It’s no secret that the pitching staff has been a severe weakness for the Twins. The starting rotation has been mediocre behind Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the reliable pitchers in the bullpen is a list that contains strictly Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Duffey, and Taylor Rogers, and it seems as if Chris Gimenez takes the mound once a week. Having only five good pitchers when you need to rely on 12 or 13 is problematic when you’re at (or near) the top of your division.
While plenty of Twins fans feel that the answer lies in acquiring some pitching help from outside the organization, that simply is not a realistic solution. I understand that fans are tired of hearing about “the future,” but trading minor league assets to help this deeply flawed team is mortgaging the future. A Chris Archer or Pat Neshek certainly looks attractive, but even adding those two players still leaves this team far behind the Cleveland Indians in terms of talent. Additionally, Archer would cost a fortune, one that starts with Nick Gordon and Fernando Romero, and those two alone don’t even prevent the Rays from hanging up the phone.
I feel that acknowledging this team isn’t good enough to be competitive in the playoffs is the correct mindset, and thus it’s better for us to be looking at minor leaguers that could theoretically help the big league club for the rest of the season. While they wouldn’t have the veteran experience and track record that many crave, they would also offer a far cheaper option to help right the sinking ship. Though Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow have provided a veteran presence (or #veteranpresents) to this team, their performance has theoretically put them on the hot seat if the Twins feel there are prospects that could offer more to the team. Thus, below I’ve listed some of the best relief options the Twins could call up from the minors to help them for the rest of the season.
Note: Naturally, Aaron Gleeman wrote a similar article on Baseball Prospectus, which I discovered right as I was about to write about the various minor leaguers. Derp.
LHP Mason Melotakis
(AA) 2.42 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 30.4 K%, 8.8 BB%, .163 AVG
Just recently called up to Triple-A, Melotakis is a bit old (turns 26 later this month) because he had Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season, but he comes armed with a mid-90s fastball from the left side.
RHP Trevor Hildenberger
(AAA) 2.17 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 27.7 K%, 5.9 BB%, .234 AVG
This year, MLB has been plagued (gifted?) with home runs and Hildenberger seems like the perfect antidote. His sidearm delivery gives him a ton of sink on his fastball that has consistently generated a groundball rate between 53-66% in his career, plus - you may want to sit for this - he’s allowed just four home runs over 170 minor league innings. He is a bit old at 26, but that’s more a function of him getting drafted as a college senior because he’s been promoted relatively fast since starting his professional career in 2014.
RHP Michael Tonkin
(AAA) 3.21 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 29.0 K%, 12.9 BB%, .226 AVG
The only player with major league experience on this list, but also the worst player. Tonkin is probably a Quadruple-A player at this point and his flyball rate won’t mix well with MLB hitters at this point, but it’s worth noting that he’s improved quite a bit since going back to the minor leagues and he’s still just 27 years old. However, that walk rate is way too high.
RHP John Curtiss
(AA) 0.72 ERA, 1.81 FIP, 35.4 K%, 12.1 BB%, .138 AVG
The primary closer for Double-A Chattanooga, the 24-year old Curtiss has plenty of movement with his mid-90s fastball, which caused Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs to say it might be a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Other than a blip in 2015 where he gave up 10 home runs in low Single-A, Curtiss has allowed a total of one home run over the rest of his professional career (125 1⁄3 innings). His control is a concern, though.
RHP Todd Van Steensel
(AA) 1.93 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 25.5 K%, 12.6 BB%, .218 AVG
While researching Van Steensel, I discovered that he’s actually on his second stint in the Twins organization (originally pitched in 2011 in rookie ball, then was re-signed prior to the 2014 season). He modeled his pitching motion after Dontrelle Willis, according to this Twins Daily post, though I wonder if the delivery has contributed to his poor control. I don’t think he’s necessarily the answer for the Twins, unless the question is, “Who can talk with Bert Blyleven about being Dutch?”
RHP Jake Reed
(AA) 2.45 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 24.2 K%, 18.2 BB%, .154 AVG
After starting the season with a back issue, Reed was just recently called up to Triple-A Rochester. Yet another pitcher that comes with a mid-90s fastball, Reed also has struggled with his control. However, like Hildenberger, he’s limited the home runs (allowed 5 in 168 1⁄3 innings) and typically hasn’t been hittable. Plus, he’s still fairly young as he won’t turn 25 until the end of the season.
RHP Luke Bard
(AA) 2.76 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 36.9 K%, 7.8 BB%, .236 AVG
Overall, this is by far Bard’s best season in the minor leagues. After battling injuries for the beginning of his career, he’s been healthy for the past 2+ seasons now and has kicked it up a notch this year. I find it interesting that his jump in strikeout rate has coincided with by far the lowest groundball rate of his career (29.6%), when normally he sat around 60%.
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
(AA) 3.18 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 31.3 K%, 6.0 BB%, .184 AVG
Now it’s time to get weird. Though Gonsalves is a 22-year old starting pitcher and the Twins could certainly use some help there as well, he represents an intriguing option to fortify the bullpen instead. He maxed out around 145 innings in 2015 and nearly repeated that last year so keeping his innings down shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but if the Twins want to go that route, an easy way to do so would be to have him pitch out of the bullpen later in the season.
RHP Fernando Romero
(AA) 3.27 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 22.4 K%, 8.6 BB%, .238 AVG
Romero is likely the most intriguing yet most complicated option here. A starting pitcher that can reach the upper-90s, the 22-year old has never thrown more than 100 innings in a season. Already at 71 2⁄3 this year, he’s going to hit an innings limit rather fast so a conversion to the bullpen would make sense. However, I wonder if his development (and Gonsalves’) wouldn’t be hurt by temporarily becoming a reliever, only to return to starting next season. I have no idea, I’m not a baseball expert. Nonetheless, Romero throws hard, generates grounders (career rate around 55%), and has allowed just 4 home runs in 250 minor league innings, and he sure seems like an appetizing short-term fix for the rest of the year.
Which pitcher would help the Twins bullpen the most this season?
This poll is closed
Todd Van Steensel