Lefty Specialist – Brian Duensing
With the rotation seemingly filled out with Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Blackburn and Marquis, Duensing seems destined for a return to the bullpen, where he has previously excelled. Thank goodness, Duensing was the definition of ineffective against right handed hitters last season, giving up an eye-popping .330 BA against and 20 HR in just 470 ABs. Looking back to 2010 where he primarily fulfilled the role he will in 2012 for the Twins, as a left handed specialist out of the bullpen, the southpaw had the number of most of the lefties he faced. In 2010 he held opposing lefties to just a .167 BA against and an OBP of just .217. A return to those numbers will be important for the Twins after the loss of Jose Mijares, who despite having various fitness and locker room problems had functioned effectively as the Twins lefty specialist since the departure of Dennys Reyes.
Longman – Anthony Swarzak
Swarzak is a prototypical long-man. He had a solid 2011 in which he posted an ERA of 4.32, showed good control 2.3 BB/9 and kept the ball inside the park, albeit at cavernous Target Field, 0.8 HR/9. These stats solidified Swarzak’s position in a weak Twins bullpen and as a possible spot starter. It will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at the rotation should Nick Blackburn consistently struggle again in 2012. If he does he will need to improve upon his 4.9 SO/9 to have any hope of holding down a starting job, especially with Liam Hendriks knocking on the door at AAA Rochester.
The Question Mark – Alex Burnett
Burnett is a frustrating piece of the Twins bullpen picture. He has solid stuff including a fastball that can reach the 93-94 mph range but the one thing he has proven in his first two big-league seasons is that he doesn’t know how to use it. Burnett has shown remarkable consistency in those two seasons, unfortunately for the Twins, it has been consistently bad. Between 2010 and 2011, Burnett has logged just under 100 innings, with a horrendous 1.48 WHIP, poor control 4 BB/9 and only an average ability to put hitters away 6.4 SO/9. Burnett is still the right side of 25 but this might be his last full-season to impress the Twins before they look in another direction for reliable bullpen arms. He can certainly throw; he has this season to show he can pitch too.
The Rest - 2 spots remaining
With 2 spots remaining this is perhaps the area Twins fans feel the most frustration with going into camp. There were a bevy of experienced and dependable righties on the free agent market this off-season (Dan Wheeler who was signed by the Indians to a minor league deal in particular is of note, as was the Dodgers Todd Coffey), however the Twins chose to let their internal options battle it out for the remaining spots. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Kyle Waldrop - 5.73 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 11 IP in 2011
Lester Oliveros - 4.05 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in 13 IP with the Twins in 2011 (nearly 5 BB/9 will do that!)
Scott Diamond - 5.08 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP in 39 IP with the Twins in 2011
Terry Doyle - 2.94 ERA and an excellent 1.18 WHIP in 422 minor league innings over the last 4 years. Doyle was the Twins Rule 5 draft selection this winter and will certainly go into camp with a chance at making the pen.
The Twins also have several non-roster invitees with big league experience, including Jason Bulger, Phil Dumatrait and Jared Burton. The Twins have certainly left their bullpen battle open-ended heading into spring, understandable given their performance last season. While they can expect to have at least a partial bounce back year after solidifying their defense this off-season, the front office may regret not grabbing one more veteran right handed arm to provide stability and leadership in an AL Central with increasingly formidable hitting.