Minnesota acquired Devin Smeltzer as part of the Brian Dozier trade back in 2018. At the time of the trade, he was a middling prospect who had yet to post a sub-4.00 ERA in any professional season. Smeltzer made some adjustments with the Twins and became one of the team’s biggest surprises during the 2019 season.
At Double- and Triple-A, the 23-year-old combined for a 2.76 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings. His first taste of the big leagues went well as he posted 118 ERA+ with a 1.27 WHIP. One of the most significant issues in his rookie campaign was that he allowed eight home runs in 11 games, but he limited other damage, and it looked like he might fit into the team’s future plans.
The 2020 season was strange for many reasons, and Smeltzer’s numbers in seven appearances don’t tell the whole story. He allowed five earned runs on six hits in two innings of work in his first outing. Five of the six outs he recorded were on strikeouts, but he surrendered two home runs. It was a disastrous start to his season, but he made six more appearances and never allowed more than two earned runs in any outing. Smeltzer also didn’t allow a home run during that stretch. All of 2020 was a small sample size, but there were positives to improve upon for 2021.
Unfortunately, Smeltzer couldn’t build off those successes during the 2021 season. During spring training, he lost feeling in three fingers on his pitching hand, which impacted his control. He was limited to one appearance for the Twins in April, but multiple injuries kept him out for the remainder of the year. By season’s end, he dealt with elbow inflammation, a herniated disc, and long-term side effects from his childhood chemotherapy. In November, the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster.
Now 26-years old, Smeltzer entered spring training this year with a clear goal of making it back onto the team’s roster. He made four appearances and didn’t allow a run in 11 innings. His velocity was back into the 90s, and his command and control were back to his pre-injury form. Smeltzer didn’t crack the Opening Day roster, so he went to St. Paul with something to prove.
In his first four starts (19 IP), Smeltzer posted a 1.42 ERA and limited batters to hitting .194/.260/.254 (.514). In his last Triple-A appearance, he allowed six earned runs on eight hits in two innings. It was his first hiccup since spring training started, but the Twins needed another arm at the big-league level, and the team added him back to the 40-man roster.
Earlier this week, Smeltzer made his first MLB start since August 7, 2020. He pitched five innings and limited the Guardians to one earned run on three hits. In that start, he showcased a pitch mix change similar to his breakout 2019 campaign. Smeltzer used his fastball over 46% of the time, with his curveball (31.2%) being used the most out of his secondary pitches. It’s only one spot start, but it was a long journey back to the big-league level for Smeltzer.
In the last week, Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy returned from the injured list, and Bailey Ober is nearing a return. Some assumed Smeltzer was out of minor league options, but his demotions in 2020 were too short to count. As the rotation starts to look crowded, the Twins need to decide the best role for Smeltzer.
Following Thursday's off-day, Minnesota is entering a portion of their schedule with 18 games in 17 days. This schedule quirk includes a scheduled doubleheader in Detroit and no off-day until June 6. The Twins will need plenty of pitching depth to make it through the upcoming weeks, and Smeltzer deserves the opportunity to keep pitching at the big-league level.
Can Smeltzer provide value out of the MLB bullpen, or should he continue to start games at Triple-A? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.