LIVE › 7 a.m. Cris Carter - Former Vikings WR/ESPN NFL Analyst
NEXT › 7:40 a.m. Twin Cities Sports Update - with Dave Harrigan and Kenny Olson
7:55 a.m. Twin Cities Sports Update - with Dave Harrigan and Kenny Olson
8 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
8:10 a.m. Twin Cities Sports Update - with Dave Harrigan and Kenny Olson
8:40 a.m. Twin Cities Sports Update - with Dave Harrigan and Kenny Olson
8:55 a.m. Twin Cities Sports Update - with Dave Harrigan and Kenny Olson
Updated: March 14th, 2011 10:11pm
Mackey: The unofficial Twins bullpen power rankings, version 2.0

Mackey: The unofficial Twins bullpen power rankings, version 2.0

SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!
by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With just under three weeks remaining until the start of the regular season, the Minnesota Twins are still searching for firm answers when it comes to filling out what will likely be three open bullpen slots.

After four weeks of workouts and two weeks of exhibition games, there might even be more questions floating around at Hammond Stadium than answers.

In fairness to all involved, pitchers are not yet looking at scouting reports. Instead, they are mostly focusing on fine-tuning mechanics and certain pitches. Combine this with the small sample size and stat lines should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

But when it comes to sorting through the masses and making decisions -- the Twins had 29 pitchers when camp began -- the club is "probably not as close as we would like to be," assistant general manager Rob Antony said in an interview with 1500 ESPN over the weekend.

"I think everybody's had some struggles at one point or another."

Manager Ron Gardenhire added, "Every time I write it out I have nightmares," referring to his daily pitching lineup. "A lot of names. A lot of names still in line for not very many spots.

"Yeah, way too early (to judge)."

The plan heading into spring training was to throw as many arms as possible into a competition and hope a handful of pitchers prevailed, making decisions difficult on the front office and field staff.

It hasn't quite worked out that way yet.

"We also need to find out if we have all the right names here in camp, or if we need to do something else," Antony added. "Over the next week or two, now we start to get to the point where teams are making cuts, and pitchers are going to come in and they're not facing minor-league guys. They're going to face major leaguers, and that's where things start to separate and pitchers start making decisions for us.

"We came in with a lot of names and a lot of options, and we were waiting to see who stepped up, and some guys have not stepped up. Other guys have been disappointing."

With that said, here are the unofficial bullpen power rankings:

The locks

RHP Matt Capps: Capps looks to be in mid-season form already, allowing only two baserunners in 5 1/3 innings while striking out four.

RHP Joe Nathan: He hit a speedbump on Sunday, allowing six earned runs in just 1/3 of an inning to the Phillies, but Nathan's health is the most important factor this spring. And to date, Nathan says he feels great.

LHP Jose Mijares: The Twins trust Mijares almost as much against righties as they do against lefties.

RHP Kevin Slowey or RHP Scott Baker: Whichever pitcher misses out on the starting rotation.

The rest

From top to bottom -- most likely to earn a spot on the 25-man roster as of March 15

1. LHP Dusty Hughes (previously 6th): Of all the lefties battling for spots, Hughes is off to the best start, hurling six scoreless innings without walking anybody. Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson seem to have an affinity for Hughes based on how often they saw him with Kansas City. Through the first two weeks of games, Hughes has set himself apart from the other lefties.

2. LHP Glen Perkins (previously 2nd): The organization came into spring training with an open mind about possibly keeping both Perkins (out of options) and Scott Diamond (Rule-5 draftee) on the 25-man roster, but indications are that it could come down to one or the other. Of course, anything could change over the next three weeks, but Perkins is off to the better start this spring, allowing runs in only one of his five outings so far. Not to mention, he seems to have a solid grasp on the big picture.

Again, the key phrase here is "out of options."

3. RHP Jeff Manship (previously 5th): Manship hasn't come storming out of the gate (four earned runs, six hits and three walks with two strikeouts in seven innings), but it seems as if the Twins simply trust that he will step up. If Manship performs well over the last three weeks of spring training, consider him the most likely right-hander to earn a roster spot.

4. RHP Pat Neshek (previously 3rd): The side-winding Neshek suffered through a rough inning against the Pirates last week in which he gave up a mammoth home run to Lyle Overbay. A few batters later, Ben Revere bailed him out with a diving catch on the left-field warning track to end the inning. Overall, however, the Twins are pleased with Neshek's progress this spring. The word around Hammond Stadium is that Neshek's slider has more depth to it than it did last season, and his fastball is being clocked anywhere between 85-89 miles per hour with three weeks left to ramp up. Considering how dominant he was prior to Tommy-John surgery, Neshek's status as a wildcard has never been more evident.

5. RHP Kyle Waldrop (previously unranked): Looking for a darkhorse? Waldrop is a guy to keep an eye on. The Twins kept the 6-4 Waldrop around camp almost the entire month of March last year, and he has impressed in limited action this year too -- four innings, four hits allowed, zero earned runs, zero walks and four strikeouts. Waldrop is a sinkerball pitcher and one of the most extreme groundball inducers in the Twins organization.

"Waldrop is going to get some action here," Gardenhire said.

"We like him. His last outing was really good, where he was just kind of dominating. We like him. We liked him last year. It's just kind of one of those roster things."

That roster thing Gardenhire mentions is the fact that Waldrop is not on the 40-man. But that doesn't necessarily mean he can't be added before April 1.

"We asked about him on more than one occasion last year for our bullpen," Gardenhire said. "It just never worked out. There was a lot more involved.

"Still asking. He's on the list. We'll see what happens."

6. LHP Scott Diamond (previously 1st): The Twins had high hopes for Diamond this spring, but so far he has disappointed -- not to the point of irreparability, but if the season started today, Diamond would almost certainly be on the outside looking in. In six innings this spring, Diamond has allowed only one run, but he has given up six hits and issued six walks while striking out only two. Manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson have also been disappointed with his slow pace, which wasn't unexpected, considering Diamond's transition from starter to reliever.

"He needs to pick up his pace, he needs to be more aggressive, not pick at the zone," Antony told 1500 ESPN on Sunday. "He's pitched very tentatively, which we didn't see that when we scouted him before."

Of course, because Diamond must be offered back to the Braves if the Twins don't keep him on the 25-man roster, he still remains in the mix.

7. RHP Alex Burnett (previously 4th): The meter hasn't moved much one way or the other for Burnett, who has allowed three of his five outings so far this spring. The Twins like the fact that he has major-league experience, which sets him apart from some of the less-experienced righties, but he will need to make himself stand out more over the next two weeks to grab a roster spot.

8. RHP Anthony Slama (previously 7th): It's been a bit of a tough spring for Slama, who has sat on the sidelines for much of the last two weeks with a stress reaction in his pitching elbow. The right-hander is currently in the middle of a seven-day throwing program, tossing from 60 feet as of Sunday. He expects to be re-examined this week, with the possibility of throwing off a mound by the weekend. When healthy, Slama is one of the best relief pitchers in the Twins' system. He was told to work primarily on two things: 1.) holding runners closer to first base, and 2.) being more aggressive in the strike zone.

9. RHP Jim Hoey (previously 8th): It looks at this point like Hoey will almost certainly begin the season in the minor leagues. He simply hasn't shown enough command, walking four batters in 5 2/3 innings so far, but the Twins do recognize his high ceiling.

Regarding his most recent outing on Saturday -- a clean inning against the Cardinals -- Antony said, "He looked tremendous. The delivery was much smoother, more under control. He threw strikes, he threw his slider for strikes, he threw a nice changeup ... That's where you'd love to see him step up and grab one of those jobs, because you don't have other guys throwing 93-98 out of the 'pen, and if he throws it over he can be very effective."

10. LHP Chuck James (previously 10th): Trying to complete his comeback from major shoulder surgery, James has done exactly what the Twins have asked -- throw strikes. In five appearances so far, James has yet to walk a batter, but considering the logjam of lefties in front of him, he will likely start the season at Triple-A.

Sent packing

RHP Kyle Gibson: Gibson's demotion to minor-league camp on Monday is not a reflection on how Twins officials and the manager feel about his pitching abilities. The Twins want Gibson to polish a few things at Triple-A, and while doing so they will likely prevent him from earning "Super-Two" arbitration status.

RHP Eric Hacker: To put it bluntly, Hacker got rocked almost every time out. He gave up 10 runs (nine earned) and 13 hits in six innings.

Others who may or may not contribute in 2011

RHP Carlos Gutierrez
RHP Anthony Swarzak
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
1959