In addition to every player on the 40-man roster — and suspended pitcher Michael Pineda — joining the Minnesota Twins in spring training between now and next week, the team has also announced its 20-man squadron of non-roster invitees who’ll join the team in Fort Myers, Fla.
Pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday (Feb. 12) and position players report the next Monday (Feb. 17).
Here’s a glance at those non-roster invitees, and what they bring to the table as they begin the uphill battle of joining the Twins at some point this season:
LHP Charlie Barnes
Barnes was a fourth-round pick out of Clemson by the Twins in 2017, and he was dubbed “Changeup Charlie” due to his reliance on offspeed as his primary weapon of choice. Barnes is a prototypical crafty lefty, relying on a high-80s fastball and advanced know-how as a player who is entering his age-24 season but has only pitched briefly above Double-A. He spent a large swath of the season at Pensacola last year, pitching to a 3.68 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 24 walks in 75.0 innings. He also had a 37.1 inning stint in Fort Myers (6.51 ERA) and another 18.2-inning stretch at Rochester (6.75) — neither of which was particularly special.
Barnes allowed just four home runs in Pensacola last year — and a large reason why was his 56.7 percent groundball rate. Extreme home run suppression has been Barnes’ jam in the minors, and for him to succeed as a back-end starter in the majors he’ll need to sustain that.
LHP Sam Clay
Clay is one of the elder statesmen of the system, as he was a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft from Georgia Tech. That was the Nick Gordon/Nick Burdi draft, one which has aged very, very poorly for the Twins. Only five players from that class have played in the big leagues, and only two of them as Twins — John Curtiss and Trevor Hildenberger. Neither is still with the team, and both had to accept minor-league deals this offseason.
Clay was part of a wave of college relievers the Twins attempted to turn into starters with virtually no success. That wave included Michael Cederoth and Tyler Duffey on the front end and Tyler Jay on the back end. Clay, who turns 27 in late June, is still hanging around after posting solid numbers in just under 50 innings of relief with Pensacola last season: 2.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. He bumped up to Rochester for the last six weeks of the season as well (22.2 innings of 4.37 ERA and 26-10 K/BB), and perhaps the most impressive thing was that he didn’t allow a single home run all season.
There isn’t much in the way of recent scouting reports on Clay, but his draft profile suggested he was 89-93 mph with his fastball but could, at times, run it up into the mid-90s. He’s primarily a fastball-slider guy, and he comes with questions about his command. At the very least, he should provide bullpen depth at Rochester for when the team needs some added help.
LHP Danny Coulombe
If Coulombe’s name feels familiar, it’s because he spent parts of 2015-18 in the big leagues with the Oakland A’s. Coulombe didn’t pitch at all in the big leagues last season, instead splitting time between Triple-A in the Yankees and Brewers organizations. His numbers were especially strange on the whole, with an unsightly 4.71 ERA but 61-17 K/BB ratio in just 36.1 innings.
In all, opponents hit .265/.361/.503 against him in 2019, but there’s one path to success for him in Minnesota most likely — as a lefty specialist. Opposing lefties hit just .211/.308/.263 against the 30-year-old Coulombe last season, and he’s been more difficult against lefties (.631 OPS) than righties (.793) in his time in the big leagues. With 26-man rosters possibly leading to deeper bullpens, Coulombe could have a shot. Then again, with the new rule of a pitcher facing at least three batters, maybe that added roster spot is null in Coulombe’s case.
LHP Blaine Hardy
Here’s another familiar name, as Hardy has pitched the last six seasons in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers. Hardy has a career ERA of 3.73, but nothing else really jumps off the page. He doesn’t strike many hitters out (7.1 K/9) and isn’t particularly stingy with walks (3.2 BB/9), and he isn’t a big groundball guy on the whole, either (43.1 percent). At times he keeps the ball in the yard with extreme prejudice — sub-1.0 HR/9 in every season from 2014-16) — and at other times, the ball just flies out of the park on him. His last three HR/9 marks were 1.9, 1.1 and 2.0.
Hardy doesn’t throw particularly hard (88.5 mph career average on his four-seam fastball) and his pitch mix looks more like that of a starter with a cutter, curve and a changeup he relies on heavily. He also hasn’t been particularly hard on lefties in his career. He’s allowed a .708 OPS to them over his career — versus a .726 mark to righties — and last year they crushed him to a .235/.305/.725 line.
It’s unclear what exactly drew the Twins to Hardy, but it most likely is centered around his changeup. It has a career swinging-strike rate of 18.5 percent, and opponents have hit just .236/.281/.392 against it over his career. Last year, that line dropped to .165/.214/.286.
LHP Caleb Thielbar
The Randolph, Minn. native is back with the Twins after bouncing around the last four years. Thielbar has only ever appeared in the major leagues with his hometown team — from 2013-15 — and he’s really, really put on some miles since last donning Twins colors. He spent time in Triple-A El Paso (San Diego) after the Twins DFA’d him in 2015, and since then he’s pitched with the St. Paul Saints as well as at two levels in the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves systems the last two seasons.
Thielbar was terrific with Triple-A Toledo until late August last season — 3.30 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 1.18 WHIP — before being flipped to Atlanta’s Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers at the deadline for players to be in the organization to be MLB playoff-eligible. Thielbar was only used by the Stripers once before the season ended, but was in the organization to provide a little added depth if the Braves needed a lefty down the stretch run.
Strangely, lefties fared better (.737 OPS) against Thielbar than righties (.644), but he got progressively better as the season went on. Through June, Thielbar had a 5.49 ERA and .858 OPS against. From July 1 on, he was basically unhittable: 0.92 ERA, .453 OPS against and 53-8 K/BB ratio in 39.0 innings pitched.
He’ll need a really, really strong spring to make the team, and even then he’s still extremely likely to provide depth at Rochester. The Twins bullpen is simply too crowded right now.
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
With Rich Hill sidelined until June and Pineda suspended until early May, the No. 5 starter spot is up for grabs and it seems like Chacin has the upper leg over in-house options Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer. Usually the Twins are able to manipulate their rotation due to early-season off days to where they don’t need a fifth starter, but this season that’s not the case since they’re opening in seasonally-appropriate Oakland, where a built-in off-day is not necessary after the home opener.
Chacin is coming off a particularly difficult season between Milwaukee and Boston last year with a 6.01 ERA in 103.1 innings, but he’s just one year removed from being a very good starter for the Brewers. In 2018, Chacin posted a 3.50 ERA and made 35 starts with just 18 home runs allowed in 192.2 innings. He allowed more than that (25) last season in about half as many innings, and that’s a significant reason for the sizable dip in production.
This isn’t the first season Chacin has had this kind of dip — he had a 5.40 ERA with the Rockies in 2014 after a 3.47 mark in 2013 — but he’s proven able to bounce back and pitch in very tough circumstances, with Coors Field being one of them.
In short, he’s a mentally-tough veteran with a good slider, and his fastball is pretty hittable but when it’s around the strike zone it allows him to throw more sliders. Foundationally, it’s pretty obvious why that’s a good thing, but it should also potentially help if the baseball isn’t as springy this year, too. In short, there’s a lot of “wait and see” in play here, but the Twins aren’t going to need to have a long rope with him if he struggles. There’s a lot of Anibal Sanchez-type potential here.
RHP Edwar Colina
Colina bombed in a brief stretch with Rochester late last August, but he was afforded that opportunity because he pitched so well between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola. After missing all of April, Colina got into 18 games at the first two levels and was terrific: 2.23 ERA, 98-30 K/BB ratio and .595 OPS against in 92.2 innings with a groundball rate of 47 percent.
Again, remember that 45 percent is roughly average.
Bombing at Triple-A is hardly a death sentence for many reasons. First, it was just two appearances and 4.2 innings. Secondly, Colina was just 22 — over four years younger than the average Triple-A player. Colina is just the team’s No. 24 prospect at this time via MLB Pipeline, and it seems like he’s docked for his height (5-foot-11) and body type (240 pounds), but it seems like he could be a riser in the organization over the next year. He “touches 98 mph on a consistent basis” according to MLB Pipeline and his slider was one of the best swing-and-miss offerings between the two levels he pitched at last season.
If there’s a possible high riser outside the top 10 prospects or so, this is probably him.
RHP Ryan Garton
Minor-league deals to relievers are perhaps more intriguing to me than the normal person, but the reason why is that it sometimes takes just one small tweak or a little added luck health-wise to uncover a potential gem. And while Garton is a big-league veteran of just 64.1 innings with 7.0 K/9 and a 4.90 ERA, I think there might be more to uncover here.
For one, he has induced grounders in the 50 percent range frequently in his minor-league career, which can help mitigate which has, until now, been shaky strikeout rates in the big leagues. The groundballs haven’t come, but they’ve been in smaller samples over multiple seasons. Also, he struck out a ton of batters in the minors, so it’s not like he has never possessed the skills or stuff.
His pitch profile is pretty intriguing. He’s touched 95-96 mph in the past with his fastball, but lives in the 92-93 range with a swinging-strike rate in the 8-9 percent range. That’s pretty solid for a fastball, and it’s complimented by a cutter (12.6 percent whiff rate) and curveball (11.1 percent) which also suggest a little promise. The cutter has permitted a .714 OPS against in his big-league career, while his curveball has been terrific (.400 OPS against). With a tweak here or there on his pitch usage, this feels like he could be a really solid front-end bullpen arm.
Also, for his career, Garton has a 57.1 percent groundball rate on his cutter and a stunning 82.8 percent rate on his curve.
Here’s a really good look at Garton’s effective velocity, and how he can use tunneling to his favor:
RHP Griffin Jax
Jax was not protected on the 40-man roster this offseason and went unselected in the Rule 5 draft, and thus will report to Fort Myers with a chance to prove he merited further consideration. Jax is presently the team’s No. 20 prospect via MLB Pipeline and draws strong reviews for what evaluators call a “bulldog” mentality on the mound. What he lacks in pure overpowering stuff he makes up for in know-how on the mound with a running fastball that sits in the lower 90s but will spike every now and then.
And while Jax hasn’t seen his strikeout numbers pop, his groundball rate was a very solid 49 percent last year and his swinging strike rate was 11 percent. Typically an average whiff rate is in the 10 percent range or so, leaving the possibility that a few more strikeouts can be sussed out of Jax’s profile as he continues to progress. He’ll probably be a mainstay in the Rochester rotation to start the year with Smeltzer, Dobnak and Thorpe after a stellar 2019 with Pensacola: 2.67 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.10.
In other words, he’s maybe not quite MLB ready like the other three are, but he’s only about a half-step behind. Maybe that’s why he didn’t get selected in the Rule 5 draft, but that just means he’s got a little more time to develop down on the farm. That’s not a bad thing since his pitching development was not entirely consistent due to Air Force obligations. He’s only once thrown more than 100 innings in any minor-league season — and it was in 2019.
RHP Jake Reed
Reed was a fifth-round pick in the widely panned 2014 draft for the Twins, and as he heads into his age-27 season has been passed up for promotions a few times now in recent seasons. In 2018 it was less obvious why, as he pitched very well for the Red Wings: 1.89 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and a 1.15 WHIP. Those numbers cratered in 2019, as he posted a 5.76 ERA in 75.0 innings and allowed opposing batters to hit .268/.356/.411 against him.
Reed’s biggest issues were lefties (.976 OPS) and away games (.908 OPS), neither of which are really avoidable if he’s going to make any noise in the big leagues at this point. The good news is that neither of those were an issue in 2018 — .581 OPS from righties, .595 on the road — so it’s far more likely it’s a one-year blip than a telling, worrisome trend. Still, he’s 27 and hasn’t broken through yet. With the way the team is constructed now versus a few years ago, that path is murkier. If it doesn’t happen this year for Reed, he’ll likely look to move on in minor-league free agency for a more open competition next offseason.
Apparently this organization wasn’t big enough for two Graterols this time around, so the Twins shipped Brusdar to the Los Angeles Dodgers while keeping Juan. This Graterol is better known for starting the Sept. 30, 2018 game against the Chicago White Sox behind the plate. Sharp fans will recall that Joe Mauer took over to catch one pitch from Matt Belisle before being replaced by Chris Gimenez in the final MLB game for each of that trio.
Graterol has minimal MLB time across the four years he’s been called up, totaling 67 games and 129 plate appearances with a .218/.227/.266 slash line. Graterol turns 31 on Valentine’s Day and is entering his 15th season in pro ball, and what keeps him on the radar as a third- or fourth-string catcher is decent bat-to-ball skills and a pretty good arm behind the plate. He’s a career .272 hitter in the minors — with limited pop — and he’s thrown out 37 percent of attempted base thieves.
As a ‘break-glass-in-case-of-emergency’ option, he’s a good one.
Jeffers is the best catching prospect in the organization and it isn’t particularly close. He keeps creeping up the team’s prospect lists due to graduations and trades, and now finds himself in possession of the No. 8 slot on the MLB Pipeline list for the Twins.
Jeffers was billed as an offensive-minded catching prospect coming out of UNC Wilmington, and he’s done nothing to shake that notion with a .296/.383/.453 slash line while rocketing up to Double-A in the span of just two years. He showed plenty of power (.483 slugging percentage) in a 24-game audition for Pensacola last year and should open the season as the Blue Wahoos’ starting catcher with the potential to keep moving quickly.
Jeffers is definitely built like a catcher with a thick lower half, and while he’s thrown out only 26 percent of runners attempting to steal through two seasons, the Twins have been pleased with his development behind the plate. Some draft pundits questioned if he’d remain behind the plate over the long haul, but the early returns suggest he will.
Jeffers was the team’s second-round pick in 2018, while Rortvedt had the same honor two years earlier. However, the path has been much bumpier for Rortvedt, who came out as a high school player from Verona, Wis. Wisconsin hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of talent from high schools in the MLB draft, but Rortvedt reached Double-A in 2019 and has put together better-looking offensive seasons after struggling through the 2016 and ’17 seasons at the plate.
Rortvedt hit .262/.331/.379 between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in 2018, and followed that up with a .238/.334/.379 mark between Fort Myers and Pensacola. The potential for him to be a starting catcher in the big leagues seems dim at this point, but he’s thrown out 39 percent of attempted base thieves and has shown enough offensively to cement his status as a potential MLB backup, at the very least. If there’s any more development out of his approach at the plate, that conversation can open up again fairly quickly, as he’s definitely got the defensive chops to hang in the big leagues once he arrives.
Telis has big-league time in parts of five major-league seasons with the Texas Rangers and Miami Marlins, but it’s only amounted to a .230/.267/.298 slash with a paltry 10 percent caught-stealing rate. Telis was in the system last year, hitting a terrific .330/.364/.490 in 82 games with Rochester while throwing out a much more palatable 34 percent of attempted base stealers, so he might actually have the leg up on Graterol as the next man up if Willians Astudillo isn’t an option for one reason or another.
The odds of Telis seeing big-league time with the Twins are slim, but that was also true of guys like Juan Centeno and Graterol the first time around. Baseball is wild, man.
Lewis is the team’s consensus No. 1 prospect, and is near the top of pretty much every global prospect list in the industry. After a down season — hitting just .236/.290/.371 between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola — Lewis restored some of the luster to his prospect status with a stellar 22-game run in the Arizona Fall League. Lewis hit a sizzling .353/.411/.565 while playing with some of the best prospects in baseball, and did so while playing 21 of the 22 games at positions other than shortstop.
Now that isn’t reflective of how the Twins view him in the future, but it’s nice to know that he’s got some potential to move around depending on what the future situation calls for in Minneapolis. Lewis handled 79 chances with just one error in Arizona, and that only misplay came in the one game he played at short. Errors are a dubious way of measuring defensive prowess, but at the very least he didn’t embarrass himself out there.
The path to meaningful playing time in the majors at short might be a little murky, but a few strong months to start the 2020 season could put him on the fast track to the big leagues — wherever that may be, position-wise.
Reinheimer got into 23 MLB games between 2017 and ’18 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets, but went just 5 for 35 at the plate and hasn’t seen any big-league time since. The 27-year-old Reinheimer is a minor-league journeyman who has played four positions (second, third, short and left field) in four organizations (Seattle, Arizona, Baltimore and New York) in the span of seven seasons.
Reinheimer is a career .272/.340/.358 hitter in the minors, and his current claim to fame is that he was claimed off waivers by three teams in the span of less than three months last offseason. Reinheimer will provide competition as a utility player this spring, and most likely wind up the regular second baseman or shortstop across from Nick Gordon in Rochester to open the season.
Tovar is a 28-year-old infielder who like Reinheimer has very little time in the big leagues with limited success at the plate. Tovar played in the big leagues with the Mets briefly in 2013 and ’14 and resurfaced again with the Angels last season, but in all is a career .188/.241/.238 hitter over 40 games and 110 plate appearances.
Tovar was in the Twins’ system before, spending the 2016 season at Triple-A Rochester where he hit .249/.301/.327 as the everyday shortstop. He’ll most likely battle Reinheimer for reps in the middle of the infield with the Red Wings.
Kirilloff is coming off a bit of a down season, as he hit just .283/.343/.413 in 94 games at Double-A Pensacola while battling wrist issues. Perhaps those two things are related, as Kirilloff dropped more than 150 points from his slugging percentage in 2018 between two levels (.578). In some ways, that makes sense. After not playing in April, Kirilloff hit just .240/.336/.346 in May and then .327/.400/.510 in June. However, he dealt with injuries in June again, and in July went back to hitting just .277/.308/.357. Then in August, he was back to himself again at .311/.351/.500.
This uneven season left a little doubt in the minds of prospect types, as Kirilloff was usurped by Trevor Larnach in Baseball Prospectus’ prospect rankings for the Twins. But in general, the rankings still go Lewis-Kirilloff followed by some combination of Balazovic and Larnach.
Larnach had a very Larnach-like year between Fort Myers and Pensacola in 2019. The bearer of a career .853 OPS in the minors, Larnach posted an .842 mark in 84 games before a mid-summer promotion to Double-A, where in 43 games he posted an OPS of…..that’s right, .842.
Larnach has terrific gap-to-gap power and could be a bet for 40 doubles yearly if some of them don’t leave the yard altogether. If he’s a 40-double, 20-homer guy that’s fairly valuable, but it’s possible he could be the kind of hitter who could get 30 of each — putting him in the category of a really, really solid MLB regular with acceptable defense in an outfield corner.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Rooker, the team’s No. 9 prospect via MLB Pipeline, to feel a bit like a forgotten man. He absolutely throttled Triple-A pitching in 65 games last year to the tune of a .281/.399/.535 line, and it can’t all be explained away by the baseball. That was still good for a 139 wRC+ — in other words, nearly 40 percent more production than his International League counterparts — and one would ostensibly think a long look at the big-league roster this spring.
But Rooker is all different sorts of roadblocked. He won’t usurp Nelson Cruz at designated hitter, Miguel Sano at first base or Max Kepler/Eddie Rosario in either of the corners of the outfield. He’s likely not a candidate to be a masher off the bench as the 26th man. So where does that leave him? Either waiting for an opportunity or as trade bait, most likely. Cruz certainly isn’t getting any younger — he turns 40 in July — so that might be the opportunity Rooker needs in the short-term future. For what it’s worth, the Steamer projection system housed at Fangraphs thinks he’d be good for about 25 homers in 600 plate appearances, albeit with a slash line of .244/.312/.447.