FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Minnesota Twins made a conserted effort to bulk up in the bullpen this winter, and they now boast a handful of veterans that they expect to count on for the final 9 outs of games this summer.
Trevor Hildenberger might be their best reliever, and he’s talking this spring like he’s still out to make the club. Addison Reed, a newcomer that might also be able to claim the title of best reliever on the staff, will not be used as the primary closer to begin the season. That job belongs to another newcomer, Fernando Rodney, while Reed will be deployed at vatious high-leverage times through a game.
The bullpen appears to have gotten stronger. It’s not yet the level of a team like the New York Yankees. Still, the enviable depth begs the question: Just how many spots are available to an ambitious reliever with his sights set on making the Opening Day bullpen in Minnesota?
Let’s start with one thing. I believe the Twins will take 8 relievers to start the year, to cover themselves in the early stretch of the schedule. They’ll take 4 starting pitchers because they’ll only need a 5th starter a small handful of times in the April. That extra spot — the one that would typically go to Starter No. 5 — could be a bench player or a reliever, but given the current roster options, I’m going to assume for this post that the extra body will be a reliever.
I asked Paul Molitor the other day how many jobs that he views as available in the ‘pen. He said that he hadn’t counted them up or anything, outside of maybe keeping a list in his head. That’s right in line with his stated belief that you shouldn’t make decisions before decision time.
Without writing names in ink, Molitor listed four of the more veteran relievers with encouraging track records. Consider those guys sketched on a lineup card in pencil: Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Zach Duke and Taylor Rogers.
“I would think [Trevor] Hildenberger feels pretty good about it, but I liked his [one-on-one meeting] in here yesterday, he knows that he’s still working to win a job,” Molitor said.
Hildenberger was one of the best relievers on the team last year, and he quickly gained Molitor’s trust as a guy he could turn to in any situation, in any inning, and the sidearmer would help get the Twins out of hot water. I spoke with Hildenberger the other day and he made it sound like his track record is not long enough in the Majors to feel comfortable that a job will be his.
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that Hildenberger is one of the good bets to win a job, which makes 5 relievers the Twis are probably counting on right now.
After that? There are 3 jobs up for grabs and plenty of options from which to choose. It will make a fascinating spring training from a competition standpoint. There’s a clear added benefit, too. The most likely outcome for relievers that don’t make the team would be to pitch in Triple-A Rochester. In my mind the Twins have a lot more depth among relievers this year than they did a year ago — both in “written-in-ink” relievers and also in terms of the arms that will be the next line of defense in the case of injury or ineffectiveness.
Tyler Duffey is being stretched out as a starting pitcher, but as it sits right now, he appears to be on the outside looking in on that competiton for the third and fourth rotation spots behind J.O. Berrios and Jake Odorizzi.
Tyler Kinely is a Rule 5 pick looking to make the team.
Ryan Pressly has some of the best raw stuff on the team — a big fastball and a high-spin hammer breaking ball –and the story on him for a couple of years has been just wait until he puts it all together. He got bitten by some bad luck last year and his numbers weren’t great. One thing’s for sure: he has the tools to make the team, and then to be a valuable reliever for the Twins once camp breaks.
Alan Busenitz has the big fastball, too, and he posted a great ERA in his MLB debut last season.
John Curtiss posted terrific minor league numbers and would be a legitimate darkhorse candidate to make the club out of camp.
Gabriel Moya surfaced in the big leagues last year after joining the Twins in a trade with the Diamondbacks and posting exceptional stats in the minor leagues. He’s probably the third lefty in line right now, so my guess is that his chance to make the club will depend on health and need as much as it will depend on performance.
Jake Reed has been on the prospect map for a number of years now, and injuries have side-tracked his path a bit. He’s in camp and was throwing hard when I watched his bullpen session the other day.
J.T. Chargois was one of the pitching prosepcts your heard a lot about a few years ago. Injuries basically ruined his season last year, after he’d had a shot to make the club out of spring training. We’ll see what this year holds.
There’s also Myles Jaye, Michael Kohn, Lewis Thorpe and any number of starters who do not make the rotation might be better suited for a relief role. And don’t forget about Tyler Jay, who is competing on the minor league side this spring but could join the Twins at some point this summer if things go his way.
That’s not an exhaustive list, but it helps to illustrate that there are a great number of pitchers with hopes of cracking the 25-man roster by the end of March. There might only be 3 spots available, but it’s anyone’s guess who will earn the job for the first day of the season.
Molitor said that while he wasn’t exactly sure how many spots were ‘written in ink’ at this time last year, “obviously we’re in a higher number this year. So it changes the dynamic, not only for the [fewer] spots to win but the fact that we feel a lot better about being protected,” he said.