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5 Sleeper Closer Candidates in the Twins Farm System


In his three season as Twins manager, Rocco Baldelli is yet to name a closer, and that likely won't change anytime soon. But, we know which relievers get the highest-leverage situations and most of the ninth innings. It's hard to predict which pitchers will fill that role, especially in the future. However, today we consider which Twins minor leaguers mighty be strong candidates. 

Although most pitching prospects begin their minor league careers as starters, many of them eventually wind up in the bullpen at the MLB level. The Minnesota Twins are very familiar with how this transition can lead to a fruitful career with the likes of Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, and, more recently, Tyler Duffey doing so under their watch.

The Twins currently have a multitude of pitching prospects who are knocking on the door to the majors, but it is unlikely that all of them will stick as starters. Below are five names who could not only make the switch to the pen, but may ultimately perform well in the closer role.

RHP JHOAN DURAN
2021 stats (Triple-A): 5 G, 4 GS, 16 IP, 5.06 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 22 K, 13 BB, 16.7% HR/FB

Duran has, without a doubt, the most electric raw stuff in the Twins' farm system. He regularly hits 100 mph with his 4-seam fastball, which pairs well with his splitter-sinker hybrid (low-90s) and curveball (mid-80s).

However, his poor command and right upper-extremity injury history may limit the overall height of his ceiling; he’s only ever thrown more than 70 innings in a season once.

There are many similarities between Duran and former Twin Brusdar Graterol, so it would not be surprising to see their careers take indistinguishable paths. Graterol was solid out of the pen for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021, though he functioned more as a set-up man than a closer. 

A shift to the bullpen may be in Duran — and the Twins' — best interests in the short and long-term.

RHP LOUIE VARLAND
2021 stats (Low-/High-A): 20 G, 18 GS, 103 IP, 2.10 ERA, 2.34/3.20 FIP, 142 K, 30 BB, 6.9%/5.8% HR/FB

The Twins' 2021 Minor League Pitcher of the Year burst forth out of obscurity this past summer on the back of a fastball that jumped in average velocity from the low-90s while at Division II Concordia University, St. Paul to the mid- to upper-90s with above average spin. 

He also owns a biting curveball that plays well down in the zone, feeding off the dominance of his fastball up. However, he lacks a third pitch and, despite low walk numbers, occasionally struggles with command, particularly that of his breaking ball. 

Varland will likely stick in a starting role as he advances through the minor leagues, but unless he develops a third offering or cleans up his curveball, his future may be as a back of the bullpen ace. The Twins have had previous success with closers from St. Paul, after all.

RHP OSIRIS GERMAN
2021 stats (Low-/High-A): 38 G, 0 GS, 4 SV, 59 1/3 IP, 3.34 ERA, 3.14/2.69 FIP, 90 K, 24 BB, 12.5%/4.5% HR/FB

At just 23 years old, German is still at least a couple of years away from sniffing the majors, but it’s easy to see why he is highly thought of after watching just a couple of pitches. German has that undefinable, yet important electricity that many of the game’s best bullpen arms possess. 

While his fastball pops out of the hand and plays well up in the zone, it’s his breaking ball that is the star of his show.

What may prevent German from reaching his potential, however, is his erraticism and high-effort delivery. German doesn’t possess good command of either his fastball or curve, often overthrowing both. From a mechanics perspective, doesn’t get enough push off from his lower extremity which causes him to rely on the whipping action of his core and shoulder to produce torque and velocity

German is the perfect candidate for a tweak in his delivery as well as the development of a third pitch (perhaps a cutter?). If he can hone his command, his stuff is good enough to reach the majors.

RHP COLE SANDS
2021 stats (Double-A): 19 G, 18 GS, 80 1/3 IP, 2.46 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 96 K, 35 BB, 7.2% HR/FB

Sands was among the Twins’ most steady minor league starting pitchers in 2021. He consistently pitched until at least the fifth inning and racked up strikeouts with the best in the system, ranking ninth overall.

The former Florida State Seminole has a three pitch mix consisting of a fastball, curve, and changeup, though only his breaking ball is currently an above average offering. (His fastball is close, and may already be there, depending on whose opinion you seek.)

In many respects, Sands is a carbon copy of current Twins’ reliever Tyler Duffey, who has been among the team's more consistent bullpen arms over the past couple of seasons.

Sands currently may lack an electric fastball — which is often a requirement among back of the bullpen arms — but his curveball and punch out pedigree is intriguing. 

HIBERNATION CANDIDATE: LHP AARON ROZEK
2021 stats (Rookie Ball through Double-A): 16 G, 7 GS, 56 1/3 IP, 2.40 ERA, 0.81/2.48/4.40/2.15 FIP, 74 K, 7 BB, 0.0%/14.3%/18.2%/0.0% HR/FB

Rozek came out of nowhere during the 2021 season. The Burnsville native and Minnesota State University, Mankato alum signed with the Twins on a minor league deal in late June before proceeding to pitch to great success across four levels of play. (He had never played in the minors prior to his signing, though he did play Indy Ball during 2019.)

Rozek possesses two breaking pitches — a slider and a loopier slurve — which he uses primarily as his out pitches as well as a a fastball, though it is rather mediocre.

At age 26 with less than one season of MiLB experience under his belt, the likelihood Rozek ever makes it to the parent squad is slim. Add in the fact that he is left-handed and doesn’t possess an elite fastball, and the odds of him ever being a closer are nearly nil. But for an undrafted free agent from an NCAA Division II school, he displayed plenty of talent that should pique the interest of Twins’ fans. 

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2 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

Nice exercise - my hope is that Duran remands a starter and does not get converted unless we see that his ability to add innings is not there. 

I'm sure that's their plan. I don't imagine that he will convert to the pen (*if* he does so) until he reaches the majors and the Twins are contending. I really think his path is going to look like Graterol's. 

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Interesting article.  Duran does have great stuff, but the lack of innings is a concern.  Do you think his arm would hold up better in the pen or as a starter?  He might be a guy they will look at as an opener if they do go that route this year.  Lucas, what is your take on Gore?

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I like Rozek.

 

But future closers? Whew. Always names like Slama. Remember him? Hildenberger, Curtiss, Chargois, Graterol. The Twins had a K-man named Deduno.

 

Some of our best bullpen closers/arms were pretty bad rotation arms: Mahomes, Perkins, Hawkins, Guardado. Even Aguilera and Nathan started as starters. And if the Twins had given more of a leash to Hendriks. although that would've involved another four years on the major league team doing something.

 

After 2020, Duffey might've been a closer possibility. The Twins never thought Crain could close. I thought Trevor May needed to be given a chance to fulfill that role. I picture Jorge Alcala having the stuff.

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6 minutes ago, RJA said:

Interesting article.  Duran does have great stuff, but the lack of innings is a concern.  Do you think his arm would hold up better in the pen or as a starter?  He might be a guy they will look at as an opener if they do go that route this year.  Lucas, what is your take on Gore?

I think he'd hold up better as a reliever if only because it would cut down on his innings and, thus, reduce his chances for injury to occur. 

As for Gore, I really like what he did last year. I'm not sure many people foresaw him pitching as well as he ultimately did, but obviously the Twins made the right call switching him to the mound. I think he has MLB stuff and wouldn't be surprised if he got a call up this coming summer.

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Duran might be better as a RP. That really stinks on one hand when you look at his potential and what he COULD be as a SP. But between 2020 as a lost year and his injury in 2021, I still maintain you "baby" him for 2022. You just don't give up on arm that talented no matter how much you want him to be ready NOW.

He might need a full a full year, or a year and a half to be healthy and stretch his arm out, before he's ready. But I think it's worth the time and caution at this point.

Let's give Varland a little more time before we move him to the pen as well. He's just getting started as a bona-fide pitching prospect. 

Same with Sands. He's got some rough edges to work on, no pun intended, but he's been progressing on a natural path with solid production. I think he's at least a half year away, but I'd give him some time and leeway to develop.

I think the guys we should be focusing on are Vallimont and Gore. Vallimont has the "stuff" to be a quality ML SP but just may never have enough control or a 3rd pitch to do so. But the potential is there to dominate. And he's "closer" than some to help the pen, just based on experience and IP. Sure would like to see more time in the rotation and a little better control to surprise...and maybe he will...but right now I just keep seeing quality RP.

If nobody selects Gore in the eventual ML rule 5, or keeps him if they do, I believe he's part of the Twins BP 2nd half of 2022. He's old enough, and only 1 full year in his conversion, I could see teams passing. I could also see a team  taking a stash option on him. I sure hope he's part of the organization a couple months from now.

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13 hours ago, Lucas Seehafer PT said:

I'm sure that's their plan. I don't imagine that he will convert to the pen (*if* he does so) until he reaches the majors and the Twins are contending. I really think his path is going to look like Graterol's. 

You are probably right, but one of the issues that the Twins have is the inability to develop top of the rotation guys which we desperately need.  And one issue is converting good arms to the BP to hasten their arrival, but at the same time few arms other than Santana find their ways back out of the pen. 

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We do need some of best arms to make the rotation even if it takes an extra year to be ready. I would prefer 4-5 years of the best arms in the rotation than bullpen. How many years do top free agents starters really have before they leave their original team? 

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