Starting pitching will always be the focal point of a Major League franchise, but we’ve seen how impactful having a dominant bullpen can be. After retooling the relief unit on the fly this year, Minnesota will look to have stronger internal options for 2023 and beyond. This group of up-and-comers could certainly factor into the equation.
Before getting to the winner, here are a few pitchers were in the running:
Honorable Mention -
Bobby Milacki (Cedar Rapids) - 36 G 2.83 ERA 1.194 WHIP 9.6 K/9 3.1 BB/9
Malik Barrington (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids) - 33 G 3.61 ERA 1.186 WHIP 11.5 K/9 3.9 BB/9
Matt Mullenbach (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids) - 30 G 1.60 ERA 1.111 WHIP 9.2 K/9 2.2 BB/9
#5 Jackson Hicks (Fort Myers) - 36 G 51.1 IP 2.98 ERA 1.305 WHIP 10.2 K/9 3.9 BB/9
Hicks was signed by the Twins in July 2021 after going undrafted out of the University of North Carolina and pitching in Indy Ball. Working solely as a reliever this year for Fort Myers, Hicks racked up strikeouts in bunches. Across over 50 innings of work, Hicks only got beat for a homer three times. His command still has room for improvement, and at 24 years old he was well above the average age in the Florida State League, but Hicks certainly earned himself the opportunity to compete at the next level in 2023.
#4 Hunter McMahon (Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids/Wichita) - 43 G 73.2 IP 2.81 ERA 0.896 WHIP 9.3 K/9 2.0 BB/9
McMahon was a 9th-round selection by the Washington Nationals in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. Minnesota acquired him in 2020 when they sent reliever Ryne Harper to Washington following his DFA to make room for Josh Donaldson. He pitched at three levels this season but predominantly split time between High and Low-A. His 76 strikeouts to just 16 walks were a result of an ability to pound the zone and dictate at-bats to hitters. McMahon routinely worked the highest leverage innings and also picked up seven saves.
#3 Austin Schulfer (Wichita/St. Paul) - 43 G 55.1 IP 3.09 ERA 1.012 WHIP 9.9 K/9 2.6 BB/9
A 19th-round pick during the 2018 Major League Baseball draft from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Schulfer has continually elevated his stock since. This season the talented righty compiled a 0.39 ERA across 23 innings at Double-A to earn his promotion. Schulfer scuffled some in his first taste at Triple-A, but the strikeouts remained. He was burned a bit by walks and a jump in H/9, but adjustments are something he’s shown an aptitude to make. This was Schulfer’s first season working as a reliever, and he racked up eight saves in the process.
Runner-Up - Cody Laweryson (Cedar Rapids/Wichita) - 35 G 94.2 IP 0.982 WHIP 10.6 K/9 2.6 BB/9
Laweryson was taken in the 14th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft from the University of Maine. He worked primarily as a starter throughout the start of his professional career until transitioning into a relief role this season. The 2.57 ERA at High-A Cedar Rapids earned him a promotion, and a 1.06 ERA in just shy of 60 innings at Double-A was an eye-opener. Over the entirety of the year Laweryson gave up just two home runs, and his 111/27 K/BB indicates how much command and stuff he possesses.
2022 Minnesota Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year - Evan Sisk (Wichita/St. Paul) - 46 G 57.0 IP 1.58 ERA 1.053 WHIP 10.4 K/9 4.4 BB/9
Last summer the Minnesota Twins sent veteran starter J.A. Happ to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Evan Sisk. Minnesota was going downhill and had no need for the veteran to keep taking the mound, and Sisk represented an opportunity to net something in return. Since the deal, the Twins have morphed Sisk into a promising weapon in the pen.
During the 2021 season, Sisk posted a 3.91 ERA but it came with a 5.9 BB/9. Topping out at the Double-A level, that frequency of free passes was never going to be workable in the Majors. This season Sisk has shaved nearly two walks per nine off the total and continued to rack up strikeouts in droves. He’s a lefty with a funky delivery that works to get on hitters with a bit of deception.
Repeating Double-A Wichita to start for Minnesota, Sisk owned a 33/11 K/BB across 28 1/3 innings. The free passes ballooned a bit at Triple-A St. Paul when he went 33/17 K/BB in 28 2/3 innings. There’s no doubt a big league reliever here, and the more he can command the zone while controlling the base paths, the higher his ceiling will grow.