Three-Bagger: 40-Man Additions, Paul Molitor & Tyler Jay
Image courtesy of Troy Taormina, USA Today* Monday marked the deadline for MLB teams to protect prospects from exposure to the Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. The Twins, somewhat surprisingly, added only three: RHP Zack Littell, LHP Stephen Gonsalves and LHP Lewis Thorpe.
The first two names were essentially givens. Littell and Gonsalves are among the organization's best pitching prospects and both are almost big-league ready. Either one could be up in the majors as soon as the first half of 2018, so they weren't going to make it through the Rule 5 untouched.
Thorpe is a bit of a different case. He's 21 and has only made one appearance above Single-A. Injuries and illness wiped out his entire 2015 and 2016 seasons, so the left-hander has less than 200 innings of professional experience. However, he has been really, REALLY good in that small amount of playing time, posting a 2.94 ERA and 1.19 WHIP while averaging 10.6 K/9. It's not too difficult to envision another club trying to stash him in their bullpen all year, and that's a risk the Twins couldn't take.
The tricky thing is that now Thorpe's option clock is set into motion, so they'll potentially have to roster him or lose him by age 25. Usually not too big of a deal, but with all the lost time Thorpe is behind on development and needs to get caught up in a hurry.
The Twins left several prospects unprotected, with these pitchers being the most notable: Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, Kohl Stewart. The first two are fireballing relievers who could help a big-league bullpen now (well, for Burdi it's as soon as he completes rehab from mid-season Tommy John surgery). So they're at high risk.
Stewart, the fourth overall draft pick just four years ago, has reached Triple-A and has a 3.10 ERA in the minors, though his secondary numbers haven't been good at all. It's conceivable someone gambles on his athleticism and heavy sinking stuff, but the righty just hasn't shown enough.
I do wonder if the front office that drafted Stewart would've been bold enough to risk losing him for nothing right now.
* Paul Molitor has only been a big-league manager for three years, but he's been around the game long enough to know how it goes. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, and with a regime of outsiders taking over baseball operations, he knew his outlook was grim despite the undying support of ownership.
Anything less than a clearly and undeniably excellent year was going to give Derek Falvey and Thad Levine an easy excuse to install their own guy. But as it turned out, Molitor delivered nothing less.
His season started on a note of redemption and ended on an even bigger one: The St. Paul native was named Manager of the Year last week after leading his team back to the postseason.
Of course, by that point Molitor had already procured the prize he really wanted, a new contract. He inked a three-year deal one week after losing to New York in the AL Wild Card Game, meaning Minnesota is now entrusting the 61-year-old skipper to oversee its impending prime window of contention.
It's a terrific story for a Hall of Famer who's never strayed far from home. Whatever you think of his tactical shortcomings, it's clear Molitor has the belief of his clubhouse, and it's also important to remember that in terms of total managerial experience, he remains one of the greenest in the game. He's still learning, and in 2017 he will have new hand-picked pitching and bench coaches to lend support. (Is Derek Shelton anti-bunt??)
* If the past few years (and especially this latest postseason) are any indication, the new model for winning in baseball will call for dominant bullpens with multiple high-powered weapons who can consistently shut down the late innings.
Cleveland's Andrew Miller is the prototype, but increasingly we are seeing teams deploy their best relievers outside of the closer role, often asking for more than three outs with games in the balance. It stands to reason that if MLB continues trending toward shorter starts and more relief innings, these kinds of bullpen aces will keep rising in value.
We'll all be surprised if the Twins don't make a concerted effort to add someone who might fill this role externally, but as far as players already in the organization, one name stands out as a potential fit the mold.
Things looked grim for Tyler Jay this summer, when he was again hampered by shoulder issues, and rumors of thoracic outlet syndrome began to circulate. However, those rumors proved false and he was able to return to the mound at Class-A Ft. Myers late in late August with a dominant display (6 IP, 4 H, 10 K, 0 BB).
Still needing to build up his workload after all the missed time, Jay headed to the Arizona Fall League, which just wrapped up. His stuff impressed even though he struggled some with control (11/5 K/BB in 9 2/3 innings). Most importantly, he took the mound regularly, logged his innings, and reportedly felt good.
It sounds like he hasn't yet regained his mid-90s fastball velocity but he has it in him, and when commanding that pitch along with his powerful slider and solid curveball he's got the makings of a valuable late-inning weapon.
The 23-year-old southpaw will absolutely be one to watch next spring.
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