Though this offseason has been moving rather slowly, the Twins did strike twice when they added Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke. While not groundbreaking moves, they were two cheap veterans that raised the bullpen floor and added depth to the pitching staff.
Though the Twins could still improve on their roster, it’s likely that they’re done handing out guaranteed contracts for the bullpen. Thus, we can take a look at how the bullpen is shaping up for the upcoming season.
Remember how Eddie Guardado kept you on the edge of your seat in the 9th inning? That’s Fernando Rodney, except he’s righthanded, throws 95 MPH, and has a devastating change-up.
Though his numbers in 2017 after returning from Tommy John surgery weren’t all great, he did get hitters to chase a bunch of pitches out of the zone (35.5%, major league average was 29.9% in 2017) and made them swing and miss just 1 1⁄2 percentage points less from the prior two seasons. At best, he’ll become one of the top setup guys in the bullpen. At worst, he’s a LOOGY.
Hildenberger’s sidearm funk generated a ton of grounders and with his success in 2017, he likely enters this season as the top righthanded setup man. He and Duke won’t be flashy but they should be effective.
Miscast as a setup man because righties have hit .288/.355/.435 (.336 wOBA) against him in his career, Rogers should enter 2018 as a LOOGY (career .186/.257/.296 and .243 wOBA allowed to lefties) due to the presence of Duke. However, he’ll likely get promoted to setup duties if Duke struggles... unless Gabriel Moya impresses before then.
Though Pressly wasn’t so good in 2017, he had been a good middle reliever since he debuted in 2013. His velocity has trended upwards (career high 95.8 MPH last season) and he increasingly looks the part of a late inning reliever. It’s just a matter of if he can make the adjustment(s) necessary that puts it all together.
Duffey’s first season as a full time reliever had mixed results. His ERA wasn’t great, but his secondary numbers were far better and he’ll probably be the long reliever for this team. However, his role likely changes if Phil Hughes starts the season in the bullpen.
This list’s resident “who?” that was acquired from Miami in the Rule 5 Draft. He throws 100 and has a power slider, and due to his status he’ll need to stay on the active roster all season in order to remain a Twin in future seasons. His lack of control might hold him back, but the organization has reached Opening Day with a Rule 5 reliever on the roster three times in recent seasons (Pressly, J.R. Graham, Justin Haley) so it’s conceivable Kinley debuts this season.
I put Hughes in this category simply because there’s a nonzero chance he’s still a starting pitcher. There’s still the hope that he can gain some velocity as a reliever, but he couldn’t even average 92 MPH with his fastball in five relief appearances last year. Granted, his season ended with a second surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, so it’s entirely possible he was hurt the whole time anyway. The remaining money on his contract is a big problem for a pitcher that has looked utterly finished these past two years.
Unlikely (but will get called up)
On the surface, Boshers hasn’t looked like a great pitcher, but he’s a LOOGY (career .270 wOBA allowed to lefties) that’s been asked to face too many righties (career .333 wOBA allowed). However, the addition of Duke likely pushed Boshers off the active roster, meaning he’ll be fighting with Moya to be the first lefty to come up from Triple-A.
A strong ERA for Busenitz masked that he struck out less than 20% of the batters he faced, a number that’s too low for someone that throws as hard as him. I bet the old front office would have had Busenitz higher on the depth chart, but I still bet he’ll be one of the first call-ups.
I have a hard time believing that May will be handed a roster spot right out of spring training. Perhaps the appropriate timeline is to let him get his feet under himself in the minors to start the season, then call him up once he appears to be ready to return after missing all of 2017.
Basically the same story as May.
He was so dominant in 2017 that he’ll likely vault up the depth chart with a strong start to 2018. He joins Pressly, Busenitz, Kinley, and a handful of other hard-throwing righthanders that just need to find that X-factor to become a future setup guy.
My wild card pick, I absolutely love how dominant he was in the minor leagues despite possessing a fastball that just sneaks over 90 MPH. He’s been able to accomplish that with an excellent change-up, a herky-jerky delivery, and tenacity on the mound. Also, his twitchiness with his hands once he comes set means he’s probably committing a balk on every single pitch as well. Anyway, Moya has likely already leapfrogged Boshers, his ability to retire righties with his change-up means he can pass Rogers, and he has the talent and stuff to pitch ahead of Duke. He just needs to prove that he’s capable.
Projected 2018 Opening Day Bullpen
Thanks to the ridiculous number of off days in the first week due to playing in three different home openers, the Twins don’t have a need for a 5th starter until about 2 1⁄2 weeks after Opening Day. Thus, I’m assuming they’ll start with a four-man rotation, allowing them to carry eight relievers.
- Fernando Rodney
- Zach Duke
- Trevor Hildenberger
- Taylor Rogers
- Tyler Duffey
- Ryan Pressly
- Tyler Kinley
- Phil Hughes