FORT MYERS, FLA. – Doug Mientkiewicz managed the Fort Myers Miracle in 2014 to its first Florida State League championship since being relocated here in 1992. He then received an interview to replace Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, losing out along with Torey Lovullo to Paul Molitor.
Mientkiewicz moved up to the Chattanooga Lookouts, the then-new Twins Class AA affiliate, for 2015. There was a conversation 10 days into minor league camp that March and Dougie Baseball was excited about his potential bullpen:
“If they give me the arms I want, we could have four guys that throw 100 [miles per hour], or very close to that.”
General Manager Terry Ryan shared in the enthusiasm, saying, “We have a flock of hard-throwing righthanders that are close to the majors.”
These were the righthanders: Nick Burdi, taken in the second round in the 2014 draft; Zack Jones, fourth round in 2012; J.T. Chargois, second round in 2012; and Jake Reed, fifth round in 2014.
The Twins split the foursome between Chattanooga and Fort Myers that season, with promotions and demotions. When the playoffs started, Mientkiewicz received exceptional work from Burdi, Chargois and Reed and brought Chattanooga its first Southern League title since 1988.
Mientkiewicz was fired by the Twins after the 2017 season and is now managing the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens for Detroit. And the flock also has migrated: Burdi is with Pittsburgh and Chargois with the L.A. Dodgers, and Jones signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets last month.
Jake Reed, now 26, is the only right arm among the four who remains with the Twins. He passed through the Rule 5 draft again last December. He is in spring training on an invitation and not on the big-league roster.
“It’s crazy that Nick, J.T. and Zack are gone,” Reed said. “Those three guys threw bullets. I just threw hard.”
Reed’s nonroster status makes it unlikely that he wins a season-opening job in the Twins bullpen. Yet, there does seem to be a curiosity about Reed with the new coaching staff, and he could get himself on the Rochester-to-Minnesota shuttle in a hurry if he is dominant as was the case over the final weeks in 2018.
Reed had an 0.53 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 17 innings over his last 10 appearances for the Red Wings. He did that without a pitch that the Twins’ new brain trust — including pitching coach Wes Johnson — is trying to help him regain.
“Hopefully, I’ll get my changeup back this spring,” Reed said. “I used to have a good one. Hasn’t had the same movement for a while. We’ve been adjusting the grip, and I’m optimistic.”
The other members of the Twins’ flock of flamethrowers had major arm surgeries:
Chargois missed Years 2 and 3 of his pro career because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He made it to the Twins for 25 appearances in 2016, then felt more elbow pain in spring training in 2017 and pitched in only two games (for Rochester). He was waived by the Twins at the start of 2018 camp and claimed by the Dodgers.
Burdi had a strange injury, a bone bruise just from pitching, and that was followed by Tommy John surgery in May 2017. He was available in the 2017 Rule 5 draft and wound up with the Pirates, even though they knew Burdi wouldn’t pitch before late last season.
Jones had been taken by Milwaukee in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. Eventually, he was returned to the Twins. He had a litany of arm problems, capped off by surgery for a torn rotator cuff in 2017. The Twins released him last June, and Zack wound up as an outstanding closer for the St. Paul Saints.
Chargois pitched in 39 games for the Dodgers last season and did not appear in the postseason. Burdi debuted for two appearances with the Pirates last September. He’s still covered by Rule 5 requirements, meaning if Pittsburgh doesn’t keep him in the big leagues the Twins could reclaim him.
“Still being Rule 5 is great for Nick, and the Dodgers seem to like J.T.,” Reed said. “Zack … he just blew people away when he was healthy. I know he had a lot of teams look at his medicals, and then they backed off. He got signed by the Mets, so that’s good.”
Reed hasn’t had surgery, but he did start each of the past two seasons with an injury — a lat muscle pull that cost him two months in 2017, and a shoulder impingement that was rehabbed at the start of 2018.
He is healthy now, the last of the flock, and also surrounded by strangers in the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium.
“It’s amazing to look around,” Reed said. “I’m 26, not that old, and the people I’ve played with … they’ve been dropping like flies.”