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Today, we will conclude our Organizational Depth Chart by looking at the Relief Pitchers. Frankly, it is kind of a mess thanks to about 89 minor league veterans brought in, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. As I said on Monday, many starters will get time as a reliever, and vice versa. This is especially true in the lower levels of the minor leagues where innings limits are still so important. The Twins bullpen in 2011 was pretty much horrible. They had lost Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, both guys who had long been in the Twins bullpen. They also let Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes, and Ron Mahay departed via free agency. Each made huge money for relievers in free agency. As I’ve said, I would have wanted to bring back Crain, but I definitely understood letting the others go. The Twins brought in some minor league free agents, but as they had done so many times before, they made the decision to build a bullpen from within. Needing two or three pitchers to step up, only Glen Perkins really stepped up throughout the season. Anthony Swarzak was a surprise success as well in long relief and as a spot starter. Joe Nathan struggled in his return. Matt Capps just struggled. Two pitchers that likely would have been counted on to perform, Jeff Manship and Anthony Slama were out most of the season with injuries. Had those two been healthy all season, it could have been a better situation. To the surprise of many, the Twins seem to have gone with much the same philosophy in 2012. Instead of going after retread relievers, they are choosing to believe in their in-house options. They brought back Capps, are taking a flyer on Joel Zumaya, and have invited a small village of minor league veteran pitchers with some big league experience. All in the attempt to hope that three or four of them step up. It’s a philosophy I completely agree with despite the fact that it went very wrong in 2011. Then again, pretty much everything went wrong for the Twins in 2011. Fortunately 2012 is a new year. You can clamor for guys like Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls and Todd Coffey all you want. Or you can realize that they all struggled early in their careers and didn’t become big league regulars until late in their careers. They didn’t succeed in their first opportunities in the big leagues, and they have all had their struggles in the big leagues even after being given regular bullpen duties. So, although I am incredibly nervous about the Twins bullpen, and don’t have any idea how they will perform in 2012, I do think they have some talent, some young talent that should continue to get opportunities. That’s just smart. Relievers who are good year in and year out are a rarity. Are there a dozen in the entire big leagues that you could say have been lights out, have been difference-makers each of the past five seasons? (I’ll give you Mariano Rivera… you name another 10.) Because of that, bringing in 26-30 year olds with good arms and some measure of success makes a lot of sense to me.
Below you will get a look at the names of many Twins minor league pitchers who will likely spend a lot of time in bullpens this upcoming season. I need to reiterate that these are just my thoughts. I have no insider information to know where players will be playing for certain in 2012. Obviously after spring training, some of these players will be let go. There will be Disabled List players, extended spring training and more.
Matt Capps (RHP), Glen Perkins (LHP), Joel Zumaya (RHP), Brian Duensing (LHP), Alex Burnett (RHP), Anthony Swarzak (RHP), Jeff Gray (RHP), Terry Doyle (RHP-R5)
Some Twins fans choose to say that Matt Capps has been pretty bad in two of the last three years. Since it’s less than two weeks before spring training, so I’ll say that he’s been really good in four of his last six seasons! If healthy, he’ll be solid at the end of games. I think Glen Perkins proved himself throughout the 2011 season to believe he can be a dominant lefty reliever again in 2012. Brian Duensing likely moves to the bullpen. He is one of baseball’s best at getting left-handed hitters out, but one of the worst at getting right-handers out. Joel Zumaya hasn’t pitched since 2010, and hasn’t pitched a full season since 2006, but I guess there is a chance he could be really good for half of the season! Anthony Swarzak is out of options and he really proved himself in long-relief and spot-starting last year. He could find himself being thrown into more high leverage situations in 2012. Alex Burnett has the arguably the best stuff in the bullpen and hopefully he will be able to put it all together. He won’t turn 25 until late July. If Terry Doyle pitches fairly well in spring training, I believe that he will make the team. If a starter is hurt, he could be the guy to make some starts early in the season, or he could be a long reliever. I also believe that Jeff Gray will make this roster as well. He is on the 40 man roster and out of options.
Rochester Red Wings
Anthony Slama (RHP), Carlos Gutierrez (RHP), Lester Oliveros (RHP), Cole DeVries (RHP), Deolis Guerra (RHP), Kyle Waldrop (RHP), Esmerling Vazquez (RHP), Tyler Robertson (LHP), Jared Burton (RHP), Jason Bulger (RHP), Samuel Deduno (RHP), Phil Dumatrait (LHP), Casey Fien (RHP), Luis Perdomo (RHP), Daryl Thompson (RHP), PJ Walters (RHP), Brendan Wise (RHP), Luke French (LHP), Brad Thompson (RHP), Matt Maloney (LHP)
What a mess spring training will be? The Twins will have to play a few split-squad games to get all of these guys innings. Inexplicably, Anthony Slama has never been given a shot by the Twins despite 10.3 K/9 and a 2.59 ERA in 92 AAA appearances. I think Lester Oliveros has a chance to be pretty good but he needs more time. The Twins don’t need to rush him (like they did with Alex Burnett). The Twins claimed Vazquez from the Diamondbacks on the last day of the 2011 season. He’s a hard-thrower with control issues. The same can be said for Deduno and Perdomo. Kyle Waldrop finally got a shot with the Twins in September and he should be given a very legitimate opportunity to make the Twins opening day roster and get time throughout the season with the Twins. The two non-roster invites that have a legitimate chance of making the big league roster early in the season are Jared Burton and Jason Bulger. Each has had quite a bit of big league success. Burton has been hurt much of the past two seasons. Bulger spent a long time with the Angels. Phil Dumatrait got way too much time with the Twins last year. Carlos Gutierrez and Tyler Robertson were added to the 40 man roster this offseason. Gutierrez made the move to the bullpen last year and pitched pretty well until shoulder issues. Still walks too many though. Robertson was terrific in the second half of last season as the New Britain closer. The lefty may not throw hard, but he was quite successful in his first season in the bullpen. Cole DeVries had a tremendous 2011 including a very good performance in the hitting Arizona Fall League. Matt Maloney is on the 40 man roster. The left-hander was brought in before Terry Ryan was named GM, but as a former Reds pitcher, it is likely that he was recommended by Wayne Krivsky, which makes him intriguing. He is on the 40 man roster and out of options, but there is a chance he could go unclaimed. Non-roster invites Burton, Bulger, Deduno, Dumatrait, Fien, Perdomo, Walters, French and the two Thompsons all have spent some time in the big leagues. Liam Hendriks said in a recent podcast that Brendan Wise is similar to Kyle Waldrop in terms of ability to get a lot of ground balls. The Aussie has been very good in AAA the last two years. Finally, it is a huge year for Deolis Guerra. After being really bad as a starting pitcher, he moved to the New Britain bullpen last year and was incredible. Suddenly he had better control, gave up less hits and struck out more than a batter an inning. How will he perform in AAA in 2012? It will be interesting to watch. I suspect we will see him by season’s end. He has one option left.
New Britain Rock Cats
Matt Hauser (RHP), Andrew Albers (LHP), Brett Jacobson (RHP), Daniel Turpen (RHP), Tony Davis (LHP), Blake Martin (LHP), Cole Nelson (LHP), Spencer Steedley (LHP), Ricky Bowen (RHP), Jhon Garcia (RHP), Bruce Pugh (RHP), Dakota Watts (RHP), Steve Hirschfeld (RHP)
Will any of the leftovers from the Twins minor league signings move down to AA? We shall see. Matt Hauser ended the 2011 season with one appearance with the Rock Cats. He is a hard-throwing right hander who I think will be a big breakout candidate in 2012. Andrew Albers was the story of the year in the Twins system last year and my choice for Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year. Brett Jacobson, Blake Martin and Spencer Steedley spent 2011 in New Britain, each splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. Turpen came over from Colorado in the Kevin Slowey deal. He throws hard and side-arm but gets no strikeouts. Bruce Pugh and Dakota Watts both had disappointing 2011 seasons between Ft. Myers and New Britain. Each struggled in the Arizona Fall League. But each throws really hard and if they can find any measure of control, they are legit prospects. Hirschfeld was my choice for Twins minor league pitcher of the month in both April and May. He struggled in June and moved to the bullpen, which is likely where he’ll wind up. Tony Davis is not a big guy, but he throws left-handed and touches 94-95 mph. He missed about half of last season with a shoulder surgery. He will be ready for spring training. Cole Nelson is a Minnesota native who came over from Detroit in the Delmon Young trade. Ricky Bowen signed with the Twins in May and did a nice job pitching out of the Ft. Myers bullpen. Jhon Garcia throws hard and can pitch in any role in the bullpen and spot start.
Ft. Myers Miracle
Jose Gonzalez (LHP), Michael Tonkin (RHP), Clinton Dempster (RHP), Bart Carter (LHP), Nelvin Fuentes (LHP), Edgar Ibarra (LHP), Kane Holbrooks (RHP), Matt Schuld (RHP), Brad Stillings (RHP), Caleb Thielbar (LHP), Blayne Weller (RHP), Miguel Munoz (RHP)
Jose Gonzalez was the closer in Beloit last year. He’ll likely continue in that role with the Miracle. He’s not tall and resembles Jose Mijares, but he throws hard and has a terrific slider. Michael Tonkin moved to the bullpen in 2011 and pitched very well. Dempster was terrific in the bullpen for Beloit but struggled upon his promotion to Ft. Myers. Carter dominated in Elizabethton and then pitched very well for the Snappers. A four year college guy, he should be pushed. Nelvin Fuentes has been pitching well for Puerto Rico in international competition. He has also steadily moved up the Twins system. The lefty works slow but he gets hitters out. Edgar Ibarra struggled in the Miracle rotation last year but finished strong in the bullpen. Kane Holbrooks had a tremendous 2010 season that saw him pitch well in Beloit, Ft. Myers and New Britain. 2011 was disappointing. He pitched well with no run support in April, but then he really struggled. He then missed the last couple of months. St. Thomas alum Matt Schuld pitched very well in Ft. Myers and then threw pretty well in New Britain. I only have him in Ft. Myers because of the numbers crunch at the higher levels. Caleb Thielbar became the first player the Twins signed from the St. Paul Saints and pitched in a few games for the Miracle. Blayne Weller pitched in the bullpen in Beloit although he ended the season pitching well as a starter. Miguel Munoz made his first start last year with the Miracle, hurt his elbow and then didn’t pitch again until late in the season. In his return to the Miracle, he re-aggravated the elbow injury and was shut down. Reports indicate that he did not have elbow surgery and rehabbed throughout the offseason.
Corey Williams (LHP), Steve Evans (LHP), Steven Gruver (LHP), Jason Wheeler (LHP), David Hurlbut (LHP), Corey Kimes (LHP), Garrett Jewell (RHP), Cole Johnson (RHP), Tobias Streich (RHP), Jhonatan Arias (RHP).
Corey Williams was the Twins 3rd round pick just a year ago. The lefty signed for nearly double the slot recommendation. But the Twins are quite excited about him. He’s another hard thrower, said to have nasty stuff and a strong mentality. Evans, Gruver, Hurlbut and Johnson were all 2011 draft picks out of college that pitched well at Elizabethton during the summer. Kimes pitched in just a couple of games before suffering from mono. Jason Wheeler was the team’s 8th round pick and signed at the deadline. He will debut in 2012. Tobias Streich and Jhonatan Arias were both strong-armed catchers without much bat. Last year at Instructs, the two were moved from behind the plate to the mound. The Twins have done this in the past with mixed results. Tim Lahey was drafted as a catcher, but a year later he moved to the mound, and although he didn’t get to the big leagues, he spent 3 years in AAA as a reliever. Danny Santiesteban was an outfielder with a bunch of tools in the lower levels of the Twins system for a few years. He was moved to the mound but was released soon after. (By the way, Santiesteban has been a hitting star for the Newark Bears of the independent leagues the last couple of years.)
Luis Nunez (LHP), Ricardo Arevalo (RHP), Nathan Fawbush (RHP), Tyler Herr (RHP), Gonzalo Sanudo (RHP), Markus Solbach (RHP), Dallas Gallant (RHP)
Luis Nunez went 5-0 with 5 saves and a 1.67 ERA in 16 relief appearances in the GCL. The 20-year-old lefty throws gas with decent (but improving) secondary stuff. He is certainly one to watch. Tyler Herr is a tall right-hander who showed improvement in his second year in the GCL. Arevalo has gone 0-11 with a 4.37 ERA in 25 games over the past two years in the GCL. Nathan Fawbush is another tall kid with a lot of talent, but he has missed time each of the past two seasons since the Twins drafted him. Sanudo signed with the Twins in 2011 and in 20.2 innings in the GCL, he walked seven and struck out 22. He just turned 20. Markus Solbach signed about this time last year from Germany, and he went 3-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings in the GCL. He also pitched well in the World Cup. Gallant had Tommy John surgery last spring and will be brought back slowly.
Josh Burris (RHP), Josue Montanez (LHP), Gerardo Ramirez (RHP)
The Twins signed Ramirez last year out of Mexico and threw 17.1 innings in the GCL. He just turned 18. Montanez just turned 20 years old. He signed with the Twins last year as their 15th round pick a year after being taken in the 25th round in 2010 by the Padres. His first outing didn’t go well, and then he was really good his next seven outings. Josh Burris signed very late with the Twins last year out of LSU-Eunice. Last year, he played some 2B and some in the outfield. He hit .273 with a triple and a homer and stole 13 bases. He also was a reliever who walked too many. However, he hits 94 mph on the radar gun and is best known for his great 12-6 curveball.
TOP THREE (OR SO…) PROSPECTS
1.) Corey Williams, 2.) Matt Hauser, 3.) Lester Oliveros, 4.) Deolis Guerra, 5.) Carlos Gutierrez, 6.) Luis Nunez, 7.) Tyler Robertson, 8.) Dakota Watts, 9.) Bruce Pugh 10.) Steven Evans
The Twins bullpen was really bad last year. I don’t think there is any way around that. Glen Perkins stepped up, and once he was called up, Anthony Swarzak pitched well. If the Twins have any hope at being successful in 2012, they are going to need a few more guys to really step up. Capps is going to have to be healthy and pitch well. Zumaya may have to be healthy and successful. Duensing will have to fill the role of lefty-reliever. They brought in a bunch of minor league veterans, and it would be great if one or two of them would step up and contribute when called upon. There are several Twins minor leaguers who deserve an opportunity to step up, guys like Waldrop, Gutierrez, DeVries and even Anthony Slama. The Twins have made an effort to bring in some strong arms, and in doing so have found guys who also walk a bunch. In recent drafts, the Twins have also added some power arms to mixed results. Guys like Matt Hauser and Tony Davis could move up. 2011 draft picks Corey Williams, Matt Summers, Madison Boer, Trent Higginbotham and Josh Burris throw hard. Oh, and remember a couple of years ago when the Twins had something like three or four left-handed relievers in their entire farm system? Now, it appears that each team may have three or four lefties! There is definitely some talent in the bullpen, some very strong arms. Of course, we also have to remember that many starting pitchers who have decent stuff and aren’t working out as starters could be moved to the bullpen as well.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your thoughts in the Comments Section!