Inbox: How will the Twins' bullpen shake out in '15?
Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers questions from fans
MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Super Bowl now in the rearview mirror, baseball season is right around the corner.
Twins pitchers and catchers report in just 20 days to the club's renovated Spring Training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., while position players report on Feb. 27. The Twins still have plenty of questions around the diamond and on the mound to settle during Spring Training, and with that in mind, here's this week's Inbox:
I know it's still early and hard to predict, but how do you think the bullpen will look heading into the season?
-- Jim R., Edina, Minn.
There are a lot of variables that go into building a bullpen in Spring Training, including health, but here's my best shot at it. Glen Perkins will obviously serve as closer with Casey Fien acting as his top setup reliever. Tim Stauffer is also considered a lock to make the bullpen, while Brian Duensing is the most likely lefty to be in the bullpen.
The last three spots are more up in the air, but Caleb Thielbar is a front-runner as a second lefty behind Duensing, while Ryan Pressly has fared well during his time in the Majors. The other spot could be the loser of the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, meaning it would be either Mike Pelfrey or Tommy Milone.
Other names to watch out for are Aaron Thompson, Michael Tonkin, Lester Oliveros, A.J. Achter and non-roster invitee Blaine Boyer as well as Rule 5 Draft pick J.R. Graham. Prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer could also open the year in the bullpen if they don't make the rotation, but it seems more likely they'll open in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester.
With the signing of Stauffer -- he looks to be a good pitcher with about a 3.75 ERA and a good strikeout rate -- will the Twins think of throwing him in the rotation? Or will he mainly be a setup man?
-- Larson C., St. Cloud, Minn.
General manager Terry Ryan has indicated that Stauffer will get a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation, but he seems much more likely to open the year in relief given the club's other options for starting pitching.
Stauffer, 32, has a career 3.87 ERA and pitched well while mostly pitching in relief over the last two seasons, posting a 3.63 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 134 innings. He'll be stretched out during Spring Training to give the Twins some flexibility, but he could see his role become similar to Anthony Swarzak's previous job as a long reliever and occasional spot starter. Stauffer also has the potential to be a setup reliever, as the Twins are still looking for someone to emerge to go along with Fien.
With Miguel Sano the heir apparent at third base, where will Trevor Plouffe fit in -- or will he be traded?
-- Everett J., Stillwater, Minn.
It's a good problem to have, as Plouffe has settled into his role at third base, and he had a higher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than fellow top third basemen such as Evan Longoria, Pablo Sandoval and David Wright, according to Fangraphs.com. Plouffe will enter this season as the starting third baseman, while Sano is likely ticketed to Double-A Chattanooga after missing last season with Tommy John surgery. Sano, a right-hander, could make his debut late in the summer, but he has to continue to dominate offensively in the Minors and show he can stick at third base.
Even after Tommy John surgery, the Twins are confident Sano can stay at third base, but it will be up to him to prove it. If he does, Plouffe could be moved to a corner outfield role, or traded. But the Twins aren't to that point yet, and Ryan said at TwinsFest that Plouffe doesn't need to worry about his position in the short-term.
Can Nick Burdi break into the Majors with the Twins after Spring Training? If not, do you see him joining the big club sometime this year?
-- Joe L., Red Wing, Minn.
Burdi, the club's second-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, is a hard-throwing reliever who is expected to move quickly through the Minors, but I don't see a scenario where he makes the club out of Spring Training. Burdi only reached Class A Advanced Fort Myers last year and he needs more seasoning in the Minors. But he could be called up later in the season if he fares well in the Minors. Other top relief prospects to watch out for are Jake Reed and Michael Cederoth.