3. Randy Dobnak
2021: 50 2/3 IP, 7.64 ERA (56 ERA+), 5.70 ERA, 12% K, 5% BB, -1.3 WAR
It feels like centuries ago, but Dobnak was once a terrific pitcher for the Twins. Bursting onto the scene in 2019, Dobnak produced a sterling 2.25 ERA over his first 68 Major League innings. While José Berríos struggled and Michael Pineda was suspended over the first month of 2020, Dobnak and Kenta Maeda carried the rotation.
It hasn’t been pretty since. Dobnak owns an 8.12 ERA over his last 57 2/3 innings, with declining strikeout and exorbitant hard-hit rates. Since signing his five-year contract extension, Dobnak has allowed 43 runs in just 50 2/3 innings. Add in a season-ending finger injury and the word ‘disaster’ seems fitting for Dobnak’s 2021 season.
Despite recent results, there are reasons to believe in a bounce back. The horizontal movement on Dobnak’s signature sinker is still elite, with a top-six finish in 2021 (min. 250 pitches). Middle-finger strains can impact command, and sinkers are often reliant on pressure from that finger. If Dobnak can get healthy, that simple change could turn him back into a sturdy rotation member in 2022.
2. Ryan Jeffers
2021: 85 G, 293 PA, .199/.270/.401 (83 OPS+), 10 2B, 3B, 14 HR, 0.6 WAR
The Twins put Jeffers in a difficult role last summer. They made sure to start lefty-masher Mitch Garver against southpaws, with Nelson Cruz entrenched at DH and Miguel Sanó at first base. That left Jeffers facing exclusively tough right-handed starters. That’s a tall task for a rookie catcher.
With Cruz’s departure, Jeffers will undoubtedly receive more playing time against left-handed pitching in 2021. That adjustment alone should boost his offensive output
Jeffers also showed a propensity to punish the ball in 2021. Among 37 catchers with at least 150 Batted Ball Events, Jeffers ranked 9th in hard-hit rate (44%), ahead of Travis d’Arnaud, Will Smith, and Gary Sánchez. Jeffers also caught a barrel in 7.8% of his plate appearances, ranking 5th and beating out Yasmani Grandal.
A better role combined with hopefully improved contact rates could propel Jeffers to a breakout in 2022. At the very least, many are underestimating his potential impact.
1. Jorge Alcala
2021: 59 2/3 IP, 3.92 ERA (109 ERA+), 4.06 FIP, 27% K, 6% BB, 0.3 WAR
Alcala wasn’t exempt from criticism for the Twins’ early-season collapse. He was mainly bad for his first 40 appearances, posting a 5.73 ERA and 5.35 FIP with just a 22% strikeout rate. As TwinsDaily’s JD Cameron pointed out, Alcala made some critical adjustments late in the season and flipped his results.
Alcala allowed two runs over his last 22 innings (0.82 ERA). He struck out 27 of the 77 batters he faced (35%) and allowed just a .420 OPS. Alcala was incredibly dominant, combining his wipeout slider and 100 MPH fastball with an improved changeup.
Now entering his age-26 season and with the Twins likely ramping up his role, a full-on Alcala emergence is bubbling. There is no pitcher on the Twins’ roster with better stuff or higher upside.
Who are your sleeper candidates for the 2022 Twins?