Warne: Twins starting to stock up on 'power pitchers' in the minors
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If power hitting has sort of stolen the vast majority of headlines in the Minnesota Twins organization this year, it isn't because power pitchers aren't present.
In fact, the organization has started stockpiling them a bit in the past couple of seasons in the minor leagues.
And whether it's coincidental to Terry Ryan's return to the general manager chair or not, he's not really saying. Similarly, whether it's incidental to the number of picks the Twins have had -- thanks in part to compensation from free agent losses in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel -- or where the picks have occurred -- at the tops of draft rounds -- the club hasn't really honed in on a specific type of pitcher.
With the staff ERA sitting 13th in the American League for the third straight season, the Twins are simply targeting a deficiency.
The Twins spent both supplemental first rounders on pitchers -- Jose Berrios and Luke Bard -- and drafted nine pitchers in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 draft -- Ryan's first draft back at the helm. A number of those pitchers, especially at the top of the draft, would be considered hard-throwers, including Bard, Berrios, Mason Melotakis, and J.T. Chargois.
Ryan's explanation is quite simple.
"It's just because we would like to get pitching," Ryan said. "We've got a fair amount of position prospects in our system that people talk about quite frequently. (Miguel) Sano, (Byron) Buxton, (Eddie) Rosario, (Oswaldo) Arcia, (Aaron) Hicks, that group. You don't hear too many people talking about our pitching prospects, with maybe the exception of Berrios. But he's at A-Ball, and 19-years-old. But you can't ever have enough pitching; you've heard that enough. We agree with that. We're always going to be looking for pitching."
Does that mean the Twins are hell bent on selecting the best pitcher with pick four in this month's draft? Not so fast.
"In our position now where we are (No. 4), we're going to take the best guy," Ryan said. "Believe me. I don't care if you're picking at four, or two...we took the best player last year, we thought. This year isn't going to be any different. If it's a position player, we're going to take a position player."
But the adage that Ryan keeps coming back to is one that can be heard at pretty much any ballfield across America: You can't have too much pitching.
"Pitching is always in everybody's crosshair," Ryan said. "Just because at this level, pitching plays. You have to have 12 or 13 of them. You can't go wrong -- in our opinion -- with taking pitching. Don't get too consumed with that statement; we aren't going to bypass position players that we like more than that pitcher on the board. It's a tricky thing, last year we got criticized in the national media some about passing with our pitching issues. I understood that. But it's one pick. Some people in the draft world will say you can pass that first pick and take what you want because pitching is available later on; there's some validity to that as well."
Ryan's last statement rings true, as the Twins bypassed on top college pitching prospects Mark Appel, Kevin Gausman and Kyle Zimmer while still managing to pull Berrios with a later first round selection. All three were college pitchers, and Gausman in fact has already debuted in the major leagues. And Ryan said from that standpoint -- where a pitcher could already be up helping the Twins -- he at least understands the criticism, even if he doesn't outright agree with it.
The focus on pitching hasn't been solely a draft thing, though. Both Trevor May and Alex Meyer, acquired in offseason trades from the Phillies and Nationals respectively, are well-known for their mid-90s velocity.
Even the 2012 Rule-5 draft pick-up Ryan Pressly can dial it up. Via PITCHf/x, Pressly's average fastball comes in at 92.4 miles-per-hour, which is second-fastest on the team to Glen Perkins (94.9).
And while 92.4 might not seem all that fast, watch stadium guns when Pressly throws. They'll routinely read 94 or 95 -- perhaps suggesting those guns are a bit on the hot side.
But the Twins are still lagging behind a bit with the big league club, perhaps to the surprise of very few. PITCHf/x lists the league average four-seam fastball speed this season at 91.6 miles-per-hour. Just four Twins -- Perkins, Pressly, Mike Pelfrey and Brian Duensing -- have average heaters faster than the league mark, whereas the Mariners for instance have twice as many.
Even Triple-A Rochester doesn't boast many hard-throwers, with the possible exception of recently-promoted late-inning reliever Michael Tonkin, who has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball that can bore in on hitters according to Ryan.
But while the big league club is a bit behind the curve, manager Ron Gardenhire is certainly paying attention to those future arms in hopes that they'll be mainstays in his future rotations and bullpens -- even if they're still a few levels away.
"Everybody likes power (pitchers)," Gardenhire said. "Power bullpens are fun. You saw the couple guys (the Mariners) brought in there (Friday) night throwing flames at the end. That's fun when you can get to those guys if you have them."
One thing Gardenhire likes is that he can get a first-hand look at some of these arms in the organization down in Fort Myers in February and March.
"We saw some guys that throw pretty hard in spring training, and that was entertaining for us," Gardenhire said. "Everybody is looking for power arms. Tonkin came out there in spring training and was throwing the ball well. He went through some scuffles at Double-A, then found himself a bit and moved up. Let's see how he does there. He's one step closer to us."
So while the radar readings for most Twins pitchers won't typically in the mid-90s in the near future, rest assured. Help is on the way.