Minnesota Twins: Bullpen Change Brewing?
Aaron Thompson may not be long for this world; the world that is the Twins MLB roster that is. Minnesota continues to put up remarkable numbers from their starting rotation. Through June 23rd the Twins rotation has to be considered the most surprising in baseball. Through 70 games played they own a cumulative 3.83 ERA (good for 8th in the majors). That’s better than the Nationals folks. Twins starters have walked just 103 hitters in 410 IP (5th best). Some regression has to be coming; they have given up the 5th highest BAA in the Majors this season (.277), and struck out a third from last 275 (no surprises there).
The Twins find themselves in a fascinating position with their starting rotation. Ervin Santana has two starts remaining in his rehab assignment. Both his contract and his pedigree as a major league starter dictate a place as the Twins de facto ace. Tommy Milone has given up just 5 ER in his last 20 IP, Kyle Gibson holds a career best 3.35 ERA, Mike Pelfrey is holding onto a career best (for a meaningful number of starts) 3.06 ERA, and control artist Trevor May holds a rotation best 1.8 BB/9 with a FIP (3.09) that indicates a performance that is better than his 4.03 ERA indicates, as well as leading the rotation in K/9 (7.9). Add to the mix the eventual return of Ricky Nolasco, possibly the candidate least deserving of a rotation spot based on performance alone and the Twins have quite the logjam in their rotation.
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The Twins bullpen meanwhile has been plodding on, with a respectable if unspectacular 3.79 group ERA, good for 21st in the majors. The Twins bullpen ranks dead last in SO, with just 141 in 211 IP. Minnesota has a notable lack of power arms in its bullpen, and while relief pitching is an organizational strength, there are few arms that are considered major league ready.
This brings us to Thompson. Thompson was originally the 1st round pick (22nd) of the Marlins in 2005. He provided outstanding consistency for the Twins throughout April and the early part of May where they were struggling significantly. Thompson gave up just one earned run through his first 11 IP in 2015, with several multi-inning efforts. The early season struggles of the Twins rotation and his outstanding mop up duties earned him the moniker Everyday Aaron. Since the beginning of June however, Thompson has struggled mightily. Since June 5th Thompson has managed just 3.2 IP in 9 relief appearances. While manager Paul Molitor has begun to use him in a more specialized role, the 8 earned runs conceded in that span have ballooned his season long ERA from a respectable 3.65 to an unacceptable 5.40. Combine this with a 3.5 BB/9 and just 4.8 SO/9 and you see the Twins have a severe deficit in left handed relief. Situational left Brian Duensing has also struggled to contribute, with a 8.22 ERA through 15.1 innings of work.
Minnesota drafted to address this need, taking left reliever Tyler Jay (who will eventually be stretched out as a starter). Jay however, is not ready and will be starting his professional career at high A Fort Myers this week. The Twins may turn to a victim of their rotational logjam to address this need, cue Taylor Rodgers.
Rodgers was drafted by the Twins in the 11th round of the 2012 draft (the year of Buxton). Rodgers has completed 9 quality starts at AAA Rochester this season, in 13 attempts. Rodgers upside is a back-end starter for the Twins, a role which he may struggle to get an opportunity to fill. While not being a high strikeout pitcher, Rodgers has shown remarkable consistency at the minor league level, posting a 2.94 ERA at all levels prior to the 2015 season. Rodgers typically sits in the low 90s, a fastball he could surely elevate in short stints in the Twins bullpen. With the Twins still struggling to escape a June swoon but still in touching distance of the first place Royals, now is the time to give Rodgers a chance to show he can be a solid lefty bullpen option for the Twins.