In the recent Twins Daily interview with Twins GM Terry Ryan, it was surprising to hear him say that his Number Two priority, after starting pitching, was the bullpen. He followed by using the old “You can never have enough pitching” cliché. It is a cliché, of course, because it has proven true over many years of baseball history.
It was surprising because the Twins bullpen was a bright spot in 2012. However, I wanted to take a look at the pitchers that could potentially comprise the Twins 2013 bullpen to see if it is an area that the Twins should address this offseason.
Glen Perkins has established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball the last couple of seasons. His fastball-slider combination can be devastating to lefty and righty batters alike. He has pitched in every role including the ninth inning and done well.
The rest of the bullpen does come with at least some question marks.
Jared Burton came to the Twins last year as a six-year minor league free agent. He became available because he had missed a lot of time the two previous seasons with injury. The Twins eased him back in 2012 and he performed incredibly well, posting a 2.18 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.
Similarly Casey Fien came to the Twins as a minor league free agent before the 2012 season. He had a terrific spring training, but he was very pedestrian in Rochester. However, once he came to the Twins, he was great. In 35 games, he posted a 2.06 ERA and a 0.97. Unlike Burton, the 29-year-old had no big league success (just 11 games) coming into the season. Maybe he finally found the key to success? Maybe he’ll turn back into a pumpkin in 2013?
Brian Duensing needs to be a bullpen guy. Just a bullpen guy. In 2012, he was a solid 2-4 with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP as a reliever. However, he was 2-8 with a 6.92 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP as a starter. It primarily comes down to the fact that he is tremendous against left-handed batters but really poor against right-handers. In those games he started, teams set their lineups full of right-handed bats. He can be a great asset if used in the right role.
Alex Burnett had a very solid season in 2012. He posted a 3.52 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP despite striking out just 4.5 batters per nine innings. It’s hard to imagine that success can be maintained with that few strikeouts. However, he’s still just 25 years old and ended the season on a good strikeout note, so hopefully it is something he learned from and can carry into 2013.
Anthony Swarzak’s overall numbers in 2012 weren’t very good (5.03 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). However, he made five starts and went 0-5 with an 8.10 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP in this games. As a long reliever, he was 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Very average numbers, but that’s alright at the back end of the bullpen.
Tyler Robertson represented himself well in his big league debut. The soon-to-be 25-year-old showed a very good slider that could be very tough on lefties. As you would expect, he was inconsistent, but showed promise. Can he show improvement in 2013? Will the Twins want to bring in a more proven lefty? Ryan will certainly want to give him some competition.
If that is the composition of the 2013 bullpen, it is a strong bullpen at the back-end with Perkins, Burton and Duensing. The others provide some question marks but each has room to get better… or take a step backwards. And, of course, injuries are almost impossible to predict.
Even after last week’s roster purge that made Esmerling Vasquez, Luis Perdomo, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop free agents along with Matt Capps whose option for 2013 was turned down, there are still some options that could provide bullpen depth. Remember that the Twins will likely acquire at least a couple of starting pitchers. Some of the guys who made starts for the Twins last night could compete for a long-relief job with the Twins.
PJ Walters resigned on a minor league contract. Before his injury last year, he was pitching quite well. Samuel Deduno was wild, but is certainly intriguing. If he isn’t starting, could he do a good job out of the bullpen? Cole De Vries could start but could also work out of long relief. In the minors, he was quite successful in short relief as well. Nick Blackburn may never make another start for the Twins, but could they get any value for him in the bullpen?
I also have to mention Deolis Guerra. He is out of options, so he will have to make the Twins active roster and stay on it all year. If not, he will have to go through waivers and could potentially be claimed. Would that be the end of the world? Most likely not, but for a team looking to make strides in 2013 with some young players, Guerra certainly will get every chance.
And, as a blogger, you know I have to also mention Anthony Slama. No, his fastball didn’t exceed 88 mph most of the 2012 season, and he missed almost two months after breaking his leg on a come-backer. But one look at the numbers he has put up throughout his minor league career and the 29-year-old deserves a chance.
It’s also possible that Walters is not the only recently released player who could come back. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of the Vasquez, Perdomo, Manship and Waldrop group would come back. Again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of Twins minor league pitchers who are screaming to be promoted to AAA next year.
The back of the Twins bullpen certainly looks strong, but after that, there are a lot of question marks. Ideally, guys like Fien, Burnett and Robertson will all take a step forward while Deolis Guerra shows that his 88 mph fastball is OK thanks to his tremendous changeup. There are a lot of arms here and there is some depth.
Personally, I would probably not spend any of the big league budget on the bullpen. I would do just like they did last year. I would bring in six to eight relievers on minor league contracts. As they did last year, the guys they brought in all threw fastballs into the mid-90s. They found success with Samuel Deduno, Jared Burton and Casey Fien. Jason Bulger didn’t pan out. Luis Perdomo and Esmerling Vasquez pitched very well in Rochester and earned their short tryouts with the Twins. Those are the types of arms that they should target again.
If watching the playoffs this year taught us anything, it’s that having hard-throwing bullpen options is really valuable. The Twins started addressing that the last couple of drafts and need to complement it with some more power arms.