We heard again over the weekend that the Twins are keeping tabs on Rafael Soriano, and it's easy to see why. Blaine Boyer, Tim Stauffer, Caleb Thielbar, and Briand Duensing (currently on the disabled list) have all posted numbers that can judiciously be dubbed disappointing. With Glen Perkins and Casey Fien shaking off their own issues, and Aaron Thompson and J.R. Graham acting as essentially unknown quantities, it's safe to say that a good bullpen arm or two would go a long way.
Soriano's potential to help is as big of a question mark as anything else the Twins might throw into the mix. Here are a few of the standout performers in relief from around Minnesota's minor league system.
Rochester Red Wings
Candidates: Michael Tonkin, Lester Oliveros
Rochester's bullpen hasn't been as good as one could expect. Stephen Prior is really struggling with command, as is Ryan Pressly to a lesser extent. But Tonkin has converted five save opportunities and has so far struck out ten and walked two in 7.1 innings. He's unquestionably the team's closer. At this point I'm still unsure what more he has to prove in the minors.
Yet it's Oliveros who might be making the most convincing case for a recall. It would require being added to the 40-man roster again, but for a guy who has struck out 17 in just 8.2 innings you'd think a spot could be found. His velocity still makes him the rarity as far as the Twins' Major League bullpen is concerned. He's walked just one and scattered four hits for a 1.04 ERA.
Candidates: Adrian Salcedo, Dallas Gallant, Zack Jones
Noticeably absent from this list are Cole Johnson, Nick Burdi, and Jake Reed. But worry not. Small sample sizes will fade away and their performances will change accordingly. For right now, the best relievers for the Lookouts have been Salcedo, Gallant, and Jones.
Salcedo's 2014 started rough and he spent the rest of the summer trying to push his numbers back towards mediocre. He's starting better this year, posting a 1.09 WHIP with ten strikeouts in 13 innings. Gallant has struck out five in 5.2 innings while walking one.
The stud reliever at Double-A so far, though, has been Jones. It's like he's out to prove that he deserves to be taken a bit more seriously. In just five innings he's struck out 11 without issuing a walk, and having allowed a solitary run is the proud owner of a 1.80 ERA. He's averaging 0.8 base runners per inning.
Fort Myers Miracle
Candidates: Tim Shibuya, Todd Van Steensel, Brandon Peterson
All three of these pitchers seem to have figured out exactly what Florida State League hitters want to swing and miss at. Shibuya has struck out 12 in 11.2 innings; 18 in 11.1 for Van Steensel; 14 in 10.2 innings for Peterson. What's more, all three pitchers have been just as impressive at limiting hits, allowing a combined 20 knocks in 33.2 frames.
None of these pitchers are on the 40-man roster and it's unrealistic to expect them to be. But if the Twins call up players from Double and/or Triple-A, then these are the pitchers who could be moving up to fill the void.
Cedar Rapids Kernels
Candidates: Trevor Hildenberger, Randy LeBlanc, Cameron Booser
To be honest, most of this team are posting pretty good numbers. Hildenberger has struck out 12 and walked one in nine innings. LeBlanc has struck out 12 and walked two in eight. Booser, who just missed our Top 30 prospect list, has struck out 15 and walked two in eight frames. LeBlanc's WHIP is 1.25; if you add Hildenberger's and Booser's together, it's almsot the same.
I could have focused this post on the relievers at Double and Triple-A, but because of the chain reaction that happens when you call a guy up I thought it prudent to point out who some of the better relievers have been so far this spring at the lower levels. Granted there's only so much you can glean from ten innings of work, and as a result you might see small sample size victims like Burdi or Reed called up before Salcedo or Gallant, but we all know about Burdi and Reed.
The good news is that we're seeing the talent we thought we'd see from the minor league relief contingent. Perhaps it's not coming entirely from the corners we'd have expected; we'll hear about J.T. Chargois later this week, for instance. Still, talent will out.