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Twins 2015 bullpen candidates

Okay, that's enough. Exactly how many arms does one team need for its bullpen? Jesse breaks all of the 2015 reliever candidates down into tiers.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Rhett Bollinger read my notebook, but I'm going to write about this anyway because holy cats do the Twins have a cornucopia of arms with which to man their bullpen next season. When it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of our favorite ball club these last few years, the bullpen actually comes away as a relative strength. The issue is that it's also a group that's been relied upon quite heavily, and metrics that correlate with sustained success (such as strikeouts) indicate that this same group of pitchers isn't a great bet to continue to be as good as they've been the last year or two.

To illustrate what I mean, I'll borrow from Bollinger since he's done a bit of the dirty work for me. (Check is in the mail, Rhett.)

While Twins starters have combined to post ERAs of 5.40, 5.26 and 5.06 over the last three seasons, respectively, the bullpen has fared better with ERAs of 3.77, 3.50 and 3.73 over that span.

But the relievers still lag far behind the rest of the pack in getting strikeouts, as they combined to fan just 6.6 batters per nine innings in 2014, which ranked as the worst strikeout rate in the Majors by more than half a strikeout per inning. The Twins also lacked velocity, as the staff threw just one pitch at least 97 mph, while the American League Central-rival Royals had 2,287 pitches of at least 97 mph.

The brain trust clearly believed that some change was necessary, as they've swapped out a former set-up man and a former long man for the flexibility to upgrade. As you may have noticed, they've added more than two arms to a crew that already was bursting with young talent. Here's how the candidates for the bullpen line up as of this morning.

The locks

Casey Fien, Glen Perkins (2)

Perkins is now a two-time All-Star who has saved 70 games over the last two seasons, posting a 2.97 ERA (2.79 FIP) while striking out 143 batters (and walking just 26) in 124.1 innings. Fien, meanwhile, has posted a 3.54 ERA (3.28 FIP) in his 181 appearances for the Twins, striking out 156 (and walking just 31) in 160.1 innings since 2012. Under no circumstances will either of these two players not be on the roster coming out of spring training, and even if they're hurt their role is guaranteed once they're back up to speed.

The stashes

Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey (4)

There's a good chance at least one of these guys ends up in the bullpen when the club heads north. My money is on Milone getting the fifth starter's spot, Pelfrey getting the long relief role, and May and Meyer heading to Triple-A, but theoretically any of these guys could be stashed in the bullpen.

The incumbents

Brian Duensing, Ryan Pressly, Caleb Thielbar, Michael Tonkin (4)

It was tempting to throw Duensing and Thielbar in with the locks, but the fact is that neither pitcher is on the same level as Perkins or Fien. I also believe that if one or two other pitchers make a big enough impression on coaches in spring training that the Twins won't be afraid to make a decision on Duensing or option Thielbar to Triple-A.

Tonkin has been Minnesota's best relief prospect over the last 24 months, and we saw him make 25 appearances in 2014 as he began his climb into the ranks of the Twins staple of bullpen arms. He's more than good enough to make the roster. Pressly, meanwhile, doesn't have fantastic peripherals but has also been remarkably consistent in his two years with the team. He owns a 3.60 ERA in 105 innings of relief.

Major League additions

J.R. Graham, Tim Stauffer (2)

The Twins selected Graham from Atlanta in December's Rule 5 draft. They'd need to keep him on the active roster for 2015, but he's an interesting project with some real potential for upside if he can stay healthy. Stauffer was signed to a $2.2 million dollar contract and has been promised a crack at the rotation, but that seems highly unlikely. Most likely, Stauffer's role will be out of the bullpen. Considering his contract he could be considered a lock, but like Duensing I don't think he'll stop the Twins from making the best of their seven roster spots in the bullpen.

40-man roster options

A.J. Achter, Logan Darnell, Lester Oliveros, Stephen Pryor, Aaron Thompson (5)

Achter, Oliveros, and Thompson gave the Twins token appearances in September. Darnell made four starts and three relief appearances. Pryor came to Minnesota from Seattle in return for Kendrys Morales.

Oliveros is the only Twins pitcher to throw a pitch with a velocity of 97mph or higher. He also appeared in 11 games for Minnesota between 2011 and 2012. If he's going to get a chance to be a legitimate member of the club the team needs to give him opportunities, and of this group he seems the most likely to get an opportunity out of spring training.

Non-roster invitees

Blaine Boyer, Mark Hamburger, Ryan O'Rourke (3)

Boyer is a great signing for depth with zero downside. Hamburger has been a great story but at 28 does not offer upside, experience, or stuff that will give him a leg up on his competition. O'Rourke has potential to be a pretty good left-handed specialist, but right now he's buried on that depth chart behind Duensing, Thielbar, and possibly Darnell. I'd love to see him get an opportunity if Duensing or Thielbar go on tilt, but of this trio it's Boyer who has the best chance to break camp with the Twins. And even that's not a great one.

Youth to watch

Jose Berrios, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed (3)

There's a real opportunity for these three pitchers to make a late-season appearance with the Twins. IF they stay healthy, IF they blitz the opposition like the did in 2014, IF there is space on the 40-man roster...there are a lot of ifs involved. Berrios, by that point, should have a full season of minor league starts under his belt and could benefit from a few innings in relief; Burdi and Reed are being touted by excitable minor fans as being potential top-of-the-line relievers.


At some point earlier in the winter, I had a pretty good idea of who the top eight or nine guys might be for those seven spots in the bullpen. Right now - I have as many as five roles unaccounted for. That's probably exaggerating the issue just a little bit, but it's not terribly far from the truth and, when it comes to personnel, you can never really be sure of all that much when it comes to baseball. As of right now, I'd give 13 players at least a fair shot of making the team.

Just because it's fun and meaningless and you never know I just might be right, here's my prediction: Perkins, Fien, Stauffer, Duensing, Thielbar, Graham, Pelfrey. But I'm not-so-secretly cheering for Tonkin and Oliveros.