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Twins Organizational Depth Chart: Relief Pitchers

8 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2012 – Now Available as an e-book for $6.99 by clicking here. You can, of course, still get the print version for $13.99 by clicking here

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.

Minnesota Twins  

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.

Beloit Snappers

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.)

Elizabethton Twins

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.

GCL Twins

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

SUMMARY

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 sethspeaksnet@hotmail.com or leave your thoughts in the Comments Section!

Twins Notes

28 Sep

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Tonight will mark Game #162 for the Minnesota Twins. I have to admit, it is a bit bittersweet thing for me. As much as this 2011 season needs to end, and we all need a break from the negativity for a while. At the same time, it’s a realization that we won’t see any live Twins baseball games until next February in Florida. That means we’ll go through October, November, December, January and half of February with nothing. As much as the losing has been frustrating, it is always enjoyable to watch your favorite team play, and for me, seeing all of the young players get an opportunity is very fun.

Of course, there is no real offseason in baseball, at least not for the teams or for bloggers. The fun begins as soon as the World Series is complete and players become free agents. Things like the 40 man roster decisions, trade discussions, free agents and rumors for all of the above will be prevalent, and we’ll continue to discuss those here. However, TwinsCentric is already working on the 2011/2012 Twins Offseason GM Handbook. That should be available by the end of the World Series, just before all of the Hot Stove League action begins. So, be sure to watch out for that.

Last night, I was joined late in the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast by Brandon Warne of BrandonWarne.com, Upper Deck Report and FanGraphs.com.

It was always funny to me that many fans seemed to be rather negative on Rene Tosoni. Yes, a couple of weeks ago, he was hitting about .160 in his big league time. However, so many seemed to forget that when he was first called up to the Twins, he had played in just 19 games in AAA after missing the final 2/3 of the 2010 season with shoulder surgery. A year ago, I called him Jason Kubel-light. The only weakness in his game has been his inability to hit left-handed pitching. He is a good outfielder. In the minor leagues, he played a vast majority of his games in right field. He occasionally would get a game in center field, but he really is a corner outfielder. He has played a lot of left field with the Twins after hardly ever playing there in the minor leagues. I mentioned last week that I thought he was being almost too patient. I would say that has changed since then. He is currently on an eight-game hitting streak during which time he is 10-22 (.455) with five doubles and two home runs. He now has five home runs on the season after hitting a huge grand slam in last night’s win.

Trevor Plouffe has certainly had his ups and downs with the Twins this season. We have seen the power and power potential. We have seen good defense, and occasionally we see some really bad defense at shortstop. We have seen him get time at 2B, left field, right field, and we know that he got some time at 1B in Rochester. He has also played 3B in the past. After a slump early in September, he now has seven multi-hit games in his last 11 games played. In that time, he also has four doubles and two home runs.

I have been tough on Ben Revere since he has come up. I often get accused of ‘hating’ Ben Revere. I ranked him as the Twins #7 or 8 Twins prospects after last season. I’ve had him as high as #3. I am a big fan of Ben Revere. I would also say that when he was hitting .260/.290/.290, he wasn’t hitting very well. I will stand by that. However, at no point did I say that he has no value looking forward. Everything in his minor league track record says that he will hit for a better average, and if he can get on base at a 35% clip, he can be very valuable. Although not a great outfielder yet, his range is terrific. The arm is what it is. We’ll just have to deal with it. If he gets on base 35% of the time, he could steal 70-80 bases. Those intangibles that Dick and Bert seem to mention all the time, like the energy and excitement he brings and his nice smile. Those things mean a lot more when he’s hitting and getting on base. And hey, in September, he is hitting .320/.353/.361. That’s still just a .714 OPS, but that one month sample is the type of numbers that we can really hope to see from Revere in coming years.

I mentioned Dick and Bert, and I really wish I took my own advice and muted the Twins telecast on FSN. Their negative comments and shots at Kevin Slowey have been far over the line. During Slowey’s start on Monday night, it was unbelievable. He has been terrific for five innings in his past two starts. He has then struggled in the sixth innings. Not surprising completely, and it is something that Slowey will need to work on. But Blyleven went out of his way to be just mean. When discussing why Slowey was having issues in the middle innings, Bert responded by saying that ‘his problems started in April.’ I get it, Bert was frustrated that Slowey didn’t want to move to the bullpen and struggled to transition to that. Fine. But, Bert and Dick don’t make negative comments about current Twins players. So, the fact that they did speak in such tones means that it is coming from the Twins (be it the manager, one of the coaches, someone). Slowey deserves better than that. Here’s hoping that the Twins kept Bert Blyleven around on TV for 2011, his Hall of Fame season, and it will be his last season with the Twins broadcast team.

Since being called up August 28th, Rene Rivera is 2-29.

Twins fans should turn their attention to the Minnesota Lynx, don’t you think? I mean, Minnesota is so used to losing, why not follow the team that is heading to the WNBA championship series to face Atlanta. Game 1 will be on Sunday.

Mike Maroth lost 20 games with the Tigers in their epically bad season almost a decade ago. After losing a couple of years to injury, the Twins signed him to a minor league deal a couple of years ago, sent him to AAA, he made a couple of appearances, but he didn’t make it to the Twins. He was hurt most of that year too. Anyway, he was named the pitching coach of Lakeland yesterday. That is the High Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in the Florida State League.

On Tuesday, the Twins claimed RHP Esmerling Vasquez from the Arizona Diamondbacks. He will turn 28 years old in November. He throws pretty hard, averaging 93.4 mph on his fastball in 2011 .He also throws a changeup about 15% of the time at about 83.5%, and he throws a 75.1 mph curveball about 15% of the time. In parts of three seasons with the Diamondbacks’ big league club, he has walked 80 and struckout 120 in 137.1 innings. In his minor league career, he has 276 walks and 478 strikeouts in 512.1 innings. Based on that, he appears to be another Jim Hoey or Juan Morillo. He throws hard, but can’t throw strikes. Lester Oliveros’s minor league numbers say the same thing about him. However, he is still just 23, so there is hope for a little improvement with him. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to add another hard thrower to the 40 man roster. A lot of players on the current 40 man roster will be coming off of the 40 man roster after the season. Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Matt Capps will be free agents. Joe Nathan may become a free agent. Several players could be non-tendered. Several others with less than 3 years of experience could also be removed from the 40 man roster. Frankly, the two players in the Twins farm system that are obvious adds to the 40 man roster are Carlos Gutierrez and Oswaldo Arcia. There are a few others (Solarte, Morales, Stuifbergen, Perez, Pugh) that have to be strongly considered. But this is a free opportunity to get a hard thrower on the 40 man roster before he becomes a free agent.

To make room for Vasquez on the 40 man roster, the Twins put Alexi Casilla and his hamstring on the 60 Day DL.

Things are definitely starting to get more and more interesting for the Cedar Falls Hoose-Cows!!! Check out the latest installment here.

The Twins will be playing tonight, trying to avoid losing 100 games. Although finishing 63-99 is really not much better than going 62-100, it will be nice to keep the losses to double digits.

A couple of quick Twitter Questions:

RT @brandonwarne52 SethTweets T/F Parmelee can replicate his AA numbers in the bigs in near future (2-3 years)?

 True – I would agree with that. Parmelee has been very impressive in September, even hitting his fourth home run last night. But as I mentioned last week, I’ve been as impressed with his approach at the plate as the actual results. Although I do believe he needs another half-season in the minor leagues (and his first half-season in AAA), I do think that he has shown enough that the team can feel fine if they need to call him up early in the season as a replacement.

RT @sasgendo @SethTweets Is there any prospect in the Twins system you have your eye on that may be a little under the radar?

There are a lot of guys that I think are under the radar. I think there is a perception that the Twins minor league system is weak. And, maybe some of the teams have been, but that does not mean that there are not some very good individual prospects. Brian Dozier seemingly came out of nowhere. I ranked him in the 30s last year, and this year, he’s definitely in the Top 15. To name a maybe underrated player from each affiliate:

  • Rochester – Aaron Bates – although he signed with the Twins in early May as a minor league free agent, he had a terrific AAA season, and he’s still just 26 years old.
  • New Britain – Chris Herrmann – There were a lot of very good prospects in New Britain this year (Dozier, Benson, Parmelee, Solarte, etc.) I think that Chris Herrmann has a chance to contribute to the Twins in several ways starting in 2013. His ability to get on base is incredible.
  • Ft. Myers – Dan Rohlfing – he spent a bit of time in New Britain as a backup catcher, but he moved back down to Ft. Myers and played nearly every day, including some time in the outfield. He took a big step forward in 2011.
  • Beloit – Lance Ray – The lefty hitting 1B/RF has a great swing and a gap power. He hit 16 homers this year too. After a slow start, he put up some good numbers.
  • Elizabethton – JD Williams – Everyone talked about Sano and Rosario, but Williams was incredible. He hit over .320 and got on base 44% of the time.
  • GCL Twins – Josh Hendricks – The Australian 1B is probably the name to watch. He’s a big kid from Australia who has good power.

  Feel free to comment.