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Front Page: Opening Thoughts: Brusdar Graterol (What Would You Do?)

Seth Stohs

So far this offseason the Twins have been unable to bring in an impact starting pitcher. But there might be an impact pitcher ready to begin his career with the Twins. Could the Twins become creative to get Brusdar Graterol some impact innings?Gerrit Cole. He was always going to the Yankees.


Stephen Strasburg. He was always going to stay with the Nationals.


Zack Wheeler. The Twins wanted to give him $100 million, but he wanted to stay in the east.


Madison Bumgarner. He wanted to hang out in Phoenix with his horses.


Hyun-Jin Ryu. He wanted a fourth year.


So now the Twins option for acquiring a proven impact pitcher comes down to the trade market, and there are options available.


If the season opened today (and it doesn’t until late March…), the Twins starting rotation would include Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda (after 40 games), and two open spots. Randy Dobnak should definitely get an opportunity to earn one of them. Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer deserve to be in the conversation for a rotation spot in 2020.


But if you’re looking for “impact,” then Brusdar Graterol has to be a consideration. We saw him hit triple digits often. He made throwing 98 and 99 mph look almost effortless. As he relaxed, the velocity increased, and his slider got sharper. He also has a changeup that he can be effective with. Those are the pieces that give teams and their fans hope of developing a true ace, a potential impact starter.


However, we have to acknowledge Graterol’s injury history. He missed nearly two seasons after Tommy John surgery. He missed about three months in 2019 with a shoulder injury. He ended up just over 70 innings pitched in 2019 after reaching 102 innings in 2018.


With such a high-potential arm, the Twins would be wise to take care of him. They need to. It’s possible he could be limited to maybe 120 or 130 innings in 2020. Do the Twins want to have him eat a bunch of those innings in Rochester? Or could they be creative in getting him those innings and that development in the big leagues?


Here is an idea that I would present. It’s probably a little outside the box, and yet, the Twins front office speaks often about how they like their staff (front office and on-field) to ask questions, to challenge norms.


What if the Twins went with an opener and then use Graterol has the primary pitcher?


The Opener concept was a huge conversation piece in baseball two years ago when Tampa utilized it. They had two pitchers that they planned on being in their rotation get hurt and really did it out of necessity. The Twins utilized the strategy that September when they were out of playoff contention and got a chance to get innings from several young starters.


It nearly disappeared in 2019. It’s not ideal. Teams would much prefer to have five starting pitchers who make 32 starts a season and reach 200 innings. But sometimes a strategy might necessitate creative thinking in this light.


So why might this strategy work, in my mind, for Brusdar Graterol in 2020?

  • Stratify a plan for keeping Graterol at a certain pitch count and inning count in an attempt to a.) keep him healthy and b.) make sure he’s strong in September and hopefully through October.
  • Why not just have him start? Well, if you’re limiting him to three or four innings per outing, at least early in the year, he can only be the losing pitcher. He can’t get wins. And while we all now know that pitcher wins and losses are immensely overrated as stats, it is something that a player can't help but notice. No need to put the extra stress on the young pitcher.
  • Have him start the season by throwing 50 pitches per outing, whether that’s three innings or four innings. Gradually increase that number. Maybe it’s 65 pitches once the calendar turns to May. Maybe it’s 75 when the calendar turns to June, and 85 in July. Ideally, that would give him 30 to 32 appearances and he should be reaching around 120 innings.
The Twins developed a bullpen that became a strength late in the 2019 season. They brought back Sergio Romo and added underrated Tyler Clippard. Taylor Rogers became one of the best relievers in baseball. Tyler Duffey and Trevor May dominated late in the season. Young guys like Zack Littell and Cody Stashak showed what they can be already and there is room for both of them to grow. Thorpe, Smeltzer and others could be the guys who move up and down as arms are needed.


The Twins bullpen should be a strength in 2020, deep with reliable guys. Sergio Romo made a lot of “starts” (opener appearances) for the Rays in 2018, when Rocco Baldelli was one of their coaches. They are certainly both very familiar with the concept. Zack Littell could be a two-inning opener if needed. There are options for opener opportunities and there is enough depth to make it work.


We don't yet know, at least in practice, how Wes Johnson might feel about using an opener, or if he has another philosophy on preventative care. In 2019, we did see the Twins put Michael Pineda on the injured list a couple of times to keep him fresh throughout the season. Maybe that's a better strategy?


Would it be a long-term plan? No. In 2021, the hope would be that Graterol could make 32 starts and hit 160 or more impact innings. But 160 or more innings is likely not be the plan for Graterol in 2020. And Twins fans shouldn’t want to see him using up too many of his (probably) predetermined innings in Rochester.


And, with Graterol being a league-minimum arm for the next three-plus years, they could use “impact starter allocated money” on a big bat (like Josh Donaldson). It also wouldn’t stop them from pursuing other ‘impact” starters in trades.


Again, please note that this is just me thinking out loud. There is no inside information in this article or in the development of this plan. But I think we are all aware of how detail-oriented and analytical this front office is. “What to do with Brusdar Graterol?” has to have been a highlighted discussion topic in the Twins offseason planning.


So what would you do? How would you plan out the 2020 season for Brusdar Graterol? These would seem to be the options:

  • Starter, developing in Rochester
  • Starter, developing in Minnesota
  • “Primary” pitcher in Minnesota
  • Bullpen arm in Minnesota
  • Bullpen arm in Rochester (likely not a preferred method)
Let the discussion begin.




-- Twins Daily 2019 Top Prospects: #3 Brusdar Graterol

-- Brusdar Graterol Hits 103+, Promoted to AAA


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What do you think of having Graterol paired with Odorizzi for every start?


Have Jake start the game and go his normal 5-6 innings (or two times through the batting order) and then bring in Brusdar for 3-4 innings or at least one time through the batting order.  This protects Jake as he seems to struggle that third time through and gives Brusdar a starter like schedule with reduced workload. This would also limit your bullpen use during this one out of every five games. You could then move Brusdar into a starter role if needed due to injury, etc. Not your true opener model, but something I would like to see the Twins try. Curious if there are any analytics showing differences in performance of a pitcher following certain types of pitchers - is Jake the best to pair Brusdar with or would there be a better contrast on the staff to have him follow? Also thinking this may protect Jake for the full year as well limiting his pitch count to 70-80 max per start.

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I have been saying this should be the plan for a month.  Would have Littell be his designated opener for most games, pitching the first 2 innings.  Then bringing Graterol in as you suggest.  Littell would also be available to pitch an inning or two in games two and three days after his opening appearance, so he wouldn't be limited to pitching only 2 innings every five games.


When facing a team with a strong group of lefties in their top 6 hitters, would use Clippard rather than Littell for that game's opener.


I believe there is a strong possibility that this combination (Littell and Graterol) could have the best results of any starting pitcher in the rotation, perhaps amongst the league leaders.  Who knows, might be a new way to find that ACE...this year.


And Merry Christmas, Seth.

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He really only used two pitches while in the majors last year. If spending some time in AAA working on the change up will help his development I would start there. Give him short starts in AAA and make sure to mix in the change up.


If he shows an improved change up in the spring put him on the opening day roster but I wouldn’t plan to have him in the rotation.


As for the opener that is fine but I hope they don’t worry about who is getting the win. If not getting a win has a negative impact on his performance imagine how many other things will. The main reason it reduces stress on his arm is because he starts with the bottom of the line up and sees the heart of the order and those difficult battles less often.

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GREAT topic Seth.  It's clear they still need at least ONE SP.  I'd like it to be an impact guy who would be our #1.  I've been pushing Sale.  Why settle for Price.  If your looking to make an IMPACT move, help the Red Sox keep Mookie by taking Sale off their hands.  That said, I'd like to see Graterol open the season with the big club.  The Odorizzi idea sounds interesting as does Zach Littlell for 2 innings and Graterol for about 3.  Anyway they slice it and dice it, they need to handle him much like they did with Johan Santana his first year as a Rule 5 guy.  They began the year with Santana in the bullpen and as he continued to impress he got higher and higher leverage innings.  After the All Star break Johan became a SP who rarely went anything but 5 innings.  Graterol could probably benefit with some time at AAA but the Twins will need him right out of the gate.  Right now the starting staff is Berrios, Odorizzi, Dobnak, Thorpe and Smeltzer.  Pineda won't be there until 25% of the season has elapsed.  Pineda will be strong down the stretch but 3 rookies at the  3-5 spots in the rotation just ain't gonna cut it.  

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If his command is good, he should be a starter. In baseball today, anything goes. So whatever works should be used. Start a soft tosser and bring in a hard thrower. Start a lefty and bring in a righty. Anything is possible and has been done before. He, and others, also will need high drama situations to get them ready for any post-season experience when every pitch is high drama.

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This is so obvious I can't believe the Twins aren't thinking it. Or are they..


Everyone says we have 3 starting pitchers spots filled but for the first  40 games we don't. With days off in our schedule I would assume we will need someone to take Pineda's place 6 or 7 starts. 


Why not have Graterol be a full time starter those first  7 games and then move to the  pin. Assuming he pitches 6 innings per start that would be 42 innings. And assuming he could be good for 120 total innings particularly with most coming from shorter stints Graterol would have 78 innings left. Enough for late inning bullpen stints and enough left for the play offs.



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You know the part where they talk about “sustainable”? In that scenario, I don’t think you generally promote a guy to the majors with 5.1 innings of AAA under his belt and only 52 innings of AA (including just nine starts).


The Santana comparison isn’t really accurate — he was in the majors because he had to be. And the scenario you’re describing, TopGunn, was actually his THIRD season. In his first season (2000), he only started five games, three in April and two in September. And he got rocked — 24 runs in 22 innings. The vast majority of his innings came in blowout losses — they were 2-28 in games in which he pitched. In 2001, things he generally pitched low-leverage relief, then made four starts in June/July and went on the DL for the rest of the year before pitching an inning in September. The relief outings were generally in blowouts (they were 2-9 in his games). They won all four of his starts, but not because of him — 15 runs in 19.2 innings. His only decision on the year was in his one decent start, when he gave up 2 runs in 5 innings and left with an 8-2.


In 2002, he made great contributions, but he had actually started the season in AAA and didn’t come up until May 31. It was his third season.


Even if the Twins don’t come up with another starter (and I think they will still get one or even two), the 3-5 starters would be Dobnak, Stashak, and Thorpe, each of whom has significantly more innings at AAA. And assuming health, one would get sent down after 8 starts when Pineda returns.


Between guys being ahead of him in the pecking order and what is shaping up as a deep bullpen, I don’t think there’s any way a 21-year-old with 5.1 AAA innings starts the season in Minnesota, let alone in the rotation.


I could see him pitching impact innings, but not before mid-season. Elsewhere, I outlined a scenario where he targets about 130 innings. Assume about 18 starts averaging 5 innings in Rochester, which gets to about mid-July. At that point, MLB needs and his performance determines whether you bring him up for up to 40 innings of MLB relief or leave him in Rochester to get the remaining 40. If it lines up to cover a need, he could potentially be brought up to be the 27th man in a DH, but that’s about it. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the first half dozen or so of the starts came in AA.

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Option 1, Starter, developing in Rochester.


He turned 21 last August, and has already gotten a taste of the majors, so no one's dragging their feet on his promotions. He showed flashes in 9 innings (plus an impressive post-season inning) but didn't dominate at the major league level, which is totally understandable. He has only 5 innings at AAA.


So let him hone his craft some more, there, and when he's not just knocking on the door but kicking it in, bring him up. With the innings he's had in the majors, maybe the advice he gets, on what works in AAA but won't in the majors, will have better context for him - that seems to be conventional wisdom for why to give a young guy a cup of coffee.


Worst motivation would be to let Pineda's unavailability on Opening Day drive the decision. That's a panic move.

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I will take him and I will open the Opener idea goes the way of the orange baseball - yes Charlie Finley got baseball to try this https://tht.fangraphs.com/tht-live/40th-anniversary-the-orange-baseball-experiment/ Closers, Opener, middle guys, Loogies, Roogies - just throw the damn ball and keep throwing until you wear out your arm and them bring in the next pitcher and do the same thing.  I want Brusdar.  He at least gives us hope for now and even more for the future. 

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To me the debate isn't traditional SP or primary pitcher following the opener. I do, however, think this could be the perfect example of when and why and how to use an opener.


No, to me the decision is ML or AAA to begin the year. He can make the jump and skip AAA. It's been done before. But the combination of losing out on just normal development time last season, including work on his change, might necessitate some time at Rochester to begin the year.


If the change looks good in ST, keep him and use him on the rotation as they best see. If the change is lagging, I'd say Rochester initially.

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Last year, Twins starting pitchers rarely made it past the sixth inning. Odorizzi and Pineda averaged around 5.5 innings per start. It would be great if the Twins had inning eating starters and pitched 200 innings a year, but Berrios had 200 and 3 others around 160 and Pineda 141 with suspension. Other than 5 starters, no pitcher pitched more than 70 innings. Pitching an opener 3 innings even just using them every 5th day would allow them to pitch 90-100 innings a year. Smeltzer/Thorpe would be good options. One of them with a right hander, the combo pitches the first 8 innings and have closer finish game. I like Smeltzer/Graterol pairing, finesse followed by power.

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One thing that plays into this is the new 26th man.  Astudillo seems to be the guy most assume will be that guy.  And it makes sense...have a 3rd catcher so Garver can play some 1B when Avilla catches.  What if it were a Lewis Thorpe?  Make Thorpe the "starter" in front of Graterol.  Not sure how the lefty-then-righty aspect of that would help or hurt the two pitchers.  Just a thought.

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...that said, the question is "What Would You Do".  I'd start him at AAA and have him on an innings limit down there with an eye toward a July call up to help the club...either as a "primary" or as a bullpen arm.  My eye would be on having him ready to fill a rotation spot in 2021.

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Someone mentioned pairing him with Littel I believe. Littell the first two innings and then Graterol for four and then its handed off to the pen for 7-9. Graterol gets 120IP this way and Littell can still be used in between "starts". I'd get behind this if Graterol is ready. But it was mentioned that we could "develop him at the ML level. If he needs developing then send him to Rochester. We're contending at this point not using the ML to develop.

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I would definitely start him at AAA. He still needs time to work on his arsenal, and upon calling him up, I think it would be smart to make him a primary pitcher, since he likely won't be able to go very deep into games. It would be a big mistake to rush Graterol just because there aren't any other options.

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Too early to tell.   It really depends on the Twins' moves this offseason, his offseason prep work/conditioning, and spring training performance of all the pitchers who are competing for a spot in the rotation.

Even with Pineda out for a bit, the hope here is that the Twins do not need another arm in the majors and let him build up some endurance.  His max of 102 IP is not much, but he is just 21.  I'd rather see him get close to 150 or so this season and make the transition in 2021.   However, if he is dominating and the Twins are in contention, it will make no sense not to get him up with the club as a starter.


Delegating him to the pen makes no sense right now.

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