A record number of pitchers reported to Spring Training last week in Fort Myers, 22 roster guys and 13 non-roster invitees. All of these players will slowly be whittled down more than likely 12 total pitchers coming to Minnesota April 1st to face Detroit. As many as 5 or 6 of these guys are currently dealing with injury issues that will have a significant impact on who makes the club. While the starting rotation may be solidified rather quickly if Mike Pelfrey remains healthy, there are a lot of options competing for the 7 or so bullpen spots.
New bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar and pitching coach Rick Anderson have their hands full this spring trying to sort out who to keep around going into 2013. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing, but I think this may turn out to be somewhat of a problem of depth – which is a very good thing.
Glen Perkins is no doubt penciled in to be the Opening Day closer for the Twins. Perkins’ fastball came in at 95.2 MPH on average last season, his strongest of his career, as he spent the majority of the season at the back end of the ‘pen. He was a rock out there the last two seasons, making 65 and 70 appearances, with ERA’s of 2.48 and 2.56. The self-proclaimed “media good-guy”, Perkins will once again be the anchor of the bullpen in 2013.
The other lock is Jared Burton, who came off an injury in 2011, signed with the Twins a year ago without too high of expectations. He responded by pitching in 64 games with a 2.18 ERA. From April 13th to May 13th, Burton didn’t even give up a hit in 11 appearances. He even made a few appearances in the closer role in the middle of the season. He is as solid of an 8th inning guy there is in baseball right now, and he and Perkins will hopefully lock down any leads the rest of the staff can hand them.
At this point it starts to get messy as the list of potential middle and long relief guys is quite long. Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing, and Anthony Swarzak have been in the ‘pen the longest in Minnesota. Casey Fien, Luis Perdomo, and Tyler Robertson made significant contributions in 2012 with the Twins. Newcomers Josh Roenicke, Rafael Perez, Rich Harden, Ryan Pressly, and Tim Wood figure to have an opportunity to compete. And young up-and-comers Caleb Thielbar, Lester Oliveros, Deolis Guerra, and Anthony Slama will also get a shot. That’s 15 pitchers for 5 remaining spots in the bullpen.
It’s inevitable that guys will get injured or struggle once the season starts, so a good chunk of these pitchers will probably spend at least some time in Minnesota this season. It will, however, be very interesting to see who breaks camp with the Twins out of this group.
Right-Handers: Burnett, Fien, Pressly, Roenicke, Swarzak, Wood, Harden, Guerra, Oliveros, Perdomo, and Slama.
Alex Burnett: 3.52 ERA in 71.2 innings in 2012. After struggling the previous two seasons, he became a staple middle reliever last season.
Casey Fien: 2.06 EAR in 35.0 innings in 2012. He came on very strong after getting called up in early July.
Ryan Pressly: Rule 5 pick-up this season after finishing 2012 at AA Portland (Red Sox). He produced a 2.93 ERA in 27.2 innings for Portland, and would need to be offered back to Boston if he doesn’t spend the entire season with the Twins.
Josh Roenicke: 30 year old who played his first full season in the majors last year for Colorado. He had a solid season sporting a 3.25 ERA in 88.2 innings. He struggled a little with his control, walking 43 batters, but can throw upwards of 94 to 95 MPH.
Anthony Swarzak: 5.03 ERA in 96.2 innings last year, his third with the Twins. It’s a good possibility he is the long reliever, with spot-starting ability. In his shorter outings, he can also ramp it up to around 95 MPH.
Tim Wood: 2.19 ERA in 70.00 innings last year for AAA Indianapolis. He, too, can throw in the mid-90′s but has mostly struggled in 58.0 career innings at the major league level.
Rich Harden: Hasn’t pitched since 2011 due to a shoulder injury, but could be on track to play a role in the bullpen. He has made only 10 appearances out of the ‘pen in his career, but strikes out 9.2 batters per 9 innings throughout his career as mainly a starter.
Deolis Guerra: Gave up only 1 run in 12.2 innings at AA New Britain before being called up to AAA Rochester last year, where he finished with a 4.87 ERA in 57.1 innings. He averaged 9.1 SO/9 last year, and is the last piece remaining from the Johan Santana trade.
Lester Oliveros: Has pitched 23.0 innings at the major league level the last two years. He was one of the pieces of the Delmon Young trade with Detroit in 2011. Last year he finished with a 2.42 ERA in 48.1 innings split between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, and averaged 9.5 SO/9 innings.
Luis Perdomo: 3.18 ERA in 17.0 innings last year with the Twins. 2.60 ERA in 72.2 innings combined with AA New Britain and AAA Rochester last year. Coaching staff called him “filthy” today during his throwing session, according to Phil Miller of the Star Tribune.
Anthony Slama: 1.24 ERA in 36.1 innings for AAA Rochester in 2012. He has consistently dominated the AAA level for the last 4 years, but has barely gotten a chance to prove himself in the majors. At age 29, he may not get too many more chances with the Twins.
Left-Handers: Duensing, Perez, Thielbar, and Robertson.
Brian Duensing: 5.12 ERA in 109.0 innings last year, starting 11 games and making 44 appearances out of the bullpen. In his career, lefties hit .217 off him, while righties hit .302. With all of the other starter options the Twins have this year, Duensing may find himself in the lefty specialist role – finally.
Rafael Perez: 3.52 ERA in only 7.2 innings last year for Cleveland while dealing with a strained lat most of the season. Both righties and lefties hit just .256 off Perez in his career, so he could be a good option for a 7th or 8th inning role as well if he can stay healthy.
Caleb Thielbar: 2.43 ERA in 77.2 innings in 2012 between High A Fort Myers, AA New Britain, and mostly AAA Rochester. He maintains a career 2.96 ERA through 4 seasons in the minors, and strikes out 8.7 batters per 9 innings. He could be one to keep an eye on through Spring Training, and could be a surprise to break camp with the Twins.
Tyler Robertson: 5.40 ERA in 25.0 innings for the Twins in 2012, and a 3.77 ERA in 28.2 innings for AAA Rochester. He was used mainly as a left-handed specialist last season, holding lefties to just a .190 average, compared to .290 against righties. Like Duensing, he will probably only make the team to face lefties.
So, the question is, who are the 5 you would take with to Minnesota? I think two have to be lefties. I would assume Duensing makes the team based on his experience, and I would be inclined to give Thielbar a shot if he has a good spring. More than like though, it will be either Perez or Robertson, with Thielbar waiting to step in at any moment. As for the remaining three right-handers, I would guess Burnett, a healthy Harden, Fien, Swarzak, and Roenicke would be the front runners for those three spots. Slama and Perdomo may just have to wait their turn.
If I had to predict the 7 spots today, I would go with: Perkins, Burton, Duensing, Burnett, Fien, Perez, and Swarzak. That would mean Harden, Roenicke, Slama, Perdomo, and Thielbar would all be left to Rochester. Pressly would probably end up going back to Boston. Who would you like to see in the Twins bullpen come April 1st, 2013?
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