After watching the Kansas City Royals make it to the World Series in two consecutive seasons, teams are starting to take note of what they did to find their success. While the more revolutionary strategy was to assemble a lineup of hitters that don't strike out, the facet that has gotten the most attention was their shutdown bullpen. Two seasons ago, it was Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera that turned nine inning games into six inning games upon their arrival. Last season, Holland was human and hurt, but the Royals didn't lose much as they had Ryan Madson's resurgence replace Holland's production.
Since then, other teams have worked to build similar bullpens. This offseason, the most noteworthy has been the arms race (pun not intended) between the Boston Red Sox (Koji Uehara, Craig Kimbrel, and Junichi Tazawa) and New York Yankees (Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances).
Meanwhile, the Twins have been rather quiet, seemingly content with the back end of Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen. It's an adequate start, but by no means a shutdown 'pen that signals the end is near like with the Royals, Red Sox, and Yankees.
In spite of that, there is a player that quietly had a solid year for the Twins last season out of the bullpen, even if he didn't last the entire season. No, he won't necessarily be that relief ace that some teams have, but he still has the stuff to be an effective pitcher and a possible 7th inning option for the Twins next year. That player is Ryan Pressly.
A Rule 5 pick from the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2013 season, Pressly had an unspectacular but decent rookie season. A 3.87 ERA and 3.67 FIP showed signs of an adequate pitcher as he worked in long relief, although his success came largely from avoiding home runs and in spite of lacking the ability to strike out opposing hitters. Hence, an unspectacular season.
Since Pressly no longer had the Rule 5 designation that he must spend the entirety of the season on the 25-man roster after his rookie season, the Twins sent him down to the minor leagues to start the 2014 season. While in Rochester, he continued to work as a long reliever and demonstrated that he was worthy of a spot in the big league bullpen as he had a 2.98 ERA and had rediscovered the strikeout as he was setting down over a batter per inning on whiffs. However, upon his recall the strikeouts once again vanished, approaching Nick Blackburn territory as he was getting just over 11% of all batters faced. He still put up a tidy 2.86 ERA, but due to the lack of strikeouts and less control over limiting the long ball he only mustered a 4.47 FIP.
This past season, Pressly spent most of his healthy portion of the season in the majors and put up his best season to date. Though his strikeout rate still wasn't great, he finally reached an adequate 7.16 K/9 which hopefully is a sign of him figuring out how to put away major league hitters. His walk rate did jump up to a below-average 3.9 BB/9, but most impressively Pressly did not allow a single home run during the entire season. It all added up to a 2.93 ERA and 2.85 FIP, both numbers that anyone would take from a pitcher.
Although I ended with some high praise of Pressly, he's been a bit of an enigma. He has the stuff to be a successful pitcher as he hits the mid-90s with regularity and his breaking pitches rank as the best among the Twins' relief corp. However, he's only used them to induce weak contact instead of getting whiffs. He's limited the long ball to opponents, but his home run to fly ball rate is a very low 6% (average is around 10-11%) and it's tough to sustain beating that average over a career. His batting average allowed is pedestrian and he doesn't have the greatest control in the world, either.
Compounding matters is that he missed a good chunk of last season with shoulder problems, usually a death sentence if it's severe enough. This doesn't seem to be a good formula to build a successful pitcher, but there's one undeniable fact for Pressly that still remains, that one thing that was why the Twins plucked him out of the Red Sox organization several years ago: the stuff. Again, it's a mid-90s fastball with a hard slider and curveball. Just two of those can be enough to succeed in the majors, but having a third makes him an even better pitcher.
Like when I touted Michael Tonkin last month, Pressly is a pitcher that has the weapons to excel but just needs to put it all together. If the Twins aren't going to add another significant bullpen piece (beyond that lefthanded reliever they still covet) that should give an opportunity to Pressly to show he can be a major league asset. Even at worst, he has his final minor league option burned and is sent to Rochester, but demonstrates once again that Triple-A is not where he belongs. With his talent, I feel Pressly does have the chance to be a key member of the 2016 Minnesota Twins bullpen.