August 22, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Glen Perkins (15) pitches during the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
THE LOCKS Glen Perkins and Jared Burton are set, respectively, as the Twins closer and top setup man and Brian Duensing will be the team’s top left-handed reliever behind Perkins, unless he fails miserably in camp.
Sep 14, 2011; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Rich Harden (18) pitches the ball during the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels at the O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
IN THE MIX Alex Burnett and Anthony Swarzak have been mainstays on the pitching staff the past few years, but neither has put up impressive enough numbers to be guaranteed a spot. Swarzak will face the additional hurdle of being injured for the majority of camp. His main competition for the long relief role will be Ryan Pressly, a Rule 5 draftee who converted to a relief role last season in the Boston system. Rich Harden and Rafael Perez were both dominant pitchers at one time who are attempting comebacks after injury, and both may be tried in starting roles this season, as well. Josh Roenicke was average at best last season, making him available to be claimed off waivers from the Rockies. Tim Wood signed as a minor league free agent after dominating the minors in the Pittsburgh organization. Tyler Robertson split time between Minnesota and Rochester in 2012 and will look to improve on last year’s numbers to provide lefty depth in the bullpen. After an impressive 2012, Casey Fien is the closest thing to a lock in this group coming into camp.
May 31, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Anthony Slama (39) pitches during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Luis Perdomo and Esmerling Vasquez failed to impress in their stints with the Twins last year. Deolis Guerra had an up and down campaign in 2012, his first season as a full-time reliever, and, while he still shows plenty of promise at age 23, the last remnant of the Johan Santana trade may need another year in the minors to iron out the kinks in his game. Anthony Slama, on the other hand, has done everything possible at the minor league level but hasn’t been able to put it together against MLB hitting to this point. Michael Tonkin will be in camp and will almost assuredly have to wait until later in the season to make the jump to the Majors, but after dominating in the low minors following a move to the bullpen full time, he’s on the right track. Bryan Augenstein could be a pleasant surprise as a minor league free agent.
There are so few sure things when it comes to relief pitchers that this group is hard to predict. Outside of the top three or four, it’s more or less a wide-open competition, and a number of players who don’t head north with the team when camp breaks could easily find their way onto the 25-man roster at some point in the season.
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Ben Noble is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and photojournalist who began covering sports for the Star Tribune when Joe Mauer was still finishing up high school. His passions include Twins minor league baseball, pit bulls, pretty ladies and bacon.