MINNEAPOLIS -- At this time last year, Randy Dobnak was still the little-known former independent league player with the big mustache throwing baseballs for Double-A Pensacola, the first stop on his four-month journey up from Class A Advanced all the way to the Major Leagues. Come October, he was the
MINNEAPOLIS -- At this time last year, Randy Dobnak was still the little-known former independent league player with the big mustache throwing baseballs for Double-A Pensacola, the first stop on his four-month journey up from Class A Advanced all the way to the Major Leagues. Come October, he was the Twins' starting pitcher in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
Consider the case of the former Uber driver to be the most prominent example of how the 2019 Twins, a 101-win team, weren't afraid of relying on young and inexperienced pitchers in prominent roles down the stretch. Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe all played their part in the pennant chase -- and they will once again be relied upon in 2020.
Who could be next in that mold? That is, which pitchers could emerge from the depths of the 40-man roster to make a tangible impact on this season's Twins?
Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage might have offered a glimpse into that future. Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers and Jorge Alcala -- all ranked among the Twins' Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline -- combined for five hitless innings of relief against a collection of Major League players and top prospects, and the standout stuff from the hard-throwing right-handers could be on display in MLB action relatively soon.
"I think all three of those guys are going to be impacting us on the big league level, and probably soon," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We don't know when that day is going to come. The type we're talking about is the type of stuff that impacts Major League games and the decisions that other teams are going have to make in Major League games. Those guys are going to help us win, hopefully, for a very long time."
Need more convincing? Take it from Nelson Cruz.
Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said that Cruz approached him after facing Chalmers and watching Duran on Sunday in order to make sure Johnson knew that the veteran designated hitter liked what he saw.
"Hey, both those guys who just threw, they impressed me," Cruz told Johnson. "They showed -- they looked like they belonged and they were under control."
All three of those pitchers are still relatively raw and untested at the highest levels of the Minor Leagues. Only Alcala (the No. 25 prospect in the organization) has pitched above the Double-A level, with five Triple-A appearances and two MLB games, while Duran (No. 5) has only made seven starts in Double-A and Chalmers (No. 23) hasn't pitched above Class A Advanced at all.
Still, the Twins added Alcala to the 40-man roster last September before tacking on both Duran and Chalmers during the offseason to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. And what they lack in experience and refinement, they make up for with the potential in their pitches.
There's a commonality among all three in that they all throw a big fastball. Alcala also features a hard slider that drew rave reviews from special instructor LaTroy Hawkins on a television broadcast of an intrasquad scrimmage last week, while Chalmers has made waves with the high-spin curveballs that buckled knees of even big leaguers at times on Sunday. Duran might have the most devastating offering of all: a pitch that some call a "splinker," a hybrid between a sinker and a splitter with big velocity and big late movement.
"Just watching hitters take swings against them, their own hitters and the catchers catch them in live action, they don't just have pretty good stuff [and] they don't just have pretty good ability; they have big league traits that will allow them to hopefully get a lot of outs, a lot of swings and misses and hopefully win a lot of games," Baldelli said. "It's a lot of fun.
"What we're watching is not typical. You can watch some really good Major League Baseball and not see some of the stuff that those guys threw out there."
The stat sheet reflected that, as the trio combined for a strikeout and four walks over those five hitless frames. Making that more impressive, the Twins had challenged both Chalmers and Duran by starting both halves of the sixth inning with runners on first and second base, with dangerous hitters set to bat. Both emerged unscathed.
Johnson said earlier in camp that both Duran and Chalmers would continue to prepare as starters at the Twins' alternate training site in St. Paul, and it could be likelier that Alcala, the most advanced of the three prospects, could see some Major League time this season. Still, as Minnesota showed last season, it won't hesitate to draw from its young talent if needed -- and Duran and Chalmers certainly have the stuff to compete in shorter stints.
"Will we see them this year?" Johnson posited. "Hey, crazy things happen. I mean, as you guys know, it's crazy times. It's going to be tough to answer that question, but yeah, there's always a possibility. We wouldn't have them here if we didn't think that if we needed to call on them, we wouldn't bring them up."
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.