The Twins' Three Looming Wild Cards
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsApart from Littell, the group that has filtered into the Twins bullpen has largely been composed of rising prospects earning a look. Although Stewart was a former first- round pick by Minnesota, it has been just Littell that is still considered a relatively high-level prospect. His performances have had Minnesota working on a plan designed towards more relief success, and in short bursts, the former Yankees prospect has certainly looked the part.
The next man up could be coming from a trio of arms that were never considered to be in a position of fluctuation. Trevor Hildenberger was once the Twins reliever in the highest leverage situations. Stephen Gonsalves is a former top pitching prospect, and Brusdar Graterol has seen his name appear on plenty of current top 100 lists. It’s in this group that the front office has some interesting options, and significantly different paths at their disposal.
Hildenberger owned a 3.21 ERA in just over 40 innings two years ago. His FIP suggested he was even better, and the 9.4 K/9 compared to the 1.3 BB/9 was exceptional. Minnesota had turned a 22nd-round pick into a valuable weapon. Then as that season, and the next wore on, Paul Molitor appeared to ride the hot arm into the ground.
Through July 13, 2018 Hildenberger had already made 42 appearances for the Twins and turned in a 2.80 ERA. He was called on for another 28 innings from that point forward and his ERA in that stretch was an ugly 9.64 with a .995 OPS against. The result was a 5.42 ERA and a pitcher that looked anything but the 2017 version of himself. Entering 2019 the hope was that there’d be a turnaround, but an ugly 14 innings to start, and then an eventual injury at Triple-A shelved that promise.
Now healthy and on a rehab stint for Triple-A Rochester, Trevor is battling his way back. He’ll need to prove 2019’s start, at both the MLB and Triple-A levels, are behind him and that there’s a very good pitcher in there somewhere. Having thrown significant high-leverage innings previously, something close to the 2017 version of him would be a massive addition for Minnesota down the stretch and in the postseason.
A former top 100 prospect, Stephen Gonsalves getting a clean bill of health is among the best developments he’s had in 2019. Dealing with shoulder issues since the get go, he pitched just two innings at Triple-A Rochester before shutting it back down. Now rehabbing at the GCL level, he’s turned in two successful outings and the arm has come through unscathed.
Gonsalves isn’t a huge strikeout guy, and walks have plagued him over the course of his career, but this is certainly an arm with upside. In 100 Triple-A innings during 2018 he posted a 2.96 ERA. Working out of the bullpen would be new for him, as he’s started 118 of the 126 professional appearances he’s made, but it could be a role in which he could help the Twins.
Having utilized spot-starters in certain situations this year, Gonsalves could also factor into that mix. His pitch counts are likely going to be scrutinized with the non-existent workload this season, but letting it fly may be easier without the additional miles. Having talked to him this spring, Wes Johnson had implemented some impactful velocity knowledge on the minor league group, and Gonsalves’ maturity combined with the MLB experience from 2018, may work in his favor for a September contribution.
Little La Makina
Arguably the best pitching prospect in Minnesota’s system at present, Graterol could find his way to the big leagues in relief this year. He’s been a starter since signing out of Venezuela, but there’s some thought his long term role comes in the bullpen anyway. He too has dealt with shoulder issues this year, but has been cleared and is back pumping triple digits.
A guy like Graterol could fill the role Minnesota talked up for prospect Fernando Romero coming into spring training. Turning in two or three inning bursts out of the pen, Graterol wouldn’t need to worry about pitch counts and could immediately attack opposing hitters. As referenced above, he’s got a fastball that can break the radar gun, and his career K/BB rates are plenty fine.
It would be an aggressive jump from Double-A to a major league bullpen, but Graterol would be working more on refinement in Triple-A than anything else. Where both Hildenberger and Gonsalves provide somewhat of a safe but predictable option for the Twins, Graterol is the boom or bust type that represents the highest ceiling the rest of the way.
No more trades are happening for this club, and there’s a low probability that clubs are designating relievers of substance at this point. If Minnesota wants to right the ship on the mound, starting or relieving, the performances will need to come from within. Turnover at the end of the bullpen has seen plenty of arms get their shot, but this unique trio provides an avenue for a true answer if everything breaks right.
This season is the last in which big league rosters expand to the full 40-man come September. Should any of these arms be right as evidenced by their rehab assignments, it’s a good bet to see one, if not all, in the next few weeks.
- mikelink45, mickeymental, nclahammer and 2 others like this