When people discuss who will be part of the Twins bullpen, a lot of names are mentioned. A lot depends on the health of Joe Nathan. How many left-handers will be on the pitching staff? Which of the six starters will be part of the bullpen. There are a lot of names, and a lot of good options.
If I had to project today who I think will be in the Twins bullpen on Opening Day, I would say: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes, Nick Blackburn, Scott Diamond and one of Pat Neshek, Anthony Slama or James Hoey. If that is the case, two good arms will not be on the roster, and neither would the likes of left-handers Glen Perkins, Phil Dumatrait, and Chuck James, It also does not include Erik Hacker, Jeff Manship, or Kyle Waldrop.
Non-roster invitees Kyle Gibson and Carlos Gutierrez are getting some attention this spring. In my mind, those are the two Twins minor leaguers who could come up in late June or July and make a large impact on the AL Central race.
Alex Burnett is hardly even mentioned as an option for the Twins bullpen, and I'm not sure why. Consider that one year ago, he was participating in his first big league spring training camp. One year after converting from a starting pitcher to a reliever, Burnett put up impressive numbers and was an easy add to the Twins 40 man roster. He was sent to minor league camp early in spring, but when Clay Condrey officially could not make the Twins Opening Day roster, it was Burnett that was promoted to the big leagues. He looked terrific early in the Twins season before really struggling following the All-Star break. He was sent back to Rochester (his first AAA experience), and still just 23 years old, he has an opportunity to be a major contributor to the Twins bullpen in the near future and for years to come.
That same scenario could happen in 2011 with the Twins' David Bromberg. I am referring to the Twins right-handed pitcher, not the folk music, Grammy-nominated guitar player. I believe that the right-hander is definitely worth watching in 2011.
Last fall, the Twins added four players to their 40 man roster. Three of those decisions were easy decisions, and likely none was easier than the decision to add Bromberg. The Twins selected him with their 32nd round pick in 2005 out of Santa Ana Junior College. He did not sign right away. In fact, he didn't sign with the Twins until just before the 2006 draft. Upon signing, he went to the GCL Twins where he went 3-3 with a 2.66 ERA in ten starts.
In 2007, he went 9-0 with a 2.78 ERA. In 58.1 innings, he had an Appalachian League leading 81 strikeouts.
In 2008, he led all of minor league baseball with 177 strikeouts (in 150 innings) for the Beloit Snappers. That year, he went 9-10 with a 4.44 ERA.
In 2009, he moved up to Ft. Myers where he was named the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year (and the Jim Rantz Award winner for Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year). He went 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA. He led the league with 148 strikeouts in 153.1 innings.
Interestingly, despite leading his league in strikeouts three consecutive seasons, scouting reports indicated that he was not a strikeout pitcher. Despite being a frontline starter for his team at least level, he is most frequently viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter or long-reliever.
He began the 2010 season in Double-A New Britain. He made 17 starts and went 5-5 with a 3.62 ERA. However, he struck out just 65 in 99.1 innings. The 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings was noteworthy as it was nearly two below his previous season-low.
In mid-July, he was promoted to Triple-A Rochester where he held his own. Despite a 1-4 record, he posted a 3.98 ERA. And, in 52 innings, he struck out 47 (8.1 per nine).
Like Alex Burnett, Bromberg has put up really good numbers as a starting pitcher. Burnett was not a strikeout pitcher as a starter, but once he moved to the bullpen, he recorded a lot of strikeouts. What could Bromberg do as a reliever, if he would be able to go all-out for one inning at a time? That's where we need to look at his "stuff."
Bromberg throws a three-quarter angle fastball between 88 and 91 mph. In previous years, he had touched 93 mph. He has a very good curveball and a changeup too. With Burnett, it meant a 3-4 mph increase on his fastball. Bromberg has had control problems in the past, and although it is something that he has improved through his career. It is something he will continue to work on. Another positive trait is that Bromberg is not afraid to pitch inside.
Bromberg worked very hard this past offseason. The 6-5 right-hander pitched at 265 in 2010, but he is now down to a slim 243 as he enters spring training. Having talked to him at Twins Fest, he's excited for the season, and he would love to move to the bullpen if it meant getting him to the big leagues.
Will Bromberg get a shot at making the 2011 Opening Day roster? I would doubt it. In fact, my guess is that he will be among the first group of players sent to minor league camp (as Burnett was in 2010). Why?
Reason #1 is because 40-man roster players injured in major league camp, in major league games, would need to be put on the Major League disabled list. That means they would be paid major league salary for that time. So, the team sends them down quickly. Of course, that means they can't play/pitch in big league spring training games, but since the Twins minor league camp is in the same facility, the appropriate people will still see him pitch.
The second reason is that if the team believes he can be a back-of-the-rotation starter, then he should continue to be a starting pitcher in Rochester, at least to start the 2011 season. It is much more difficult to find starting pitchers than relievers. Having reliever depth isn't as difficult because starters can transition quickly to the bullpen, but having options who can start and pitch well over six or seven innings is much more difficult. As long as the Twins feel Bromberg is a starting pitching option, they should leave that door open. Kyle Gibson is the name that Twins fans are watching for, but if the Twins have a need in the starting rotation and Bromberg is pitching better, they wouldn't hesitate to promote Bromberg.
So, will Bromberg be an opening day bullpen guy? Probably not. But is he a name that Twins fans should get to know? Absolutely. he could be a mid-season call-up, either as a starting pitcher or as a reliever. Of course, since he is a very good prospect, the Twins are going to be smart with him. They will be patient. Like Gibson, and like Gutierrez, Twins fans should know the name of David Bromberg because he could play an important role for the team in 2011.