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Although most pitching prospects begin their minor league careers as starters, many of them eventually wind up in the bullpen at the MLB level. The Minnesota Twins are very familiar with how this transition can lead to a fruitful career with the likes of Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, and, more recently, Tyler Duffey doing so under their watch. The Twins currently have a multitude of pitching prospects who are knocking on the door to the majors, but it is unlikely that all of them will stick as starters. Below are five names who could not only make the switch to the pen, but may ultimately perform well in the closer role. RHP JHOAN DURAN 2021 stats (Triple-A): 5 G, 4 GS, 16 IP, 5.06 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 22 K, 13 BB, 16.7% HR/FB Duran has, without a doubt, the most electric raw stuff in the Twins' farm system. He regularly hits 100 mph with his 4-seam fastball, which pairs well with his splitter-sinker hybrid (low-90s) and curveball (mid-80s). However, his poor command and right upper-extremity injury history may limit the overall height of his ceiling; he’s only ever thrown more than 70 innings in a season once. There are many similarities between Duran and former Twin Brusdar Graterol, so it would not be surprising to see their careers take indistinguishable paths. Graterol was solid out of the pen for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021, though he functioned more as a set-up man than a closer. A shift to the bullpen may be in Duran — and the Twins' — best interests in the short and long-term. RHP LOUIE VARLAND 2021 stats (Low-/High-A): 20 G, 18 GS, 103 IP, 2.10 ERA, 2.34/3.20 FIP, 142 K, 30 BB, 6.9%/5.8% HR/FB The Twins' 2021 Minor League Pitcher of the Year burst forth out of obscurity this past summer on the back of a fastball that jumped in average velocity from the low-90s while at Division II Concordia University, St. Paul to the mid- to upper-90s with above average spin. He also owns a biting curveball that plays well down in the zone, feeding off the dominance of his fastball up. However, he lacks a third pitch and, despite low walk numbers, occasionally struggles with command, particularly that of his breaking ball. Varland will likely stick in a starting role as he advances through the minor leagues, but unless he develops a third offering or cleans up his curveball, his future may be as a back of the bullpen ace. The Twins have had previous success with closers from St. Paul, after all. RHP OSIRIS GERMAN 2021 stats (Low-/High-A): 38 G, 0 GS, 4 SV, 59 1/3 IP, 3.34 ERA, 3.14/2.69 FIP, 90 K, 24 BB, 12.5%/4.5% HR/FB At just 23 years old, German is still at least a couple of years away from sniffing the majors, but it’s easy to see why he is highly thought of after watching just a couple of pitches. German has that undefinable, yet important electricity that many of the game’s best bullpen arms possess. While his fastball pops out of the hand and plays well up in the zone, it’s his breaking ball that is the star of his show. What may prevent German from reaching his potential, however, is his erraticism and high-effort delivery. German doesn’t possess good command of either his fastball or curve, often overthrowing both. From a mechanics perspective, doesn’t get enough push off from his lower extremity which causes him to rely on the whipping action of his core and shoulder to produce torque and velocity German is the perfect candidate for a tweak in his delivery as well as the development of a third pitch (perhaps a cutter?). If he can hone his command, his stuff is good enough to reach the majors. RHP COLE SANDS 2021 stats (Double-A): 19 G, 18 GS, 80 1/3 IP, 2.46 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 96 K, 35 BB, 7.2% HR/FB Sands was among the Twins’ most steady minor league starting pitchers in 2021. He consistently pitched until at least the fifth inning and racked up strikeouts with the best in the system, ranking ninth overall. The former Florida State Seminole has a three pitch mix consisting of a fastball, curve, and changeup, though only his breaking ball is currently an above average offering. (His fastball is close, and may already be there, depending on whose opinion you seek.) In many respects, Sands is a carbon copy of current Twins’ reliever Tyler Duffey, who has been among the team's more consistent bullpen arms over the past couple of seasons. Sands currently may lack an electric fastball — which is often a requirement among back of the bullpen arms — but his curveball and punch out pedigree is intriguing. HIBERNATION CANDIDATE: LHP AARON ROZEK 2021 stats (Rookie Ball through Double-A): 16 G, 7 GS, 56 1/3 IP, 2.40 ERA, 0.81/2.48/4.40/2.15 FIP, 74 K, 7 BB, 0.0%/14.3%/18.2%/0.0% HR/FB Rozek came out of nowhere during the 2021 season. The Burnsville native and Minnesota State University, Mankato alum signed with the Twins on a minor league deal in late June before proceeding to pitch to great success across four levels of play. (He had never played in the minors prior to his signing, though he did play Indy Ball during 2019.) Rozek possesses two breaking pitches — a slider and a loopier slurve — which he uses primarily as his out pitches as well as a a fastball, though it is rather mediocre. At age 26 with less than one season of MiLB experience under his belt, the likelihood Rozek ever makes it to the parent squad is slim. Add in the fact that he is left-handed and doesn’t possess an elite fastball, and the odds of him ever being a closer are nearly nil. But for an undrafted free agent from an NCAA Division II school, he displayed plenty of talent that should pique the interest of Twins’ fans. 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How do you compare starting pitchers to relievers? It's certainly not easy. For this series, we have separated hitters from pitchers, and yet, maybe in future years we will want the starters and relievers separated too. Who should rank higher? A potential #3 starting pitchers, or a potential late-inning reliever? On a real baseball team, both roles are important and complement each other. In prospect rankings, relievers often get overlooked. Why? Because over the past couple of decades, relievers may work 70-80 innings in a season whereas a #4 starter could pitch 150-180 innings. That may change over time as we see the roles a little less defined. Starters are often asked to go through an order twice, which generally will be less than five innings. As we move forward, there may be a few guys that reach 150 innings, but many starters may top out at 130 innings while many relievers could jump closer to 100 innings. We shall see. Today's five prospects include two relievers. Going behind the curtain a bit, this is the range the lefty Charlie Barnes would have fit into. As you know by now, he has signed to play in Korea in 2022. Remember, this is a prospect rankings, and it is significantly different than Nick's Twins Top Assets series that is running now too. Let's get to Twins pitching prospects that I have ranked 16th through 20th. #20 - RHP Osiris German 2021 STATS: 2-2, 4 saves, 3.34 ERA, 38/0 G/GS, 1.20 WHIP, 90/24 K/BB, 59.1 IP The Twins signed Osiris German from the Dominican Republic in July of 2016. He has slowly worked his way up the Twins’ organizational ladder. He had not pitched for a full-season affiliate before the 2021 season. He split the year between Low-A Ft. Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. He has good control. While the 23-year-old sits in the low 90s with his fastball, he has a plus-plus changeup. That is the pitch that is intriguing and could keep him moving up the system, hopefully to the big leagues. He will need to continue to improve and gain confidence in all of his pitches, but there is a lot to work with. #19 - RHP Regi Grace 2021 STATS: 1-0, 2.59 ERA, 9/8 G/GS, 0.99 WHIP, 35/11 K/BB, 31.1 IP He had a scholarship offer to Mississippi State, but when the Twins made him their 10th round pick in the 2018 draft, Regi Grace signed quickly. A terrific athlete, Grace is very strong. While his velocity sat in the upper-80s and topped out around 90-91 in 2019, he was able to increase his fastball velocity, even touching 95 at times. The main thing holding him back to this point has been health. He missed time in 2021 with a shoulder impingement. However, after he came back, he gave up just three hits and struck out 12 batters over nine scoreless innings. He tossed the first three innings of a combined no hitter in his final start. #18 - RHP Chris Vallimont 2021 STATS: 5-7, 5.84 ERA, 22/22 G/GS, 1.64 WHIP, 136/61 K/BB, 94.0 IP After coming to the Twins from the Marlins in the July 2019 Lewin Diaz trade, Chris Vallimont made four starts for the Miracle. The former fifth-round pick from Mercyhurst didn’t pitch at all in 2020. He began the 2021 season with a few weeks on the Injured List but still made 21 starts. He certainly had his ups and downs. He had one stretch in which he gave up five or more earned runs in five of six starts. He also had 11 starts in which he gave up two runs or less. He was added to the 40-man roster in November because he has really good stuff. Vallimont sits in the mid-90s, and he’s got good (though inconsistent) secondary stuff. In the past, he has shown good control, but he struggled with that part of the game in 2021. That said, he was consistently able to miss bats. That is why he’s on the 40-man roster. #17 - RHP Casey Legumina 2021 STATS: 4-2, 3.28 ERA, 15/9 G/GS 1.07 WHIP, 63/16 K/BB, 49.1 IP Casey Legumina was drafted out of high school in Arizona but chose to go to Gonzaga instead. As a sophomore, he became a top closer in college baseball. He was set to be a starter for the ‘Zags in 2019, but after four starts, he needed Tommy John surgery. Still, the Twins had seen enough and selected him in the eighth round of the draft that year. He rehabbed the rest of that summer and into the 2020 season. That means 2021 was his professional debut. He worked 44 2/3 innings for Ft. Myers before ending the season with one start in Cedar Rapids before the playoffs. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and has a really good slider. He’s also continuing to work on his changeup. The Twins want to use him as a starter, but obviously they had to be careful with his innings in 2021. He could be a sleeper in 2022. #16 - LHP Jovani Moran 2021 MiLB STATS: 4-2, 2.41 ERA, 35/0 G/GS, 0.89 WHIP, 109/32 K/BB, 67.1 IP 2021 MLB STATS: 0-0, 7.88 ERA, 5/0 G/GS, 2.00 WHIP, 10/7 K/BB, 8.0 IP It took some time, but lefty Jovani Moran finally reached the big leagues in September of 2021. The southpaw had been the Twins seventh-round pick back in 2015 out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. When healthy, Moran has been quite successful in the minor leagues. He’s got a low-to-mid 90s fastball that touches 95, but it is his changeup that gets people talking. It is a plus-plus pitch and he gets a lot of swings and misses with it. Maybe sacrilege, but many compare it to Johan Santana’s changeup. He also has a slider that can be plus-plus at times. It was wise to get Moran some innings late in the 2021 season to help the nerves which can get to him at times. If he can throw strikes, Moran has a chance to be a long-term, late-inning, dominant relief option. This is another interesting group. There are a couple of relievers with plus-plus changeups, one of whom is ready to shine with the Twins. The other three have development to do, but the potential to be really good if they can stay healthy. Previous Rankings Hitters Part 1: 26-30 Hitters Part 2: 21-25 Pitchers Part 1: 26-30 Pitchers Part 2: 21-25
If you missed it, read Nick's Twins Week in Review after you've read about the minor league week. With that, let's look at Week 21 in the Twins minor leagues: RESULTS Triple-A: St. Paul Saints: Week (4-1, hosting Iowa), overall (65-60) Double-A: Wichita Wind Surge: Regular Season (69-51) Week (0-3 vs NW Arkansas in the Double-A Central League championship series) High-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels: Regular Season (67-53) Week (2-3 vs Quad Cities in the High-A Central League championship series) Low-A: Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: Regular Season (60-54) Complex League FCL Twins: Regular Season (21-38) In Case You Missed It... Here are the week's Twins minor league-related articles. Twins Minor League Week in Review: Playoff Time for Wind Surge, Kernels Tuesday: Playoffs?! Yes, We’re Talking About Playoffs! Unsung Heroes of Lowertown: The St. Paul Saints Grounds Crew Wednesday: Game Twos and an 0-fer Thursday: Saints Ride the High of the Long Ball Prospect Retrospective: Justin Morneau Friday: Wind Surge Swept, Kernels Take Control Saturday: River Bandits Force Decisive Game 5, Saints Beat Cubs Sunday: Eliminated Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year: Jose Miranda Highlights St. Paul Saints The Saints played their final home series of the season. CHS Field and the Saints hosted the Iowa Cubs in the first of two Final Stretch weeks in Triple-A. The Saints won four of the five games. BJ Boyd went 4-for-10 (.400) with three walks, a triple, a homer and three RBI. Ben Rortvedt played in four games. He went 5-for-12 (.417) with three walks, a double, a homer and four RBI. Of course, Jose Miranda had another terrific week. In five games, he went 9-for-20 (.450) with two walks, a double, a homer and six RBI. Finally, David Banuelos played in just one game, but in that game, he went 2-for-4 with a walk, a double, a homer and three RBI. That’s a solid 2.100 OPS day! On the mound, Beau Burrows pitched the fifth through ninth innings. In five scoreless innings, he gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out six batters. Edgar Garcia had a four-inning outing. He gave up no runs on just one hit and one walk. Ian Gibaut pitched twice in the five-game set. He struck out four batters over two perfect innings. Lefty Chris Nunn struck out three batters over three scoreless innings. He gave up just one hit. Chandler Shepherd struck out four batters over 3 2/3 scoreless frames. He gave up just one hit and one walk. Andrew Albers had another strong start. He gave up one run on four hits and two walks over five innings. He struck out seven batters. Wichita Wind Surge The Wind Surge went into the championship series as the #1 see which meant the first two games on the road. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of positives in their three-game sweep at the hands of NW Arkansas. But there were a couple… Austin Martin went 6-for-12 (.500) with two walks. He had two-hit games in all three games. Likewise, Jermaine Palacios had three multi-hit games. All told, he was 7-11 (.636) with a walk, a double and two home runs. Cedar Rapids Kernels The Kernels jumped out to a 2-1 lead after three games, but the River Bandits won games four and five. As you would expect, there were a few more positives. Sawyer Gipson-Long gave up one run and struck out nine batters over 4 2/3 innings in his start. Louie Varland continued to throw well. He gave up just one run on six hits over seven innings in Game 1. Osiris German pitched twice out of the bullpen. He pitched a perfect inning in Game 1 and was credited with the Win. In Game four, he gave up just one hit over three scoreless innings. No walks. Five strikeouts. Zach Featherstone struck out three batters in the ninth inning to record the save in Game 1. In Game 1, Jair Camargo was the hitting star. He went 2-for-3 with a double and a late-inning homer to give the Kernels a lead. After going 0-for-7 in the first two games, Edouard Julien went 2-for-4 with a walk and two home runs in Game 3. He had two more hits in Game 4. In the series, Alex Isola had four walks, two doubles and a three-run homer. DaShawn Keirsey had two doubles and a homer in the series. PROSPECT SUMMARY This Prospect Summary shows our updated Twins Top 20 Prospect Rankings. #1 - Royce Lewis (Wichita) - Out for Season (torn ACL) #2 - Austin Martin (Wichita) - 37 games, .254/.399/.381 (.779) with 8 doubles, 3 home runs, 19 RBI, 23 BB, 30 K. #3 - Jordan Balazovic (Wichita) – 20 GS, 97.0 IP, 98 H, 38 BB, 102 K, 3.62 ERA, 1.40 WHIP #4 - Simeon Woods-Richardson (Wichita) - 4 G, 3 GS, 8.0 IP, 6 H, 8 BB, 10 K, 6.75 ERA, 1.75 WHIP. #5 - Jhoan Duran (St. Paul) – 5 G, 4 GS, 16.0 IP, 16 H, 13 BB, 22 K, 5.06 ERA, 1.81 WHIP (on IL with a right forearm strain) #6 - Jose Miranda (St. Paul) – 122 games, .342/.400/.568 (.968) with 29 doubles, 29 homers, 92 RBI, 41 BB, 73 K #7 - Joe Ryan (Minnesota) - St. Paul (2 GS, 9.0 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 17 K, 2.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP), Minnesota (4 GS, 22.0 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 25 K, 2.45 ERA, 0.59 WHIP) #8 - Matt Canterino (Cedar Rapids) – 5 GS, 21.0 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 43 K, 0.86 ERA, 0.67 WHIP (IL, elbow strain) #9 - Chase Petty (Complex) - 2 G, 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 5.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP. #10 - Keoni Cavaco (Ft. Myers) – 60 games, .233/.296/.301 (.597) with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 24 RBI, 18 BB, 89 K, 5 SB (Temporary Inactive List) #11 - Josh Winder (St. Paul) - 14 GS, 72.0 IP, 55 H, 13 BB, 80 K, 2.63 ERA, 0.94 WHIP (IL, shoulder impingement) #12 - Matt Wallner (Cedar Rapids) – 66 games, .264/.350/.508 (.858) with 14 doubles, 2 triples, 15 homers, 47 RBI, 28 BB, 98 K. #13 - Gilberto Celestino (St. Paul) – Wichita (21 games, .250/.344/.381 (.725) with 5 doubles, 2 homers. 11 BB, 24 K), St. Paul (44 games, .296/.397/.457 (.854) with 11 doubles, 5 homers, 24 RBI, 23 BB, 38 K), Minnesota (22 games, .140/.183/.298 (.482) with 3 BB, 13 K) #14 - Drew Strotman (St. Paul) - 11 GS, 53.0 IP, 63 H, 26 BB, 41 K, 6.96 ERA, 1.68 WHIP. #15 - Noah Miller (Complex) - 22 games, .238/.316/.369 (.685) with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers, 14 RBI, 9 BB, 26 K #16 - Brent Rooker (Minnesota) – St. Paul (58 games, .239/.368/.566 (.934) with 8 doubles, 1 triple, 19 homers, 37 BB, 74 K), Minnesota (52 games, .201/.294/.397 (.691) with 10 doubles, 8 homers, 15 RBI, 15 BB, 64 K) #17 - Blayne Enlow (Cedar Rapids) – 3 GS, 14.2 IP, 13 H, 6 BB, 23 K, 1.84 ERA, 1.30 WHIP (underwent Tommy John surgery on June 9th) #18 - Misael Urbina (Ft. Myers) – 101 games, .191/.299/.286 (.585) with 12 doubles, 4 triples, 5 homers, 52 RBI, 54 BB, 82 K, 16 SB) #19 - Cole Sands (Wichita) – 19 G, 18 GS, 80.1 IP, 59 H, 35 BB, 96 K, 2.46 ERA, 1.17 WHIP #20 - Spencer Steer (Wichita) - 110 games, .254/.348/.484 (.833) with 18 doubles, 3 triples, 24 homers, 66 RBI, 55 BB, 105 K) LOOKING AHEAD FCL Twins Season is Complete. Ft. Myers Season is Complete. Cedar Rapids Season is Complete. Wichita Season is Complete. St. Paul @ Toledo: (Jason Garcia, Derek Law, Beau Burrows, Drew Strotman, Andrew Albers): Also, Instructional League/camp began last Tuesday. Feel free to ask any questions you like.
In May, many, if not most, of the pitchers in the system were piggybacking, so it was hard to distinguish ‘starters’ from ‘relievers,’ and that made sense. In June, there were a few more pitchers who were used more consistently out of the bullpen and a few really distinguished this month. Here are four relief pitchers who were great in June, but let’s start with some Honorable Mentions: RHP Steven Cruz, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels - 6 G, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.1 IP, 2 hits, 5 walks, 22 strikeouts. RHP Matthew Swain, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels - 8 G, 1.93 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 14.0 IP, 7 hits, 4 walks, 19 strikeouts. LHP Zach Neff, Wichita Wind Surge - 9 G, 1.98 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 13.2 IP, 9 hits, 2 walks, 20 strikeouts. LHP Jovani Moran, Wichita Wind Surge - 9 G, 2.51 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 14.1 IP, 5 hits, 5 walks, 27 strikeouts. LHP Andrew Vasquez, St. Paul Saints - 9 G, 3.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 14.0 IP, 7 hits, 7 walks, 25 strikeouts. THE TOP FOUR RELIEF PITCHERS #4 - RHP Jordan Gore - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 9 G, 1.80 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 20.0 IP, 6 H, 9 BB, 27 K You know the story. Gore was the Twins 19th round pick in 2017 out of Coastal Carolina… as a shortstop. In fact, in 2019, he was the main starting shortstop until late in the season when Royce Lewis was called up. However, it was also at that time that Gore and the Twins started the conversation about moving to the mound. That transition started at the end of that season, but with the pandemic, he hasn’t been able to show off in his new position until this year. It took a little bit. In May, he struck out 22 batters in 13 2/3 innings, but he had a 4.61 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. In June, he was fantastic. He worked a lot. 20 innings for a reliever in the minors is a lot. He kept his strikeout rate over 12 per nine. Opponents hit just .098 off of him! As impressive as the numbers, his stuff has come along quickly. Yes, he throws a mid-90s fastball, but he knows he needs more than that. If you watch him throw, he throws a lot of changeups and sliders, and both appear to have some potential. #3 - LHP Zach Featherstone - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 9 G, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 15.0 IP, 5 H, 10 BB, 25 K Featherstone was the Twins 12th round pick in 2016 out of community college. Like Gore, he was a position player. After one season splitting time between first base and the outfield, he moved to the mound. He pitched in 12 games in the GCL in 2017. In 2018, he got hurt, and when the GCL season started, he worked in three games to see how he was progressing. It was determined that he needed Tommy John surgery. He missed the 2019 season. He was ready to work some in the GCL late in the season, but a hurricane ended that season early. 2020 pandemic meant another season lost. So this spring when he finally got the chance to pitch again, he was very excited. In fact, in his first inning with the Kernels, he threw one pitch at 97 mph. Again, it took him some time to get into a groove. In May, he posted a 5.40 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out 11 but walked nine. In June, he found the strike zone and showed dominance. Batters hit just .106 off of him. He throws into the mid-90s and has a sharp slider. He’s left-handed and certainly is worth watching. #2 - RHP Osiris German - Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels - 6 G, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.1 IP, 2 H, 5 BB, 22 K. German signed with the Twins back in 2016 from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic. The 22-year-old has worked slowly up the ladder. He spent parts of 2017 and 2018 in the DSL. He ended the 2018 season in the GCL. In 2019, he posted a 3.11 ERA over 37 2/3 innings. He struck out 47. After missing the 2020 season, he made the move to the full season with the Mighty Mussels. In May, he posted a 6.55 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP over 11 innings. In June, he put up incredible numbers, several of them were zero, including the number of runs allowed. I mean, he gave up just two hits over the full month. Opponents hit just .053 against him. One report told me that he has a “Devin Williams-like changeup that is a plus-plus pitch.” That certainly is intriguing too. And the Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Month is: LHP Denny Bentley - Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels - 7 G, 1.35 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 13.1 IP, 4 H, 5 BB, 25 K Denny Bentley was the Twins 33rd round draft pick in 2018 out of Howard College in Texas. He posted a 2.60 ERA over 17 1/3 innings. He struck out 21. In 2019, he moved up to Elizabethton and had some ups and downs. In 19 games, he went 2-3 with two saves. He had a 4.38 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. When the E-Twins season ended, the Triple-A Red Wings needed some help on the final weekend. Bentley got that opportunity and made the best of it. He tossed two scoreless innings and gave up only a walk. He also struck out two batters. He also pitched for the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the playoffs. Like the others, Bentley did not pitch in 2020. As you might expect, it took Bentley a little while to get things going. In May, he posted a 7.15 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP over 11 1/3 innings. While he struck out 18 batters, he gave up 15 hits and 11 walks. However, it was night-and-day and Bentley earned the top spot on this list. Along with giving up just seven base runners over 13 1/3 innings, he was dominant striking out 25 batters (16.9 K/9). Opponents hit just .095/.184/.143 (.327). His control and command greatly and quickly improved. Also, his stuff just got much sharper. As you can see, there were several solid relief pitcher performances in June. These guys are all worthy of some recognition. It was a good month for each of these pitchers. Congratulations to Denny Bentley, the Twins Daily Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Month for June 2021.