After being drafted in the second round out of high school, Swarzak rose quickly, reaching the majors at age 23. He has been crushed as a starter in the big leagues, but he's only made 28 career starts -- less than one full season's worth. Could it be that the Twins aren't ready to give up on him as a potential rotation option?
Back in mid-December, Swarzak tweeted the following:
— Anthony Swarzak (@ASwarzak51) December 17, 2013
The comment didn't seem especially noteworthy at the time; like many young relievers, Swarzak would like a shot at starting and he was setting his sights high. But recently, on Sunday, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press dropped this tidbit:
— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) January 12, 2014
The last part makes it sound like the Twins prefer Swarzak as a starter, which would be somewhat surprising since the righty thrived in a full-time relief role last season, proving invaluable as an inning-eating long man. With so many short starts, the team leaned heavily on him as Swarzak logged an MLB-high 96 innings out of the bullpen.
Beyond the rubber-arm factor, Swarzak pitched really well in relief. He posted a 2.91 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, ranking second and third in the pen respectively, and while his K-rate was average, that puts him above the majority of Twins pitchers.
I have long felt that Swarzak was among the team's most underrated players, and last year I would have loved to see him get a chance over the likes of Pedro Hernandez and P.J. Walters. At this point, I would still probably prefer him to Vance Worley or Andrew Albers.
But with entrenched veterans now comprising nearly the entire rotation, and with both Scott Diamond and Samuel Deduno lacking options, Swarzak would have to be no higher than seventh in line for a rotation spot.
That seems like an odd switch to make when last year he was one of the bullpen's most valuable assets.
Maybe the Twins really believe he can turn a corner and distinguish himself from a sizable group of fringe starters contending for that fifth and final rotation spot. More likely, they're trying to build as much initial depth as possible (injuries can strike fast in spring training) and they feel that having him prepare as a starter will help condition his arm for a workload similar to last year.
Clearly, Swarzak would like to start. And you can make a pretty good case that he's earned the chance. But now that the Twins have gone out and purchased some established pitching depth, he's going to face a steep uphill climb trying to prove he can help the team as much in a starting role as he can relieving.