"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What A Relief

There are two spots open in the Twins bullpen: one lefty short reliever to replace JC Romero, and the non-specific reliever position formerly held by Terry Mulholland.

Show Me the Lefties

Francisco Liriano - the Dominican phenom is a fan favorite and a top prospect who did fairly well in his six appearances with the Twins last season.
However. He has only half a season of experience in AAA, and that's not much of a foundation. In his brief major league stint he also displayed a tendency to become over-excited on the mound.
While he's certainly in the mix, I'm guessing the Twins will have him getting regular innings as a starter in Rochester to begin the season.

Darrell May - this veteran lefty starter had a rough season last year, and in fact has had only one sub-5.00 ERA season in his career. On the other hand, he has a career 3.12 ERA at the Dome, and he's been here quite a bit. But can he make the transition to the bullpen?

Gabe White - after pitching only eight innings last season, the 34-year-old will be on a mission to prove he still has something to offer.

Dennys Reyes - younger than May and White, he has been a situational reliever specializing in getting lefty hitters out his entire major league career. That makes him sound like a natural to replace JC Romero, but he'll need to prove he's over the elbow injury that ended his 2005 season.

Dave Gassner - young, cheap, lefthanded and breathing. Also inexperienced and better suited for long relief (a role currently filled by Matt Guerrier). Gassner is in the mix, but only as a longshot.

TBL thinks Reyes has a slight edge going into camp, but the competition should be engagingly fierce.

Mr. Versatility

With Matt Guerrier having been sufficiently groomed to take over Mr. Mulholland's long-relief/pinch-starter role, what the Twins will need out of this final bullpen spot is versatility. If we need a long reliever a day or two after Guerrier pitches 5 innings, this will be the guy. If we need someone to eat an inning between the starter and the Rincón/Nathan double punch, this will be the guy. If Gardy needs a shoeshine, this will be the guy.

Presumably, everyone left over after the lefty reliever spot is filled will be in the running for this one, too. Let's take a gander at the righties...

Willie Eyre - after posting a 2.72 ERA over 82+ relief innings in Rochester, Eyre headed for his second stint with Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League, where he impressed with a 1.96 ERA over 36.2 innings.

Pat Neshek - lights-out for most of his minor league career, his 2005 ERA limboed into the books at 2.19, just under his career total 2.25. Add to that the fact that he consistently averages well above one strikeout per inning pitched and it's enough to make any Twins fan a little weak in the knees.
Alas for Neshek and his native Minnesota, he has a combined zero innings of experience between AAA and the major leagues. Unless the more experienced candidates fail utterly, expect him to be moved up to Rochester, whence he should pitch his way to Minnesota during the season.

J.D. Durbin - though posting only so-so numbers in 2005 and missing six weeks of the season with a shoulder injury, he seems to be well-regarded by the organization and should be one of the few receiving serious consideration from the coaching staff.

Boof Bonser - covered in yesterday's post as a longshot fifth starter candidate, he has a better chance at this spot, but the Twins are probably going to want someone with more experience or better stats to start the season. This could easily be Boof's year to break into the majors, but it's most likely to come as a result of an injury to or a trade of another reliever.

Ryan Glynn - had a decent season in 2004 but his career has otherwise been well above the 5.00 mark. He'll have to give the performance of his life in spring training to beat out the younger, cheaper native talent.

Pete Munro - released outright from Rochester in June of 2004, Munro has returned to the Twins as a non-roster invitee. He has bounced around between the majors and AAA since then, and has not pitched in the big leagues since 2004. He's the kind of guy you'd like to have waiting for you in AAA--good enough to fill in for a short-term injury.

TBL thinks that Eyre, Neshek, Durbin and Bonser will be in the hunt until late in spring training, but that it will eventually (barring injuries) come down to a choice between Eyre and Durbin.

On deck: right field.

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