Jason Bulger, Twins Non Roster Invitee
There are more Twins non roster invitees than there are hours in the day. In case you’re having trouble keeping track of them all, Puckett’s Pond is spending January writing about each one.
Next on the list: right-handed reliever Jason Bulger, who Will Carry on the Jose Mijares legacy by wearing jersey number 50.
Unlike the typical non roster invitee, Bulger has a history of Major League success. Selected 21 picks after Joe Mauer in the 2001 Draft, Bulger made his way through the Diamondback organization, reaching the big leagues in 2005. He didn’t stay a Snake for long, though, as the D-Backs dealt him to the Angels for Alberto Callaspo that offseason. His best season in the Majors came in Los Angeles in 2009. That year he had a 3.56 ERA in 65.2 innings. More importantly, he fanned 9.32 batters per nine innings. He kept up the K rate in 2010, though his ERA rose to 4.88. Last year, the Angels designated Bulger for assignment in April and kept him in AAA the rest of the season. At first glance, his numbers with the Angels look pretty good – he had a .96 ERA in just five games. But he walked 10 in nine innings, so it was probably control problems that caused the Halos to send him through waivers. Walks are always an issue with Bulger (career 5.1 BB/9), but at his best he makes up for it by not giving up a lot of hits, allowing a career .233 batting average.
He throws a fastball in the low 90s. A couple years ago his velocity averaged a bit over 93 mph, but he seems to have lost an mph or two since then. He also features a slider, a curve, and an occasional changeup.
Bulger has already inspired some positive memories in Minnesota. Do you remember April 17, 2009? That’s probably a night Bulger wants to forget. He came on in the bottom of the eighth with two men on and the Twins rallying. He struck out Brendan Harris before intentionally walking Justin Morneau to get to Jason Kubel. Kubel made the most of his at bat by slamming an 0-1 pitch for a grand slam. It wasn’t just any grand slam, though. This slam completed a cycle for Kubel, and it completed a huge comeback for the Twins, who won 11-9 after trailing 9-4.
Other than that incident, Bulger has pitched well against the Twins for his career. If you ignore that night, he gave up just two earned runs in 6.2 innings for an ERA of 2.90 and .80 WHIP. He hasn’t faced the AL Central a lot in his career (since he was stuck out West), but when he has, the results are pretty good. Against Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City, Bulger has a combined 2.16 ERA in 25 innings with 23 strikeouts. The Twins would love to see him duplicate that success against AL Central foes this season.
Bulger has a legitimate chance to break camp with the Twins and become a contributor to their bullpen. Of all the minor league free agent pitchers the Twins will have in camp, Bulger is one of the most experienced, and his upside might be the highest. The Twins and pitching coach Rick Anderson are sticklers for good control, though, so Bulger will have to work to limit the walks. If he overcomes that obstacle early, look for him to be a useful late inning reliever in 2012.