Monday, January 20, 2014

Eye on 2014: The bullpen

Michael Tonkin
pitched 11.1 innings
for the Twins in
2013 and struck
out 10 men.

The 2013 Twins had a very stable bullpen, with only two real changes from the bunch they opened with. Tyler Robertson washed out after two appearances— really, he probably only made the initial 25-man roster because Anthony Swarzak missed the first week at the end of his recovery from his cracked rib — and Caleb Thielbar was brought up when they went to an eight-man bullpen.

The core eight — Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fien, Brian Duensing, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, Swarzak and Thielbar — all made at least 48 appearances (Swarzak was low man in games pitched but led the majors in relief innings), and only Thielbar (46 innings) threw less than 60 innings.

The Twins have cut Roenicke loose, and if they open 2014 with a seven-man bullpen (as they did last year), it could be the other seven. It could —but I'm thinking not.

The potential change is Pressly. The Rule 5 restrictions he was under last year no longer apply, and he still has all three of his options remaining. Three possible reasons he might get shipped to the minors:

  • There's a (flawed) notion that he could be turned into a usable starting pitcher. (The flaw is that he wasn't an effective starter in the Boston system, which is why the Red Sox exposed him to Rule 5 to begin with.)
  • Three of the contenders for the fifth starter job — Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley — are out of options. If the Twins want to avoid exposing somebody who doesn't win the job to waivers, that bullpen spot is a way to keep him.
  • Michael Tonkin might be better than Pressly anyway.

Swarzak and Duensing were told at season's end to prepare to compete for rotation jobs, which is what they were told at the end of 2012 as well. Neither was seriously considered for a rotation role in 2013, and I don't really expect them to be seriously considered this time around either.

The Twins will have a few bullpen candidates in camp as non-roster invitees — Delois Guerra and Lester Oliveros come readily to mind — but there doesn't figure to be a lot of competition for bullpen jobs.

Of course, that statement assumes everybody's healthy. With pitchers, that's never a safe assumption.

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