Updated: March 2nd, 2011 10:27pm
Mackey: The unofficial bullpen power rankings

Mackey: The unofficial bullpen power rankings

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Throw a bunch of guys into the pool and hope that a few of them swim.

That's the strategy the Minnesota Twins have implemented for rebuilding their bullpen this spring.

With the departures of Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes, the Twins are left with several open bullpen spots, and the front office spent all winter trying to scrounge up arms that could help fill those voids.

"When you're dealing with uncertainty, there's some safety in numbers," assistant general manager Rob Antony said Wednesday. "If you're counting on four guys for three spots, you're really grasping. Chances are, somebody might get hurt, somebody struggles. Now what are you going to do? So you have to prepare."

And that's what the Twins have done.

There are essentially 10 pitchers -- maybe more -- vying for what will likely be three open bullpen spots.

"They'll kind of make their own bed," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's the way it goes."

Unofficial bullpen power rankings

Locks, barring extreme circumstances

RHP Matt Capps: Capps pitched a scoreless inning in Bradenton on Wednesday in his spring debut. Whether he closes or handles set-up duties, Capps is probably the steadiest arm in the Twins' bullpen.

RHP Joe Nathan: After completing his first inning of work since undergoing Tommy John surgery in late-March, 2010, Nathan said he feels "normal." By all measures and indications, Nathan is back -- maybe not at 100% of the pitcher he was pre-surgery, but even at 80% he is probably one of the top two relievers on the team.

LHP Jose Mijares: By no means is Mijares considered a sure-fire lock to be consistent and healthy all season, but with 104 2/3 major-league innings, he's one of the longest-tenured relievers on the staff. He's also the most established lefty in the 'pen. He'll start the season as part of the late-inning bridge, but can he put together six healthy, effective months?

The starter left out: Because the Twins have six starting pitchers for only five slots, somebody will be left out. On Tuesday, Gardenhire said all six will be on the major-league roster, which means -- barring a trade -- one of them will be relegated to bullpen duties. The competition likely comes down to Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn, now that Brian Duensing is apparently a starter.

The rest:
From top to bottom -- most likely to earn a spot on the 25-man roster as of March 3

1. LHP Scott Diamond: The Twins liked Diamond so much heading into December's Rule 5 draft that they actually considered trading up for him at one point. Because Rule 5 draftees must remain on a team's 25-man roster all season -- or head back to their old team -- it would take a very rough spring for Diamond to not make an appearance at Target Field.

2. LHP Glen Perkins: Because Perkins is out of options, the Twins will give him every chance possible to earn a spot on the roster. Manager Ron Gardenhire said earlier this week that for Perkins to be more effective against left-handed hitters, he must mix in more breaking balls. Lefties are hitting .319/.393/.447 against Perkins in 319 career plate appearances.

3. RHP Pat Neshek: Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, 2011 is somewhat of a make-or-break year for Neshek, who says he feels much better physically right now than at this same time last year. Neshek hopes to be throwing his fastball in the 88-90 mph range by April 1. He said he already notices some extra bite on his slider.

4. RHP Alex Burnett: After a solid start to the 2010 campaign, Burnett sputtered mid-season and was eventually sent back to Triple-A Rochester. Burnett likely finds himself competing with right-handers Neshek, Jeff Manship, Jim Hoey and Anthony Slama for what could be one of two bullpen spots, depending on how many lefties the Twins decide to keep.

5. RHP Jeff Manship: Twins executives are hoping 2011 is the year Manship steps up and begins his path down a road similar to the one Guerrier took on early in his career. Guerrier evolved from being a starter in the minor leagues, to being a long reliever early in his major-league career, to eventually being a set-up man. Easier said than done.

6. LHP Dusty Hughes: In limited work against lefties in his brief major-league career (130 batters), Hughes has allowed a .261/.341/.315 batting line, as opposed to .272/.362/.424 for righties. Not terrible, but not outstanding. The Twins feel like Hughes, 28 -- with his assortment of four different pitches -- has potential to be much better against lefties. He does have minor league options, which gives the team flexibility.

7. RHP Anthony Slama: Near the end of last season, Slama began working on a cutter in hopes of being more effective against left-handed hitters. Slama said, in order to remain in the big leagues, the Twins told him to work on holding runners closer to first base and improving his overall command.

8. RHP Jim Hoey: Regarding the 6'6" Hoey, one Twins executive said Wednesday that Hoey brings an element to the table that Crain did -- an overpowering fastball, and the ability to blow hitters away. Hoey throws a mid-to-upper-90's fastball, and he added a splitter last August, which he now considers his second-best pitch. If Rick Anderson can work some magic, Hoey has a high ceiling. But he must throw strikes this spring, which is a big "if".

9. RHP Eric Hacker: Because he has only thrown one inning so far this spring -- a clean one -- and a few live batting practice sessions, it's tough to evaluate Hacker's chances early in camp. He did win 16 games as a starter at Triple-A Fresno for the Giants last year, for those who care about pitcher wins, but his career ERA at Triple-A is 4.52 with underwhelming peripherals (6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9). Still, if Hacker has a solid spring and others falter, he is on the 40-man roster with a shot to contribute.

10. LHP Chuck James: He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but the Twins feel like James' delivery is somewhat deceptive -- hitters don't seem to put as many good swings on that 86-mph fastball as they should. James, who signed a minor-league deal with the Twins and is not on the 40-man roster, spent most of last season at Double-A with the Nationals, attempting to come back from major shoulder surgery. He'll almost certainly start at Triple-A Rochester for the Twins.

11. RHP Kyle Gibson: Even though many within the organization feel Gibson could hold his own if thrown into the fire immediately, there's almost zero chance he cracks the 25-man roster out of camp. By waiting at least a month or two, the Twins can preserve service time on a guy who will likely be the staff ace within three years.

Others who may contribute in 2011
RHP Anthony Swarzak
RHP Kyle Waldrop
RHP Carlos Gutierrez
RHP Phil Dumatrait

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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