TWINS BASEBALL – Part 2: Opening Day Bullpen for 2019, Under Age 25 in 2017

Now that you have seen my 5 young starting pitchers, that will compete for MLB jobs over the next couple seasons, lets get into the bullpen:

To anyone who didn’t read the first installment of this series, which was on the starting pitchers (here): this is a 3-part series on the Minnesota Twins’ young prospects, under 25 years old (mostly), who are highly touted and have a legitimate chance to crack the MLB lineup before or by Opening Day, 2019.

The bullpen is where you will want to pay attention.  Most the players listed here are relatively unknown unless you REALLY stuck it out last season, when you might have seen a few of them already.  The Twins Bullpen is NOT good and you will see a lot of shuffling early.  So, get to know these names because you are going to start seeing them early and often.

The Twins finished the season last year tied for last in the MLB in team ERA at 5.09. Matching that, the bullpen ranked last in Opponent Batting Average.  Actually I guess it depends on how you look at it.  Opponents had an average of .271 against the Twins bullpen last year. That was the highest in the MLB. “Highest” can be good in some stat catagories right? Ok, not this one in particular.

But, again, help is on the way.  And the bullpen needs it the most.  Here are the bullpen pitchers you will see over the next couple years, that have the talent to grab full time jobs going forward.  You will see a lot of them this year.

LR: Kohl Stewart – 22 yrs old – (AA) – Every bullpen hopes to have one guy they can count on, when their starter gets shelled out of the gate, or there is an injury/emergency situation where a reliever needs to come in and save the day. Stewart is NOT THAT GUY. He is currently a starter in the Lookouts rotation.  The Twins still project him as a starter, and a good one at that (top 10 Twins prospect for 2/3 Prospect Handbook writers), but he didnt make my top 5, because he has been incosistent since being a top 5 draft pick.  He has A LOT of upside though.  He is an athlete.  No, seriously.  Stewart, as a high school quarterback IN TEXAS… IN JUST HIS SENIOR YEAR, threw for 5,700 yards and 58 TOUCHDOWNS.  Oh, and he ran for an additional 755 yards and 13 TDs.  He had committed to Texas A&M before being drafted #4 overall by the Twins in the 2013 draft according to the Prospect Handbook.  Stewart has been inconsistent since becoming one of the Twins’ top pitching prospects when he was drafted.  He struggles to throw strikes at times but has managed to keep his ERA pretty low given the command struggles (2.88 ERA in 2016).  But with that came 63 walks in just 143 innings.  Thats about 4 walks per 9 innings.  Stewart is athletic and has very high upside but a walk rate like that will not work in the MLB. We may see him by 2019 but it isn’t as likely as the other starters under 25.  So, he lands here in my Long Reliever slot of the bullpen.

MR: Justin Haley – 25 yrs old – (MLB) – This is the guy who took ByungHo Park’s spot on the Twins’ roster, coming out of Spring Training, this year.  A Rule 5 draft pick that we took from Boston, many sources like Rick Weiner here from BR, think the Twins got a steal.  If the Twins didn’t keep him in the majors, out of spring training, they would have had to offer him back to Boston.  That’s not all.  If the Twins want to send him down AT ANYTIME this season, per Rule 5 draftee rules, they have to offer him back to Boston.  That is something to keep an eye on.  Haley has been a starter for most of his career, and was pretty successful at it, in the minors. 2015 was rough but he responded last year with a 3.01 ERA in 146.2 innings, between AA-AAA, in Boston’s organization.  Some think he doesn’t have the velocity to start in the MLB but project him as a good back of the end arm, in a good bullpen.  That is the route the Twins will take early as he will be in the MLB bullpen to begin 2016.

MR: Taylor Rogers – 26 yrs old – (MLB) – I know, I know, I said everyone on this list would be 25 years old or younger.  However, Taylor Rogers made his debut last year when the Twins weren’t very good and I have a feeling most people won’t know who he is.  For the sake of this article and why I am writing it, I had to include him.  For the last 3 years, the Twins Prospect Handbook has had Rogers in their Top 20 Twins Prospects.  He is a lefty, which the Twins need right now in the bullpen.  Last year, in his MLB debut season, Rogers had a respectable rookie ERA of 3.96 in 61.1 innings.  He averaged over a strikeout per inning with 64 on the season.  The Twins hope Rogers will establish himself as THE lefty in their bullpen for years to come, in 2017.

MR: Mason Melotakis – 25 yrs old – (AAA) – Melotakis is another guy who was just recently converted to a reliever.  Another lefty, Melo (what I will be calling him), throws in the low to mid 90’s.  He is a top 40 prospect, according to the handbook, so their isn’t anything too shiny with him.  He sat out all 2015 after Tommy John surgery but came back pretty strong in 2016 posting 2.97 ERA in 33.1 innings with a 42/12 K/BB ratio.  Stop.  Read that again. 42 K’s in 33.1 innings is pretty impressive.  It was in AA, where he was almost a year older than his competition, according to the Prospect Handbook, but it is impressive nonetheless.  Melo could be just one or two struggling Twins’ relievers away from making his MLB debut in 2017 so we could see him early.

J.T. Chargois – 26 yrs old – (AAA) – This is a guy you will see this year.  Some were surprised not to see him out of spring training but he pitched so poorly there, it would have been tough for the Twins to have justified it.  Chargois is another guy I am bending the rules for because of his age but again, we will see a lot of him this year so it would be a disservice to those who read this not to include him.  If you watched the Twins last year, you may have seen Chargois struggle in his MLB debut season, where he posted a 4.70 ERA in 23 innings pitched.  He dominated 2016 in the minors posting a 1.35 ERA in 46.2 innings where he had 55 K’s.  If Chargois can look decent again, to start 2017 in AAA, he will be with the Big League Club very, very soon.

SU: Jake Reed – 24 yrs old – (AAA) – Jake Reed drove the struggle bus to start 2016 where he allowed 14 runs in his first 27.1 innings, at AA according to the Prospect Handbook.  From there he found his footing.  To close out his AA pitching for 2016, and hopefully forever, he limited hitters to a .193 BA over his last 13 games.  That was good enough to get him the call to Rochester where he closed out 2016 strong pitching 10.2 innings with a 1.69 ERA.  Reed is a top 25 Twins’ prospect from 2 out of the 3 Prospect Handbook Authors.  He has a fastball in the high 90’s with a strikeout slider.  If he can control the slider he could be a big time closer/setup guy in the Big Leagues.

SU: Nick Burdi – 24 yrs old – (AA) – I like Nick Burdi A LOT.  The Twins obviously do too.  The Twins drafted Burdi in the 24th round of the 2011 draft.  Burdi, unhappy with that spot, decided to attend Louisville instead.  Burdi was a STUD at Louisville posting STUPID numbers.  Between his Sophomore and Junior seasons, according to TheBaseballCube.com, Burdi pitched 72.2 innings where he recorded a 0.63 ERA and 127 STRIKEOUTS….. 72 innings. 127 K’s.  That is eye opening. The Twins had to step up to get him in 2014 where they drafted him in the 2nd round.  Burdi though, was NOT happy with that spot either.  He expected to go in the 1st round and carries that chip on his shoulder, as reported in 2014 by Courier Journal. Burdi hits 100 MPH on the regular. He projects as an elite setup/closer currently. However, Burdi’s 2016 was marred with injury setbacks as he pitched in only 3 games before being sidelined with a bone bruise in his right humorous according to the Prospect Handbook.  He is a guy you will want to keep an eye on.  Because of his injuries last year, we probably won’t see him this year, but we will soon as long as he can stay healthy.

CP: Tyler Jay – 23 yrs old (on 4/19) – (AA) – The Twins just recently moved Jay to the bullpen which may be a disappointment to some because of where he was drafted.  The Twins opened some eyes when they selected Jay with the 6th overall pick in the 2015 draft since most projected him as an elite bullpen guy.  Relievers don’t normally go that high in the draft.  The Twins old regime took him that high because the projected him as a starter.  He was ok last year, in that roll at A ball with the Miracle, before being shut down due to a neck injury with a 3.33 ERA between Fort Myers (A) and Chattanooga (AA).  He had some good moments but was inconsistent overall.  I like what the Twins new regime did this year sending Jay back to the bullpen where he is happy to be, according to Twins Daily, and probably most comfortable since that is where he has been most of his career.  We will also see him much sooner with the move to the bullpen.  Some compare him to Glen Perkins in his prime as he is left handed.  Expect Jay before 2019 now that he is in the reliever role.

If you don’t know these names now, but you watch the Twins, you will soon.  These are all guys who have the chance to be bullpen staples going forward but, with the Twins current bullpen deficiencies, we will see these names sooner rather than later.  All of them are 25 or under, other than Taylor Rogers and J.T. Chargois (both 26).  I couldn’t put every Twins relieving prospect in this piece, so some guys missed the cut.  Adding Kohl Stewart (currently a starter with no thoughts, that I know, of changing that), as my Long Relief Pitcher didn’t help my cause there, but he needed to be somewhere in this series and I didn’t want to put 6 in my starting 5.

The biggest name I didn’t mention is Trevor Hildenberger, who actually won the 2016 Relief Pitcher of the Year, by Twins Daily and the Twins Prospect Handbook.  Hildenberger will start in AAA Rochester.  He is another 26 year old who was taken after a full college career.  You might have seen Hildenberger in 2016, if he hadn’t gotten a late season injury.  If that had been the case, I probably would have had to include him.  Opinions vary as he ranks anywhere from 18-42 from the authors of the Prospect Handbook, as a Twins’ top prospect.

Next up is the Starting Fielding Lineup for the Twins.  This will be fun and most of the names are already in the MLB.  That will make it a little different than the pitching, where most of the young help is still on the way.  There are some hidden gems though… Oh, the Twins’ new top prospect by most, is a stud shortstop with a brother who has already been an MLB All-Star.  Stay tuned….

Read Part 1 of this installment on the starting pitchers here.

Eric Strack

MinnesotaSportsFan.com

@RealMNSportsFan

Sources: 2017 Twins Prospect Handbook, Twins Daily, Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs.com, Bleacher Report, Courier Journal, TheBaseballCube.com