The Big Leaguers
The Twins bullpen was one of the few bright spots for the 2013 team. Yet, they were about league average, so there is room for improvement. Glen Perkins has proven himself one of the best relievers in baseball. Jared Burton and Casey Fien gave the Twins two right-handers late in games. Brian Duensing had a six-week rough patch, but he’s been a solid lefty in the bullpen for a few years now. Caleb Thielbar came up and was terrific. Anthony Swarzak pitched a ton of innings and was an unsung hero on last year’s team. Ryan Pressly was very good in his Rule 5 season, holding his own throughout the year.
We did get our first glimpse of Michael Tonkin. He struggled in the big leagues, as well as at Rochester, so patience will be needed. However, the tall right-hander has a chance to be very good at the back-end of the bullpen. He will see more time in 2014.
Late in the offseason, the Twins signed Matt Guerrier to a minor league contract. He spent six-plus years in the organization and was a very solid contributor for five of those years. He had forearm muscle surgery late last year, so it will be interesting to see when he will be ready.
As those who have read me for years know, I tend to rank relief pitchers well lower than starting pitchers. That's not because I don’t think the role is important to a team. Think about it, nearly 1/3 of a major league roster is comprised of relief pitchers. For me, it only comes down to potential innings pitched in a season, starters vs. the bullpen. Here is a look at some of the top bullpen prospects in the Twins' farm system.
Hard-throwing right-hander Zack Jones was my choice as the #22 Twins prospect and top reliever. In Ft. Meyers, he was consistently throwing fastballs above 95 mph and frequently hitting 99. He struggled in the Arizona Fall League and was shut down late due to cold fingers. On Monday, Feb. 24th, he will have surgery to repair an aneurysm that was found in his right shoulder which was cutting off circulation. He’ll miss the start of the season, but he should be able to return to form by midseason.
Luke Bard came in at #23 in my rankings. If 100% healthy, Bard will likely get an opportunity to start, though he may be a reliever down the road. His stuff is described as “filthy” so he could be a fast mover.
Michael Tonkin ranked #26 for me. He is 6'-7" and throws in the mid-to-upper 90s. After slow movement early in his career, he flew up the Twins ranks over the last two seasons. He began 2013 by dominating at AA. He moved up to AAA and eventually had a couple stints with the Twins. He really has had little success above AA so far, but he does have a big future.
Tyler Jones was just outside my top 30. He was my choice for Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year last year. He dominated between Cedar Rapids and Ft. Myers. Formerly a starter, Jones made the transition to the bullpen smoothly. He has a fastball that touches 97 mph with an improving slider.
Edgar Ibarra was added to the Twins 40 man roster this offseason after a strong year between AA and AAA. From June 4 through August 22, he gave up zero earned runs. In that time, he worked 31.1 innings over 26 games. He gave up just 13 hits, walked eight and struck out 27. The left-hander throws fastballs into the mid-90s with a very sharp slider. He should surface with the Twins at some time this season.
In each of these installments, I have been making my roster projections. There could still be additional signings, and injuries will affect all of this. That’s why it is important to have more than just seven relievers at each level. In some cases, there will be even more. There are also always players put on the disabled lists. This just gives an idea of who could be at each affiliate at the start of the season.
- Minnesota: Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Caleb Thielbar, Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Pressly.
- Rochester: Michael Tonkin, AJ Achter, Aaron Thompson, Edgar Ibarra, Brooks Raley, Matt Hoffman, Yohan Pino, Virgil Vazquez, Lester Oliveros, Matt Guerrier
- New Britain: Zack Jones (injured), Corey Williams, Adrian Salcedo, Deolis Guerra, Dakota Watts, Ryan O’Rourke, Matt Hauser, Cole Johnson, Kevin Thomas, Chad Rodgers
- Fort Myers: Tyler Jones, Luke Bard, Steven Gruver, Madison Boer, David Hurlbut, Matt Tomshaw, Alex Muren, Jim Fuller, Dallas Gallant (50 game suspension), JT Chargois (injured)
- Cedar Rapids: Josh Burris, Josue Montanez, Brandon Bixler, Chris Mazza, Hein Robb, Kuo-Hua Lo, Christian Powell, Austin Malinowski, Brandon Peterson, CK Irby, Carson Goldsmith, Tanner Mendonca, Andrew Ferreira, Brandon Easton, Jared Wilson, Todd Van Steensel
- Extended Spring Training: Josh Guyer, Sam Gibbons, Andre Martinez, Seth Wagner, Damion Defrank, Leonel Zazueta, Reyson Zoquiel, Jose Abreu, Derrick Penilla, Zach Hayden, Cameron Booser, Tyler Stirewalt, Chih-wei Hu
Feel free to discuss the players and the roster.