It’s no secret the Twins’ bullpen has been one of the team’s weaknesses over the past few seasons. Throughout those struggles, though, a number of young, talented relievers have been progressing through the organization’s minor league system, and are beginning to surface in the big leagues.
Lefty Randy Rosario had a cup of coffee with the club in June. Hard-throwing Alan Busenitz has pitched fairly well in two stints in the majors. And Trevor Hildenberger has blossomed into one of Paul Molitor’s most trusted arms at the back end of the ‘pen.
Rochester reliever Jake Reed hasn’t yet appeared in a Twins uniform, but that could be changing soon. Reed, along with fellow flame-thrower John Curtiss, has put up strong numbers at Double-A and Triple-A this season, and may be on the cusp of earning his first big league call-up. After a late start to the season, Reed has a 1.73 ERA, 1.038 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 while flashing an elite fastball.
After straining a muscle in his side at the end of spring training, Reed didn’t debut this season until June 2. Reed says the injury, and rehab that followed, has added more life to an already strong fastball.
“Honestly, if anything the rehab has actually helped velo,” he said. “Before the injury I kind of neglected shoulder care and stretching and stuff that has kind of helped me increase velo. Before I got hurt I’d never had an arm injury and you feel kind of invincible until it happens, and then it happens and you realize how delicate those muscles are in your arms; how much torque and energy it takes to throw a baseball.”
Reed says his fastball is now sitting 96-97 MPH, while his slider is around 86-87. He also throws a changeup, although he’s strayed from it recently.
“One of those pitches I’m trying to get back in the arsenal,” he said of the changeup.
After a strong 2014 at low-A Cedar Rapids, the Twins opted to fast-track Reed, having him pitch in the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League that November, and starting him the next year in Double-A. Moving from Low-A to Double-A is a significant jump, and he struggled there, eventually getting demoted to High-A Fort Myers.
“I don’t think I was really ready mentally,” Reed said of his first stint in Double-A. “I was a little younger than everyone else.”
Since the demotion, Reed’s pitched well at every level, including a second appearance in the Arizona Fall League in 2015.
“The last two years, getting more experience and innings at the higher levels, you learn to just trust yourself a little more and not be so overwhelmed by the situation you’re in,” he said.
The biggest issue for Reed this year has been walks. His walk rate of 4.2 BB/9 is significantly higher than his career rate of 2.9 BB/9, and the Twins are likely looking for improvement before he gets to the next level. Reed’s aware of the issue, and thinks the late start to the season may be contributing to the control issues.
“Free bases and walks have hurt me, he said. “When I’m struggling, I feel like I’m beating myself as opposed to getting beat. Limiting that is huge. Those two months [of rehab] kind of hurt you, losing at bats and time and experience. There’s kind of some kinks I’m trying to work out. Hopefully that will go away and the walks will go down.”
Although the rehab has hindered his development this season, the lack of innings could be an advantage to Reed late in the year. Just as Stephen Gonsalves’ late start to the season may actually increase his chances of pitching for the Twins in September, Reed’s delayed debut leaves his arm in better shape as the dog days of August set in.
“Some guys at this point start to wear down,” he said. “I’m fresh and feeling stronger as I go, so in that way it’s an advantage.”
When Reed does get called up, he’ll join Hildenberger, Busenitz and others in what the Twins hope will be the foundation of a strong bullpen moving forward. Reed says seeing them succeed in the big leagues has given him new perspective on his own proximity to the majors.
“A lot of those guys are your friends,” he said. “Hildenberger’s a guy I got drafted with and came up through the system with. It gets pretty real when you get to this level and see your buddies start to get called up.”