Over the past few years, the Minnesota Twins have been able to build themselves one of the most dynamic bullpens. However due to some pitchers departing through free agency and the team choosing not to re-sign, the makeup of the 2021 bullpen might not be as dominant as it once was.
The Twins have lost Tyler Clippard, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, and Matt Wisler. Manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson will look to replace them with recently signed veterans and some young arms during Spring Training 2021.
The Twins did sign two veterans to help bolster their bullpen — Alex Colomé and Hansel Robles. Both are expected to make the 2021 team.
One can say that the Twins manager played a significant role during the Twins’ recruitment of Colomé. Baldelli had a front row seat for much of Colomé’s early career, watching him develop from a minor league starter into a dominant major league closer. They were both players in the Tampa Bay Rays organization at the same time. Later on, Baldelli was the Rays’ first-base coach when Colomé developed into an all-star closer.
Colomé had an exceptional 2020 season with a 0.81 ERA in 21 games with rival Chicago White Sox. Since 2019 he has recorded 42 saves — second-most in the American League — and his 91.3% conversion rate also ranked second-best in the entire league. His cutter has been his primary weapon for several years. That pitch is really good at keeping lefties guessing and confused.
There’s no such thing as having too many reliable high-leverage relievers, especially those capable of pitching the ninth inning. Look for Colomé to be part of the multi-pitcher closer role.
Robles has said his primary focus this spring is working on sharpening his command. He had a terrible 2020 season — a 10.26 ERA with 10 walks in 16 2/3 innings. Back in 2019, he had a 2.48 ERA in 72 2/3 innings, with 23 saves and 75 strikeouts.
Robles’ four-seam fastball clocked in at 97 MPH in 2019 but dipped to 95 last year. His mix of pitches includes a slider and a change-up. Those pitches give him versatility against both left- and right-handed hitters. Robles has tremendous potential but needs to get his poise back. Expect the Twins to tinker with his pitch mix significantly, since he is going to be counted on quite a bit out of the bullpen.
There are some returning relievers: Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak, and Caleb Thielbar are returning. All had strong 2020 seasons. These three pitchers are ground ball specialists and can face both right-or-left-handed hitters. All will be used regularly as sixth- and seventh-inning options.
The long reliever used to be the least prestigious role in the bullpen. However, the nature of the long reliever role has changed in recent years. That pitcher must have stamina more like a starter and be ready to go in as early as the third inning.
One way or another, the team is all but certain to have at least one long-relief/spot starter in the mix. Pitchers to vie for that spot could come down to Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer, both of whom are in competition for the number five starter.
Tyler Duffey will serve as one of the top set-up pitchers. After a promising beginning to his career as a starting pitcher in 2015 and a 2016 full of struggles, he moved to the bullpen and needed time to adjust to the changes of being a reliever. He has a 2.31 ERA with 113 strikeouts since replacing his curveball with a slider in 2019, and that has resulted in many ground ball outs. He has become the Twins most reliable setup pitcher.
Taylor Rogers will be back with the Twins in 2021, but his role seems likely to change as the main go-to guy to close out the game. He had 30 saves in 2019 and a 2.61 ERA with 90 strikeouts and only 11 walks. In 2020 however, to the surprise of everyone, he struggled. Look at the month of August to see his downfall. He gave up six earned runs, which contributed to almost 50% of his earned runs on the season.
Rogers came to spring training last week mentioning he is more relaxed. Serving as the team’s union rep during the height of pandemic was stressful and contributed to his lackluster season. He is working on his slider during spring training. He needs to become comfortable using it in order to have a bounce-back season. With the Twins using a closer-by-committee, southpaw Rogers should see plenty of work over the 162-game season.
Expanded Pitching Staff
The Twins could very well go with a 14-man pitching staff, extending the bullpen to nine spots. If so, that will be another opening. The recently-acquired Shaun Anderson or Edwar Colina could be added.
We know the Twins Manager operates his bullpen with his own unique style. He prefers to have more than one arm ready to close out games and he gives his relievers time off. He also allows them to throw in situations that best fit their pitching styles and roles; it may not be as specific as a particular inning and it changes depending on the game progression. He has told his relievers to be flexible and adaptable about pitching in different spots and in different situations.
Importance of the Bullpen
Since bullpens have become more important in the game today, especially with starters pitching fewer innings, a need for a proficient bullpen has become a top need for all teams. Relief pitching has been a major source of strength for the Twins the past two seasons. It helped them win the American League Central in 2019-20. If they hope to win their third AL Central title in a row, they will certainly need a healthy bullpen, and one that pitches like it has the past two years.
Players/managers mentioned: Tyler Clippard, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Matt Wisler, Rocco Baldelli, Alex Colomé, Hansel Robles, Jorge Alcala, Cody Stashak, Caleb Thielbar, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, Shaun Anderson, Edwar Colina