin Smeltzer into the bullpen. I just don’t know if I am convinced about either of them being great bullpen arms. I would also tread very carefully with Duran, but I am very curious to know how the front office views both him and Graterol. I would hate to mess with either of their developments for a handful of bullpen innings.

Let me know how you would construct the Twins bullpen moving forward. Nicely call me crazy if necessary, or high fives are always nice as well.

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34 Comments

I have no answers, but I think everyone in the system has to be on call.No holding back because we already did that at trade deadline.

    • Mike Sixel, KidBro, SF Twins Fan and 4 others like this
I like your suggestions, and they are probably what I would do. Leaning on the young guys is a good move and they have lots of bullets left. I don’t know what role Perez has on this team!? It sure isn’t starter anymore.
    • Nate Palmer likes this
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yarnivek1972
Aug 12 2019 08:25 PM
I don’t think the Twins would have acquired O’Rourke if they didn’t plan to use him. He’ll be up before the 31st.

Rotation: Berrios, Pineda, Odorizzi, Gibson, Smeltzer (Perez to IL)

Bullpen: Rogers, Romo, Dyson (3 co-closers), Harper, Duffey, May, Thorpe, Dobnak/Graterol. Thorpe and Dobnak/Graterol could be long relievers.

I don't think Duran and Alcala are ready. They will be hit hard.

    • South Dakota Tom likes this

I think Perez and Graterol will be in the pen... and honestly, I think that's the best we can do at this point. If Dyson is up to snuff, our bullpen will be solid with this group - and that's with no sarcasm, I think this is a pretty good group.

 

Now the rotation is what really concerns me, and the only reinforcements they have from the minors is Thorpe... I'm very concerned about them.

    • diehardtwinsfan, Dantes929, mikelink45 and 4 others like this

Bypassing an extended diatribe about horse already having left that barn...

 

I like the idea of Duran and Graterol.....

 

Release the Live Arms!

 

    • mikelink45 likes this
Free Duran! He has to be added next year. Graterol doesn't and he'll need to be on an innings limit next season. I'm not sure I'd call on him.

Don't forget Trevor Hildenberger. If healthy his change up is super legit. Andrew Vasquez could refind his form as well. To me, they'd be the best options, but certainly not options you can bank on.
    • rdehring likes this
Great article-well thought out and extremely well written. Personally, I’d go with your first 6 and add Thorpe and Smeltzer. I like the idea of having a “loogy” if needed to stop a big inning and/or to pitch in long relief.
    • Nate Palmer and tarheeltwinsfan like this

Gaterol is my first choice here.It is probably too late to stretch him out, so use him as a one or two inning option.  

If Perez fails tonight, do not car if we release him, only thing he would be in the pen is a long option.  

Krol who is in Rochester might be another option, seems to be doing well there. Then find one of the young kids in Rochester to be the 5th starter. 

    • Dantes929 likes this

Yes I think tonight is make or break for Perez. If he struggles early I hope he is pulled for Smeltzer who will take his place in the rotation moving Perez into the bullpen where I think he could add value.

Step one: no more multi inning outings from Rogers for the remainder of the regular season. 

 

Step two: dunno. Hope for a lotta at'em balls, I guess. 

    • ashbury, KidBro, SF Twins Fan and 1 other like this
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Nate Palmer
Aug 13 2019 06:39 AM

 

Free Duran! He has to be added next year. Graterol doesn't and he'll need to be on an innings limit next season. I'm not sure I'd call on him.

Don't forget Trevor Hildenberger. If healthy his change up is super legit. Andrew Vasquez could refind his form as well. To me, they'd be the best options, but certainly not options you can bank on.

I was encouraged by Hildy's interview with Doogie a week or two ago. If the team and him were able to find something mechanical to fix and he can do it with success he will certainly vault to the top of options to round out the bullpen. 

    • Jham and rdehring like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Aug 13 2019 06:47 AM

Good article. Extremely timely. I have 3 comments to make about this topic: 1) Why would a struggling started be expected to do any better in the bullpen?2) I would emphasize "no walks" over the speed of the pitched baseball. I'd look for a reliever who will not walk anyone. If the pitcher pitches strikes, the odds are 7.5 out of 10 that the batter will make an out, whereas if the pitcher throws too many balls, the odds are 100 % that the batter walks to first base. Period. 3) I would look for a lefty who has extreme success pitching to left-handed hitters.

    • Doctor Wu and jz7233 like this
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In My La-Z-boy
Aug 13 2019 07:02 AM

 

I think Perez and Graterol will be in the pen... and honestly, I think that's the best we can do at this point. If Dyson is up to snuff, our bullpen will be solid with this group - and that's with no sarcasm, I think this is a pretty good group.

 

Now the rotation is what really concerns me, and the only reinforcements they have from the minors is Thorpe... I'm very concerned about them.

I wish I could like this post a hundred times. 

    • Danchat likes this

 

Step one: no more multi inning outings from Rogers for the remainder of the regular season. 

 

Step two: ????

 

Step three: Profit!

 

    • USAFChief and SF Twins Fan like this

 1) Why would a struggling started be expected to do any better in the bullpen?

Only if he can approach it differently, such as not pacing himself to try to go six innings. Max-effort, in other words.

    • tarheeltwinsfan likes this

 

I don’t think the Twins would have acquired O’Rourke if they didn’t plan to use him. He’ll be up before the 31st.

I wouldn't be surprised if O'Rourke was part of our 40 man roster in September as a strict LOOGY, but AAA needs reinforcements right now too, especially with how the MLB club has been cycling through their AAA options.

 

Fortunately for us, it looks like Rochester will not qualify for the postseason, and their regular season ends Sep. 2, so that up-and-down cycle should end soon.

 

Step one: no more multi inning outings from Rogers for the remainder of the regular season. 

I don't know about that -- I kind of like multi-inning outings from a reliever when possible, as opposed to a series of relievers on shorter stints where one of them could be throwing poorly that day.

 

I'd say we could still use Rogers for multiple innings, but to do so judiciously -- probably no more doing that with 3 run leads, certainly no more using him the next day, etc.

    • mikelink45 and jz7233 like this

I'm for Graterol in bullpen. I tend to believe this was the type of plan for him this year all along even if he hadn't got injured. He would be at or past his career high IP right now if healthy, and likely in triple-A or the majors by now.

 

All things considered, you need Perez, Thorpe, or Smeltzer (or 2 of them) in the bullpen too. Rogers as only lefty is playing with fire.

Who comes in to face Yelich in a big spot? Smeltzer, Perez and Rogers are our only lefties and 2 are starting.
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LA VIkes Fan
Aug 13 2019 09:23 AM

Bullpen/Starting staff steps I would make, starting this morning:

 

Perez to IL or bullpen, Thorpe up to start either today or tomorrow with Gibson today 

Dyson activated, Dobnak/Smeltzer down

Pineda activated, Cave down - Thursday (3 man bench until Cruz back)

 

Rotation - Berrios, Pineda, Odorizzi, Gibson, Thorpe/Smeltzer/Dobank

Bullpen - Rogers, Dyson, Romo, May, Harper, Duffy, Littel, Smeltzer/Dobank (worst guy goes down when Cruz is back)

Must say I really liked Dobnak the other night.Seems like a bulldog who could have a future.Will agree probably won't be this year.

 

Glad a few mentioned Hildenberger.Assuming he is now healthy and he can make a couple minor adjustments over the next ten days, he is the best candidate to step up and make a difference.Everyone else is trying to find the best #7 or #8 guy in the pen.HIldenberger could be someone who slides in with the big three in a set-up role.

 

Still would like to see another lefty out there.Don't know who that will be, but there are some options, albeit not great ones.By that I do not mean that I don't like Smeltzer or Thorpe, just that they haven't been relievers and it may be difficult to get the most out of them switching to the pen. 

Hildenberger has had 3 months with an ERA under 3.5 in his MLB career so far. Hasn't stopped the narrative that he's a set up man... I don't get it.
    • USAFChief, Mike Sixel and SF Twins Fan like this
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LA VIkes Fan
Aug 13 2019 10:17 AM

I agree with Vanimal. Hildenberger hasn't really shown that he can consistently get outs at the MLB level. Look, Hledenberger as an effective reliever may be no more of a long shot than Thorpe, Dobnak or Smeltzer as an effective starter or Gaterol as a reliever but it's still a long shot IMHO. 

    • USAFChief and mikelink45 like this
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Crackedfungo
Aug 13 2019 11:17 AM

 

I agree with Vanimal. Hildenberger hasn't really shown that he can consistently get outs at the MLB level. Look, Hledenberger as an effective reliever may be no more of a long shot than Thorpe, Dobnak or Smeltzer as an effective starter or Gaterol as a reliever but it's still a long shot IMHO. 

Hildenberger's opportunity has passed.Unless he were to string together a number of weeks in the minors with no runs and low hits, I would not even consider him now or in the future.It is time for Graterol to be added as a reliever, and for Smeltzer and Thorpe to take over Perez's spot.I would not bother with O'Rourke, either, unless there is a string of weeks of innings with no runs.I don't care if he is a lefty either; bring in the loser of Thorpe/Smeltzer instead.I am over the retreads....We need to win and to build experience

    • mikelink45 likes this

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