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Article: Report From The Fort: Sorting Out The Lone Position Battle

tyler duffey tyler kinley gabriel moya alan busenitz
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 04:29 PM

FT. MYERS – There's been no shortage of intrigue at Twins camp, and even a little drama. But if you like to follow position battles during spring training, you've probably found yourself a little disappointed.

Surprises are always possible, but realistically, there is only one spot on the 25-man roster up for grabs. On Wednesday, a prime contender took the hill looking to build his case.The first four slots in the Minnesota rotation are set with Jose Berrios, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson. The fifth spot is almost certain to go to Phil Hughes, who figures to function as sort of a starter/long reliever hybrid in the early going.

With five off days in the first three weeks, the team's schedule is such that they can get through April while only needing a fifth starter two or three times. And by the time they'll require one on a more regular basis, Ervin Santana should be close to returning if not back already.

That means barring injury, someone from the Opening Day staff will be bumped by Santana in late April or early May. So the competition doesn't end once camp breaks. Whoever wins that final bullpen job will need to prove his worth throughout the early part of the schedule.

As things stand, there are four relievers remaining in camp to vie for that last relief gig. One could argue it's really a two-man race. Let's first take a look at the two longshots:

Alan Busenitz, RHP

Busenitz has a couple of very attractive numbers working in his favor: 1.99, and 95.7. The first is his ERA in 28 appearances during a sparking 2017 debut with the Twins. The second is his average fastball speed during that stint. Of the 462 pitchers to throw at least 30 innings in the majors, only 54 threw harder, placing Busenitz near the 10th percentile.

But here's the problem with the 1.99 ERA: it came attached to a 4.20 FIP and 4.80 xFIP, owing to the fact that Busenitz benefitted from a .212 BABIP and 86.6% strand rate. Minnesota's analytically minded front office surely recognizes the suspect sustainability of those numbers.

And as for the 95-MPH heater, it was really the sole pitch he used effectively. His other offering is a curveball and it was nothing special, helping explain why the righty produced just 6.5 K/9 and a 7.2% swinging strike rate, which nestled between relative soft-tossers Hector Santiago (7.4%) and Phil Hughes (7.2%).

As a fly ball pitcher who allows quite a bit of contact, Busenitz walks a dangerous line. Only one qualified MLB reliever finished with a FB rate above 45% and a K-rate below 20% last year – Seattle's Nick Vincent, and he succeeded with a very different formula, drawing weak contact with a high-80s cutter.

So there's reason for concern around Busenitz's long-term outlook unless he can crank up the K's or cut down the flies. But in the short-term, the biggest thing working against him is that – since he has multiple options remaining – the Twins have nothing to lose by sending him down to Rochester to work on those things.

Gabriel Moya, LHP

On the other end of the whiff spectrum lies Moya, whose 12.4% swinging strike rate during a very brief stint in Minnesota last year tied Pressly for best on the staff. Moya has also had an extremely impressive spring up to this point, allowing just one run (a solo homer in his first appearance) on three hits in six innings of work.

Something that could work in Moya's favor is the Twins going with five right-handers in the rotation. Theoretically this might increase Paul Molitor's desire to have a third southpaw in the bullpen, but Moya – who relies heavily on an excellent changeup – has never had big platoon splits, and in fact last year he was much better against righties.

Like Busenitz, he has options remaining so there's no harm in sending him to Triple-A to start the season. But I am confident Moya will be a solid weapon at some point.

And now, the two leading contenders:

Tyler Duffey, RHP

On Wednesday, Duffey made his first start in almost exactly one calendar year, allowing two runs (one earned) over three innings with two strikeouts and two walks. Molitor indicated afterward that the team plans to have him make another start in five days, on March 19th.

The right-hander has basically no shot at a rotation spot, so why is he getting starts? The answer is easy enough to see.

"I've been told I've been just lengthened out," Duffey said. "That's just to make sure I'm ready for that long role and maybe if something happens like a rainout or whatever and they need a guy."

In this capacity, Duffey looks like a very obvious fit. One thing lacking in the current bullpen makeup is a pitcher with such a profile. In 2017 he got six or more outs in 15 of his 56 relief appearances. He even completed three full innings a couple of times.

"We know he can be that guy, he did it last year quite a bit," Molitor said of Duffey's capability to fill the long relief role.

The manager didn't have an especially positive review of the 27-year-old's performance against a tough Boston lineup – "Overall you have to say that he battled really well, I don't think he had his best stuff" – and Duffey has generally been unspectacular on the mound this spring, but that seems almost immaterial. They need him.

Or do they?

Tyler Kinley, RHP

Ah, the Rule 5 pick. Always fun for a skipper to deal with in spring camp. Kinley has certainly caught some eyeballs with his big velocity, including a heater that reaches 99 and a slider that can touch 90. His Grapefruit numbers have been about what you'd expect based on his track record; six innings, six strikeouts, five walks.

It's becoming a little easier to understand what the Twins saw in Kinley – and Molitor had high praise for the 27-year-old earlier this month – but how does he fit? Another one-inning guy in a unit full of them? Isn't his signature short-burst velo a bit redundant with Pressly? Can a team with hopes of contending really dedicate a roster spot to such an unproven commodity?

One would surmise no. But of course, if the Twins don't carry Kinley on the active roster or trade for him, they'll have to ship him back to Miami. That wouldn't be the biggest deal but Molitor is well aware of what Minnesota's front office has invested in the righty.

Not financially, mind you, but with Kinley occupying a 40-man slot they've had to let some other promising players slip away – most recently J.T. Chargois, who is having a strong spring with the Dodgers. As such, the Twins owe it to themselves to get a good long look at Kinley. Could that mean bringing him north, even if it means sending Duffey down (he does have an option) and forgoing a traditional mop-up option?

It's not unthinkable. Hughes can ostensibly handle that long relief role between his sporadic starts in April. I don't think Molitor's going to go with a guy he flat-out can't rely on in a key spot, but if Kinley is able to convince the manager he's worth counting on? Like I said, not unthinkable.

But also not at all likely. If the team is sold on Kinley I suspect they'll try to work out a trade with Miami that would allow them to send him to Triple-A. Duffey is in the driver's seat until further notice. His flexible arm is just too useful to be sent away.

Sorry to put the kibosh on whatever minimal suspense existed around the lone "position battle" in camp. But if you're into such things, the good news is that Duffey will essentially be locked in a battle with Hughes to maintain that long relief role upon Santana's return.

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#2 DocBauer

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 04:47 PM

I say again, I don't think the team will stick with Hughes based solely on contractual obligation. As was pointed out in another thread/blog, (sorry, I can't recall which one now), the team has been pretty aggressive in some of their trade moves to take on full salaries of players in order to "pay" less in prospects or acquire higher rated prospects in return. But with the contract, a solid start the other day, most of these finalists having options, it doesn't really hurt to give Hughes that first month to see once and for all of you have something there or not.

I absolutely love the pen depth this team has. And like they did at times last season, they can play the Rochester shuttle game with any "losers" listed above, plus Curtiss, Reed, Jay and even Melotakis possibly.

I admit to being intrigued now by Kinsley. But sooner or later, now or when Santana returns, they are going to have to return him or make a trade. My guess? At the end of ST they make a trade to keep him, whether he breaks with the club or not.
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#3 mikelink45

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 04:57 PM

I am not impressed with either, nor do I believe in Pressley. However they go, they will continue to shake up the low end of the BP during the first half season.  

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#4 Riverbrian

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 05:18 PM

I'm going to trust the front office that they got someone worth a 25 man roster spot in Kinley. I've only seen one ST inning from him and it was OK. 

 

But... I continue to wonder today what I was wondering when they first plucked him in the Rule 5: Why is a contending team going to roll the dice on a rule 5?

 

A contending team should be trying to absolutely improve each 25 man roster spot. 

 

If Kinley makes the roster and Molitor has to hide him like he did with Haley. There will be no justification for the selection. 

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#5 Thrylos

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 05:31 PM

The "lone" position battle?

 

I see several:

 

Assuming that Escobar and Adrianza made the team, there are 1-2 bench jobs that need to be won among Vargas, Grossman, Aybar, Granite, and LaMarre.

 

That short lived (and putative, because they might still go with 4) 5th SP battle between Hughes and Duffey

 

The rest of the pen positions 3-4 after the 3 veterans (Rodney, Reed, Duke)and Hughes (if he does not start.) Rogers, Hindenberger, Pressly are not locks for anything.They have been parts of some of the worst pens out there, and frankly, a couple of them suck this spring (and if you cannot throw strikes against lower competition, you cannot throw strikes against higher competition.)To the names mentioned for a spot on the pen, I would add Myles Jaye.That 2017 pen was awful and its center pieces would not cut it in a contender.

 

So it looks about half a dozen jobs need to be won still...

Edited by Thrylos, 14 March 2018 - 05:33 PM.

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#6 spycake

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 05:51 PM

If the team is sold on Kinley I suspect they'll try to work out a trade with Miami that would allow them to send him to Triple-A.


FWIW, Kinley would have to clear waivers first in order to be traded to the Twins and sent to the minors. Not impossible, but such a move is pretty rare among Rule 5 picks. After all, if Kinley shows enough promise for us to want to trade for him, another club may want to claim him, perhaps only to work out a deal with the Marlins themselves.

#7 blindeke

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 06:35 PM

I bet they'll regret letting Chargois go...

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#8 Thrylos

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 06:36 PM

 

FWIW, Kinley would have to clear waivers first in order to be traded to the Twins and sent to the minors. Not impossible, but such a move is pretty rare among Rule 5 picks.

 

Scott Diamond (AKA "the Twins' Ace" TM Bert Blyleven) begs to disagree...

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#9 KirbyDome89

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 07:02 PM

"As such, the Twins owe it to themselves to get a good long look at Kinley."

 

I think they owe it to themselves to have an honest look at Kinley. He shouldn't make the roster simply because they lost Chargois and/or Burdi to bring him in. Two wrongs don't make a right. 

 

Hopefully you're right and they work out a trade or just send him back. 

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#10 birdwatcher

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 07:34 PM

 

I bet they'll regret letting Chargois go...

I know I do...

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#11 Kelly Vance

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 07:57 PM

a guy that throws 99 mph doesn't clear waivers.  Make him a BP swing man. Stuff like that is rare. Besides, other guys are just other guys. I say carry him North. Use him often early before the hitters catch up. 


#12 Danchat

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 08:34 PM

 

a guy that throws 99 mph doesn't clear waivers.  Make him a BP swing man. Stuff like that is rare. Besides, other guys are just other guys. I say carry him North. Use him often early before the hitters catch up. 

A 27 year old who has yet to pitch well in AA probably isn't going to be claimed. He'll probably be ready for the majors when he's 29, and that's if he's ever ready.

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#13 spycake

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 08:54 PM

Scott Diamond (AKA "the Twins' Ace" TM Bert Blyleven) begs to disagree...


Diamond is kind of the exception that proves the rule. I don't think there has been a similar Rule 5 trade in all of MLB for the last 6 years or so:

https://en.m.wikiped...5_draft_results

Although if anyone would make that deal now, it could be the Marlins, just to avoid paying the $50k required to take the player back. :)

#14 Nick Nelson

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 09:36 PM

 

The "lone" position battle?

 

I see several:

You see incorrectly. I'm not sure what else to tell you. To suggest that this front office (or any front office, but ESPECIALLY this one) is going to let 6 roster spots be dictated by the last 2 weeks of spring training results is beyond absurd.

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#15 twinstalker

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Posted 14 March 2018 - 10:20 PM

 

You see incorrectly. I'm not sure what else to tell you. To suggest that this front office (or any front office, but ESPECIALLY this one) is going to let 6 roster spots be dictated by the last 2 weeks of spring training results is beyond absurd.

I mostly agree. However, there are some spots that still can be lost. For instance, if Hildenberger continues to basically suck and pitches even worse, there's no reason to not let him work out his issues at AAA.One of Duffey or Hughes could implode and be demoted/released, most likely Hughes (released).

 

The importance of the 25-man roster is diminished now that we have a FO that is involved and understands how to use the 40.


#16 clutterheart

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 02:19 AM

You see incorrectly. I'm not sure what else to tell you. To suggest that this front office (or any front office, but ESPECIALLY this one) is going to let 6 roster spots be dictated by the last 2 weeks of spring training results is beyond absurd.


So Aybar is a lock to be gone?
Granite has no chance?
And Hildy is a stone cold lock to make the 25 man roster?
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#17 Tommygun921

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 05:46 AM

I still can't understand why they let Chargios, Bard, and Burdi (who could be on the 60 day DL off the 40 man) go for nothing to keep Kinley. At 27 he hasn't had enough success to justify letting guys go that have....when healthy. I wouldn't bet money on Bard coming back to haunt us or Burdi ever being healthy enough to. But I can definitely see Chargios haunting us. I haven't seen Kinley pitch at all....only box scores but I just can't see what they saw in him over these other 3.
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#18 puckstopper1

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 06:24 AM

 

So Aybar is a lock to be gone?
Granite has no chance?
And Hildy is a stone cold lock to make the 25 man roster?

 

I was thinking the same thing, Clutter.Add to that Rosario's health and Sano's potential suspension and there are still plenty of questions that need to be worked out over the next two weeks.

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#19 JLease

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 07:56 AM

 

So Aybar is a lock to be gone?
Granite has no chance?
And Hildy is a stone cold lock to make the 25 man roster?

 

1. I sure hope so

2. Slim chance, unless he really starts killing it with the bat and Grossman falls apart and forgets how to take walks.

3. Yes. He's ahead of Pressly, Busenitz, Kinley, Moya, and Duffey at this point. Absent injury, he's in.

 

I hope the Twins can work out a small deal to keep Kinley around if they want him, because I don't see room for him on the 25-man right now. The control just isn't there and you can't take up a roster spot with a guy you can't use on a contending team. When the Twins were losing 100 games? Sure, go ahead. Not now.

 

I don't see any chance for LaMarre or Vargas to make this squad. Vargas is auditioning for a trade/release, and his trade value is piss-poor because everyone in MLB knows the Twins aren't keeping him.

 

Rogers and Hildenberger were near locks before spring training started and there's nothing to suggest their stock has faded even a little. Pressly should probably be made to sweat a little because the performance hasn't lived up to the stuff, but the Twins seem committed, so why pretend he's fighting for a job against Busenitz or Duffey?

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#20 spycake

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Posted 15 March 2018 - 08:43 AM

Those that want to trade for Kinley -- how much are you willing to give up? Keep in mind he is 27 years old, would be off our 40 man roster, and might be something like 12th on our RP depth chart (without even considering the SP who could be promoted as RP before him, or guys like Chargois we might find on waivers ourselves). And he'd be eligible for Rule 5 again next winter if not protected, although he can't become a minor league free agent until after 2019.

If the Marlins let him go for $50k, sure, but anything more than that, it might be best to just cut our losses if he's not good enough to make it this spring.

I remember similar calls to trade and keep Haley last year, so perhaps it's just a reflexive suggestion.
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