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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: Can Twins have an elite bullpen in 2016?

When the Kansas City Royals won the World Series earlier this month after coming up just short in 2014, it spawned an army of articles on how every other team could learn from their success and implement aspects of their blueprint.

In reality, the foundations of Kansas City's rise to the top have been fairly simple: They get good enough performances from starting pitchers, play roundly excellent defense and consistently execute offensively. Perhaps the defining component of the club, though, has been a phenomenal relief corps that turns virtually every late lead into a victory.

Over the last two years, the Royals have gone 138-10 when leading after six frames. There's a certain psychological edge that is gained when you have an array of intimidating power arms at your disposal in the late innings.

Many general managers – and Terry Ryan is one of them – will say that starting pitching is at the core of a winning formula. That's true to an extent, but it's becoming a little less true these days with bullpens growing more specialized and prominent. As evidence, here's where the World Champion Royals saw their starting pitchers rank out of 30 MLB clubs across various categories this year:

ERA: 22nd

OPS: 21st

WHIP: 25th

K/9: 25th

The shutdown bullpen made up for their weakness in the rotation to a rather stunning degree, as the Royals still managed to allow fewer runs than all but two AL teams.

The Twins are not likely to have an elite rotation in 2016, but what they lack in top-shelf talent they make up for with quality depth. A group that is solid one-through-five looks like a fairly safe bet. As the Royals have shown, when you combine a good-not-great rotation with a deep and dominant bullpen, you can beat anyone. To me, this is the clearest path to making the Twins a true championship contender in 2016.

So just what will it take for Minnesota's bullpen to elevate to that point? They certainly weren't there this year, ranking 10th in the AL in ERA, eighth in WHIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Last week, Seth looked at how the unit might come together with the pieces that are currently in place.

Today, I'll piggyback on that post with a look at some factors that will determine Minnesota's chances of fielding a top-tier bullpen next year.

Will Terry Ryan's focus on adding velocity to the bullpen continue?

Since Ryan took over the GM reins once again in 2012, his increased emphasis on acquiring hard-throwing pitchers with strikeout stuff has been impossible to ignore, especially when juxtaposed against his previous tenure.

In his first offseason back at the helm he traded for Alex Meyer and Trevor May. Each of the past few draft classes has included numerous powerful college arms that profile as late-inning relievers. This year, five of the six highest fastball velocities among Twins relievers belonged to Meyer, May, J.R. Graham (acquired by Ryan in the Rule 5 draft last year), Kevin Jepsen (acquired by Ryan at the deadline this year) and Ryan Pressly (acquired by Ryan in the Rule 5 draft two years ago).

Last week, the club's 40-man roster juggling included outrighting A.J. Achter, whose upper-80s heater belied his outstanding minor-league results, while adding several raw young arms that can approach triple-digits, including J.T. Chargois, Yorman Landa, Mason Melotakis and Randy Rosario.

Up to this point, the approach hasn't really paid off yet, but as long as the front office continues to prioritize these types of players, it will bode well for the bullpen's outlook.

Can Glen Perkins return to form?

It's probably the biggest question in this equation. For the majority of the last five seasons Perkins has been easily the most reliable and overpowering reliever on the Twins, so seeing him devolve into a hittable mess over the final two months was disheartening to say the least. That's why I ranked his second half as one of the five worst things to happen to the team this year, but as I said in that article, I'm optimistic that Perk will put in the necessary work to get back to his previous standing. He's been too good for too long to let a couple months of health-related struggles change our overall perception of him.

Will the young guns arrive and make an impact?

Several of the hard-throwing hurlers acquired in recent drafts were positioned to break through this season, and that might have contributed to Ryan's conservative approach to addressing the bullpen last winter, when his most high-profile addition was Tim Stauffer. In 2014, a number of different minor-leaguers – such as Nick Burdi, Jake Reed and Zack Jones – put themselves on the fast track by posting fantastic numbers while brandishing upper-90s gas.

Unfortunately, all of them stalled out this year and failed to take meaningful steps forward. Fortunately, they're all still under 25, and both Burdi and Reed are coming off eye-popping performances in the Arizona Fall League. Add into that mix Meyer, whose transition to relief may be permanent, and you've got four fireballers in the high minors with a very real chance of entering the picture and developing into potent weapons next year.

I'll be interested to see whether Jones, who curiously was not among the recent 40-man additions, makes it through the Rule 5 draft next month unclaimed. I suspect he will not.

Can Trevor May become Wade Davis Lite?

Davis is the key to the entire Royals bullpen. He's arguably the best reliever in the American League, and since he hasn't been the the closer for most of the last two seasons, Ned Yost has had the luxury of deploying him at the most critical junctures possible, matching him up against the opposing lineup's best hitters in extremely high-leverage spots.

I'm not saying that May is going to reach the level of Davis, because that's a preposterously high bar, but he has a somewhat similar profile as a former highly regarded prospect who was solid enough as a big-league starter but unleashed a new level of dominance in short relief stints. If he can continue to get sharper as he grows more comfortable in that role, it's not hard to envision May being the best right-handed reliever that the Twins have had since Joe Nathan.

Of course, the question is whether the 26-year-old will indeed be used as a reliever or starter next year. Seth wrote last week that he fully expects May to pitch out of the bullpen all year, and given the circumstances, that's hard to argue.

Will the Twins make another big addition?

Entering the season with a bullpen anchored by Perkins, Jepsen and May would be respectable, but the strength of Kansas City's game-changing bullpen is in its depth. It's not just that they have guys like Davis and Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera at the top, it's that they can dig deeper and call on guys like Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar, who are as good as the setup men on many opposing clubs.

If the Twins truly want a bullpen that sets them apart from the competition, I believe they need to bring on at least one more established premium arm for the late innings, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Perkins. That might mean an aggressive splash in the free agent market or trading for someone like Drew Storen or even Aroldis Chapman. Would Ryan be so bold?

TwinsCentric: 5 worst things to happen to Twins in 2015

The 2015 season was largely a positive one for the Twins, and on Monday we touched on five of the most encouraging developments that took place.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses, though. So today we'll look at the five most unfortunate things that transpired this year, from a big-picture perspective.
1. Joe Mauer's decline continued
We hoped that he would regain some of his diminished sharpness and plate discipline as he moved away from his concussion issues. We hoped the transition to first base would result in improved power numbers driven by stronger legs. We hoped that Mauer could return to being a star-caliber player whose veteran bat would be the centerpiece in an athletic young lineup.
It hasn't happened. It's getting harder to believe it's going to happen.
The 2015 season marked the first time that Mauer has ever posted an OPS+ below 100, ending a string of 11 consecutive above-average offensive performances dating back to 2004. He batted .265. He slugged .380 with 10 home runs from a power position. He struck out almost twice as often as he walked.
His outstanding numbers with runners in scoring position prevented him from being a total liability, but with the bases empty (59 percent of his plate appearances) Mauer hit .232/.284/.349, while always batting at the top of the order. Throughout his career, he has made up for his lack of home run pop by being an on-base machine who consistently set up the hitters behind him for success. He didn't do that this year, and with a lack of injuries or limiting circumstances to point at, this is beginning to look like what Mauer truly is at age 32: a mediocre hitter who belongs closer to the bottom of the lineup than the top.
For better or for worse, Mauer – still owed $23 million annually through 2018 – is going to be around for a while yet. We can only hope for better.
2. Josmil Pinto basically dropped out of the catcher conversation
Pinto's receiving skills have long been considered marginal at best, but he nonetheless entered this season as the Twins' best hope for an eventual Kurt Suzuki replacement at catcher who could actually deliver some offensive punch. The hitting ability was there, so it was just a matter of making enough improvements defensively behind the plate in order for the Twins to entrust him with handling the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Pinto endured a very rough season that likely ends any real possibility of him becoming a regular backstop for the Twins. He battled ongoing concussion issues throughout the summer that cost him two months and limited him to 72 total games (in which he posted an ugly .669 OPS). After returning to Rochester in August, he played DH exclusively the rest of the way.
When you combine the brain injury concerns with the iffy defensive abilities, it's increasingly difficult to imagine the Twins giving Pinto any kind of real shot to become their starting catcher, and that's a shame because no one else in the organization offers his kind of offensive upside at the position. That remains true even after the acquisition of John Ryan Murphy.
3. Glen Perkins fell apart in the second half
Perkins' tailspin at the end of the 2014 season was a little worrisome, but he seemingly erased any doubts with a first half in 2015 that saw him convert every save chance while earning on All-Star nod.
However, his quick and shocking drop-off after the break, and especially his costly poor outings late in the year, created some major question marks about his outlook going forward.
Two springs ago, the Twins handed Perkins an extension through the 2017 season with hopes that he'd be their closer for the duration of that term. Now, Terry Ryan is reluctant to commit to Perk as the ninth-inning man for 2016, and no one can blame him. The lefty was consistently ineffective for the final two months this year. After the All-Star Game, he never put together three consecutive appearances without allowing a run. Opponents batted .360 against him with seven home runs.
Given that Perkins has now tailed off in the late stages of back-to-back seasons, could this be an issue of preparation and conditioning? Ryan seemingly intimated such with this answer in his Offseason Handbook interview:
If that's the case, the problem at least seems correctable. Perkins doesn't strike me as the type of guy who's going to sit back and tolerate this kind of performance from himself, so perhaps his heartbreaking finish in 2015 will serve as a wake-up call.
4. Alex Meyer unraveled 
When the Twins traded Denard Span to the Nationals back in 2012, they acquired a player that they viewed as a potential front-end starting pitcher. Meyer cultivated his ace-in-waiting status during his first couple years in Minnesota's system, putting up huge strikeout numbers while shutting down minor league hitters at Double-A and Triple-A.
This year, however, everything came undone. Meyer floundered in the International League, which he had dominated in 2014. From spring training through September, the big right-hander constantly struggled to find the strike zone... and his confidence.
It's far too soon to give up on the 25-year-old Meyer. But it might be time to give up on the idea of him as a starter.
With his command issues and resulting huge pitch counts, he had an uphill climb in order to break into the rotation for a Twins team that values efficiency and deep outings from starters. He spent most of this season in the bullpen and it's looking like that is where his future lies.
The good news is that he can be a major asset there, with triple-digit heat and a wipe-out breaking ball. The bad news is that removing him from the rotation equation leaves the Twins system very thin on high-ceiling starters that miss bats.
5. Oswaldo Arcia stopped hitting
Over the years, Arcia has exhibited some notable downsides – namely, a dreadful lack of range in the outfield and some boisterous mannerisms on the field that tend to rub some people the wrong way. He has made up for these things, however, by consistently hitting the crap out of the ball.
Arcia rose fast through the minors, clobbering the competition at each stop, and reached the big leagues at age 21. He has accumulated a .741 OPS with 36 home runs in 853 MLB plate appearances, all before turning 25, becoming one of the most accomplished hitters in the game for his age. He looked like a long-term fixture in the middle of the lineup.
Arcia was beginning to heat up after a slow start this year before landing on the disabled list in May. He headed to Triple-A after being reinstated, seemingly for a temporary rehab stint, but never returned to the Twins.
At Rochester, Arcia's bat went amiss for the first time in his career. Outside of a brief home run flurry in July, he was inexplicably flat-out awful against Triple-A pitching for a full three months, batting just .199 with a .630 OPS while showing almost no plate discipline.
His lost year puts the Twins in a tough position, because Arcia will be out of options next spring, meaning he'll either need to be rostered or exposed to waivers. It's tough to count on him after his brutal showing in 2015, but it'd be even tougher to simply let his potent lefty power bat slip away.

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