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Pen Provies Possible Upside In Minnesota


Ted Schwerzler

2,938 views

As things stand, the Minnesota Twins have made two moves regarding their bullpen this offseason. In signing both Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke to one-year deals, they bring in proven veterans with skills in all the right places for the Twins. It seems Derek Falvey and Thad Levine sent a message in their relief acquisitions, and looking back to 2017, it is one that should be well received.

 

While teams have long since began venturing down the path of super bullpens, some of them go about it differently. At their peak, the Kansas City Royals seemed to do it more organically, while the Cleveland Indians moved some pieces around, and the current Colorado Rockies just threw money at everyone with a pulse. The idea that a start can be shortened through a strong bullpen is a good one, but it isn't a band-aid that can be applied to every organization.

 

For Minnesota, the reality is that both the starting pitching and relief staff needed work. With the cost of acquiring a starter being what it is, spending top dollar on a minimal impact role like a reliever is a tough ask. Instead, the Twins got creative by targeting high strikeout guys with strong track records. On top of that, they did so without much potential for negative repercussions considering the length and terms of each deal.

 

Where this story starts though, is at the beginning. Looking back to 2017, it's hard not to see Paul Molitor and his staff in a much better place when having to deploy relief help. There's no arguing that the Twins don't have an elite pen (or maybe even an above average one), but much improved is something they should have in spades.

 

On Opening Day of 2017, the Twins trotted Tyler Duffey, Michael Tonkin, Justin Haley, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle, Brandon Kintzler, Craig Breslow, and Taylor Rogers out to the bullpen. Of that group, only three remain, and each of them should find a spot in the 2018 pen from the jump. Assuming Minnesota goes with seven relievers (after beginning with eight a year ago), I'd imagine the group consists of: Duffey, Rogers, Pressly, Trevor Hildenberger, Zach Duke, Alan Busenitz, and Fernando Rodney.

 

Looking at the holdovers, you have two guys that have the ability to pitch in high leverage. While Pressly is the velocity guy, Duffey worked as a closer in college. Both can put the ball past opposing hitters, and looking for K/9 rates above 8.0 should be a safe assumption. In Rogers, Molitor gets a guy that was tested in his second year, and showed he can get batters out on both sides of the plate. Moving more towards the middle innings, he can act more as the second lefty, and be somewhat of a specialist.

 

In categorizing the additions, the Twins have a lot of new weapons at their disposal. Despite his age, Rodney is still pumping fastballs in the upper 90's. Yes he walks batters, but over the course of a full season, it's hard not to see him being an asset. Duke returned from Tommy John in record time, and the biggest takeaway from 2017 for him was health. He's a year removed from a 10.0 K/9 with the bulk of the season spent in the AL Central. Hildenberger and Busenitz both stepped in huge down the stretch for Minnesota a season ago. The former looked the part of a potential closer, while the latter is another velocity arm (95.8mph) that should see the strikeouts rise.

 

Given that this group is relatively established, and there's a bit more depth behind them, the Twins can feel a bit more at ease about their current positioning. We've been waiting on top relief arms to surface for some time, but names like Hildenberger, Busenitz, and John Curtiss simply stepped up first. Should J.T. Chargois, Tyler Jay, and Jake Reed see their time come in 2018, the overall water level for the relief corps will only continue to rise.

 

At the end of the day, the Twins bullpen isn't going to wow anyone on paper. For fans who've followed the organization however, it looks like one of the better groups in quite some time, and one that speaks to a certain level of sustainability. It took some time to get away from the soft tossing aspect in relief, but that doesn't appear to be the plan of action for anyone (save for Duke) who will enter the field from behind the wall. It may all blow up when the action actually starts, but there's reason for optimism with the current collection to be sure.

 

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

11 Comments


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Upside is the important term here. It is tempting to look at the construction of the bullpen through glasses tinted by what could be. The team might have been wise to aim higher than Rodney, but Duke is a solid signing. I agree with the likely bullpen (barring injures) that you suggest:

 

CL- Rodney

RHSU - Hildenberger

LHSU - Duke

RHMR - Busenitz

RHMR - Pressley

LHMR - Rodgers

RHMR - Duffey

 

As constructed, I can see this group not straying too far from average in either direction. The reinforcements as of today, are also upside laden:

 

RH - Curtiss

RH - Chargois

LH - Jay

RH - Reed

LH - Moya

Rule V - Kinley (don't see much room for him)

 

The much lauded veteran presence is there. The young guys with options are there. The near-ready reinforcements are there. This isn't a super bullpen, but if the starters can improve on the 2017 season they had, and with the addition of a more reliable starter (hopefully) to come, there is some reason for optimism. Nobody will call an analysist completely insane for predicting league average results out of the Twins' pitching staff. That is a welcome change.

 

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^^^^ This is a good comment. Well done Mr. Forks! Also, I think the Twins are hoping to see enough in Kinley to warrant a trade. I can't imagine him making the 25 man either.

That is my thought on him as well. I think I have him 13th on the depth chart. I guess they want a chance to watch him throw the ball during ST for a bit and see if there's something there. If it costs little more than a C- prospect, I suppose they roll the dice. They see something in him.

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I still have hopes for Duffey as a starter. I would send him to AAA to begin the season in the rotation and sign a guy like Belisle to take his spot in the pen. I think I would start May in AAA also until he is ready. Teams generally need 7 starters in the first two months. Duffey and May might fit that need well allowing Gonsalves, Romero and Littell a half season of AAA experience. Jorge, Stewart or Ens can move into the AAA rotation as needed.

 

The Twins also need someone with options they can send out to bring up a fresh arm when the bullpen gets spent. They can’t do that with Kinley without a phantom injury. A rule 5 player can really make difficult in season roster moves and drive sooner the need for 13 pitchers. Busenitz might be in that shuttle role pulling up Moya, Curtiss or Chargois.

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All good comments. But no one is telling me what they will do with Phil Hughes. With Ervin, Berrios, Gibson pretty much locks in the rotation and assuming they sign one FA starter, who is the fifth starter? Hughes? I don't see a spot for him in the pen. . . . .I am a little skeptical on both Duffey and Pressley. Both were horribly inconsistent last year and gave up a lot of Home Runs. Would you put Hughes in Long Relief in place of either Duffey or Pressley? I also think May would be better served with a AAA spot to start the season. It's hard to say if he is fully recovered from TJ surgery. I'd go slow with him. Is Chargois healthy? If so, he would be someone that would start the season in the pen if I made those decisions. 

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I think they could still sign Belisle as good as Busenitz was last year his peripheals say he was just ok. Plus if Rodney has control problems early in the year, Belisle can step into closers roll short term. And we can always carry 8 pitchers for a minute too and injuries and stuff. Too much risk aversion to not sign him if we can get him fir around 3 million give or take.

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I still have hopes for Duffey as a starter. I would send him to AAA to begin the season in the rotation and sign a guy like Belisle to take his spot in the pen. I think I would start May in AAA also until he is ready. Teams generally need 7 starters in the first two months. Duffey and May might fit that need well allowing Gonsalves, Romero and Littell a half season of AAA experience. Jorge, Stewart or Ens can move into the AAA rotation as needed.
 

I understand the the want to test Duffy as a starter. I have him as the long man in my depth chart FWIW. Maybe if the change-up is showing life in ST I can see it, otherwise I see him as an upside reliever with a CB/FB combo which could be pretty good. 

If, however, the teams decides to stretch him out at AAA, that opens the door for Chargois (or Curtiss or Moya, etc) and might not be the worst thing.

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All good comments. But no one is telling me what they will do with Phil Hughes. With Ervin, Berrios, Gibson pretty much locks in the rotation and assuming they sign one FA starter, who is the fifth starter? Hughes? I don't see a spot for him in the pen. . . . .I am a little skeptical on both Duffey and Pressley. Both were horribly inconsistent last year and gave up a lot of Home Runs. Would you put Hughes in Long Relief in place of either Duffey or Pressley? I also think May would be better served with a AAA spot to start the season. It's hard to say if he is fully recovered from TJ surgery. I'd go slow with him. Is Chargois healthy? If so, he would be someone that would start the season in the pen if I made those decisions. 

I don't think the team can plan on even one ML appearance from Hughes. Even if he is recovered from his surgery in time for ST, they can't possibly guarantee him anything. He would probably be at extended ST for months.

May is definitely a wild card in the staff. He could be a #3 starter, a mop up guy, a setup guy, maybe nothing at all. He has the talent, but I don't think anyone knows what to expect out of him. Like Hughes, you plan as if he isn't there. If he forces his way into plans, that is a wonderful problem to have.

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We will have to wait until spring training to find out about Hughes. He can't be sent down, so the choice would be to keep him, put him on the DL or release him. I agree you cannot count on having Hughes or May on the opening day roster, but that doesn't mean one or both will not be there. (Ugh.. double negative).

 

If Hughes could return to his 2014 form, it would provide a valuable starter for the Twins – but that's a HUGE if.  We cannot count on it.

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As constructed, I can see this group not straying too far from average in either direction. The reinforcements as of today, are also upside laden:

 

RH - Curtiss

RH - Chargois

LH - Jay

RH - Reed

LH - Moya

Rule V - Kinley (don't see much room for him)

 

 

Which is sufficient "insurance" it strikes me, given the overall needs of the team and lack of 25-man and 40-man room (especially when you add the names of Hughes and May).  An acquisition like Belisle becomes the equivalent of another Rule 5 pick because you can't move him out of the 25-man (I know, you can release him, but I'm guessing he'd cost enough that we'd be reluctant to do that).  So roll with what you have plus the above, and my sense is that there will be a relief pitcher available from another team facing this exact same scenario, if things go badly.  And that always makes a wonderful mid-season human interest story.

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