How Twins' Non-Roster Player Pool Pitchers Could Help, Part II
Image courtesy of © Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsEarlier this week, the Twins announced their 60-man player pool for the start of MLB’s resumed training period, and I broke down how three of the pitchers who made it into that pool (but aren’t on the 40-man roster) could help the team this season. Today, let’s talk about the other four non-roster hurlers who made the early cut.
Sam Clay is, perhaps, the least known of all the players announced thus far as members of the pool. That doesn’t mean he’s the least interesting, though. In fact, he’s about as interesting as a player so thoroughly anonymous can be. The tall, round-shouldered lefty was a fourth-round pick by the Twins way back in 2014, and although he’s never been more than a remote blip on the prospect radar, he’s quietly pitched his way to the top of the minor-league ladder over the last few seasons.
In the past, Clay has flashed a plus breaking ball, and the team might believe they can continue to cultivate that pitch in the controlled setting of their reserve site, under the eye of their top pitching instructors and player development staff. The really compelling thing about him, though, can be summed up in one number—the number 1. Since 2018, in 189 innings of work across the top three levels of the minor leagues, Clay has allowed one home run.
He naturally pronates his forearm on his fastball, giving it heavy sink. He won’t run eye-popping strikeout-to-walk ratios, but Clay’s a ground ball machine who ran significant reverse platoon splits in 2019 (something the Twins clearly value in short relief recently, for good reason). He’ll never have the power or the dominance of Taylor Rogers, but Rogers isn’t a bad stylistic comp for him, so he’s valuable to the team as insurance against an injury.
Edwar Colina is four years Clay’s junior, but has matched his recent rise through the upper levels of the system. He throws hard and he has command of an above-average slider; what else does one need from a right-handed relief candidate?
Seriously, though, Colina stands out from other righties who do the same things in the Twins system for two reasons. One is his ability to go multiple innings, and maybe even to start. His changeup is below-average, but he hasn’t yet had to abandon it, and as a result, he’s been a starter most of the way up the chain. That lets him serve as a fallback plan if Randy Dobnak or Zack Littell gets hurt or ill. Dobnak and Littell were, at different but overlapping times last season, linchpins for the staff. They helped hold things together when they were threatening to fall apart. It behooves the team to consider how they might weather a stretch without one or both of them, and Colina provides an answer, in terms of both workload and quality of work.
The other thing about Colina worth noting is his delivery. He’s a very thickly-built, short guy, and in the past, his fastball has underperformed its velocity. Last year, he got slightly better in that regard, striding a bit longer to create more extension. His heat will still flatten out at the top of the zone, and that will necessitate improved command if Colina wants to grow into more than a fallback role, but for now, progress is encouraging.
Experience is still valuable, sometimes, and Cory Gearrin has plenty of it. He slings in a Frisbee-style slider, and that makes him very tough on right-handers, but he’s still yet to find something that works with any consistency against lefties. His movement usually keeps him off their barrels, at least, so if nothing else, he could be called upon to work without runners on base and with a right-hander due ahead of any lefties. Still, unless the team suffers multiple injuries in the rotation and/or loses Jhoulys Chacín to an opportunity to start elsewhere, Gearrin’s potential utility is limited.
After a sojourn in the independent American Association (with the St. Paul Saints), former Twin Caleb Thielbar has put up video-game numbers in the minors over the last two seasons. That doesn’t mean he’s likely to make it back to the majors, let alone to dominate there, but his career ERA in MLB is still a pretty 2.74, and he’s shown the same ability to throw strikes and miss bats in relief lately that he did during that three-season stint. The Twins are bringing in multiple candidates to fill the role of left-handed middle relief, including Danny Coulombe, Clay, and Thielbar. One of them seems likely to be on the initial 30-man roster when the season begins, if not to stick thereafter.
Minnesota has great pitching depth. None of the seven non-roster hurlers they’re keeping around are likely to take on large roles, precisely because of that depth. All seven of these guys have interesting characteristics and/or skills, though, which only serves to underscore the depth the team has on hand.
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