By: Sam Ekstrom
After losing Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier in the 2010 offseason, the Twins’ bullpen dropped from eighth in the league in 2010 to last place in 2011. Fans expected more of the same when Joe Nathan and Jose Mijares departed last winter, leaving the Twins with an assortment of relative unknowns, but Minnesota surprised many with a fairly consistent group of relievers.
The Twins bullpen threw the third-most innings in baseball last season—thanks to ineffective starting pitching—but posted a respectable 3.77 ERA, good for 17th in the league.
Though there’s been more turnover in the bullpen pitching staff, Minnesota looks to have an excellent back-end combo set up with Jared Burton and Glen Perkins. It’s the middle-relief that still has question marks.
With 35 pitchers competing at spring training to make a seven-man bullpen, there’s a great chance we’ll see some new faces in the mix this spring.
Matt Capps: Unfortunately, Capps (whose acquisition cost the Twins a high catching prospect in Wilson Ramos) never amounted to expectations in his two and a half seasons; too many blown saves and no real strikeout pitch. The free-agent signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians.
Jeff Manship: The long-reliever never nailed down a consistent role in four up-and-down seasons with the Twins. He was signed to a minor-league contract by the Colorado Rockies.
Kyle Waldrop: A former first-round pick in 2004, Waldrop appeared in just 24 career games for the Twins, 17 of them last season. He was signed in free-agency by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jeff Gray: The Twins outrighted the 31-year-old Jeff Gray to Rochester last August after several bad outings. He was signed by the White Sox in December.
Josh Roenicke: A right-handed pitcher from Colorado, Roenicke put up decent numbers in his first year getting a prolonged look at the major-league level. The 30-year-old has a four-pitch repertoire, featuring a mid-90s four-seam and two-seam fastball.
Rafael Perez: Twins fans should be familiar with this new acquisition. Perez pitched in Cleveland for seven seasons, hurling 329 bullpen innings with a 3.64 ERA. During the Indians’ ALCS run of 2007, he dealt a 1.78 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP. The lefty suffered through an injury-plagued 2012, but hopes to be back to normal for 2013.
2012 notable relievers: Anthony Swarzak (73.1 IP), Alex Burnett (71.2 IP), Glen Perkins (70.1 IP), Jared Burton (62.0 IP), Brian Duensing (57.0 IP), Jeff Gray (52.0 IP), Casey Fien (35.0 IP), Matt Capps (29.1 IP), Tyler Robertson (25.0 IP), Jeff Manship (21.2 IP), Kyle Waldrop (21.1 IP), Luis Perdomo (17.0 IP)
The long-relief role is now in flux for reasons that we truly couldn’t make up. Last year’s primary option, right-hander Anthony Swarzak, is currently sidelined with broken ribs because he wrestled with some teammates at a Twins Fest event. While Swarzak should be healthy by Opening Day, his absence for part of spring training leaves the door open.
Lefty Brian Duensing, the jack-of-all-trades on the Twins’ staff, is capable of pitching long innings in a pinch, but seems to have settled in as later-inning pitcher who can shut down left-handed hitters. It’s likely the Twins will try to keep him focused on that role.
One name to watch closely for is Josh Roenicke, the waiver claim acquisition from Colorado. Roenicke pitched in over 25 games for the first time in his career and was reliable for the Rockies last season, especially in long-relief roles.
In 20 relief appearances that lasted 2.0 innings or longer, Roenicke held opponents scoreless 16 of 20 times and earned a 1.48 ERA in those outings overall. In five appearances going 3.0 innings or more, Roenicke posted a 0.58 ERA—not too shabby.
Also be aware of Northfield native Caleb Thielbar. The lefty has risen rapidly through the Twins’ minor-league system and owns a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4:1 in four seasons.
The Twins are looking for several stabilizers who can help bridge the gap between a short start and the late innings, and they’ll need depth in this area if they wind up throwing over 550 relief innings again. The club’s ERA in the fifth through seventh innings last year was a combined 4.54, nearly a point higher than AL Champion Detroit’s (3.59).
Alex Burnett and Brian Duensing are seemingly locks entering spring ball. Burnett took huge strides in his third season, lowering his ERA by nearly two points, while Duensing’s newfound role as a seventh inning man has solidified the lefty’s roster spot.
The best of the rest would probably be right-hander Casey Fien, whose 2.06 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 3.3:1 K/BB ratio were excellent last season, but will have to be backed up by a strong spring training.
Right-hander Anthony Slama also seems due for a call-up. He sports a 1.99 ERA for his career in 325 minor-league innings, as well as a 12.4 K/9. Twins’ blogger Seth Stohs wrote a great piece on Slama last year that gives a detailed scouting report.
Another possible candidate is Luis Perdomo who appeared in 15 games for Minnesota in 2012 and pitched to a 3.18 ERA.
Probably the most pleasant surprise on last year’s pitching staff (other than Scott Diamond) was Jared Burton. The former Cincinnati Red utilized impeccable control and a nasty cutter to notch a career-best 2.18 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 2012.
Burton received a two-year extension and should be the eighth inning man from day one. He’s also the likeliest to step in as closer if Glen Perkins were overworked or injured.
Odds are the Twins will look to have a situational left-handed pitcher in the late innings by way of Tyler Robertson or Rafael Perez.
Robertson (5.40 ERA in 2012) got stronger as his rookie season went on, and he’s only 25 years old. Perez is 30 and is coming off shoulder surgery. He’s reportedly lost some velocity and isn’t nearly the pitcher he was five years ago.
This may be the reason Minnesota will experiment with Perez as a starter, a role he’s never been given in the majors, but may suit his current skill-set better.
Robertson seems like the more logical choice to start the season as a reliever.
Minnesota will place the ball confidently in the left hand of Glen Perkins. The U of M grad has turned around his career to become a clubhouse leader and a high-powered hurler in the late innings.
Coming off his best season, Perkins now enters the first year of a three-year extension he signed prior to his stellar 2012 campaign. The Twins have to love the bargain they’re getting.
Perkins will pitch in March for the USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Projected seven-man bullpen: Anthony Swarzak (long relief; if healthy), Casey Fien (middle relief), Brian Duensing (middle relief), Alex Burnett (middle relief), Tyler Robertson (situational), Jared Burton (set-up), Glen Perkins (closer)
Projected next in line: Josh Roenicke, Anthony Slama, Caleb Thielbar
Next edition will examine the starting rotation.