Relief pitchers often don't get the love, recognition, or credit that their colleagues at the front end of the pitching staff receive. Yet it's impossible to not love a guy with a 2.41 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and arguably the best changeup that the Twins' organization has seen since the days of franchise hall of famer Johan Santana.
Meet southpaw reliever Jovani Moran.
Drafted by the Twins in 2015 out of Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, the 24-year-old has teetered with dominance since joining the organization nearly seven years ago. After starting six games in the GCL Twins' rotation in 2015 Moran was transitioned to the bullpen and has excelled since. After a rough rookie season Moran posted a 2.38 ERA in 71 appearances (a majority from the bullpen) between 2017-2019.
That's good, but Moran has been great in 2021. For that, he's our Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.
Despite his young age, Moran played the role of a rising journeyman this season, bouncing from club to club. Twenty of his 35 appearances came at Double-A Wichita, where he started the season. The Surge relied heavily on Moran through the months of May and June. Between the two months Moran appeared in 16 games and 28 2/3 innings, tossing 47 strikeouts, allowing only 11 hits and six earned runs, and touting a stellar 2.04 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. In that span opposing hitters hit a meager .118 when facing Moran.
After a strong start, the month of July was just as fruitful for Moran. After four appearances that consisted of nine innings and 17 strikeouts Moran was promoted to Triple-A St. Paul. While his Triple-A stats weren't as eye-opening as his numbers with the Surge, they were still pretty darn good, especially for a guy pitching at that level for the first time. In 15 appearances and 29 2/3 innings, Moran posted a 3.03 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with opposing batters mustering a .140 average when facing him.
Moran's success isn't attributed to a triple-digit fastball or 12-6 curveball. In fact, his fastball rarely surpasses 92-94 MPH. Yet similar to Caleb Thielbar, Moran's success can be attributed to the massive contrast between his fastball and breaking pitches. As mentioned, the changeup is Moran's off-speed weapon of choice, a pitch that he often uses as a strikeout dagger. The secret? Moran's arm delivery on the pitch resembles that of his fastball yet is 10-12 MPH slower. It is, perhaps, the largest reason why he touted a 41.8% strikeout rate in the minors this season. Twins Daily writer Lucas Seehafer broke down Moran's pitch arsenal earlier this season, check it out here.
After finding success in Lowertown, Moran was called up by the Twins on September 11th. MLB competition hasn't been the flowers and roses for Moran like it was prior to his big league debut. Don't fret though. Moran will continue to grow and learn as he gets more repetitions at the big league level. Don't be surprised if he starts next season at Triple-A. However, his time will come given the dominance that he's shown over the past five months.
In addition to Moran, Jordan Gore and Zach Featherstone also had outstanding seasons. Check out some of the accomplishments of this years' runner ups!
1. LHP Jovani Moran, Wichita/St. Paul (35 G, 2.41 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 67.1 IP, 28 H, 32 BB, 109 K)
Check out this analysis of Moran and Jordan Gore made by Tom Froemming!
2. RHP Jordon Gore, Cedar Rapids/Wichita (39 G, 2.39 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 67.2 IP, 36 H, 28 BB, 88 K)
A shortstop-turned-pitcher, 2021 presented Gore with his first full season on the bump. The 2017 draft pick did not disappoint, holding opposing hitters to just a .155 batting average through May and June in Cedar Rapids. Just three games into July, Gore was promoted to Double-A Wichita. Gore didn't tally as many innings with the Surge but was just as effective, posting a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings (20 games) with 30 strikeouts and six saves.
It's unclear what Gore's long-term identity will be as a relief pitcher. All we know is that he has excelled in all corners of the bullpen and has done it consistently all season. That's pretty darn impressive for a guy that had only pitched in four professional baseball games prior to this season.
3. LHP Zach Featherstone, Cedar Rapids (40 G, 2.13 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 55 IP, 28 H, 42 BB, 93 K)
Similar to Gore, Featherstone isn't a pitcher by trade, he's an outfielder. That didn't stop him from having an outstanding year on the hill for Cedar Rapids. After a rocky month of May, Featherstone was nearly perfect in June, surrendering zero earned runs, five hits, and ten walks while striking out 28 batters in 15 innings over nine appearances. That's right, a PERFECT earned run average for an entire month! Featherstone continued his dominance as the season continued, posting a 3.95 ERA in July, 2.31 ERA in August, and another perfect 0.00 ERA in September.
Featherstone has a bit more pitching experience than Gore, but this was still his first full season pitching. He transitioned to the mound in 2017, had Tommy John surgery, rehabbed, and as he was ready to come back, COVID arrived. It's a great story, but he's also become a solid, hard-throwing lefty reliever. Kudos to him on an excellent year.
LHP Denny Bentley, Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids (36 G, 2.78 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 51.1 IP, 50 H, 33 BB, 87 K)
RHP Ryan Mason, Wichita/St. Paul (38 G, 2.67 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 54 IP, 45 H, 28 BB, 63 K)
RHP Ian Hamilton, St. Paul (37 G, 4.08 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 57.1 IP, 45 H, 38 BB, 83 K)
RHP Osiris German, Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids (38 G, 3.34 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 59.1 IP, 47 H, 24 BB, 90 K)
RHP Hector Lujan, Wichita (18 G, 3.62 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 32.1 IP, 25 H, 9 BB, 33 K)
RHP Melvi Acosta, Cedar Rapids/Wichita (38 G, 3.67 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 61.1 IP, 55 H, 18 BB, 69 K)
RHP Derek Molina, Cedar Rapids (32 G, 4.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 62 IP, 51 H, 26 BB, 81 K)
LHP Aaron Rozek, FCL Twins/Fort Myers/Cedar Rapids/Wichita (16 G, 2.40 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 56.1 IP, 42 H, 7 BB, 74 K)
Congrats to all of our 2021 Minor League Award winners!