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Projecting the 2021 Twins Bullpen

The Twins have made some moves to bolster their bullpen this offseason with the additions of Ian Gibaut, Brandon Waddell, Hansel Robles, Alex Colomé, Shaun Anderson, and Ian Hamilton. It remains to be seen if the Twins are done but let’s take a look at how the bullpen is shaping up and the potential roles for each player.I personally do believe the Twins are done adding to the bullpen. Although I would have loved to see Sergio Romo or Tyler Clippard re-signed, their recent moves of adding Anderson and Hamilton tell me that they are okay giving a young, unproven arm the opportunity to compete for a spot at the front end of the bullpen.


Remember, this is an organization that has been relying on Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, Matt Wisler and Cody Stashak over the last two seasons and, as a group, accrued the second-most fWAR in baseball over that time. In the two years that Rocco Baldell and his staff have been in control, they’ve been able to get the most out of their relievers (if only we had hung onto Ryan Pressly for one more year!!), and even though Anderson and Hamilton were not the impact arms that Twins fans were clamoring for, this regime has shown that we can trust them in their decision making and usage of relatively unknown bullpen names.


So with all that said, let’s take a look at who could be in the bullpen to start the season and what their role will likely be. Remember, rosters have been expanded to 26 guys and teams can carry a max of 13 pitchers on the roster, which I imagine most will do. After ruling out the five starters, that will leave us with eight relievers to the bullpen.


8. Ian Hamilton RHP

This was the hardest spot to project so I was going with upside here. This will be one of the Spring Training stories to follow as I think others who will compete for the two jobs are Gibaut, Waddell, Anderson, Edwar Colina, Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, and Lewis Thorpe. Smeltzer, Dobank,and Thorpe will likely be competing for the last starting job, assuming they don’t add another starter via free agency, but one thing to note is that Thorpe is out of options which may give him a slight edge over the others.


The recently-acquired Hamilton has been unable to sneak through waivers without getting claimed this offseason as both the Mariners and Phillies tried to do so after adding him themselves. Despite only 12 innings of Major League experience, he’s the Twins prototype with a fastball in the high 90’s and plus slider. Unless one of the aforementioned names really show out during Spring Training, I think Hamilton is given the initial opportunity here during low leverage situations.


7. Cody Stashak RHP

6. Jorge Alcala RHP

5. Caleb Thielbar LHP

This group will be in the rotation more regularly as low or medium leverage options in the sixth and seventh innings. Through 40 big league innings, Stashak has pretty even splits against right and lefty hitters and generates a lot of whiffs and poor contact with his slider, which is important as his fastball tops out at 92 and isn’t a true power pitch.


I think Alcala’s 2020 is going mostly unnoticed but he was actually really good, especially against righties (.182 wOBA), posting some elite numbers.

Download attachment: Screen Shot 2021-02-06 at 10.05.44 AM.png


Alcala should absolutely be trusted in middle inning, medium leverage situations and might even move up the list if he sustains his elite numbers against right handed batters.


Thielbar’s inspirational five-year comeback might have overshadowed how well he pitched in 2020 although we can temper expectations a bit as we can’t expect him to never give up a home run. That said, he’s one of two lefties in the pen and provides a different look as his offspeed relies more on vertical movement than horizontal movement. He’ll probably be called upon when the opposing team has a couple lefty’s coming up in the order, but can also be trusted against righties in moderation.


4. Hansel Robles RHP

3. Tyler Duffey RHP

Robles was pretty bad in 2020 but was good in 2019 and has been mostly solid otherwise while also bringing moderate success in medium and high leverage situations. The Twins obviously believe that 2020 was an outlier and with great spin and whiff rates must believe his 2019 season is repeatable. An added bonus is his reverse splits, throughout his career he’s had slightly more success against lefties with a better strikeout rate and wOBA. He’ll share the set up role with Duffey but will also get some save opportunities along the way.


Duffey showed that 2019 was no fluke by having an even better 2020. He’s not an overpower pitcher but getting ahead in the count and striking batters out at an elite rate. On paper his curveball and fastball aren’t great, but he generates an elite number of whiffs by throwing his looping curveball in the bottom of the zone and pinpointing his fastball on edges.

Download attachment: Screen Shot 2021-02-06 at 10.35.40 AM.png

Like Robles, he’ll be trusted with bridging the gap to Colome and Rogers while also earning some save opportunities himself.


2. Alex Colomé RHP

1. Taylor Rogers LHP

Colomé will be a breath of fresh air as Rogers has generally struggled against righties throughout his career. He’ll bring a different look to a slider dominant bullpen as he uses a fastball and cutter to get batters. He’s not going to overpower hitters with either pitch and relies on soft contact and ground balls to get outs, which plays right into the Twins strong infield defense.


Rogers wasn’t great in 2020 but we shouldn’t completely forget about the two years prior where he accrued 3.9 fWAR, good enough for fourth best among all relievers in baseball. Some of his struggles can be attributed to luck as his oBABIP was 90 points higher than his career norm and a ERA-FIP of 1.21. I would expect numbers closer to 2018-19 than 2020 but also have comfort in knowing the Twins have Colomé, Duffey, and Robles as very good fall back options.


A single bad outing from a relief pitcher or bad day from a bullpen as a whole tend to be magnified and overstated, as well as skew numbers to look worse than they actually are. Per fWAR, the Twins have had the second best bullpen in all of baseball over the last two years and improved upon it this offseason. There will assuredly be bad days throughout a 162-game stretch, but overall they will once again have one of the best bullpens in baseball.



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I think that list looks pretty accurate.  I agree Thorpe has the inside track on a spot as he is a lefty without options. 


Ian Hamilton looks very interesting and like someone who could help this year in low leverage situations.  I think he has good enough control that we could see him this year.


I wouldn't sleep on Chalmers and Ober as they are not not on the 40 man just to take up space.  I know Chalmers has control problems but if we are expecting the Twins to fix Anderson then they should be able to help Chalmers who has a good fastball and elite curveball.  Ober is a long shot but he has had some very good results in the past.  He actually has good control and could leap frog all the other guys with control problems if he continues to have success with his repertoire of pitches.

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I think this sounds about right. I have no feeling for Gibaut and Waddell, but I would think Hamilton has the inside track due to the fact he has been claimed three times now. If the Twins like him I doubt they want to try to get him through waivers. It also helps that he has at least a minimum of MLB experience.


I like the additions of Colome and Robles. Colome takes some of the pressure off of Rogers and gives them a great top 3. While Robles could be a bust, he was a good value add with some upside. Alcala offers excellent insurance if Robles doesn't work. He could be the next guy to rise up the ladder.


I do have one quibble. I really don't think Rogers has struggled against RH. In 2019 he had a better OPS against vs RH (.611) than LH (.677). In 2018 it was .643 vs RH and .428 vs LH. I think he will rebound and have a great 2021. He was definitely a bit unlucky last year and having Colome will help. It will allow Rocco to use him better in advantageous matchups. 

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I think Bailey Ober is the sleeper here. I don't know if he projects as a starter or reliever at the MLB level, but with his elite control and the ability to miss bats he has a chance to have an impact for the Twins in 2021.


It doesn't seem like he has overpowering stuff that would give him a bullpen role. He has done great in the minors as a starter so I think the Twins should just roll with that for now. I think the Twins will give him a shot as the 5th starter this season at some point.

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First, just a brief personal bias/rant. I'm fine with 13 pitchers. I love the 26 man roster vs the previous 25 man version. I thought the 28 man roster in 2020 just worked so well I'd like to either see it kept, or compromise for a 27 man. But I admit part of that is I can't get the player roster down to 13 from what I want! LOL


I think you have the bullpen just about pegged, with the obvious caveat concerning the 8th spot. Hamilton over Anderson makes sense on paper right now, today but we'll see.


The elephant in the room is Thorpe. Despite everything he's gone through injury and illness wise, and despite WHATEVER happened to him in 2020, the FO has stuck by him to this point. Is he on a last gasp?


A few thoughts:


1] Robles: He's had a very solid, nice career before 2020 with solid numbers across the board. At only 30yo, I'm going to very surprised if he doesn't have a solid year in the 7th/8th while closing out a few wins.


2] Stashak: I forget his SSS when I take a second look because he's just been so good thus far. And despite lack of great velocity, what I have watched is confidence and control. The guy moves the ball around and just HITS SPOTS ever time I watch him. Foregoing a 3rd pitch, he may always be a middle man. But that's OK. All he seems to do is mix it up, hit spots, and get guys out. I've got him written in pen, no pun intended.


3] Thielbar: I read about increased velocity before his signing that I didn't see in 2020. But like Stashak, he worked his stuff up and down, in and out, and pitched multiple innings at times. He seemed be a PITCHER. But I think the jury is still out. I want to see more, but I'm hopeful for a couple years based on what I've seen.


4] Alcala: I know what he has and what I saw last year. I will be surprised if he isn't part of the back end of the pen before the season is done.


5] PROSPECTS: While I hate to admit it, the reports of Colina just not developing a 3rd pitch and his FB not nasty enough to stay in the rotation appears to be true. But he has enough velocity and a potentially wicked slider to be a BP weapon. He will be in St Paul when they need him.


Maybe it's just a hunch, but it seems the FO still believes in Chalmers as a SP. With his pure stuff, I sure hope they are right. But he can't be discounted as a potential major pen weapon, whether it be sooner or later or temporary and transitioning back later.


Do I need to say "everyone else"?


6] SURPRISE: And I don't mean Derek Law or Gibault, Waddell, Anderson, Hamilton, Minus or anyone else. I fully recognize we are talking about the bullpen structure NOW, but history has shown us the FO recognizes value when available and pounces on it. I will be very surprised if the current FA options don't allow such an opportunity and someone mentioned above isn't displaced in February for a late sign.

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Maybe it's just a hunch, but it seems the FO still believes in Chalmers as a SP. With his pure stuff, I sure hope they are right. But he can't be discounted as a potential major pen weapon, whether it be sooner or later or temporary and transitioning back later.



Yeah I did hear the FO believes Chalmers can start and they might know best but he is a pitcher that has had high WHIPs pretty much all the way up and that's not good for a starter.  He has already had TJ surgery once so I don't think I would push it.  Fangraph's has him as a reliever and I think the Twins should keep him as a reliever.  I mean they already have Balazovich, Duran, and Canterino on the rise with Sands and maybe Windor not far behind with starter type arm's that haven't needed TJ to this point. He has never pitched over 60 innings in a season to date why tempt fate?  Chalmer's is a potential elite pen arm and I think he is best suited to that role.


Ober is technically a starter and has the WHIP to be one but almost no one at the MLB level throws as slow as he does with any success.  He is a control artist that teams would likely catch on to the third time around if not sooner.  He has also complained about how his body feels after pitching and he has been hurt pretty much every year.  Again Fangraphs has him pegged for the pen and I tend to agree.  He has a variety of pitches that could make him good to elite out of the pen and isn't exactly young turning 26 this July. I think the pen is the most likely place he finds success and they need to figure out if he can be successful at the higher levels or not as he is taking up a valuable 40 man spot.


I would hope the Twins would put both of those players in the roles their bodies are most acclimated for and give them a chance to make the MLB sooner rather than later.

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I've been for Clippard all along for veteran stability.


It's hard to see Thorpe winning a starting job over Dobnak, so with no options, he may indeed be the elephant in the room, as Doc says, and headed to the pen. But between the first seven you listed, Clippard and Thorpe, I'd take the chance that at least one pitcher out of nine will open the year on the IL. 


I'd like to see another starter brought in on a major league contract and perhaps another on a minor league deal. Whether or not that happens, Dobnak and Smeltzer need to stay lengthened out as starters, so if they don't make the rotation, they'll be at St. Paul.   

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I’d like to see the Twins consolidate some of this depth and make a move. Package a prospect and a couple bullpen arms to upgrade deficient areas. I think this is the year the Twins try out a lot of guys in the first half and package some of that depth to get one difference maker. A true No 1 starter or at least another No 2 to pair with Berrios and Maeda.

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I think Thorpe has a problem: he was a non-entity last season, is behind Dobnak in the competition for the 5th spot in the rotation, and the Twins really don't need another lefty in the 'pen right now. With Thielbar & Rogers, along with the splits that Colome has...they really don't have an immediate need for another lefty arm. The one thing that might get Thorpe in the 8th slot is his ability to go multiple innings. I don't know what the Twins are thinking for the 8th spot and how much they value having relievers go 1+ innings for some of their guys or not.


I think Alcala is going to see more late inning opportunities. He looked like he was capable last season, so while he'll probably start the year getting more 6th inning jobs, I'm betting he's taking on higher leverage appearances quickly.



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I have some concerns about that bullpen. Robles and Theilbar at 4 and 5? Woof.


Last year we were looking at guys like May and Clippard in that area (assuming Romo fell in the top 3 as he was used for much of his time here).


It’s not an awful ‘pen on paper, but it’s certainly gone backwards since last year. That’s also assuming best case scenario. That’s if Rogers returns to form, and Robles is significantly better (like, massively better). If Rogers continues to struggle and Robles is still awful, the pen could be downright bad and lose a boatload of leads.

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Dobnack should be the 5th starter but let's see what Ober can do. I'm not high on Robles but hope he can revert back to pre-2020. I think we are ok with Colombe and Rogers sharing closing duties switching between the 8th and 9th innings depending on who comes up. Hopefully we will have several one-sided games to give these guys a break. I like Thielbar but think 2020 was a (good) fluke for him. Now let's get spring training started (or at least scheduled right).

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I like the Colome and Robles signings.  They definitely strengthen late-inning relief help.  But I'm not sure this bullpen is playoff-caliber.  The biggest worry I have is Rogers who simply looked awful last year.  I would hate to entrust him with closing duties early, at least until he has proven he has regained his 2019 form.  Duffy and Colome appear solid and Robles has potential to fit in critical game situations, too.


Stashak and Alcala could be solid, but I would hate to rely on Thielbar and Hamilton to round out the bullpen.  I never want to see Lewis or Smeltzer in any Twins game, ever.  Dobnak might prove a useful middle reliever, innings-eater.  I am still hoping for a more proven veteran FA(Odo would be great, but unlikely;  hope Twins can swing trade for a starter who would push Dobnak to bullpen/6th starter.


Assuming the only goal in 2021 is to win in the playoffs, I don't think this bullpen, on paper anyway, looks anywhere near championship caliber.  With Baldy's propensity to pull his starters after 5 innings, the need for a shutdown bullpen becomes vital to the team's success.  We're not there - yet.

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  If I had to bet money, Dobnak is the fifth starter.  Thorpe sticks in the 'pen to start the year.  Smeltzer heads to AAA if he has options left?  Recent moves look to simply be in preparation for the Target Field-to-St.Paul-and-back train.  We know from past history that the organization is going to use at least a dozen different relievers over the course of the season.

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Rodgers/ Colome/ Duffey has potential to be a solid back end but it really lacks a flame thrower and all have question marks


Alcala is the prospect/ wildcard


Robles/ Thielbar/ Stashak are decent to good middle relief


The pen is in a decent place but it is far from ideal for the playoffs.  I doubt they add anything more so hopefully something pans out from the prospects + rehab guys.



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I think there’s still going to be a long man in there. Thorpe, or Dobnak if the team grabs another starter. And I think they will. I think they liked the starter depth last year.

I may remember it wrong, but they haven't really carried a long reliever in the current FO so far. I think they like to have a stable of 2-3 6th starters ready in AAA rather than use the spot every day.

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