Ryan Pressly’s odds of making the bullpen when the Minnesota Twins break camp in April appear somewhere between slim and none.
On a liberal guess, there are likely three spots open and two of those may already belong to Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak. The remaining vacancy? That’s competition between a Twins’ bullpen incumbent in Casey Fein, baseball’s relief innings leader last season in Josh Roenicke, and two former major leaguers trying to re-establish their careers in Rich Harden and Rafael Perez. So where does that leave a 24-year-old Rule 5 draft pick who has fewer than 30 innings of experience above Double-A? Probably with a one-way ticket back to Pawtucket with all the clam chowder he can eat waiting for him.
Because of the Rule 5 draft’s rules, if Pressly is not placed on the 25-man roster, he must be offered back to Boston. However, there is another route Pressly could go to remain within the Twins’ system and that is if the team pulls a trade similar to the one that landed them Scott Diamond from the Braves. In order to do so, the Twins will need to place him through the waivers, exposing him to all the MLB teams, prior to negotiating a trade with the Red Sox.
Would Pressly be worth it?
There are plenty of people within the organization who firmly believe in his capabilities as a major league contributor. When the Twins selected him in early December out of the Red Sox organization, plenty of officials were already infatuated with his stuff. The Twins director of scouting Vern Followell, who followed Pressly since high school, said that he envisioned the right-hander to be a solid back-of-the-bullpen arm.
“This guy definitely has the two pitches to pitch late in the game,” Followell said. “Now, a lot more goes into it – throwing strikes, commanding (pitches), handling pressure in those situations. But this guy has the two pitches that work late in the game.”
Early in camp, manager Ron Gardenhire was also keen on the youngster, noting that while Pressly was a bit erratic, he was impressed by his fastball. What’s more is that Pressly was facing the meat of the big club’s order during his live BP sessions including Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, and Trevor Plouffe.
Pressly works with a three pitch repertoire that is comprised of a mid-90s two-seam fastball, exquisite tilt on his curve and a good changeup. With those three pitches, the Sox had designs of making him a starter. While he did well with his secondary offerings, Pressly’s fastball often got him into trouble and he wound up with a high number of free passes issued.
What is interesting about Pressly is that he make opposite handed hitters – lefties – miss more often than same-sided ones. This is not usually true as right-handed pitchers are much better at striking out right-handed batter thanks to the ability to hide the ball better and spin pitches away from their swing. Given the tilt on Pressly’s breaking ball, one would assume he would thrive against righties but that has not been the case. Still, in 2012 – his first year in the bullpen – Pressly struck out 14% of right-handed batters faced but yielded a 25% strike out mark against lefties thanks to a strong running fastball and changeup combination. Take a look at this clip of his changeup thrown to Justin Morneau this week:
(Video courtesy of MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger)
According to the StarTribune’s Phil Miller, this incited the Twins first baseman to describe the pitch as “nasty” afterwards. Pressly’s changeup has a strong bite down and away from the left-handed swing. Based on this action, one can easily conclude how he is able to achieve such a high percentage of strikeouts against the opposite hand.
Competition may ultimately keep Pressly out of the hunt for the final bullpen spot but his strengths as a reliever should not go unnoticed this spring. Keep an eye on his ability to command his fastball. If he impresses enough, he may be given an opportunity to remain with the organization.
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