Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year

At the end of last week, I took a look back at some of the projections I made in regards to the minor league system for the Twins. When it comes to making predictions, there are going to be some hits and some misses. I had a few of those along the way but it's time to look back at the season that was in the minor leagues for the Twins.

There were some good performances at all of the different levels that deserve to be recognized for their achievements on the field. The Elizabethton Twins had a dramatic end to their year by winning the Appalachian League Championship while the Beloit Snappers got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. A glance to the minor leagues can offer some hope for the future of the franchise when the major league squad is in the dumps.

During the next couple days, I will pick out my winners for the top awards across the minor leagues for the Twins. Seth Stohs over at Twins Daily is going through the same exercise. There might be some similarities or there could be some differences but that is what makes this fun. It can all be left up to debate.

In reverse order, here are my picks for the 2012 Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year:

5.) Anthony Slama: Rochester Red Wings
Stat Summary: 1-0, 1.24 ERA, 14 saves, 36.1 IP, 56 SO, 18 BB, .195 Opp. Avg.
In recent weeks, Slama has been a topic of conversation when it came to September call-ups in the Twins organization. The team didn't promote Slama after another stellar year in the International League and it doesn't seem fair to a player that has spent a lot of time in the organization. He missed time in the middle of the season when he broke his leg on a line drive up the middle. His season was capped with his 100th save in the minor leagues and it's tough to know what the future will hold for Mr. Slama. He is 28-years old and he has spent the prime of his playing career in New York playing for the Red Wings when he would have rather been in Minnesota playing with the Twins.

4.) Caleb Thielbar: Fort Myers Miracle, New Britain Rock Cats, Rochester Red Wings
Stat Summary: 6-2, 2.43 ERA, 1 save, 77.2 IP, 74 SO, 21 BB, .221 Opp. Avg.
The Minnesota native had quite the season moving through three different levels of the Twins system. He finished all the way up with the Rochester Red Wings and he even made a start with them at the end of the year. Thielbar was originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers organization and he played his first two professional seasons in their farm system. He joined the Twins in 2011 and only made three appearances with the Miracle. The Twins sent him back there to start 2012 and he didn't stay there long before making the trek to New Britain. As a 27-year old, he could be in the mix for a job with Rochester next year and even a chance to make it with the MLB club. He is a lefty with a pulse and that always gives him a chance.

3.) Bruce Pugh: Fort Myers Miracle, New Britain Rock Cats
Stat Summary: 5-5, 1.94 ERA, 69.2 IP, 72 SO, 31 BB, .218 Opp. Avg.
For the third year in a row, Pugh spent time in both Fort Myers and New Britain during the season. He was used primarily as a starter back in 2010 so last year was his first season as a full-time member of the relief core. There were some bumps and bruises during that transition as Pugh's ERA bubbled to 5.91 and he coughed up 10 long balls during his 64 innings on the mound. This season has been far better for Mr. Pugh as he only surrendered four home runs on the year and he continued to show the ability to strikeout batters. During his time with New Britain, he was very good against right-handed batters by striking out 36 in 28 innings pitched. Starting didn't work out for the 2008 draft pick but it looks like he found a place in the bullpen.

2.) AJ Achter: Beloit Snappers, Fort Myers Miracle
Stat Summary: 5-2. 1.70 ERA, 74.1 IP, 86 SO, 15 BB, 1.99 Opp. Avg.
The second half of the season was magical for Achter with the Fort Myers Miracle and that's not taking anything away from his first half of the year. He looked to be getting off to a good start with the Snappers by posting a 2.48 ERA and holding opponents to a .226 batting average in 40 innings. After he was promoted to Fort Myers, he was lights-out for the rest of the season. His ERA was a miniscule 0.79 as he only gave up three runs in over 34 innings on the mound. He struck out 37 batters compared to only three walks and opponents hit .168 versus him during his time with the Miracle. As a 46th round pick, the Twins seem to have found a player of value in the late rounds and he could make an impact on the team in the future. He turned 24-years old at the end of August so it will be interesting to watch him move up the ladder in the next couple seasons.

1.) Michael Tonkin: Beloit Snappers, Fort Myers Miracle
Stat Summary: 1-1, 2.08 ERA, 69.1 IP, 97 SO, 20 BB, .209 Opp. Avg.
The brother-in-law of former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel had quite the season with the Snappers and the Miracle. It was the first season that Tonkin was not asked to start any games for the farm system and he responded in a big way. His velocity has ramped up and his strikeouts numbers have gone up with the increase in his velocity. Even-though he joined the Twins out of the 2008 draft, he is still only 22-years old and the future looks bright for this young man. The Twins are sending him to the Arizona Fall League to see what he can do against some of the top hitting prospects in the game so it will be interesting to see how he will hold up. Traditionally, the AFL has been considered a tough environment for pitchers but Tonkin could have the stuff to be successful against some of the top up-and-coming hitters in baseball. It was a great season for him and Twins fans can keep a look on the horizon for Mr. Tonkin to appear at Target Field in the future.

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