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  • The Righty Reliever Pipeline

    If there's one area of the Twins roster that you can look at and feel completely comfortable, both now and going forward, it's the bullpen. On the left-handed side, their best arm is the closer, but they also have Brian Duensing and Caleb Thielbar, with Pedro Hernandez also offering some potential. In terms of right-handers, there's Jared Burton and Casey Fien topping the depth chart, with Anthony Swarzak anchoring the long role.

    That's six relief jobs that you can already consider claimed for next year, meaning that there will probably be only one opening available for the taking. With Josh Roenicke outrighted and likely out of the picture, many contenders stand in line to join the bullpen as useful right-handed relievers, both in the immediate future and down the line. Let's take a look at them.

    Michael Tonkin, 23

    Tonkin's outstanding major-league debut this season flew under the radar, at least from my perspective. He came up for one appearance in July, then another in August, and got a more extended look in September at a time when many fans had stopped paying attention. I personally saw Tonkin pitch maybe twice in the final month, because I was watching fewer games at that point and, when I did watch, I often tuned out after the Twins fell into an early hole. (Interestingly, Tonkin made nine appearances this season and didn't pitch in a single winning effort.)

    Tonkin didn't pitch quite as well as his stellar 0.79 ERA suggests, because he also allowed five unearned runs, but his peripherals were solid (1.06 WHIP, 10/3 K/BB ratio in 11 1/3 innings) and he flashed a powerful fastball that averaged nearly 95 MPH. He has established himself over the past couple seasons as the organization's best relief prospect, with setup or even closer potential, and is easily the favorite to claim the open spot in next year's bullpen.

    Ryan Pressly, 24

    That Pressly spent the entire 2013 season in the majors was more a function of necessity than his performance. The Twins needed to keep the Rule 5 draftee on the 25-man roster all year long in order to keep him in the organization and, to his credit, Pressly made it fairly easy to do so. Over 49 appearances he totaled 76 2/3 innings, operating as a hybrid middle/long reliever and achieving solid results with a 3.87 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Based on his lack of strikeouts (5.8 K/9) and his mediocre control (3.2 BB/9) it's tough to see the right-hander maintaining that effectiveness long-term unless he makes noticeable improvements, but at least the organization will be able to keep him around and figure what they want to do with him.

    There's been some talk of moving Pressly back into a starting role, even though he struggled mightily as a starter in the minors before being transitioned to the bullpen.

    A.J. Achter, 25

    It's unknown whether Achter will eventually make an impact in the majors, but he has already easily surpassed his draft status simply by emerging as a legitimate prospect. A 46th-round pick out of Michigan State University back in 2010, Achter has registered a 3.17 ERA in four minor-league seasons while averaging 9.6 K/9. This year, he pitched well enough in the first half at New Britain to earn a promotion to Rochester, where he finished with a 3.04 ERA in 16 appearances. Now, the 25-year-old is participating in the Arizona Fall League, where he has a chance to further establish himself as a contender to join next year's relief corps. His biggest obstacle at this point is command; in 60 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, he issued 33 walks.

    Zach Jones, 22

    Joining Achter in the AFL is Jones, who is farther away from the majors but also possesses considerably more upside. Acquired in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Jones has barely gotten his pro career started but has already demonstrated the ability to dominate, with 104 strikeouts and a 1.97 ERA in his first 68 2/3 innings in the Twins organization. Much like Achter, he needs to refine his control (5.1 BB/9 rate), but he has proven almost unhittable as opponents batted just .172 against him this year in Ft. Myers.

    Trevor May, 24

    This name is a bit of a wild card in that May has worked as a starter for nearly his entire career, and the Twins are surely hoping he can continue to develop in that capacity, but many believe his long-term future is as a reliever. May certainly has MLB-caliber stuff but his command and stamina have been lacking and he didn't do enough this year in his second turn at Double-A to alleviate any such concerns. In 27 starts with New Britain, he averaged just 5 2/3 innings per start. From a 24-year-old repeating Double-A, you would certainly like to see more consistently deep outings.

    As a reliever, May could maximize his strengths while better hiding his weaknesses. But of course, with their dire shortage of starters in the high minors, the Twins will likely show patience with him in his current role for the time being.
    This article was originally published in blog: The Righty Reliever Pipeline started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Another name that should probably be included on this list is Duke Welker, the 27-year-old righty acquired in the Morneau trade. He could well factor into the bullpen at some point next year, but looks like a Jim Hoey type.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I like both Dakota Watts and Lester Oliveros too.
    1. iastfan112's Avatar
      iastfan112 -
      Pressly's performance was not out of line with peripherals, landing nicely between his FIP and xFIP. He's also fairly young so expecting some modest improvement certainly isn't out of line.
    1. Craig in MN's Avatar
      Craig in MN -
      Liam Hendricks is out of options and has too much potential to just drop if he doesn't get a rotation spot out of ST. He's got to be considered in the bullpen discussion. He might have a better chance of being in the bullpen than anyone else on this list, actually.

      And no reliever article is complete without a mention of Mark Hamburger.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Deolis Guerra is still around, for now, too...and either has to make it or depart.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Looking at the way things have worked the past couple of years, I think you are looking at two open spots. It seems to me that the Twins kept 13 pitchers on the roster last year. That is unless you are thinking of a 6 man rotation. I would prefer they only have 12 pitchers, but we'd actually need some starters to make it into the 7th inning on a regular basis.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Got a few questions, of which I'll preface once I set up.

      1. Do you feel that relievers are easier to get to the bigs? I ask as from what I read on scouting of builds, the number of "plus" grade pitches a reliever requires to make it in MLB, and other factors. It's much less limiting.

      For instance, a lot of scouting notes will always talk about the build of a pitcher. Downward plane, able to endure lots of pitches, etc.

      Then for the pitches themselves, to be a good starter in MLB, you need at least 3 pitches that are "plus", or an offspeed and fastball that are "plus-plus" and complement each other.

      To be a reliever, you need maybe 2 pitches, and only one of them has to be "plus-plus"

      I believe former Twin Grant Balfour is a great example of such a candidate. He had a "plus" to "plus-plus" fastball (FA). That is it was generally clocked between 94-97 mph. While he was with the Twins, he only had the "plus fastball" and secondary pitches, slider and change-up, were quite ordinary.

      His development of his slider (SL) to a "plus" pitch has gotten him from 'average reliever' to closer. That's merely from developing another pitch. Put him as a starter and by the 2nd or 3rd AB that game Major League hitters will start to put them in the seats.

      Grant Balfour pitches by percentage chart:
      Attachment 5839

      You can see the effectiveness (thrown more) and with better ERA (better success) in 2012 and 2013, which coincidentally is when he's become the A's closer.

      The other part about relievers is you can be a 'niche' guy. You only have to pitch to weaknesses of various hitters. The Jesse Orosco's (former Twin Draft Pick by the way), Dan Plesac, and John Candelaria's of the world were able to pitch into their 40's due to this.

      That said, when it comes to playoff teams. These guys are vital. And playoff teams are often willing to pay for that reliever in a pinch, as it's often that missing factor to expose match-ups in the playoffs.

      That said, the Twins could sorta produce a 'pipeline' to get more draft picks and other AA prospects by developing failed starters as relievers. This is another reason I'm against drafting "control" type pitchers, al a Kyle Gibson, Pat Dean, etc as you can't develop them as relievers if starting fails for them. 95% of the time you start with a guy who has a "plus" or "plus-plus" fastball and work on command of that while adding a 2nd pitch.

      Curious, your thoughts, and others, on which pitchers could fit this profile in the Twins Organization. And two, if you think the Twins would ever entertain the idea.

      Also, Glen Perkins is a great example of a 'failed' (moderate success) as starter, but is an All-Star as a reliever.
    1. oldguy10's Avatar
      oldguy10 -
      While the relief pitching this past season appears to be a bright spot especially as far as ERA goes one must remember that inherited runners being allowed to score was terrible in 2013 and that is the true way to judge relief pitching, isn't it?
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Let's just go with a 14 man bullpen. Starters can pitch 4 innings each at the "Scott Diamond Line". There's too much talent and not enough spots if you go with a traditional pen.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      There is something very similar for lefty relievers too. Here's to hoping Fien, Burton, and Duensing are good this year and can be dealt at the deadline.
    1. ScottyB's Avatar
      ScottyB -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      Let's just go with a 14 man bullpen. Starters can pitch 4 innings each at the "Scott Diamond Line". There's too much talent and not enough spots if you go with a traditional pen.
      Interesting - a 14 man bullpen and a 5 man rotation. My Minnesota math tells me that leaves 6 position players for the team. What positions aren't we going to fill with a player? We have to have a catcher, someone at 1B would be nice, I guess a middle infielder, a 3B and 2 OF. I guess it's doable, but our pitchers are gonna have to hit - no DH. Pretty thin bench as well. I hope no one gets injured during a game.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScottyB View Post
      Interesting - a 14 man bullpen and a 5 man rotation. My Minnesota math tells me that leaves 6 position players for the team. What positions aren't we going to fill with a player? We have to have a catcher, someone at 1B would be nice, I guess a middle infielder, a 3B and 2 OF. I guess it's doable, but our pitchers are gonna have to hit - no DH. Pretty thin bench as well. I hope no one gets injured during a game.
      A charitable reading of YHIMH's post seems required. What is clearly meant is a 14-man pitching staff. It's blatantly clear that this is what is meant.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      Deolis Guerra is still around, for now, too...and either has to make it or depart.
      Wasn't Guerra in a free agent who agreed to come back on a minor league deal last year?
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScottyB View Post
      Interesting - a 14 man bullpen and a 5 man rotation. My Minnesota math tells me that leaves 6 position players for the team. What positions aren't we going to fill with a player?
      If we can get some pitchers to cover a few positions on their off-days we probably wouldn't lose too much on offense
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