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  • 3 Twins Pitching Prospects Destined for the Bullpen


    Cody Christie

    Not every starting pitching prospect is going to develop into a rotational stalwart. Here are three of the team's top pitching prospects that might be destined for a bullpen role.

    Image courtesy of Ed Bailey, Wichita Wind Surge

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    Finding solid relief pitching can be a challenging task for an organization. Relievers can burn bright for short periods and then burn out quickly. Many of the best relievers in Twins history were pitching prospects that were unsuccessful as starters, including Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan, and Taylor Rogers. The pitchers listed below are still considered starting pitchers, but their eventual development path may shift them to a bullpen role. 

    Jhoan Duran
    Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 8

    Minnesota originally acquired Duran as part of the Eduardo Escobar trade. Since then, he has become one of the most exciting pitching prospects to come through the Twins farm system in quite some time. His electric fastball has been clocked at over 100 mph, even if the gun was a little hot. His off-speed offerings include a slider and a famous "splinker." With at least three big-league pitches, it's easy to imagine him sticking as a starter, but injuries impacted his 2021 season. 

    Last season, he started the year on the IL with forearm/elbow issues, which can cause lingering problems. Duran was limited to 16 innings pitched with a 5.06 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP. He flashed some electric stuff and struck out more than a batter per inning. After five appearances, he was placed back in the IL and shut down for the year. Luckily, he avoided surgery, but the bullpen may offer him a way to stay healthy and provide value with his dominant pitch mix. Even Baseball America thinks Duran will be in the bullpen by 2025

    Simeon Woods Richardson
    Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 4

    Woods Richardson has been part of two different blockbuster trades before his 21st birthday. At last year's trade deadline, the Twins acquired him along with Austin Martin for José Berríos. Both the Blue Jays and the Twins were aggressive with Woods Richardson last season as he pitched the entire season at Double-A, where he was over 4.5 years younger than the average age of the competition. Across 15 starts (53 1/3 innings), he posted a 5.91 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP and a 77 to 34 strikeout to walk ratio.

    Currently, he utilizes a four-pitch mix, and he can add more velocity as he adds to his frame. He will likely repeat Double-A next season, where he will still be young for the level. Minnesota will give him every opportunity to make it as a starting pitcher, and a move to the bullpen would be multiple years into the future. However, his fastball and changeup are above average pitches that could translate to him becoming a dominant late-inning reliever. 

    Cole Sands
    Seth's Top-30 Pitcher Ranking: 13

    Sands was an intriguing pick when the Twins took him with a fifth-round pick back in 2018. He had posted a 4.73 ERA in three seasons in college, but he had projectability. Now, he has turned both of his offspeed offerings into plus pitches, and his fastball velocity has increased. Last season at Double-A, he posted a 2.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 80 innings. These improvements point to his potential to stick as a starter, but a shift to the bullpen may also be on the table. 

    He has yet to pitch more than 98 innings in a season throughout his professional career. If he is going to stick as a starter, he will have to increase his workload in the years ahead. Another issue was his walk rate more than doubled from 1.8 BB/9 in 2019 to 3.9 BB/9 in 2021. He's dealt with some arm problems in the past, so a shift to the bullpen may give him a better opportunity to impact the big-league roster. 

    Which pitching prospect is destined for a bullpen role? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.  

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    Personally I do not think shifting guys to pen for health reasons is the way to go.  Unless you plan to give them always 1 day off or more between outings.  I do not believe the way an arm works is it has only so many throws before it breaks down, maybe it does work that way, not a doctor.  

    However, the modern pen guy is expected to pitch around 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of innings a starter throws.  However, they also are expected to throw in higher leverage situations, less warming up, and they have many times they will warm up and not come into a game as well.  I believe for some the wear and tear on arm can be similar.  

    Now I am not saying there is not possible evidence that having a guy come out of pen will help get more overall innings over a career, and possibly more important ones as well.  However, I think most that transition well, like Perkins, it is because the limit their pitch mix and give more to each pitch.  He once said he felt he could go all out each batter because did not have to save himself for later in the game.  

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    Neither Sands nor Woods-Richardson are bullpen candidates right now. Chase Petty and Jordan Balazovic are much more likely to shift to the bullpen than Sands or Woods-Richardson in my opinion, not that I'd label either one of those guys as "destined for the bullpen."

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    Most pitching prospects I believe shouldn't be designated as a BP arm until they are ready to make that MLB jump. They should be groomed as SP as long as possible. But in agreement to your idea, that most pitching prospects should be exposed to some BP role (whether opener or long relief) on the MLB level before they are ready to go a full 5+ innings.

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    Starters on the 40 Man

    Balazovic, Bundy, Dobnak, Duran, Enlow, Jax, Maeda, Ober, Ryan, Sands, Strotman, Thorpe, Vallimont, and Winder.

    That is 14, We can remove Enlow and Maeda, making it 12.

    So I am going to go out on a limb and say just about every prospect is going to pitch out of the pen at least to start, unless they start out in the minors so red hot and actually pitching a decent amount of innings each start. 

    Duran is 24, and never really had great results in the minors and has pitched 16 innings the last two years, he is destined for the bullpen, unless you want to stretch him out in the minors (and on the 40 man) for the next two years.

    Sands is 24 going on 25 (July 17th) has never pitched 100 inning but did pitch 80 last year and if he starts out hot in AAA he could come up as a starter.

    SWR will be 21 all of next year and isn't on the 40 so there is no real chance for him being in the majors next year, so he should be starter in the minors all year.

     

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    I have been worried about Duran being a pen arm for quite a while.  There were a fair number of scouts that seemed to question whether he could hold up to starting pretty much from the time Minnesota got him in trade.  Granted with 2020 off and 2021 extremely short it is hard to say where he is at or could be at stamina wise in the future.  Still given the high velocity arm and not an over the top K9 I think the pen looks like his best chance for success.

    I think SWR as a pick is a bit premature.  He is only 21 and still getting a feel for all his pitches.  That being said I can understand why he was picked as he fell off pretty badly after a great start to the season and it makes you wonder if he will have what it takes to keep it going all year as a starter.  Still I don't think I would pick a 21 year old for this list especially when you have Vallimont that would be a better one to add to this list.

    I know Sands has had his issue's and he stopped and started a bit again last year but I thought he held his own as starter last year.  There is lot's of chatter from analysts that see him in the bullpen but he seems a bit like a bull dog type pitcher and he might be able to remain a starter if his stuff plays at the MLB level.  

    FWIW remember a lot of analysts had Canterino pegged as a pen arm as well.  Hard to say how any of these guys will turn out in the end but if this were my list I would have Duran, Vallimont and Jax as the guys most likely to be relievers.

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    On 1/25/2022 at 1:45 PM, Unwinder said:

    Good, we can use a lot of bullpen arms if our starters are going to be going <5 innings for the foreseeable future.

    I was curious how the IP would work out with less tradition roles.  Using these assumptions for the roster spot not necessarily a given pitcher.  3 tradition SPs averaging  4.33 IP and 4 what I will call Hybrid pitchers averaging 3IP plus 3 Two Inning RPs and 3 One IP RPs

    The innings total looks like this ….

     

     

    AVE

    AVE

    # OF

     

    TOTAL

    #

     

    IP

    REST

    Games

    IP

    IP

    3

     Traditional Starters

    4.66

    5.6

    33

    153.95

    461.84

    4

     Hybrid

    3.33

    4.33

    43

    142.27

    569.10

    3

     2 IP Specialist

    1.66

    2.66

    70

    115.45

    346.35

    3

     1 IP Specialist

    0.9

    2.2

    84

    75.68

    227.05

    13

     

     

     

     

     

    1604.34

     

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    Like some others, I think it is too early to predict the BP for Sands and Woods Richardson.  I suspect Duran will be in the BP when he first gets to Target Field if for no other reason than to limit innings.  This is a huge year for him.  If he can stay healthy, he could have a good career, either in the rotation or the BP.  If he can't stay healthy, I think his future is very clouded.  

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    Hope Twins get as many of these young arms up to pitch in MLB as they can this year. Many clubs, Cardinals for one, many times will break their SPs into MLB as relievers. If I am sitting at AAA as SP and Twins ask me to move up to MLB Twins but as reliever- I would jump at it. Can always stretch them back out to be SP in future. I agree SP until proven not, but looking for more hybrid type pitchers to be used in future 3-4 IP an appearance- leading to piggy backing 2 hybrid pitchers. 

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