Thursday, March 12, 2015

Familiar Faces Fill Out Twins Bullpen

Twins reliever Glen Perkins throws during spring training at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Heading into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins find themselves in a place they have not experienced for the past four seasons. With true positional battles taking place, there is a solid amount of depth and options for new manager Paul Molitor to plug in on Opening Day. While we have heard plenty about the shortstop, outfield, and backup catcher roles, some of the largest competition may come in the bullpen. With seven spots likely up for grabs, who fills them out still remains somewhat up in the air.

There is a decent amount of certainty when it comes to a few key members of the bullpen, but after them, the ambiguity looms large. Looking at the possible candidates and their probability of breaking camp with the Twins, I do my best to sort out what I expect to come of the Twins bullpen.

In no particular order, let's get started:

A.J. Achter- 5 percent
Achter got a cup of coffee a season ago with the Twins. Appearing in seven games at the end of the year. He pitched in 11 innings and gave up four runs; probably working against him the most was the .304 average he allowed to opposing hitters. Being right-handed, and failing to separate greatly from much of the competition, he faces an uphill battle to travel north.

Logan Darnell- 15 percent
Like Achter, Darnell surfaced in the big leagues during the 2014 season. Pitching four games as a starter and three more in relief, he threw 24 big league innings. Darnell coughed up 19 earned runs and five home runs in that time, while allowing opposing hitters to bat .307 off of him. In his favor is that he is a left-handed pitcher and could provide extra innings of long relief out of the bullpen.

Brian Duensing- 99 percent
The Twins took Duensing to arbitration this offseason, and settled on another raise for their left-handed reliever. Having operated solely as a reliever for the second consecutive season in 2014, Duensing threw 54.1 innings and owned a 3.31 ERA (the second best mark of his career). As Brandon Warne of Cold Omaha pointed out, Duensing is more of a lock than he should be, and especially considering a Twins offseason acquisition.

Casey Fien- 100 percent
Not much to explain here, Fien is locked in as Glen Perkins setup man. He brings a welcomed bravado to the club, and looked solid in the role a season ago. Nothing should change this time around.

J.R. Graham- 20 percent
Graham was a Rule 5 Draft pick out of the Atlanta Braves system. A former fireballer, injuries have somewhat stalled his career. The Twins have carried Rule 5 guys previously (Ryan Pressly) but Graham is certainly fighting against the multitude of options Minnesota has.

Lester Oliveros- 3 percent
The Twins brought Oliveros back to the big leagues last season for seven games. It was the his first exposure since a one game stint in 2012. A 7.11 ERA and two home runs over just 6.1 innings wasn't the output he was hoping for by any means. Oliveros has yet to appear in a spring training contest for the Twins in 2015.

Glen Perkins- 100 percent
The Twins made sure Perkins is here to stay with a new contract for their All Star closer. He's dealt with some injury issues early in spring training, and while it's not a great development, it shouldn't be anything that jeopardizes his regular season either. Expect Perkins to return to form as one of the best in the American League this season.

Ryan Pressly- 10 percent
Pressly pitched in 25 games for the Twins last season. Owning a 2.86 ERA he was actually better than should have been assumed seeing that he allowed hitters a .278 average off of him. Spring training hasn't been kind to him early (3 ER and 6 hits in 2.0 IP), and he faces an uphill battle to turn it around.

Stephen Pryor- 10 percent
The Twins return for Kendrys Morales a season ago, Pryor has yet to pitch in the big leagues for the Twins. He's gotten into two games thus far in spring training, and while he can probably get it done at the major league level, there's plenty of capable arms ahead of him as well.

Tim Stauffer- 75 percent
Thus far in spring training, Stauffer has gotten hit relatively hard. Brought in on a free agent deal after a decent season with the Padres, the Twins expect Stauffer to fill their Anthony Swarzak role. His spring may shorten his leash, but it's doubtful that it knocks him out of the pen on Opening Day.

Caleb Thielbar- 60 percent
A year ago, Thielbar regressed in the Twins bullpen, but his 2013 season still should be looked upon as a reason for him to stick. He gives the Twins a second lefty option and is someone that can pitch out of more than just a situational role.

Blaine Boyer- 49 percent
Boyer's inclusion probably depends on a few breaks going his way. Signing with the Twins after a good return in San Diego, Boyer is another left-handed arm the Twins could use. I don't see them bringing three lefties into the fold however.

Aaron Thompson- 6 percent
Probably the lone reason Thompson has an edge on both Achter and Oliveros is due to him being a lefty. The Twins have noted they would like to carry at least two. Thompson would need to be lights out the rest of spring to make an impact.

Michael Tonkin- 40 percent
A year ago, Tonkin broke into the big league club, and he has mentioned he wants to stick. A hard throwing reliever, Tonkin could prove valuable at the back end of the pen. Depending on how Molitor handles whomever misses out on the 5th rotation spot, Tonkin could squeak in.

Jason Wheeler- 5 percent
Of the left-handed options, Wheeler may be the least inspiring. In big league camp, he is getting his shot to impress. Minnesota will have options if they need to call up a lefty out of the pen later in the season, but I don't see Wheeler making an impact on Opening Day.

Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Tommy Milone, and Mike Pelfrey- 80 percent
The glut of starters competing for the 5th and final rotation spot has been well documented. At this point, Milone looks to have the upper hand. There's probably reason to suggest the role should go to Meyer (and I did so yesterday), regardless, I think at least one of those beat out ends up in the bullpen.