What is going on with the bullpen?

Coming off of back-to-back 90+ loss seasons, the Twins, predictably  have a lot of holes in their roster.  Most noticeably, the Twins went into this winter with as many as four holes in their starting rotation, then traded away two center fielders, creating another hole, and there is still no real answer in the middle infield.  With all those other needs to address, the bullpen has become something of an afterthought, but even with a breakout year from Jared Burton and another strong year from Glen Perkins, the Twins still ranked just 9th in the American League in bullpen ERA (3.77).  Of the five teams with worse bullpen ERAs than the Twins in 2012, only the Tigers earned a postseason birth.

So with a below average bullpen in 2012, what will be relieving corps look like in 2013?  Glen Perkins will remain the closer and Jared Burton will be the primary 8th inning set-up guy.  Beyond those two, Brian Duensing is really the only other player with a firm spot in the pen, serving as the team’s primary left-handed specialist.  The Twins commonly work with a seven man bullpen, so that leaves four spots left to fill.  Ryan Pressly was the Twins’ Rule 5 draft pick earlier this winter, so he’ll need to be on the 25-man roster, but I do not think he’s a realistic candidate to stick, so he’ll either need to be returned to the Red Sox or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him.  Casey Fien put together a nice season a year ago in 35 innings of relief, so he’s likely to have a leg up on the competition for one of the four remaining spots.  Tyler Robertson is a guy that I really like, and if he can become a little more consistent strike thrower, he could slot in as the Twins’ second left-handed specialist.  That’d give the Twins three left-handers in the bullpen, but with Perkins serving as the closer, I think the Twins would be willing to go that route.  Alex Burnett, while he does not have great peripherals (and outside of 2012 has been a 5+ERA type reliever), probably did enough last year to earn a spot in the bullpen to start the year, but if he struggles, expect him to be one of the first players to go.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

“Big Game Tony Swarz”

That really just leaves the Twins with one additional opening, long relief.  Over the past couple of seasons that role has been filled by Anthony Swarzak.  He’s performed adequately in this position, eating up innings, mopping up blow-outs, and has the arm strength to give the Twins an occasional spot start.  Swarzak is 27 years-old and owns a career 5.03 ERA in more than 200 major league innings, so he is not likely to make any major improvements in 2013, and with the Twins building for the future, they may want to look elsewhere.  Josh Roenicke, Tim Wood, Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are all other options on the 40-man roster that the Twins may look at during Spring Training.  Roenicke started last year for the Rockies, but because the Rockies limited their starters to about 75 pitches per start, he pitched just over 88 innings last season, and could be a guy the Twins want to have on-hand as a long reliever who can be relied upon to make a spot start, especailly early in the season as Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey are both coming of Tommy John surgery and may not be with the MLB club to start the year. Tim Wood pitched in AAA last season, and had good numbers for the Pirates’ affiliate, so could have a shot here as well and Terry Ryan recently said on a Rochester radio program that Tim Wood will not pitch in Rochester, so he will either be with the Twins or, as he is out of options, waived.  Michael Tonkin hasn’t pitched above A-ball, and the Twins are not likely to jump him all he way to Minneapolis, so while he has a spot on the 40-man roster, Twins fans shouldn’t expect to see him any time soon.  Caleb Thielbar could be an interesting option here, especially if the Twins want to see what Thielbar can do with the Twins.  He split time last season between AA-New Britain and AAA-Rochester, so the Twins have a pretty good idea of what he can do against high-level talent.  I’d still give the edge to Swarzak or Roenicke in this long-relief roll, but if the Twins open the year with a 4-man pitching rotation and an extra bullpen arm, Thielbar could very well be the beneficiary of that extra spot.

Not a lot to be excited about in the bullpen, but there may be some addition by subtraction as the Twins jettisoned Jeff Gray, Matt Capps and Jeff Manship from the bullpen.  There should be a couple of fun battles left for Spring Training and I expect the bullpen to be better as a unit. But if the starters don’t give the bullpen a little more rest in 2013, the relievers will be over used, worn out, and ineffective before the All-Star game.

-ERolfPleiss

Kernels Hot Stove & Twins Caravan!

What a great night for baseball fans in Eastern Iowa!

In celebration of the new affiliation agreement between the Twins and the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the organizations combined to put on a terrific event Thursday night.

Every winter, the Kernels put on a Hot Stove banquet with proceeds going to their own charitable foundation. The event combines dinner, a silent auction and induction of the new Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame members. Tonight’s event, however, also included a local stop by the Twins Caravan.

The combination brought out a record crowed for the Hot Stove event. The banquet sold out and standing room only tickets were sold at a discount to give even more Twins fans an opportunity to attend the Caravan.

Media members (including this humble blogger) were invited to come in starting at 4:30 to interview some of the participants. I had a chance to visit a bit with Twins pitching prospect, BJ Hermsen. He will be heading to the Twin Cities next week where he’ll receive his Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and then attend TwinsFest. Not long after, he’ll be on the road to Fort Myers for his first Major League Spring Training.

I asked whether Hermsen has any sense of where he’ll start the 2013 season (he doesn’t) and talked a bit about the offseason training work he’s been doing. He was asked by another person if he was going to be speaking during the Caravan portion of the program and he indicated he didn’t think so (he was wrong… emcee Dick Bremer had a number of questions for Hermsen during the program).

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Steinbach also were made available for interviews with the media, as was new Kernels manager Jake Mauer. Naturally, the local media had questions for Gardy that alluded to the new Cedar Rapids affiliation and he was appropriately complimentary in his responses.

Gardenhire did bring up the fact that his managerial debut was with Kenosha in the Midwest League in 1988 and that his team had their “butts beaten” by Cedar Rapids in the playoffs to end that season.

The Hall of Fame induction was sandwiched between dinner and the formal part of the Caravan program. The CR Hall inducted former players Trevor Hoffman and Casey Kotchman, along with longtime Kernels groundskeeper Jim Curran and Pat Harmon, one of the people credited with bringing minor league ball back to Cedar Rapids in the 1940s. But the highlight, for me, of the ceremony was the induction of former Cedar Rapids manager Alex Monchak.

Alex Monchak

Alex Monchak

I’m sure most of you have no idea who Monchak is, but this man epitomizes the career baseball man. He had a cup of coffee with the Phillies, but his career was interrupted by World War II. While he never returned to the Big Leagues as a player, that didn’t stop him from spending the rest of his life teaching others to play the game the right way.

He was inducted in to the CR HoF specifically for managing the 1958 Cedar Rapids Braves to the Three-I League championship, but after leaving our little town, he spent about a decade as a scout and almost 20 years as a coach on manager Chuck Tanner’s staffs with the White Sox, A’s, Pirates and Braves. In fact, he was a coach on the Pirates’ Championship team that also included pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Hoffman and Kotchman had other commitments that kept them from attending the event, but Monchak, who will be 96 years old in March, was in attendance to accept his award and address the crowd.

Dick Bremer did a professional job of emceeing the Caravan program. It’s no small task, I’m sure, to do that job in a way that comes across as fresh to every crowd, despite the fact that they’ve been essentially going through the process multiple times per day for about a week. Bremer did sports for the local CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids before moving on to Minnesota, so he was able to blend in some anecdotes from his days here.

Everyone on the dais did a good job of fielding the questions Bremer has no-doubt asked them several times over the past week, as well as a number from the crowd. Obviously, Gardy got the lion’s share of the questions from fans and he handled them with his typical combination of optimism and humor.

Of course, there are causes for concern from Twins fans after the past two seasons, but this event was all about generating interest and enthusiasm among the fan bases of the Twins and Kernels, as well as celebrating the upcoming inaugural season of this relationship. Based on the attendance and enthusiastic support from the crowd, it was an overwhelming success at doing just that.

I’ll wrap up this post with a few pictures from the evening. – JC

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach prepares for a TV interview

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

The Twins Caravan dias in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Manager Ron Gardenhire, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The Twins Caravan dais in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Manager Ron Gardenhire, Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, N.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, B.J. Hermsen