After losing Michael Cuddyer to Colorado via free agency, the Twins acquired two additional draft picks, the Rockies' second round pick and a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Jason Kubel also left as a free agent to the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Twins also got a supplemental pick for him.
The MLB draft is incredibly difficult to judge or even analyze for more than a decade for various reasons. Top prospects don’t always make it big and there are hidden gems found in late rounds. However, when you have the opportunity to draft second overall in the draft, it is important to get it right.
As Aaron Gleeman pointed out on this past week’s Gleeman and the Geek podcast, it’s important to get the early picks right, but even mid-to-late first round picks, much less picks in rounds two through forty, are mostly a crapshoot.
The Twins have had a lot of success with athletic, toolsy high school hitters in the past. Torii Hunter (1993), Michael Cuddyer (1998), Joe Mauer (2001), Denard Span (2002) and Ben Revere (2007) are some examples of this. Byron Buxton certainly fits that model. His tools and athleticism are truly elite. When healthy (2013), he was the best player in minor league baseball and put himself on track to be in the big leagues as a 19-year-old. Unfortunately a smorgasbord of injuries cost him a lot of development time and delayed his big league debut.
The Twins have had less success with drafting and developing high school pitchers. The most recent pitcher that the Twins drafted out of high school who made starts was Anthony Swarzak. Aside from Twins Hall of Famer Brad Radke, who the Twins took with their 8th round pick in 1991, others are few and far between. However, JO Berrios certainly displayed the potential and the work ethic to break that mold. He has a chance to be in the big leagues before he turns 22.
DRAFTING COLLEGE RELIEVERS
After that, however, we saw the Twins make another interesting shift in thinking. Five of their next six picks were college relievers. The Twins clearly focused on obtaining velocity through the draft. Although those five pitchers were relievers in college, the Twins made it clear that several of them would be given an opportunity to start. That makes sense. Starters have the opportunity to work 170 to 200 innings in a season whereas even the top relievers will likely top out at 70 innings in a season.
Even if the pitcher does go back to the bullpen, the opportunity to start has other benefits. He can work on secondary pitches. However, as a starter, he will have to work out of many situations that he will see coming out of the bullpen. It’s just that he is able to go through those experiences in the 3rd or 4th inning rather than late in the game.
That theory is sound, but there were certainly concerns with that strategy. One of them was an increased injury risk, whether real or perceived. Of course, that is going to be a concern with any pitcher.
The thought was that a couple of these guys would get up to the big leagues and pitch out of the bullpen. The thinking was also be that if even one of them reached the big leagues as a starter, the strategy would be a success. So, two-and-a-half seasons into their professional career, how has this strategy worked out for the Twins? Here is a quick look at those five college pitchers:
LUKE BARD – RHP – Georgia Tech
With the 42nd overall pick (supplemental pick for losing Kubel), the Twins took the right-hander. The thought was that he would be given the opportunity to start. However, in 2012 and 2013, he worked a combined 19.1 innings in the minors and then missed the entire 2014 season. At the end of the 2013 season in Ft. Myers, observers pointed out that he stuff was absolutely filthy. However, while rehabbing from offseason surgery last spring, doctors found that he had a muscle completely detached in his shoulder area and there was debris in his shoulder joint. He had surgery in mid-May and will likely be out for 12 months. Bard is as classy as it gets and when healthy, has really good stuff.
MASON MELOTAKIS – LHP – Northwestern State – Louisiana
With the 63rd overall pick, the Twins took a hard-throwing left-hander. Mason Melotakis had been clocked in the upper-90s out of the bullpen in college. In 2012 and 2013, he spent most of his time as a starter. Very early in the 2014 season, he moved to the bullpen and it wasn’t long before he was promoted to AA. As a starter, he worked in the low-90s and worked on two additional pitches. Out of the bullpen, he was again throwing in the upper-90s and getting significantly more strikeouts. Unfortunately late in the season, he developed elbow pain and in August he had Tommy John surgery. He will likely miss most of the 2015 season.
JT CHARGOIS – RHP – Rice University
JT Chargois was a two-way player for Rice who was one of two closers on their roster. He was the pick the Twins acquired from the Rockies for Cuddyer. After signing with the Twins, he pitched 16 innings in 12 games at Elizabethton. He tried to rehab some elbow discomfort through much of the 2013 season before having late-season Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2014 season. However, he returned to the mound in the Instructional League and impressed everyone with a fastball that hit 99 mph.
ZACK JONES – RHP – San Jose State
The Twins used their third round pick on a hitter, but returned to the collegiate bullpen arms in the fourth round when they picked San Jose State reliever Zack Jones. His upper 90s fastball has been impressive. His first full season in the pros was spent in Ft. Myers in 2013. He pitched well while trying to work on his control and his slider. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but while there was shut down with a strange, cold sensation in his right hand fingers. A couple of months later, it was found that he had an aneurysm in his right shoulder. He required surgery and rest. While recovering, they found blood clots in his leg. He returned to Ft. Myers in May and started a rehab program. He returned to the mound and ended the regular season as the Miracle closer, leading a dominant bullpen that helped the team to their first Florida State League title. He returned to the Arizona Fall League where he struggled with control but didn’t allow a run. He is back at 100 percent and was throwing between 95 and 98 mph.
TYLER DUFFEY – RHP – Rice University
With their fifth round pick, the Twins took the other half of Rice’s closer share. Tyler Duffey was a hard-throwing reliever who, after signing, dominated at Elizabethton, walking two and striking out 27 in 19 innings. His first full season was split between Cedar Rapids (where he pitched the first seven innings of a no-hitter early in the season) and Ft. Myers. He made 18 starts before finishing the season in the bullpen. In 2014, he began with four starts in Ft. Myers before spending the majority of his season at New Britain. He finished the season with three starts in Rochester. He worked 149.2 innings. Recently, he was named as a non-roster Invitee to Twins big league spring training. A mid-90s fastball and two additional pitches and he is now considered a legit future big league starting pitcher.
These five will have to be added to the Twins 40-man roster following the 2015 season or be made available in the Rule 5 draft in December. Duffey has been very good as a starter and has a chance to be a big league starter (or a successful reliever). The four other arms have all missed significant time due to injury and surgeries. These guys are all 24 years old and still have a good chance to get to the big leagues as relievers. They have big velocity and if things go well, they could still be late-inning, impact arms in the bullpen. Has the strategy proven wise? That’s to be determined. Time will tell.
OTHER 2012 DRAFT PICKS
There are several other Twins prospects who were drafted in the 2012 draft. One of them has been one of the most prolific power hitters in minor league baseball in recent years. A second pitcher was also added to the non-roster invite list. For much more, head over to Twins Daily for much more, and once you're there, check out these things too:
- Six Twins players filed for arbitration. Seth predicts what will happen with each this week.
- Parker asked if it's a given that Phil Hughes will experience some regression in 2015. What do you think?
- FSN's Marney Gellner joined Parker and Dan on this week's No Juice Podcast... so did her kids!
- Guest writer Dan Levitt is posting a series on the top 25 GMs in baseball history, and a former Twins GM made the list at #25.
- There are still some tickets available for the Twins Daily Winter Meltdown on January 24th at Mason's following Twins Fest that night. We will be joined by Twins president Dave St. Peter and former Twins Tim Laudner and Jacque Jones.
- Be sure to also check out Wild Xtra where the conversation is getting lively regarding the head coach and there recent transactions.
- Vikings Journal has remained very busy during the offseason, looking at free agents, draft picks and much more.