This is a series of evaluations that will be done this offseason on every player that closed the season on the 40-man roster for the Minnesota Twins throughout the winter until each player has been evaluated. The plan is to start with Mr. Belisle and move all the way through the pitchers, then to the catchers, infielders, outfielders and finally those listed as designated hitters on the club’s official MLB.com roster. That means we’ll wrap it up with Kennys Vargas sometime before the season starts.
- Name: Alan Busenitz
- 2017 Role: Flame-throwing righty who earned Paul Molitor’s trust, and later-inning work, as the season went on.
- Expected 2018 Role: Role will depend on how many bats he misses; could be a setup man or could just be another guy.
- MLB Stats: 1.99 ERA, 4.20 FIP in 31.2 innings; 6.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.98 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR.
- MiLB Stats: 1.78 ERA, 2.15 FIP in 35.1 innings at Triple-A Rochester
- Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible after 2020, free agent after 2023
Busenitz came on the scene with the Twins as the lesser-known commodity in the deal that sent Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and returned Hector Santiago. To that point, Busenitz was a hard-throwing 26-year-old righty with no big-league experience, though he got a late start as a college draft pick (senior sign) from Kennesaw State University.
Not only that, but he played five years of college baseball, which is exceptionally rare. He spent two years at Georgia Perimeter College, then three with the Owls because his 2012 season was abbreviated by Tommy John surgery. Still, he’s a pretty great story. In his first year at Georgia Perimeter, he had a 4.37 ERA and a WHIP of 1.54. In his first two seasons at Kennesaw State — before getting hurt — he had a combined ERA that was close to 7.00 and a WHIP of nearly 2.00.
But Busenitz made his way up the Angels system, pitching in relief for all but eight games in a brief stop at Double-A Arkansas — and not a good one, as he posted a 6.75 ERA. Even his minors numbers at most stops aren’t exceptionally strong. He blitzed the low minors like most 20-somethings should, but that first snag at Double-A Arkansas wasn’t that long ago (2015).
He barely pitched at Triple-A in 2016 in the Angels system, and it went poorly to say the least. He allowed 11 earned runs in 13 innings (7.62 ERA) while opposing batters hit .308/.383/.462 against him. It’s not surprising he lasted just a month and a day before he was shipped to Double-A — though it was in Chattanooga, as he was then traded to the Twins.
Like he has with pretty much every challenge in his career, Busenitz thrived in his second go-round at Triple-A, twirling a 1.78 ERA over 35.1 innings before the Twins gave him his first MLB call.
He certainly didn’t disappoint with the Twins, either, posting a 1.99 ERA over 28 appearances spanning 31.2 innings. Now it’d be easy to point out that Busenitz had a FIP of 4.20, thanks in large part to an unsustainably low BABIP (.212) and a high strand rate (86.6 percent), and he also didn’t do much strikeouts-wise with his blazing fastball, fanning just 6.5 batters per nine despite averaging 95.7 mph on the heater.
Let’s dig in on that a bit.
First of all, his BABIP is naturally going to be a bit lower as a fly ball guy — especially with how good the Twins outfield defense is. What’s troubling then is if those balls start to leave the yard, which they didn’t exactly do (1.14 HR/9) this past season, but could in the future if 2017 league-wide trends continue. We can’t say for sure that he’ll continue to be a fly ball guy either, though; he induced groundball rates at or around 50 percent early in his minor-league career, and 31.2 MLB innings isn’t exactly that stable of a sample size.
Nevertheless, it’s probably unreasonable to expect him to post another ridiculous ERA unless he can tap into something else in his skill set.
Having the blazing fastball helps a lot, as does the fact that he’s got pretty solid command. His walk rate with the Twins last year was 2.6 batters per nine, and that’s just a mite worse than his MiLB rate.
Good command of a big heater can go a long way when it comes to differentiating between guys like this and the Pat Lights and Jim Hoeys of the world. The fastball also carried a healthy 8.1 percent whiff rate on the season. Now for a breaking ball or offspeed pitch that would be far too low, but for a fastball that’s actually pretty solid.
Where Busenitz will need to tap in more is getting whiffs on his curveball. He threw it an appreciable amount — roughly 200 times in 700ish pitches — but only got a 5.1 percent swinging-strike rate. It was a really, really good pitch for him results-wise, as hitters slashed just .150/.171/.225 on it, and they pounded it into the ground for a 53.3 percent groundball rate. We need a larger sample to see what his curveball can be, or he might need to tap into a changeup that he rarely threw last year (seven times) to find some added deception.
Overall, the total package is here to be a good reliever. Possessing a fastball that allowed just a .189/.248/.340 line — albeit on a .193 BABIP — is no joke. If your fastball is hard to square up — and we repeat, this is not a big enough sample size to guarantee future results — you’ll go far in this game. Is it worth betting on the Booze? We’ll know a lot more a year from now.
Grade: B+. Busenitz hit the ground running and the stats, for the most part, look really good. He throws hard, but will need to get more out of his curveball to carve out a late-inning role. Fastball-only won’t do — even if it is a really good one.