First, let's take a quick look at how the Twins will set up the relief pitchers for the coming year:
- Blaine Boyer-Middle Reliever
- J.R. Graham-Middle Reliever
- Mike Pelfrey-Middle Reliever
- Brian Duensing-Lefty Specialist
- Tim Stauffer-Long Reliever
- Casey Fien-Setup Man
- Glen Perking-Closer
So where does this potential come in? Due to the current construction of the Twins bullpen, the upside is actually within who's not a part of the Opening Day list, and how they could quickly push for time.
Starting with the most exciting options, prospects Nick Burdi and Jake Reed have a lot to gain this season with the Twins. Both high selections in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, Burdi and Reed have been deserving of the hype thus far in their professional career.
After playing in the College World Series for the Louisville Cardinals, Burdi went on to continue lighting up radar guns for the Twins. Pitching through both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, Burdi had just one bad outing in 20 games (coincidentally it was his first). Across the two levels, he compiled a 16.8 K/9 while pitching to the tune of a 2.66 ERA. It's pretty safe to say that Burdi made easy work of the lower levels of the organization, and will be accelerated this season. Whether he starts in Fort Myers or Chattanooga, expect him to surface with the Twins sooner rather than later. If he can continue along the same path, he should become an option at the back of the Twins pen over the summer. Fien slipping up would likely cede chances to a Michael Tonkin type first, but it also opens the door for Burdi.
In the earlier innings, the Twins find a middle reliever in Reed that they should be able to count on for years to come. Selected out of Oregon, Reed dominated Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids. He continued the trend in overpowering the Arizona Fall League as well, traditionally filled with top tier prospects. Reed owned an 11.3 K/9 in 20 games last season while walking just 0.9 batters per nine innings. Efficient and dominant, the Twins will be looking to get him to the big leagues in short order as well.
Likely slated for Fort Myers, Reed may have the most to gain this year. With Pelfrey, Boyer, Graham, and even Stauffer all being relative question marks, the door should swing open. While Lester Oliveros, Logan Darnell, A.J. Achter and others reside in the higher rungs of the organization, it's Reed that the Twins can elevate the most with. Should he be able to replicate his 2014 season, Reed will get an early look from the Twins, and could be an asset to them down the stretch.
Really, the biggest takeaway from the current bullpen situation is that it is going to be an evolving entity for the Twins. Like I mentioned yesterday with positional players, the Twins can control their own talent level from within. Should they find themselves competing in the middle of the year, with pitchers like Reed and Burdi looking strong, and the bullpen in rough shape, they immediately have internal options. The current bullpen structure should be good enough to keep what is an improved staff happy, but the Twins taking a leap will come on the promotion of their top tier prospects.
Having made pitcher heavy selections in the first ten round of the draft last season, most with relief intentions, the Twins have plenty to gain by going down on the farm. Although the bullpen is worrisome right now, expect leashes to be short, and options to be plentiful. The Twins surprising this season is going to involve some gutsy decisions.