A year ago, the Twins were working to fix a bullpen after four of their top relievers left in free agency. They also were working to build a pitching staff at Rochester that would lead the Red Wings back from one of their worst seasons ever. As Yogi Berra once said, "its deja vu all over again."
As a piece to last year's puzzle, the Twins signed five minor league free agents. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait had some major league experience. Both would go on to pitch very well in Rochester with Dumatrait doing an acceptable job for the Twins. Andy Baldwin, Eric Hacker and Yorman Bazardo were three-fifths of their starting rotation the first weeks of the season. Bazardo didn't make it to May 1st. Baldwin and Hacker led the Red Wings in innings pitched. They also had ERA's of 5.51 and 6.10, respectively.
If the Red Wings are going to contend in 2012, they must have an above average pitching staff. After the jump I will review the moves made by Terry Ryan and how they may help the 2012 Red Wings.
At last count, there are twenty-seven (27) pitchers who have a legitimate chance of opening their season in Rochester. That doesn't include Kyle Gibson, who will be on the disabled list after Tommy John surgery, or several other pitchers signed this winter who are out of options. With maybe one spot open in the Twins bullpen and a dozen spots at Rochester, competition should be intense when the pitchers and catchers report next month.
Eight are currently on the forty man roster, Scott Diamond, Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gutierrez, Liam Hendriks, Jeff Manship, Lester Oliveros, Tyler Robertson and Kyle Waldrop. Hendriks appears to have what it takes to be a middle of the rotation starter with a ceiling approaching Brad Radke. Oliveros, who is 23, is an exciting, hard throwing reliever who may be a seventh or eighth inning option by year end. The others need to take that final step to separate themselves from earning that dreaded AAAA label.
Another two spent some time with the Twins in 2011, however, are no longer on the forty man roster. Phil Dumatrait was with the Twins much of last year, whereas, Anthony Slama was up for only a few games before being shut down with an injury. Both have a history of putting up spectacular minor league numbers.
David Bromberg, Steve Hirschfeld, Bobby Lanigan and Brett Jacobson will all be pitching for a promotion to Rochester this spring. Bromberg was on track towards a spot in the Twins starting rotation before breaking his arm in late April and missing much of the season. Although all three were very good in New Britain last year, considering that the Twins have signed so many minor league veterans it is possible all four will return to New Britain for opening day.
Kyle Gibson and Cole DeVries were both with the Red Wings last year. Gibson, a former first round pick, was on the fast track to the Twins before his TJ surgery in September. DeVries should be a lock to begin 2012 in the Red Wings bullpen after being effective while with the Wings last year.
The Twins signed ten minor league free agents this winter. Unlike last year, most have some major league experience. This group is led by Jason Bulger, who spent most of 2009 and 2010 in the American League, and Brad Thompson, who has appeared in over 200 big league games. The other signings were Jared Burton, Sam Deduno, Casey Fien, Luis Perdomo, Aaron Thompson, Daryl Thompson, P. J. Walters and Brendan Wise.
The final two are Marty Popham and Daniel Turpen. Popham was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule V draft. Turpen was the player the Twins received from Colorado in the Kevin Slowey trade. Turpen had a 4.83 ERA in 48 AA games last year. Popham appeared in one AAA game after being effective in the Carolina League where he was 6-2 with a 4.19 ERA. Although both are currently on the Rochester roster, it is likely they will begin 2012 in New Britain.
With a dozen jobs in Rochester and five or six headed back to New Britain, eight to ten of this group will begin their season in extended spring training or on the disabled list. Considering that there isn't much difference in the track record of the free agents, they will determine on the mound at Hammond Field who will get those dozen roster spots in Rochester.