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Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher

taylor rogers trevor may tyler duffey
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 09 April 2020 - 08:59 PM

Last year when I previewed this unit, a lack of proven depth was the overarching story. Today, we'll be unpacking a 180-degree turnaround.

The emergence of Minnesota's bullpen as a top-tier group was one of the 2019 season's most astonishing, and promising, developments.Projected Bullpen: Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May, Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo, Zach Littell, Matt Wisler, Cody Stashak

Depth: Fernando Romero, Sean Poppen, Danny Coulombe, Ryan Garton, Blaine Hardy, Cory Gearrin, Caleb Thielbar
Prospects: Edwar Colina, Dakota Chalmers, Jake Reed


September 14th was perhaps the most memorable day of the 2019 season. On this date, the Twins swept a doubleheader in Cleveland, effectively putting the division on ice. While Miguel Sano's splashy grand slam dominated the highlight reels, there's no question who was the star of this show: Minnesota's blossoming bullpen.

The games were "started" by Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, and featured a total of nine different pitchers deployed by Rocco Baldelli. Smeltzer and Thorpe combined with Zack Littell, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Taylor Rogers, Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol and Trevor May to hold Cleveland to five runs on 13 hits in 18 innings. The seven pitchers who appeared as relievers totaled 14 strikeouts and zero walks.

This immaculate collective performance epitomized the bullpen's brilliant second half. Even with top deadline addition Sam Dyson completely fizzling, the Twins relief corps ranked third among MLB teams in fWAR after July 31st, trailing only the Yankees and Rays. While the closer Rogers continued to excel, he was surrounded by strong performers, with May, Duffey, Romo, and Littell all contributing in major ways. Meanwhile, Stashak and Graterol joined the fray as impact rookies.

Graterol won't return, but everyone else will, along with waiver gamble Matt Wisler and free agent acquisition Tyler Clippard, whose reverse splits make him the weapon Baldelli needs against southpaws.

Minnesota is about seven-deep with quality big-league relievers, and that's before you account for long-relief options such as Thorpe and Smeltzer, or ready-to-go reinforcements such as Sean Poppen and Fernando Romero. Even with the inherent volatility of MLB bullpens, and the inevitability of at least a few injuries, this relief unit is poised to be one of the American League's finest.


Graterol is a big loss. While he was the least established among this entire crop, he undoubtedly offered the most upside, which was set to be unleashed after the team's acknowledgement he was slated for a relief role in 2020. The Twins bolstered their rotation by trading the young flamethrower for Kenta Maeda, but there's a clear trade-off in bullpen caliber.

By no means were the Twins counting on Graterol to be an essential fixture in this year's bullpen, but that was the beauty of his presence: a total bonus and a wild-card, with serious "ace in the hole" potential in this season and many to come.

It may not be felt as strongly since we were only beginning to acclimate ourselves to the idea of him as a long-term relief pitcher, but make no mistake: Graterol's absence creates a spacious void in the bullpen's outlook going forward. The Twins will have to hope a rebounding Romero or an emerging Jhoan Duran can fill it in some way.

Ultimately, the most evident weakness in Minnesota's bullpen is a lack of established track records beyond Rogers. As good as May, Duffey, and Littell were last year, none had a substantive history of MLB relief success prior. Wisler is still searching for his first above-average season in the majors.

Signing Clippard and Romo helps in this regard, of course, but they are middle relief types. The Twins are counting heavily on May and Duffey to repeat their dominant performances from 2019. There's no specific reason to think either one won't but... relievers are relievers.


Bullpen is undoubtedly a differentiating asset for the Twins heading into 2020, as they've retained all the top performers in a unit that progressively emerged last year as one of the league's best and deepest. Rogers ranks among the position's elite, and is surrounded by a couple setup men who could easily join the closer in this distinction.

Reliable options abound for Baldelli, who shouldn't find himself running short on trusted relievers barring an abundance of injuries and setbacks.

Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: First Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Third Base
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Shortstop
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Left Field
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Center Field
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Right Field
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Designated Hitter
Twins 2020 Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

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#2 howieramone2


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 03:14 AM

Pitching is a numbers game. The new regime has been here long enough to take care of our bullpen needs internally. Our starting pitching needs will most likely take til 2022. Also, don't confuse Graterol with Chapman.

#3 rdehring


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 07:15 AM

Can you remind me whether or not Romero has options this year?I think he is out, but then remember something about an extra year...which may have been used last year.If he is out, suspect the enlarged rosters may keep him with the Twins.Also, any news on the status of his getting his Visa so he can join the Twins whenever they start up?


I see you included Duran.Do you see him as a reliever?And if so, long-term? 



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#4 Doctor Gast

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Posted 10 April 2020 - 07:34 AM

Something I`ve been thinking of is when Hill is regaining his strength & form is to usehim in short high leverage relief, until he`s ready to start full bore. That`ll take off pressure on Taylor Rogers needing to perform repeatedly.

Nick wasn`t comparing Graterol to Chapman, he was just referringto his high potential basedon his stuff & stats in the minors & majors. 

#5 RochesterDave


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 07:35 AM

The Twins have done a masterful job with their pitching, especially the bullpen. I lived in DC (No Nats) during the 1970/80s and was a huge Orioles Fan. Back then the Os were powerhouses and Earl Weaver believed that the best way to acclimate a young stud pitcher was by putting him in the BP.. Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor and others found their way there. Similar to what the Twins did with Johan Santana. I suspect that Wes Johnson is doing the same, letting the young arms learn their way in the BP. I see Duran as a long term starter, who will have to pay his dues in the Pen.
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#6 mikelink45


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 07:39 AM

I have less optimism about this group than you do, but I enjoyed your essay.Wisler is a question mark, Duffey or May could regress and we are counting heavily on them.Littell could be a regress or continue to step up.Mr Slowball Romo is good for laughs, but is this the year that they really clobber his stuff?I am hoping you are right and my concerns are a waste of energy.

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#7 HrbieFan


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 09:58 AM

I am hoping the Twins saw something in Wisler that can help become a little more consistent. He has the pitches to be an above average asset in the pen.
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#8 Danchat


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 01:43 PM

Can you remind me whether or not Romero has options this year? I think he is out, but then remember something about an extra year...which may have been used last year. If he is out, suspect the enlarged rosters may keep him with the Twins. Also, any news on the status of his getting his Visa so he can join the Twins whenever they start up?

I see you included Duran. Do you see him as a reliever? And if so, long-term?

We’ve assumed Romero was given a 4th option, but I don’t know if it was ever confirmed.

Nobody should be giving up on Duran as a starter yet...
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#9 Nick Nelson

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Posted 10 April 2020 - 03:21 PM

I'm almost positive Romero has a fourth option.


No one's giving up on Duran as a starter. He was simply mentioned as one of the only arms in the system with a feasible chance of replacing what Graterol brought. 

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#10 DocBauer


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Posted 10 April 2020 - 07:14 PM

I agree more with the good than I do the bad, Nick, to be honest. And it's not just that I'm an optimist. At various times and stages, through the minors and at the ML level we've seen what May and Duffey can do, more so with May probably. With both of them, I don't see lightening in a bottle for a single year. There's enough history, arm talent, hard work by them and the staff, I think they are both just fine.

At some point, Romo and Clippard will finally regress or lose it. And sometimes it can happen quickly. But nothing seen recently indicates their cliff is 2020, assuming a season.

While we don't have any long term success to feel 100% about Littell and Stashak, we've also seen an awful lot of good and potential. Wisler is a wildcard worth looking at and burning early if need be.

I dismiss Graterol not due to talent or potential, only because he wasn't around long enough to make a true impact. Romero, Colina and Chalmers could be a "replacement" for him in the pen, even short term, in the case of Colina and Chalmers who still seem to have SP potential. And yes, Duran could fit in temporarily as well. And Poppen shouldn't be dismissed.

There is tremendous depth here amongst options already established and options who could contribute short and long term, including Dobnak, Smeltzer, etc. I feel good about the depth of the pen. Completely different than when 2019 started.
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#11 rdehring


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Posted 11 April 2020 - 09:04 AM

Wanted to comment on Littell.As I watched him last season, he kept reminding me of Joe Nathan.Not necessarily the same type of pitcher, just something about seeing him on the mound.Don't know whether or not he will ever achieve Nathan's level of success.But even becoming Nathan Lite would make him a very important part of the Twins pen.And yes, I see that happening whenever ball returns.  

#12 stringer bell

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Posted 11 April 2020 - 11:50 AM

I think it should be noted how much the bullpen changed throughout 2019. For goodness sakes, the closer into May was Blake Parker and two other guys (Morin and Magill) had pretty important roles at some point in the season. Hildenberger was a key setup guy early until he performed his way out of it. Rogers became the closer (often working more than an inning) and Duffey and May claimed key roles, they added Romo for the stretch run. That is a lot of change, almost all for the better. 


I doubt that each reliever that breaks with the club (if there is a season) will be successful, but with the number of options on the current staff, the bullpen should be pretty good.

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