What If the Front Office Is Right About Minnesota's Bullpen?

Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins went all-out this off-season to address the needs of the roster and positional weakness. However, they’ve received a lot of criticism from fans for not doing more to address the bullpen by adding more players. In the seven seasons that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have been in the front office, Minnesota’s bullpen has always been filled with bargain-bin finds.

The largest free agent contract that they’ve handed out was the two-year, $16.75 million deal to Addison Reed in the 2017-18 offseason. Jhoan Durán was the biggest trade acquisition for the bullpen back in 2018 when Eduardo Escobar was sent to the Diamondbacks, and he didn’t make his MLB for three and a half years after the Twins got him.

The Twins haven’t officially said who’s in their starting rotation, or if it will be five or six men. However, the top-end, high-leverage spots for the bullpen have more clarity on who will fill those roles two weeks out from Opening Day.

Right now the top four guys in the Twins bullpen are Duran, Jorge López, Caleb Thielbar, and Griffin Jax. Jorge Alcalá and Emilio Pagán will probably be innings-eaters. Therefore, Jovani Morán, Dennis Santana, Trevor Megill, José De León, and Josh Winder are fighting for the last spot.

Under a potential six-man rotation, the Twins will only have seven guys in their bullpen instead of eight. Only having seven relievers is a risk, given how few innings starters pitch under Rocco Baldelli. Running with three relievers who are there to eat innings, especially when Pagán is one of them, feels incredibly risky.

However, the Twins have bolstered their starting rotation, which reduces concerns about the bullpen at this moment. The rotation has had no terrible outings (so far) in spring training, with Joe Ryan having the worst numbers in three starts with a 4.32 ERA and a .273 opponent average in 8 ⅓ innings pitched.

Also, this is the first spring training without interruption or delay since 2019. Every pitcher has arrived at camp within the normal timeframe to get their arms ready for the season. Pitchers who suffered from the rushed spring training in 2022, like Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle, have already expressed relief to be arriving at camp with time on their side.

The Twins have not speculated on this idea publicly, but there is also the chance Kenta Maeda has a role in the rotation similar to Chris Archer’s in 2022. Maybe he only pitches four innings, and they piggyback him with a long reliever like Ober or Winder. However, it is unlikely they would do that again, given Archer’s performance last year. Still, that opportunity would allow Ober or Winder to work every fifth day while resting the majority of the bullpen.

Regardless of if it’s a five or six-man rotation, the Twins front office has trust in their bullpen depth. Each of the players vying  final spots has had a hot streak in the majors.

Morán has had two appearances in the World Baseball Classic (WBC). He had a big moment for team Puerto Rico on Sunday when he struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. in a game against team Venezuela. He is the second-best lefty reliever on the 40-man roster next to Thielbar, aka the Randolph Rocket. The Twins may need that second left-handed reliever with an all-right-handed rotation.

The Twins picked up Santana on a waiver claim. His numbers weren’t fantastic with the Texas Rangers, he posted a 5.22 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3.35 FIP in 63 relief appearances (58 ⅓ innings). A slider-first pitcher with a fastball that tops out at 97 mph, Minnesota is banking on the effectiveness of his go-to pitch as batters had a .200 batting average, .282 slugging percentage, and .252 wOBA against his slider in 2022.

Megill has had the worst spring of any Twins reliever fighting for an Opening Day spot. Megill’s 11.86 ERA in 5 ⅓ innings is one of the worst in camp, and his 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio indicates he’s not controlling the strike zone. If Megill doesn’t turn things around quickly, it’s likely he won’t be in the Opening Day bullpen plans.

De León entered the Opening Day roster conversation thanks to his perfect outing for team Puerto Rico against Team Isreal in the WBC. The Twins have long been after him since trading Brian Dozier to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now he’s in the organization on a minor-league deal. De León spent all of 2022 in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system and produced mediocre stats (4.05 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). He’s likely to start the season with St. Paul, but his WBC performance gives the Twins reason to believe he can earn a bullpen role this year.

Winder is most likely the odd man out. He’ll likely begin the season on the IL and in extended spring training. Winder did not start throwing live batting practice until March 14 due to shoulder soreness that lingered this off-season. He is a likely candidate among young Twins pitchers to transition from a starting role into a full-time reliever.

All these pitchers provide the Twins front office with relief for themselves knowing they have a good mix of men who can come out of the bullpen. That doesn’t include the prospects at Triple-A who may not pan out as starters but could become effective relievers.

Given the health status and minimal amount of poor performances from relief candidates, the Twins bullpen looks to be in the best shape for Opening Day since 2019.

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Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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