A season ago, the Minnesota Twins had one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Just narrowly missing out on the playoffs, a better relief corps could have been enough to get them over the hump. This season there were some holdovers and some dart throws to the pen, but no player has been more important, both in reality and principle, than Taylor Rogers.
Rogers, a 25 year old rookie, has now pitched 35.1 innings for Paul Molitor's club. An 11th round draft pick out of Kentucky in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, Rogers went from minor league starter to big league reliever. Posting strong numbers at Double and Triple-A the past two seasons, Rogers looked deserving of a chance, but one that likely was destined to come in the pen.
If there's been something that's held true over his minor league career, it's been a level of consistency from Rogers. At Double-A New Britain in 2014, Rogers posted a 7.0 K/9 with a 2.3 BB/9 to total a 3.29 ERA. He followed that up a season ago with Triple-A Rochester to the tune of a 6.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and a 3.98 ERA. Although nothing necessarily stood out as dominant, it was apparent that Rogers had honed his stuff to the level that he was able to compete as he rose the organization ladder.
In reaching the big leagues though, it's in the pen that Rogers has taken a step forward.
Generally, pitchers will watch their numbers play up in relief. Being able to throw harder for a shorter period of time, the results generally improve. I've pegged Rogers as a solid relief option for the Twins for a while now, and through this season, he's made good on that bet. Thus far, the former Wildcat owns a 2.80 ERA and has pushed his strikeout rate to 9.2 per 9 while decreasing his walk total to just 1.3 BB/9. in the midst of his impressive big league performance, Rogers owned a 16.0 scoreless inning streak, and struck out 18 while walking just one over that time frame.
To summarize, Taylor Rogers has been nothing short of exceptional for the Twins.
As I mentioned earlier though, Rogers signifies more than just a success story for Minnesota. He's part of a bigger puzzle piece that both Paul Molitor and the organization have to be willing to rely upon. Taylor Rogers is a product of development with the Twins, and one that has resulted in a quality relief arm. The reality is that there are significantly more on the way, but none that are being given the same belief or opportunity.
Just a level down, the Twins have J.T. Chargois dominating Triple-A. He was the lone organizational representative in the Futures Game, and he has the makings of a future closer. Through 100 games on the season, Minnesota has allowed Chargois just two big league outs. Despite owning a 1.12 ERA with an 11.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 at Rochester, Chargois opportunities has yet to be recalled.
Another level down, Trevor Hildenberger, Zack Jones, and Jake Reed are experiencing similar success at Double-A Chattanooga. Working as the closer, Hildenberger owns a 0.70 ERA, has tallied 16 saves, and is striking out more than 10 per nine innings. Jones, now healthy after returning from the Brewers organization following a Rule 5 selection, owns a 1.26 ERA through 14.1 IP. His 10+ K/9 has also played well in the Southern League. Rounding out the group, Reed owns a 3.88 ERA, that has been a 2.54 ERA across his last 28.1 IP. In totality, the three of them have consistently outperformed the competition of their current level.
If Rogers has taught the Twins anything, it's that they need to trust their own process (or part of it). Minnesota has failed to develop a quality starter for quite some time now (here's to hoping Jose Berrios breaks that trend), but the relief options have been promising. Michael Tonkin was underutilized a season ago, but didn't have the ceiling of any of the aforementioned names either. Now though, with a bad team and mediocre pen, it's time to promote more of those from the lineage of Rogers.
There's no reason Hildenberger, Jones, and Reed aren't at Triple-A. There's reason to suggest that they could even make the leap to the big league level at this point. Chargois should be up and given run as well. Through 100 games, the Twins haven't been very good, and the ship isn't going to be turned around. A season from now though, it's these names that should anchor what could be a pen comprised of arms with much higher ceilings, and getting them situated now makes way too much sense.
Minnesota had some nice hits on players like Buddy Boshers, Fernando Abad, and Brandon Kintzler, but they mean little going forward. It's time to trust the process that Taylor Rogers is proving has worked, and take off the training wheels hitched to some very projectable pieces that will be incredibly valuable in the years ahead.