1. Pat Neshek: He hasn't thrown a regular-season pitch since May of 2008, so with the team's bullpen picture looking crowded it seemed to be a given that Neshek would open his season in Rochester. Now that Gardenhire won't be forced to choose between Neshek and a long reliever, the right-hander's chances are greatly improved, particularly since he's been sharp thus far in Grapefruit League play.
As we know, the loss of Joe Nathan creates an opening in the ninth inning that the Twins will likely look inward to fill. The candidates for this role have been discussed exhaustively already (you can check out my lengthy write-up on the topic here, if you so please), but little attention has been paid thus far to the fact that Nathan's absence also creates an additional opening in the bullpen, since each reliever will be bumped up one spot to pick up the slack. This presents an opportunity for a reliever to come north with the club who otherwise might not have.
We know that Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Clay Condrey will all be filling some sort of role in Ron Gardenhire's bullpen. I suspect the team will also carry a long reliever -- perhaps Brian Duensing or Glen Perkins. If the Twins elect to roll with six-man bullpen, that could be it. However, given that Gardenhire likes to have a lot of flexibility with his relievers, there's a good chance he'll want a seven-man pen (with a four-man bench), particularly now that the relief corps is without its strongest member with many of the remaining pieces surrounded by question marks. If Gardy decides he wants a seventh reliever, there are a number of guys with a chance to step in.
Let's take a quick look at some candidates:
2. Anthony Slama: One of my favorite prospects, Slama recovered from a poor start after being promoted to Rochester last year to finish with a 3.45 ERA and 19-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 2/3 innings there. In total, he has registered a sparking 1.86 ERA while notching 271 strikeouts in 183 2/3 minor-league innings, and he's already 26 years old. With Slama looking good this spring and continuing to whiff opposing hitters despite underwhelming stuff, the Twins are running out of excuses to keep him down.
3. Rob Delaney: Delaney and Slama both opened the 2009 season in New Britain, but Delaney was the first to receive a promotion to Triple-A, suggesting that the Twins felt he was closer to being ready for the show. I didn't come away terribly impressed after watching Delaney pitch last Friday in Fort Myers (and he subsequently took a beating in his next outing), but his 2.41 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 rate over four minor-league seasons are all stellar. At age 25 and with 47 innings logged at the highest level of the minors, Delaney is close.
4. Outside Acquisition: Down this page a little bit you'll find a blurb about the Twins' potential interest in Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor. Names like Heath Bell and John Smoltz have also popped up in connection with the Twins. Given that the team already boasts solid bullpen depth, I'd be surprised to see Bill Smith go out and add another reliever, but it's certainly possible that he could do so, particularly with insurance covering as much as half of Nathan's lost salary this year.