With the way that the Minnesota Twins drafted this year, it looks like they are moving away from pitch to contact -- at least when it comes to relievers..
Take away Nick Gordon, a shortstop with major league bloodlines that fills a need in the infield, and local guy Max Murphy, and eight of the Twins top ten draft picks this year were hard-throwing relief pitchers. Second-round pick Nick Burdi reportedly hit 103 mph on the radar gun while pitching at Louisville and Michael Cederoth came close to 100 mph at San Diego State. Both players are well built -- Burdi is 6 foot 4, 220 pounds; Cederoth is 6 foot 6, 220 pounds -- and many of the other players are of similar stature. All eight of them pitched in college, all eight are expected to sign and there may be one or two that get fast-tracked to the majors.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said before the draft that he could care less who the team takes; he just wants players that are close to the majors, and his wish may be granted this year.
"You always hope for something like that," says assistant general manager Rob Antony when asked if any of these pitchers could join the bullpen this season. "You don't want to count on it or expect it. It would be great, but at the same time you want to be realistic, and it doesn’t happen all that often."
Burdi, for his part, says he's ready to join the Twins any time they are ready. "I've always been a confident player, and I believe in myself and that I'm just as good as anyone in this draft," he said immediately after being drafted. "If they make the decision to put me in the major leagues at some point in the next year or this summer, it would just be an honor."
Of course Burdi wants to play in the majors, and yes, he will have to prove himself before he joins an already stocked bullpen, but a major change in philosophy is taking place at 1 Twins Way. For years, scouts simply saw pitchers as starters. Now Minnesota's scouts have started targeting relievers in an effort to get a hard-throwing player that should be more major league ready and have a fit as soon as he joins the team. "We were always taught as scouts that in the past that most big league relievers were former starters," says Twins scouting director Deron Johnson. "Things have changed a little bit now. Most bullpens, guys are throwing gas. That’s kind of the way it's trending."
The Twins say that their approach with the draft is to take the best player on the board, and arguably they did that with Gordon, but the fact that they took so many hard-throwing relievers is no coincidence. "Are you guys excited about the velocity? No more pitch to contact?" Johnson asked the media with a wide smile on his face. "They got out pitches. They all pretty much have...pretty good out pitches."
Fast-tracking players through the minors? Not forcing relievers to start? No more pitch to contact? What the hell is going on here?
Change is taking place at Target Field. Although the back-of-the-rotation starters will likely continue to practice pitch to contact -- which makes sense for a player without ace stuff that’s expected to throw 100 pitches once a week -- relievers will no longer be asked to rely solely on location.
What this means is that for the incoming draft class, it becomes a war of attrition. Pitchers are going to get hurt -- a couple of these guys already have had Tommy John surgery -- and it's hard to know how many will actually make it to the majors. But that’s the thing about the draft: It's all about finding a couple stars. There are 40 selections, and not all will sign. For the pitchers, it comes down to who can stay healthy. "You can never, ever have too many [pitchers]," says Antony. "You know there’s going to be injuries. We're going through it right now with some of our guys in the minor leagues, and hopefully they'll be back here, if not this year, then some guys next year."
Those that survive will make it to the Show, and they'll be expected to miss bats when they get there. Progress is being made at Target Field; embrace it.
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.