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Twins Daily Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year

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The Beloit Snappers’ season is now complete, and that marks the end of the season for each of the Twins minor league affiliates. Several Twins minor leaguers are currently playing in the European Cup in The Netherlands. October marks the beginning of the Arizona Fall League and soon winter leagues in the Caribbean will start. Before thinking about that, it’s time for Twins Daily to hand out some minor league awards!

In coming days, I’ll be presenting my choices for Twins minor league hitter of the month and starting pitcher of the month. Today, I’ll present for you my choices for the Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year. There were a lot of terrific seasons put in by relievers throughout the Twins minor leagues. For instance, Corey Williams, who led the organization with 17 saves, did not make the below list. Dakota Watts had a nice season, but he missed the first couple of months with injury. Matt Hauser was again very good out of the bullpen and also made a half-dozen starts. Some of the most exciting bullpen guys are the ones drafted by the Twins in the 2012 draft. The Twins have made an effort in recent drafts and with minor league free agents to add some power arms. The six players mentioned below are a good mix of arms.

Feel free to debate them, or ask any questions you may have.

Relief Pitcher of the Year


#6 – Anthony Slama – Rochester Red Wings (1-0, 14 saves, 1.24 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 36.1 IP, 26 H, 18 BB, 56 K)

That Slama is on this list is no surprise to anyone who has followed his entire career and particularly his AAA career. The only thing that kept him from likely being at the top of this list (and probably from the big leagues) is that he missed nearly two months with a broken leg, suffered when Norfolk’s Miguel Tejada hit a line drive back at him in a game.

#5 – Luis Perdomo – New Britain Rock Cats / Rochester Red Wings (8-5, 9 saves, 2.60 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 72.2 IP, 54 H, 22 BB, 68 K)

Perdomo was signed by the Twins this past offseason after spending the previous three seasons in the Padres organization. San Diego had drafted him in the Rule 5 draft in December 2008 and he pitched 35 games for them in 2009 (55 strikeouts in 60 innings). He pitched one game for the Padres in 2011, but the rest of the time he’s pitched in AAA. The Twins had him begin this season in AA New Britain. In 26 games, he went 4-4 with 2 saves and a 2.75 ERA. In 39.1 innings, he struckout 43 in 39.1 innings. He advanced to AAA Rochester where he was 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 7 saves. In 33.1 innings, he walked just six and struckout 25. He was promoted to the Twins in early August and was also a September call-up.

#4 – Bruce Pugh – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats (5-5, 14 saves, 1.94 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 69.2 IP, 55 H, 31 BB, 72 K)

Pugh was the Twins 19th round pick in 2008 out of community college. The 24-year-old, hard-throwing right-hander really struggled in 2011, including in the Arizona Fall League. However, he came back in 2012 to show that he has a chance to be a back-of-the-bullpen guy for the Twins in the near future. The Twins decided to have him starting in Ft. Myers where he went 1-3 with a 2.60 ERA and 5 saves. He moved up to New Britain and went 4-2 with a 1.50 ERA. In 42 innings, he struckout 48 batters. He still needs to walk less batters, but he could get a 40 man roster spot this offseason.

#3 – Caleb Thielbar – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats / Rochester Red Wings (6-2, 6 saves, 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 77.2 IP, 64 H, 21 BB, 74 K)

The 25-year-old lefty from Minnesota became the first player that the Twins signed from the St. Paul Saints when he signed in August of 2011. Thielbar started this season in Ft. Myers where he walked two and struckout 16 in 12.1 innings. He moved up to New Britain where he walked three and struckout 26 batters in 25 innings. By midseason, he was pitching in AAA where he did meet some struggles but still held his own, posting a 3.57 ERA in 40.1 innings. He will continue his 2012 in the Arizona Fall League.

#2 – Michael Tonkin – Beloit Snappers / Ft. Myers Miracle (4-1, 12 saves, 2.08 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 69.1 IP, 53 H, 20 BB, 97 K)

Eyes were raised by some when Michael Tonkin returned to the Beloit Snappers for the third straight year. The first year, he came up as a starter who touched the low-90s and had a decent curveball. When I saw Tonkin throw in early June for the Snappers, he was a hard-throwing right-hander who threw with sink and had a terrific slider. He looked so much better than he had a year earlier. At Beloit, he was 3-0 with six saves, a 1.38 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. In 39 innings, he walked nine and struckout 53. Following the Midwest League All Star game, he was promoted to Ft. Myers where he logged late-innings again. He went 1-1 with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. In 30.1 innings, he walked 11 and struckout 44. Instead of throwing a low-90s fastball, Tonkin’s fastball now sits in the mid-90s and touches 96. Tonkin will also be playing in the Arizona Fall League this fall. Will he be added to the 40 man roster?
Name:  AJ Achter.jpg
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Size:  4.6 KBRelief Pitcher of the Year – AJ Achter – Beloit Snappers / Ft. Myers Miracle (5-2, 6 saves, 1.70 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 94.1 IP, 54 H, 15 BB, 86 K)

In 2010, AJ Achter was the Twins 46th round draft pick out of Michigan State. He didn’t sign right away, choosing instead to play in the Cape Cod League. He was terrific and before the deadline, he agreed to terms with the Twins. He started 2011 in EST, but moved up to Beloit where he made 19 starts for the Snappers. He returned to Beloit in 2012 but in a new role, pitching out of the bullpen. In 40 innings, he posted a 2.48 ERA. He walked 12 and struckout 49 hitters. After 18 games with the Snappers, he moved up and pitched 18 more games with the Miracle. He was markedly better. In 34.1 innings, he gave up just 21 hits, walked three and struckout 37 batters. The 24-year-old righty has a very solid three-pitch mix. He has terrific control and struckout well more than a batter per inning. Although he didn’t get as many saves as others, it was an easy choice to make AJ Achter the Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.

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So, what was Achter’s response to hearing he had been named by Twins Daily as the Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Years?

AJ Achter: (I am) “very honored and privileged to be chosen for this award. There were some other guys who had fantastic seasons who very easily could've been chosen. I can attribute almost all of this past season’s success to hard work and my coaches. It was a thrill for me to get the ball late in games and have the success that I had. ”

So what was the secret to his 2012 success? What was he able to work on and improve between 2011 and 2012?

AJ Achter: “The thing that I improved on most was throwing more quality strikes and just attacking hitters. Coming out of the pen, I just tried to force the action with hitters early in the count and let the defense make plays behind me. The defense made some unbelievable plays behind me and I worked so well with our catchers on coming up with a pitch plan to get guys out. I was able to go out and execute that plan most nights.”

What does Achter throw, and what is his thinking out on the mound?

AJ Achter: “My repertoire is fastball, slider, changeup. One of the biggest things that helped me out of the pen was being able to throw all three pitches for strikes, especially the changeup behind in counts. I don't think much changed from last year as far as in if my stuff got better, but I executed my pitches very well this season. I used the slider as a strikeout pitch to righties a lot, but besides that I just tried not letting guys get free bases and making them put the ball in play.”

Congratulations again to AJ Achter and all of these relief pitchers who had some terrific seasons of the bullpen in the Twins farm system.

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We’ll be back tomorrow with the Twins Daily Minor League Start Pitcher of the Year.
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