Twelve's A Crowd: Twins Are Rolling In Relief
Image courtesy of Kevin Sousa, USA Today (Addison Reed)As things stand, I think we can safely say that the following pitchers are locks for the Twins bullpen, barring injury: Reed, Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke, Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers and Ryan Pressly. You might quibble on Pressly but they just signed him for $1.6 million and he's out of options. Despite his disappointing 2017, I don't think they're going to give up on that stuff without at least taking one more long look.
So if we're square on those assumptions, then there's one spot remaining in a seven-man bullpen. I might be going out on a limb here, but I suspect that spot is also essentially spoken for and filled. Er, Philled.
One thing that is conspicuously amiss in the group of six above is a long reliever who can bridge the gap over several innings after short starts. The highest pitch total in a 2017 outing for anyone in the group was Hildenberger's 40, in his second career appearance, and I suspect the Twins would prefer not to let him approach that number going forward.
We haven't heard much on Phil Hughes lately but the most recent reports suggested his recovery was going smoothly and he was amped up to return in 2018.
He'll be six months removed from his thoracic outlet revision surgery when he reports to camp. His $13.2 million salary and – more importantly – his (albeit now distant) history of pitching well in the majors make him a sure bet to land on the pitching staff, so long as he's healthy and throwing reasonably well.
As I wrote back in early December, bringing Hughes back as a reliever is almost the only option that makes sense. This only feels more true now, given how the rest of the pen is shaping up.
So, if that seven-man relief corps is penciled in, it leaves all of these guys out of luck:
Tyler Duffey, Alan Busenitz, JT Chargois, Gabriel Moya, Tyler Kinley.
Duffey has spent almost the entire past two seasons in the majors, and posted a 3.72 FIP for the Twins in relief last year. Busenitz posted a 1.99 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 28 appearances as a rookie. Chargois lost his entire season to injury but is one of the organization's top relief prospects, and he's MLB-ready. Moya has been silly good in the minors, and had the highest K-rate of any Minnesota reliever during his brief 2017 debut. Kinley was the Rule 5 pick that the Twins basically sacrificed Nick Burdi and Luke Bard to acquire, though you could argue one or both might have been lost over the course of the offseason anyway.
I didn't mention John Curtiss, because I don't think he'll be a viable contender for the Twins bullpen out of camp, but he's on the 40-man roster and has gotten a taste of the majors. Buddy Boshers was designated for assignment to make room for Reed, but if he makes it through waivers he'll still be around. He's spent plenty of time in the majors and has, in my mind, the right profile to get back there.
The collection of guys slated to miss out on Opening Day roster spots could basically form an MLB-caliber bullpen in Rochester. I might be exaggerating a little, but not a ton, especially if Chargois is healthy and on his game.
We still haven't yet accounted for Dietrich Enns (lefty starter acquired in Jaime Garcia deal, almost assuredly destined for a relief role), Tyler Jay (potentially back on the fast track after a healthy showing in the AFL), or the inevitability that at least a couple from the Gonsalves/Romero/Littell/Jorge pack will drop out as starters.
It's a degree of MLB-ready (or very close) depth the franchise hasn't enjoyed in quite some time. And it happens to coincide with bullpens becoming an increased area of focus all around the game.
Minnesota certainly isn't rich with proven top-tier relievers – a shortcoming they did address nicely with the Reed signing – but on aggregate, their talent at the position might rival any organization in the league. With just a few more guys turning the corner, the Twins could have themselves a self-styled power pen.
Granted, that's a sizable "if" but at least the team is giving itself a whole lot of reasonable "maybes."
- Mike Frasier Law, nytwinsfan, gagu and 2 others like this