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: John Curtiss
- 2017 Role: Came up late in the season and filled out a so-so bullpen in August and September, but didn’t necessarily stand out statistically.
- Expected 2018 Role: Probably won’t make the team out of spring training, but he’ll be one of the first options called up when a need arises.
- MLB Stats: 8.31 ERA, 4.89 FIP in 8.2 innings; 10.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.27 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR, minus-0.2 bWAR.
- MiLB Stats: 1.28 ERA in 49.1 innings between Double- and Triple-A, 68-22 K/BB ratio.
- Contract Status: Won’t be a free agent at least until the end of the 2023 season.
It’d be easy to look at Curtiss’ 8.31 ERA with the Twins and suggest that he’s just another hard-thrower who doesn’t have the “it” factor as far as relievers are concerned. The Twins have seen plenty of those in recent years, like Pat Light, Jim Hoey and even Juan Morillo dating back to the late Metrodome days.
But that completely ignores just how good Curtiss was in the minor leagues this year, for one thing.
Curtiss was absolutely devastating with the Lookouts, posting a 0.72 ERA in 25 innings (two earned runs) with a 35-12 K/BB ratio and just a .140/.245/.198 line against. In fact, Curtiss was unscored upon in his first 19 appearances (out of 21 total made at Double-A). The Twins bumped him to Triple-A Rochester and he kept on rolling, putting up a 1.85 ERA, 33-10 K/BB ratio in 24.1 innings and just a .364 OPS against.
Now he did get bombed fairly good in the big leagues, but there are some reasons for optimism here.
Curtiss allowed two home runs in the big leagues, but he allowed zero the rest of the year between his two stops in the minors. He also didn’t allow any in 2016 between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, pushing him to almost two years worth of pitching — right around 110 innings — without a long ball allowed.
At the very least, it sets in motion the idea that Curtiss suppresses home runs pretty well — even if his MLB sampling didn’t hold that up.
Also on the positive side is that he skews toward grounders, which is another positive trade for any pitcher. That doesn’t stand up as well in 2016 (38 percent, according to Baseball Reference), but in 2017 he was at a rock solid 49 percent and he routinely has put up rates in the mid-40s to upper-50s across his brief stops at other levels. There isn’t a ton to go on here because he was working as a starter for part of the time in the lower levels, but at the very least, we get the idea that his 24 percent groundball rate in the big leagues was an aberration.
It’s not hard to look at his repertoire and see hope. Curtiss averaged 95.2 mph on his fastball last year — only Alan Busenitz and Ryan Pressly were higher — and he mixed that with a low-80s slider that provides plenty of velocity differential as a plus pitch, to boot. In that small sampling, Curtiss got a swinging-strike rate of 9.5 percent off his fastball (very good for a heater) and a rate of 22.9 percent on his slider (elite).
A lot of this is hard to project out with much certainty, but with Curtiss, here’s what I see: he’s clearly talented, has more than just a fastball but might need to develop something to give lefties a different look. They weren’t an issue in the minors, but both homers he allowed came to hitters from the left side — Logan Morrison and Brandon Moss.
If there’s a sleeper in this Twins bullpen, though — it’s John Curtiss.
Grade: C-. It wasn’t as ugly as the ERA portrays, and there’s a lot to like here. Not everyone can hit the ground running like Trevor Hildenberger, and he pitched fewer than nine innings.