After years of running out of one of baseball’s worst pitching sessions, the Minnesota Twins have surprisingly built one of the best bullpens in the league. They released a 4.17 bullpen ERA, which was 10th best in 2019, and a sixth best 3.62 bullpen ERA in 2020.
After a once dominant Bullpen fell out of favor last year, the Twins are trying to get the unit back in shape next season. While they could address this in the free agent market, the better answer seems to be to build a solid core of solid jugs from the inside out. One of these pitchers, who lurked in the background in 2019 and 2020, feels like he’s always ready to take the next jump with every inning.
Jorge Alcala is that dynamic young arm.
The right-hander joined the Twins organization that Ryan Pressly sent to the Houston Astros. Since joining the Minnesota farm system, he’s been a highly respected contestant with his flame-throwing fastballs and swing-and-miss slider. The loss of Pressly, a trusted helper, hurt, but Alcala’s promise gave fans a lot of excitement when he moved to the Bullpen.
That belief wasn’t just fan hype, either. The Twins were so convinced of Alcala’s abilities that they felt more than comfortable swapping the team’s most talked about pitching contender, Brusdar Graterol. They once gave it to the Boston Red Sox in a abandoned deal before eventually taking it to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Graterol was also a flamethrower, but he didn’t offer as much movement in his seats as Alcala.
Alcala made his big league debut in 2019, but only played two games. In 2020, he played a more prominent role in the Twins’ bullpen during the shortened 60-game season. Rocco Baldelli placed him in high leverage spots for one of the league’s better bullpen. He recorded a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings with a 10.13 K / 9 clip while recording a 0.3 fWAR, ranking in the 95th percentile of fastball speed according to Baseball Savant.
But last season he took a step back. The young right-handed man finished last season with a 3.92 ERA and a 0.3 fWAR in 59.2 innings while recording a clip of 1.51 HR / 9, up nearly half a homerun from last year. Its share of 37.3 percent of severely hit people rose by almost five percent compared to the previous season.
What is the future of Alcala in Minnesota after some mixed results in its first two seasons in the big leagues? Is he considered one of the Gemini’s first options in high leverage situations? The answer looks like a “yes,” but that doesn’t mean he will immediately find himself in high leverage situations in 2022.
Overall, it’s been a disappointing season for Alcala. But its 2021 campaign wasn’t a disaster, even if it wasn’t producing as it was in 2020. With Baseball Savant to watch its peripheral stats, its numbers still look promising in some critical areas, including average exit speed and chase rate .
He continued to throw the ball hard during Alcala’s first full season of 162 games and his exit speed did not change from 2020. It was just that if the hitters could make contact they hit him hard, which resulted in a raise at home games. Additionally, Alcala cut its BABIP from 0.321 in 2020 to 0.245 in 2021 and hit a career low of 0.97 WHIP in 2021. There is still much to be hoped for for Alcala’s future in the back of the Twin Bullpen.
The twins will give Alcala every chance to earn a high leverage role for the next year. Alcala is only 26 years old so there is no rush to get the maximum value for the young arm as he still has a lot of team control as it will not go into free hands until after the 2025 season.
Alcala has come up with respectable numbers by serving just over 85 career innings. It is produced in high leverage situations and is in its prime. Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers are two examples of late bloomers who have become dependable helpers in the backyard of Minnesota’s bullpen.
Duffey made his debut in 2015. Like Alcala, he was initially viewed as a starter but evolved into a reliever. After moving full-time to the Bullpen in 2017, he scored a 4.48 ERA and a 0.6 fWAR in 71 innings. He stepped back in 2018 with a 7.2 ERA and minus 0.3 fWAR in just 25 innings, and spent most of that year in Triple-A. But in 2019 everything clicked, and he established himself as a savior Baldelli could rely on to put out fires. He finished his season at the age of 28 with a 2.50 ERA with a 1.2 WAR in 57.2 innings.
Similarly, Rogers made his big league debut in 2016 and slowly worked his way up to become one of the most effective southpaws in baseball. Rogers posted an fWAR clip of 0.7 (2016) and 0.4 (2017) in his first two seasons while pacing up and down from Triple-A. In 2018, however, he broke out as a high-leverage reliever. Rogers earned a 2.63 ERA and a 1.8 fWAR clip in 68.1 innings during his season at the age of 27. It has since continued this high level of production, except in the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic, where it had an ERA of 4.05. However, this could have been a problem with the sample size. He only hung up in 20 innings and was not stretched out over an entire season of 162 games.
Duffey and Rodgers show us that it takes time to gain confidence and experience to consistently win against top kickers. Even the best baseball players suffer early career slumps. It’s a common element of player development.
Alcala is Minnesota’s most talented and exciting option in the bullpen. Not only because of his exceptional poor talent, but also because he has demonstrated the ability to be an emergency helper in the 60-game season shortened by the pandemic. The team and fans are eagerly waiting for him to reach this top-class level again. Next season could be a breakout year, with Alcala firmly engaging in the same conversations as players like Rogers and Duffey.