Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Too many pitchers?

Liam Hendricks (center) will be
in major-league camp, but he
figures to be an easy and early
demotion to the minors.
It is as if the Twins, having realized they needed a needle, purchased a haystack.

Their 40-man roster contains 23 pitchers. They have 25 non-roster invitees coming to camp as well, with nine of them being pitchers.

Thirty-two moundsmen are to descend upon the Hammond Stadium complex in a bit more than two weeks. That's almost enough to fill out not just the major league pitching staff, not just the Triple A staff, but the Double A one as well.

And those are just the guys in major league camp. Reporting a few weeks later to minor-league camp will be at least three pitchers with major league experience, and a fourth who was on the 40 last spring.

It's hardly rare for teams to find useful pitchers in the discard pile. The Twins picked up Matt Guerrier when the Pittsburgh Pirates decided he wasn't worth a spot on their 40-man roster, and he had a pretty good multi-season run in the Minnesota bullpen. Carl Willis, the second-best man in the 1991 bullpen, was a non-roster invitee.

But it's going to take a keen eye and quick judgment for the Twins to find a Guerrier in this crowd, because there are so many arms to look at, and only so many useful innings in which to eye them -- and a lot of innings that, of necessity, can't be used to give marginal guys a chance to show off their abilities, because the guys who are locks to be on the roster have to get ready for the season.

Start the sorting process there. The Twins have five starting pitchers with salaries of $3 million or more: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis. If they're healthy -- no sure thing, as four of them spent time on the disabled list last season -- that's the rotation.

I see six other "starting pitchers" on the 40-man roster: Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendricks, Terry Doyle and Matt Maloney. Maybe Jeff Manship belongs in that list too, but I think the Twins now view him as bullpen material. Hendricks isn't going to be in the Minnesota bullpen, but any of the others might.

Phil Dumatrait is
one of nine
non-roster pitchers
invited to the Twins
major league camp.
Matt Capps, Glen Perkins and Joel Zumaya -- again, assuming they're healthy -- have the end game roles in the bullpen secured. With Duensing and Swarzak front-runners for two other spots, that leaves two openings for the remaining 21 pitchers to scrap for.

Nineteen, really. Hendricks is going to be in a minor league rotation, getting innings. Tyler Robertson, a lefty relief prospect added to the 40 during the winter, has had just a taste of Triple A and is probably not deemed ready for the show just yet.

Nineteen pitchers for two jobs is still a lot.

The ones on the 40-man roster have a leg up on the non-roster invitees, but it may not be that decisive. Some of those on the 40 are use-or-lose -- Swarzak, for example, is out of options, and some of the additions may be. Doyle is a Rule V guy. Such players either make the 25-man roster or get cut from the 40, which would make room for a non-roster invitee. I expect at least one such move during camp.

Still, the challenge is twofold. The pitchers (particularly those with whom Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson are unfamiliar) need both to impress early, and to do so without overextending themselves. And the talent evaluators need to keep in mind that matchups early in camp against marginal hitters aren't necessarily revealing.

Dusty Hughes, after all, overwhelmed people in the first few weeks in Fort Myers last winter. It didn't carry over to the regular season.


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