By JDCam 11.09.14
With the off-season only a few days old the Minnesota Twins did something they haven’t done in over 13 years, naming Hall of Famer Paul Molitor as their new manager. Being a first time manager, no-one is quite sure exactly what Molitor will bring to the table. It will no doubt be fascinating as the Twins are renowned not only for their loyalty but their desire to ‘keep it in the family’.
The Twins organization has been criticized in recent years for failing to embrace some of the modern tendencies of ‘successful’ organizations such as sabermetrics and defensive shifts. Their recent struggles can certainly be traced back to woeful starting pitching stemming from an inability to sign big name free agent pitching and more importantly, spending their average mid first round draft picks from their more successful mid-2000s years on positional players.
The Twins have certainly changed their philosophy recently, bringing in a dearth of potentially high impact power arms both via trade and the draft. Names like Alex Meijer, JJ Berrios and Kohl Stewart will be gracing the beautiful confines of Target Field in the next few years (Trevor May made a disappointing but slowly improving debut at the end of the 2014 season).
Looking at the Twins 2014 draft however may be an indicator of an area in which their thinking maybe more progressive and forward thinking than other clubs. With their first selection they drafted Nick Gordon (son of Flash) a talented multi-tool SS out of high school. With their subsequent picks, the Twins only went out and drafted an entire bullpen. The Twins spent their next 7 picks on high velocity arms including Nick Burdi in round 2, the former Louisville closer who can hit 103 on the radar, Michael Cederoth out of San Diego State, who also throws in the high 90s and Jake Reed in the 5th round out of Oregon.
The early returns on these bullpen pieces have been very promising. Burdi, who could see Target Field as early as 2015 struggled with control issues early before being promoted to High A Fort Myers. In his first 20 innings of professional ball he struck out an absurd 16.8/9 innings and had yet to give up a run at High A when the season drew to a close. Cederoth struggled more out of the gate with Rookie ball Elizabethton before finishing the season strong (although the Twins have been trying to stretch him out as a starter). Reed, another hard throwing right hander had perhaps the most impressive debut, giving up just 1ER in his first 31 innings pitched while striking out 39 and walking just 3 through two different levels in the minors.
If this year’s refreshingly competitive playoffs taught us anything it was the value of an outstanding bullpen. Kansas City hardly had a dominating starting rotation but had the best bullpen in the regular season (5.9 WAR). Their late innings trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland proved impossible to stop. Herrera finished the season with a 2.8 WAR, Davis with a WAR of 3.7 (for an 8th inning guy!) and Holland with a WAR of 2.5. That’s a combined WAR of 9 for their late inning, high octane arms.
Twins fans need to accept the fact that the Pohlad family, despite their fortune, is never going to allow the Twins to have payroll much over $100 million. Because of this the Twins will never be able to afford, or attract top tier rotation arms via free agency. Assuming some of their excellent starting prospects can develop into solid major league starters Terry Ryan and the front office might just be pursuing a novel blueprint for success, drafting an elite bullpen. Look out for the Twins relievers in 2015 and beyond, it might just be their ticket back to competitiveness.