Can Ronny Henriquez Become the Next Twins Bullpen Success Story?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s interesting how trade implications can shift in a matter of months.  Last off-season, the Twins traded Mitch Garver to the Texas Rangers for Isiah Kiner-Falefa in what looked to be kind of a challenge trade. Garver showed his bat had considerable pop in the years leading up to the swap, especially for a catcher. Kiner-Falefa had what many perceived to be a strong, if not elite, glove at shortstop.

But the third player involved in that transaction was a young right-handed pitcher named Ronny Henriquez. Now, he has the opportunity to have the biggest impact on the club going forward.

It looks like Texas will move Garver from behind the plate, thanks to an extensive (sometimes excruciating) injury history. The Twins traded Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees faster than you can say his last name, and the players that the Twins received in return (Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez) are both off of the roster.

With another step up, the young hurler can rename last off-season’s swap to the “Ronny Henriquez trade.” To do that, he’ll need to build on what made him an enticing throw-in last year and show that his size won’t hinder his future role in the big leagues.

Speaking of his size, or lack thereof, the hope is that he can continue to bulk up, but there’s still a lot to like, even if he doesn’t.

“As small as Henriquez is — 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds — he has a big arm and three very good offerings,” said in their prospect write-ups for last season (the 2023 notes have not been released yet). “His four-seam fastball leads the way, touching 98 mph and sitting regularly in the 92-96 mph range. His heater registers high spin rates and has good carry up in the zone. [Henriquez’s] hard slider has good depth, as does his changeup and while the breaking ball is a bit ahead, both will flash plus at times.”

That’s a great place to start for a relatively unheralded prospect who was essentially an afterthought in the Rangers organization. Despite his strong pitch mix, the prospect write-up touched on some hesitancy with Henriquez.

“Because of his size, there will be questions about Henriquez’s durability as a starter until he shows he can handle a big league workload against more advanced hitters,” they said. “In his favor, he has a low-effort and repeatable delivery and goes right after hitters, consistently filling up the strike zone.”

The Twins saw those struggles firsthand when he was in Triple-A for most of the 2022 season. He made 24 appearances for St. Paul (14 starts). He finished his minor league campaign with a rocky 5.66 ERA in 95 innings pitched, giving up a very problematic 19 home runs. But Henriquez tinkered with his pitch usage to keep the ball in the yard upon moving to a relief role in the second half. The Twins liked what they saw enough to give him a September call-up. He made three appearances out of the big league bullpen in the final weeks of the season, pitching 12 innings to the tune of a 2.37 ERA.

Small sample size aside, this was refreshing to see, especially for a Twins team that is perpetually short on relief arms that can throw more than one inning per appearance. Henriquez pitched at least three complete frames in all three of his outings. All three of his earned runs came off of an Amed Rosario home run in the fourth inning of his Major League debut.

Some additional notes emerged from Henriquez’s three MLB appearances. For example, he threw breaking pitches 83% of the time against left-handed hitters, which was the highest rate among qualified relievers at that time, according to Inside Edge. That shows that he doesn’t need to rely solely on a fastball-changeup combination that many righty pitchers tend to follow in the big leagues. Could the Twins try to work their magic adjusting a pitcher’s repertoire as they move to a relief role? If so, a handful of players have benefited from that in recent years.

So maybe a future in relief is in the cards for the wiry 22-year-old. And that would undoubtedly be a welcome development for manager Rocco Baldelli. With a crowded rotation picture that features Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Pablo López, Tyler Mahle, and Kenta Maeda and a handful of MLB-ready starters waiting in the wings, Henriquez would have a much clearer path to being an impact player in the big leagues out of the bullpen. He would also have a better chance of maintaining his multi-inning capabilities as he works down from a starter’s workload rather than working up from a modern reliever’s standards.

In the eyes of many evaluators, Henriquez has multiple pitches that can play in a Major League setting, but executing those pitches is the next step. If he can do that, Ronny will be much more than an afterthought, and the implications of last year’s trade will take a sizable shift.

Maybe the Twins Should Have Prepped Kenta Maeda as a Reliever
By Lou Hennessy - Mar 18, 2023
What If the Front Office Is Right About Minnesota’s Bullpen?
By Theo Tollefson - Mar 17, 2023

The Shift Ban May Not Be A Boon For Max Kepler

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball fans are anticipating the start of the 2023 season for several reasons. After COVID and a lockout impacted spring training, everyone is now back to their […]

Continue Reading