Thursday, January 19, 2017

Twins To Get More From Two Pitching Unknowns

There's no nice way to put it, the pitching for the Minnesota Twins was absolutely abysmal in 2016. While the club set a franchise record losing 103 games, they very easily could've avoided that fate by getting just a bit more out of the production turned in from the rubber. This season, Paul Molitor doesn't have a significantly revamped staff, but there's a few key cogs that could turn heads.

While I'm not naive enough to believe that the Twins are all of a sudden going to be one of the best pitching teams in the American League, there is a path for a turnaround. Trevor May can stay healthy in the rotation, Phil Hughes could bounce back, and Jose Berrios has yet to truly emerge. Stepping aside from the big names though, I'd like to focus on a returning commodity, and one that is new to the organization.

First, Tyler Duffey presents the Twins with an interesting opportunity. At 26 years old, Duffey has turned in 36 starts across two big league seasons thus far. His rookie year saw a pitcher that limited damage by keeping the ball in the yard and striking out opposing batters. As the book got out on him, and his impressive curveball, he served up 25 dingers in 2016 while being demoted back to Triple-A. I'm not sure I want to dub Duffey as a "failed starter," but I'm pretty confident he can be of more use in the pen.

A former closer at Rice University, Duffey has the chops, and the pure stuff, to get hitters out in a more limited role. Over the course of his career, he's allowed a .963 OPS to batters from the 4th inning on. When facing batters in the first three innings, he's limited them to just a .743 OPS. As with most pitchers, his OPS rises the more often he faces an opposing hitter in a game. Unfortunately for Duffey, it drastically jumps from .639 the first time around to .976 in their second appearance.

On top of being a pitcher that hitters adjust to, Duffey's best stuff really includes only two pitches. He's got a fastball that sits in the low-90s and a curveball that is easily his best pitch. In his big league time, he's thrown a changeup just 5.5% of the time. Duffey also isn't a guy that generates a ton of swing and misses in his current role. His big league number comes in at just 8.9% while allowing opposing hitters to make contact over 81% of the time. In a relief role, I think the tides turn in his favor some.

Asking Duffey to start out in middle relief, with the potential to use him in a bit more high leverage, could be a really good thing. Out of the pen, his fastball should trend more towards the mid-90s with his curveball being a big yakker as an out pitch. Minnesota has a deficiency in the bullpen as well, and casting Tyler in the right role could be a great move for both parties. I'm sure he'll get a chance to start this spring, but with so many options, moving him to a full time relief role makes a lot of sense.

The other guy is someone that I see having the potential to help Minnesota either in starting or in relief. Justin Haley was selected with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft for a reason, Minnesota thinks he can help them right now. While the Twins have had success in the Rule 5 Draft in the form of players such as Johan Santana and Ryan Pressly, I'm not ready to call Haley a guarantee. What I do think is that he has a strong enough floor that no matter how he's used, he can be effective.

At 25 years old and yet to debut, Haley is no spring chicken or top prospect. However, the former Red Sox 6th round pick has seen success at each level of the farm system, and should have a pretty smooth projectability. Striking out right around eight batters per nine and walking right about three per nine over the past two seasons at Double and Triple-A, he could be a serviceable arm at the back end of the rotation. If Molitor wants to hide him a bit more, he looks like the makings of a swing man in the pen, that can eat innings and get big league hitters out,

Haley has never been significantly bittern by the longball, and has posted some pretty respectable FIP numbers. I wouldn't expect him to come in and contend for the Rookie of the Year, but if he ends up being a consistent back-end starter or reliable reliever, I'd be far from shocked.

It's going to take scenarios like this playing out for the Twins to turn the tide on their pitching woes. The reality is that the system may not have a true ace in it, and the big league level doesn't have much to hang its hat on either. I really like the pieces and depth that Minnesota has at its disposal, but an immediate turnaround will require guys rising to the occasion. If given the opportunity, I'd be on both Duffey and Haley answering that call.

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