With Hildy quickly establishing himself as a reliable member of the Twins bullpen, the door opened up for someone new to earn the title. There was no shortage of candidates. It was a special season across the entire Twins minor league system, and there’s no way you can win as many games as they did without a collection of stellar bullpen performers. After all the votes were tallied up, it was a Top-5 finisher in last year’s voting who took the crown.Seven Twins Daily Minor League writers were asked to vote for the various awards. For the relief pitcher of the year, we each voted for five players. The player who was voted as #1 received five points, #2 received four points and so on with the #5 vote receiving one point. Results were tabulated and can be found below.
Short profiles of our top five are to follow, but first, some players worthy of honorable mention. These players also received votes.
Others Receiving Votes
- Sam Clay – Fort Myers – 40 G, 8-0, 9 SV, 1.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 65.0 IP, 42 H, 32 BB, 63 K (8.7 K/9). Also pitched in three games for Chattanooga. Of the 10 earned runs he gave up with the Miracle, six of them were from his very first appearance of the season
- Michael Tonkin – Rochester Red Wings – 31 G, 4-2, 5 SV, 1.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 41.2 IP, 31 H, 13 BB, 61 K (13.2 K/9).
- Alan Busenitz – Rochester Red Wings – 24 G, 3-0, 2 SV, 1.78 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 35.1 IP, 19 H, 10 BB, 39 K (9.9 K/9).
- Todd Van Steensel – Chattanooga Lookouts – 36 G, 5-3, 0 SV, 1.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 58.2 IP, 42 H, 25 BB, 59 K (9.1 K/9).
- Drew Rucinski – Rochester Red Wings – 37 G, 2-6, 2 SV, 2.57 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 63.0 IP, 54 H, 10 BB, 57 K (8.1 K/9).
- Nik Turley – Rochester Red Wings & Chattanooga Lookouts – 14 G, 2-1, 0 SV, 0.81 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 33.1 IP, 18 H, 11 BB, 38 K (10.3 K/9). These are only his stats as a reliever. He also started 16 games.
- Alex Wimmers – Rochester Red Wings – 34 G, 7-3, 7 SV, 3.23 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 47.1 IP, 33 H, 11 BB, 48 K (9.1 K/9).
- Ryan Mason – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 29 G, 1-2, 0 SV, 2.01 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 49.1 IP, 54 H, 11 BB, 43 K (7.8 K/9).
Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year
Here are the top five vote getters for Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.
5. Andrew Vasquez – Fort Myers Miracle & Cedar Rapids Kernels – 37 G, 4-1, 2 SV, 1.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 58.0 IP, 47 H, 21 BB, 85 K (13.2 K/9).
A 32nd-round pick in 2015 out of Westmont College, Vasquez appears to be a nice find. He returned to Cedar Rapids, where he left off at the end of 2016, and dominated. At the start of June, the big 6-foot-6 lefty got the call up to Fort Myers and just kept on rolling. Lefties in particular struggled, hitting just .200/.297/.200 (.497 OPS) off him. Yes, in 75 plate appearances, no left-handed batter mustered an extra-base hit off Vasquez. And home runs? Forget about it. In 108.2 innings pitched as a professional, Vasquez hasn’t given up a single homer to anybody -- left or right.
4. Hector Lujan – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 42 G, 3-1, 17 SV, 1.33 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 54.0 IP, 41 H, 8 BB, 54 K (9.0 K/9).
The Twins scouts did a really nice job with Westmont College in 2015. Lujan, who was a college teammate of Vasquez, was selected by the Twins in the 35th round that year. After a rocky first couple of seasons in the system, Lujan broke out this year and was a consistent force at the end of games for the Kernels. In fact, he led the Midwest League with 17 saves. What really sticks out for Hector is his impressive K:BB ratio of 6.75. He was able to average a strikeout per inning while issuing just eight free passes over 54 innings. Lujan was at his best during the stretch run for Cedar Rapids, as he gave up just one earned run over his final 20 innings.
3. Tom Hackimer – Fort Myers Miracle & Cedar Rapids Kernels – 43 G, 7-1, 13 SV, 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 61.1 IP, 30 H, 22 BB, 71 K (10.4 K/9).
The side-arming right-hander is much more than a gimmicky pitcher, but we know from guys like Hildenberger and Pat Neshek that relievers who drop down can be extremely effective. Drafted in the fourth round out of St. Johns University in 2016, Hackimer had an impressive debut season, but really turned heads in this, his first full year of pro ball. Just two other minor league pitchers gave up fewer hits per nine innings pitched than Hackimer (4.4 H/9) while throwing at least 50 innings. Sidewinders are usually extremely difficult on same-sided hitters, and Hackimer is no exception. Right-handed batters hit just .113/.231/.121 (.352 OPS) off him this season. It’s pretty tough for relievers to earn Player of the Week honors, but Hackimer was honored by the Florida State League as it’s best pitcher for the week of July 3-9.
2. Nick Anderson – Chattanooga Lookouts & Fort Myers Miracle – 44 G, 4-1, 11 SV, 1.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 54.0 IP, 32 H, 10 BB, 57 K (9.5 K/9).
The Twins signed Anderson, who went to high school in Brainerd, out of the Independent Frontier League in 2015. He had a 3.58 ERA in his first taste of the Florida State League last season, but returned to dominate the league this year and ended up being a key contributor in Chattanooga’s championship run. While he fell just short of the award this season, there’s no doubt Anderson was one of the best relievers in all of the minor leagues this year, let alone just in the Twins system. Among minor leaguers who threw at least 50 innings, Anderson ranked sixth in ERA and seventh in WHIP.
Relief Pitcher of the Year
John Curtiss – Rochester Red Wings & Chattanooga Lookouts – 39 G, 2-0, 19 SV, 1.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 49.1 IP, 23 H, 22 BB, 68 K (12.4 K/9).
Curtiss’ year started with 22 scoreless innings for the Lookouts and in all he was charged with earned runs in just five of his 39 minor league appearances. The University of Texas product held opposing hitters to a .134 average this season, which was the second-lowest mark in all of the minors among pitchers with at least 40 innings. He also averaged 12.4 K/9 and didn’t give up a single homer while down on the farm. Minor league hitters were hopeless against him.
The fact that the voting was so close is a pretty strong statement in regard to how many great performances there were in the system, as MLB Pipeline selected Curtiss as its lone relief pitcher on the 2017 Pipeline Prospect Team of the Year. Guess how many minor leaguers pitched at least 40 innings and had a lower ERA, lower WHIP and higher K/9 than Curtiss. Two. And here’s the part you’re really going to like: one of those two pitchers is also in the organization. That would be Gabriel Moya, who the Twins acquired from Arizona in a trade for John Ryan Murphy.
It would have been interesting to see how the voting would’ve shaken out had Moya spent all year in the organization, as he had a 0.77 ERA, matching 0.77 WHIP, 13.4 K/9 and a Southern League-leading 24 saves this season. But just 14.2 of his 58.1 innings on the season came with Minnesota.
Curtiss finished fourth in last year’s voting, one spot ahead of Anderson that year, too. He joined the Twins in late August and has gotten his major league career off to a rough start, but he appears likely to fill a role in the Twins bullpen for years to come.
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1) Nick Anderson, 2) John Curtiss, 3) Tom Hackimer, 4) Hector Lujan, 5) Alan Busenitz
- Jeremy Nygaard – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Tom Hackimer, 3) Alan Busenitz, 4) Alex Wimmers, 5) Nick Anderson
- Cody Christie – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Michael Tonkin, 3) Hector Lujan, 4) Sam Clay, 5) Drew Rucinski
- Tom Froemming – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Andrew Vasquez, 3) Tom Hackimer, 4) Nick Anderson, 5) Alan Busenitz
- Steve Lein – 1) Nick Anderson, 2) John Curtiss, 3) Hector Lujan, 4) Tom Hackimer, 5) Andrew Vasquez
- Eric Pleiss – 1) Sam Clay, 2) Nick Anderson, 3) Todd Van Steensel, 4) Nik Turley, 5) Michael Tonkin
- Ted Schwerzler – 1) John Curtiss, 2) Nick Anderson, 3) Andrew Vasquez, 4) Tom Hackimer, 5) Ryan Mason
Feel free to discuss. What do you think? How would you rank them? How would your ballot look?
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