Depth: Tyler Duffey, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Jake Reed, Zack Jones
Prospects: Tyler Jay, Dietrich Enns, Mason Melotakis, Tyler Watson, Tom Hackimer
Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle, who respectably held down closing duties for the 2017 team (albeit in unimposing fashion), are out. Replacing them are righties Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed, who better fit the traditional mold of dominant late-inning arms.
Minnesota has also substantially upgraded its left-handed relief foundation from a year ago, replacing Craig Breslow and Buddy Boshers with the vastly higher upside of Zach Duke and Gabriel Moya, while retaining steady specialist Taylor Rogers.
Though it lacks a true long reliever, the Twins bullpen is well constructed, giving Paul Molitor a diverse set of potent options leading up to one of the game's most experienced closers.
The quality of this group is such that Tyler Duffey (3.72 FIP in 2017) and Alan Busenitz (1.99 ERA in 28 appearances) were sent down to open the season, and few could quibble with the decisions.
Possessing power relievers who can come in and strike people out is critical in today's MLB. Last year's top five finishers in bullpen K/9 were the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, Indians and Cubs. They were also five of the last teams standing.
Minnesota, at 7.7 K/9, ranked 29th out of 30.
The eight relievers slated to comprise this year's bullpen combined to average about a strikeout per inning in 2017. That calculation doesn't include Tyler Kinley, who of course didn't pitch in the majors but did average 12.2 K/9 in Single-A and Double-A, and barely accounts for Moya, who has averaged 11.5 K/9 in the minors.
This is suddenly a bullpen filled with strikeout pitchers — a remarkable bit of roster wizardly, progressively carried out by the new front office.
The first guys in line as call-ups or replacements? Duffey, who struck out 67 over 71 frames in his first season as a reliever. Busenitz, who brings upper-90s heat and has averaged 9.2 K/9 in Triple-A. And finally: John Curtiss, an unheralded prospect who warrants intrigue specifically because of his tremendous ability to miss bats in the Twins system, where he's struck out 245 over 195 frames (including 33 K over 24 IP at Triple-A).
So, to summarize all that: Minnesota now has the indisputable makings of a power pen, even if things go amiss with the first wave. That's a status they really haven't been able to claim since 2006, when a unit led by Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon and Pat Neshek led the AL in bullpen K/9.
That team also won 96 games – most in the franchise's modern history. Coincidence?
While they've equipped themselves with a bunch of capable new arms, the Twins have also let several promising ones get away.
Luke Bard was snagged by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft and it appears he'll stick on their 25-man roster. If his massive improvements in Double-A and Triple-A last year prove legit, he could potentially be closing games for the Halos by midseason.
Nick Burdi was also fished away in the Rule 5, by Pittsburgh, and he'll be stashed on the 60-day DL until completing Tommy John recovery.
In late February, the Twins lost J.T. Chargois when we was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers. He is in line to make their team.
Bard, Burdi and Chargois were all highly drafted stud relievers out of college with premium gas, and despite injury setbacks, each was on track to make an impact in the majors. Now, they're gone, lost to other organizations in exchange for nothing, because the Twins didn't deem them worth protecting.
To be sure, these were measured, rational risks. Given the checkered health histories at play here, a reluctance to plan around these volatile fireballers is quite understandable.
But elevating other pitchers as priorities – most notably, the Rule 5 pick Kinley, a relatively unaccomplished minor-leaguer who has occupied a 40-man spot since December – does have a cost.
We'll have to wait and see whether the Twins made the right calls with all this shuffling, but there's a reasonable case to be made for every pitcher on the roster deserving his spot. And when it comes to evaluating hurlers, Derek Falvey and his crew have earned some trust.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The 2018 Twins bullpen will have a very different look, both because it features more new arrivals than incumbents and because it might be the most K-heavy unit Minnesota has assembled in over a decade.
The front office chose to wager on its free agents and its Rule 5 selection rather than some homegrown arms that many of us expected to play a role at the big-league level. I'll be curious to see if their altogether logical gambles pan out. If so, the Twins will have shored up one of their most persistent disadvantages from years past.
~~~Catch up on the rest of the series:
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins Daily Position Analysis: First Base
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Third Base
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Shortstop
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Left Field
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Center Field
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Right Field
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Designated Hitter
Twins Daily Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher
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