• 2013 Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year

    Minnesota Twins minor league awards week continues today by looking at the top relief pitchers in the system (be sure to look back at the Harmon Killebrew Award winners and my choice for minor league starting pitcher of the year). It’s an interesting category, especially for someone like me who typically will not rank relief pitchers as high as starters, but who fully understands the importance of a strong bullpen to a team.

    A look at last year’s Top 6 minor league reliever shows how much of a mixed bag this can be. Number 6 was Anthony Slama. Number 5 was Luis Perdomo. Number 4 was Bruce Pugh. All three of them were released before the end of the 2013 season. Number 3 was Caleb Thielbar who pitched very well last year and came up to the Twins this year and pitched very well. Number 2 was Michael Tonkin who was remarkable the first 60% of the season, but he really struggled in Rochester after his first (of now three) promotions to the Twins. He certainly has the upside to be a long-time back of the bullpen arm. AJ Achter was my Choice for the award last year after he pitched well in Beloit and Ft. Myers. This year, he pitched well (though not top six) at both New Britain and Rochester and will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

    Again, these awards are not a prospect list. It is about the numbers, regardless of age or level of competition.

    Feel free to debate them, or ask any questions you may have.

    Relief Pitcher of the Year

    #6 – David Hurlbut – Cedar Rapids Kernels / Ft. Myers Miracle (4-2, 6 saves, 2.82 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 70.1 IP, 65 H, 13 BB, 64 K)

    Hurlbut was the Twins’ 16th round pick in 2011 out of Cal State-Fullerton. He has pitched in several different roles in his three seasons in the organization. In fact, last year, he was one of the top five starting pitchers in the organization. He began 2013 back in the Midwest League, pitching out of the bullpen. Though he was fully capable and frequently worked two or three innings at a time (important with a six-man rotation). He also ended up being the team’s closer after Tyler Jones was promoted to Ft. Myers. Late in the season, Hurlbut was promoted to Ft. Myers where he made seven starts and was able to keep his ERA and base runners allowed down. The left-hander was able to strike out 8.2 per nine innings while walking just 1.7 per nine.

    #5 – Cole Johnson – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats (3-3, 5 saves, 3.10 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 61.0 IP, 48 H, 20 BB, 68 K)

    Johnson is probably one of the least recognize Twins minor leaguers who was really good in 2013. The Notre Dame product, who was drafted in the 44th round of the 2011 draft. In 2012, he started the season at extended spring training, and joined Beloit for the second half. He pitched well in relief and ended up starting for the Snappers in the playoffs. He started 2013 in Ft. Myers and was tremendous. He had some struggles in his adjustment to AA New Britain but quickly proved he had earned the spot. It’s strange to see his 10.0 K/9 rate. Frankly, he is basically performing at a similar level and is on a similar path as last year’s choice for minor league reliever of the year, AJ Achter, who was also drafted in a round that no longer exists.

    #4 – Tim Atherton – Cedar Rapids Kernels (8-5, 1 save, 2.54 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 95.2 IP, 76 H, 33 BB, 102 K)

    Atherton spent two-thirds of the Kernels in the Kernels bullpen before ending the season by making 11 starts for the team. He also was going to be the Game 3 starter for them in the playoffs. Atherton has a herky-jerky delivery that can be quite deceptive. That helped him to 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings over 95+ innings. The right-handed Australian originally signed with the Twins as an infielder in 2008, but he was let go for disciplinary reasons. He came back to the organization as a pitcher in 2011, so he’s still developing his pitches.

    #3 – Zach Jones – Ft. Myers Miracle (4-3, 14 saves, 1.85 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 48.2 IP, 28 H, 28 BB, 70 K)

    Jones was the Twins 4th round pick in 2012 out of San Jose State. He hit and pitched in college, but an upper-90s fastball pushed him to the mound as a pro. After signing, he pitched in Elizabethton and Beloit. He spent the entire 2013 season in Ft. Myers. Just look at those strikeouts: that equates to 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Also notice that he gave up just 5.2 hits per nine innings. The reason he stayed in Ft. Myers all season is because he also walked 5.2 per nine innings. Jones often hit 100 mph during the season’s first half. In the second half, he generally sat between 94 and 96 mph. He will gain some more experience by pitching for the Twins in the Arizona Fall League next month.

    #2 – Edgar Ibarra – New Britain Rock Cats / Rochester Red Wings (3-2, 2 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 60.2 IP, 41 H, 29 BB, 54 K)



    Ibarra signed with the Twins in 2006. Last offseason, he had the opportunity to become a six-year minor league free agent. However, he (and Josmil Pinto and Deibinson Romero) signed back with the Twins on the first day of free agency. It was good for the Twins and for Ibarra. He started the season with the New Britain Rock Cats and finished the season with the Rochester Red Wings. The left-hander had a run of 32 consecutive scoreless innings. His only flaw is an excessive number of walks. He posted a 1.91 ERA in AA and a 1.96 ERA in AAA. In general, he was terrific all year. Again, he can become a minor league free agent following this season. I can’t help but wonder if the Twins will add the 24 year old to the 40 man roster. If not, will he be willing to stay in the organization for another year?


    Relief Pitcher of the Year – Tyler Jones – Cedar Rapids Kernels / Ft. Myers Miracle (5-6, 13 saves, 2.58 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 52.1 IP, 37 H, 20 BB, 66 K)



    Tyler Jones was the Twins 11th round pick in 2011 out of LSU. He was a successful high school athlete in Milwaukee and helped win a national title at Madison Junior College before heading south for a year with LSU. He began the 2012 season in extended spring training before moving up to the Beloit starting rotation in May. He was fairly mediocre as a starter. Earlier this spring, he acknowledged to me that he had not put in the work the previous offseason. Last offseason, he put in the work and lost over 30 pounds. He was moved to the bullpen and he dominated. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings were second only to Zach Jones. He also slightly improved his walk rate. Compared to others on this list, he allowed the fewest base runners per inning. He did miss three weeks in May with a sore elbow, but he came back strong. He was promoted to Ft. Myers where he took over primary closer duties and with the exception of one game in which he gave up four runs, he pitched very well all season. Having seen him finish off games with his 96 mph fastball was quite impressive, and seeing his much-improved slider gives me hope that he might surface in a Twins uniform within the next couple of years.


    This was a tough list to rank, and there was no clear-cut winner in this group. There were a lot of very solid relief pitching performances throughout the organization. So, what do you think? Would you go with Tyler Jones, who struck out a bunch without walking an excessive number and allowed the fewest base runners? Would you pick Edgar Ibarra who had that tremendous streak and was very good all season, but he didn’t strike out as many and walked more (too many?)? Would you consider Zach Jones who tied with Michael Tonkin for most saves in the organization this year and led the organization with 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings? Or, would you go with a guy like Atherton who made 11 starts and was still able to strikeout more than a batter per inning? The choice is up to you. I went with Tyler Jones. Post your thoughts and your rankings below.

    We’ll be back tomorrow with the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Year.
    This article was originally published in blog: 2013 Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      I'm not a fan of Ibarra personally. He might be useful in a major league pen, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect my relievers to be striking out a batter or more per inning. I wonder if the Twins will put the Joneses together in AA next year. I don't think that's a bad idea as both could earn mid season promotions and be making a case for the ML pen in 2015.

      Terry Ryan's position of strength right now is the pen. Between Tyler and Zach Jones as well as Tonkin, I could see one or two of our relievers being traded this offseason if the right prospect is dangled in return.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I'd like to see the Twins promote more relievers to the majors, and not sign so many guys from other orgs, but that's just me.

      Another nice job, Seth. Thanks, and congrats to eveeryone on the list.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      His (T. Jones) 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings were second only to Zach Jones. He also slightly improved his walk rate. ...... Would you consider Zach Jones who tied with Michael Tonkin for most saves in the organization this year and led the organization with 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings?
      These need a bit of clarification, saying that these guys did not lead the organization (which is inaccurate), but they led the players who only played in the full-season minor league parts of the organization.

      Organization Leaders in K/9 for 2013 (with 11 as the cut-off) :

      Carson Goldsmith 14.5 (R-Etown)
      Luis Nunez 14.4 (R-Etown)
      Wilfredy Liranzo 13.61 (R-DSL)
      Brandon Peterson 13.12 (R-Etown)
      Zach Jones 12.95
      Dallas Galand (R-Etown/A) 12.30
      Andrew Ferreira 12.9 (R-Etown)
      Brian Bixler 12.27 (R-Etown/A)
      Andre Martinez 11.86 (R-Etown)
      Miguel Gonzalez 11.57 (R-GCL)
      Tyler Stirewalt 11.49 (R-GCL)
      Lester Olivers 11.37 (R-GCL - rehab)
      Tyler Jones 11.35
      Glen Perkins 11.24 (MLB)

      Lots of E-town kids would be upset with the above statement
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I would have liked to have seen Zach Jones get promoted. Yes, there's more walks than you'd like to see, but when you're striking out that many guys and are otherwise unhittable, walks don't hurt. I think if they want to see improvement in that regard, he needed to be pushed somewhere where they would hurt him. I got the impression he was just overpowering everybody and didn't have to worry as much about his control because of that.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Lots of E-town kids would be upset with the above statement
      I'm pretty sure they're pretty angry about a sentence! And, I apologize. I made the assumption that there would be an assumption on innings pitched that would limit it to guys who played a majority of the full seasons.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      I would have liked to have seen Zach Jones get promoted. Yes, there's more walks than you'd like to see, but when you're striking out that many guys and are otherwise unhittable, walks don't hurt. I think if they want to see improvement in that regard, he needed to be pushed somewhere where they would hurt him. I got the impression he was just overpowering everybody and didn't have to worry as much about his control because of that.
      Well, obviously he did have to worry about his control. He's a very smart guy. He knew that he needed to do two things. One, not walk so many, but also, two, develop a second pitch, a slider that is said to be improving. Walk numbers do matter. How many relievers in the big leagues are successful walking 5/9? Billy Bullock threw in the upper 90s too. I'd have been fine with promoting Jones, but I don't think he is hurt at all by staying there.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      How many relievers in the big leagues are successful walking 5/9? Billy Bullock threw in the upper 90s too. I'd have been fine with promoting Jones, but I don't think he is hurt at all by staying there.
      There's actually quite a few that have pretty good MLB lines with high walk rates (say, above 4/9)! But I don't disagree with any of what you say.

      I do believe though, that no matter how much a guy is told or knows he has to work on something, that the results of what he's doing unconsciously play a larger role in the actions put on the field. I'm certain in your playing days this happened to you Seth, I know it happened to me. I had a coach tell me one year that I needed to swing more in hitter's counts and not end up drawing so many walks... Well, my on-base-percentage that year ended up well over .500, am I really going to, or is there even a reason to, mess with that? I think the same thing comes up here. He's still not walking every guy he faced, and for each of those walks was striking out 2.5. He struck out more than one batter per baserunner allowed. Look up the MLB relievers who do that - it's quite good company. But my main thought is why would you potentially sacrifice something else (like BAA in Jones' case, or OBP in my example) to get, almost certainly, worse results?

      I guess it makes sense to me that a guy has to struggle in some way to understand what needs to be adjusted as he develops. Jones certainly didn't struggle this year with the end-results.
    1. LewFordLives's Avatar
      LewFordLives -
      Nice article, although Dakota Watts needs to be on this list. He dominated down the stretch.
    1. TRex's Avatar
      TRex -
      But my main thought is why would you potentially sacrifice something else (like BAA in Jones' case, or OBP in my example) to get, almost certainly, worse results?
      Your assertion would be perfectly valid if major leaguers swung at the same number of 'out-of-zone' pitches as High-A players... but they don't! And, in contrast your example, where winning was the goal, the goal for Jones is to ready himself for the big leagues. I especially imagine that Jones gets most of his strikeouts by elevating the fastball, like many other high-A pitchers we have discussed. However, unlike 20 year old kids, the pros are more likely to lay off that pitch (or give it away as a souvenir)!

      Somewhat related, it was interesting to hear Buxton say that the most significant difference between low-A and high-A was pitchers worked the corners rather than the middle of the plate... which may also be something Jones needed to work on before he was ready for AA.
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