BOSTON — Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox, Derek Falvey discussed the decision to bring up top prospect Brusdar Graterol, but not fellow prospect Jorge Alcala.
Graterol and Alcala appeared to be on a similar path over the past month and a half. Both started the season as starters at Double-A Pensacola, before transitioning to the bullpen and pitching well there. Both were also promoted to Triple-A on the same date. Graterol, of course, got the call-up and was added to the 40-man roster, while Alcala was not. Alcala didn’t get the promotion despite pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A, where his 100 MPH fastball played up out of the ‘pen.
“We love Jorge, we think he’s going be a big part of the future,” said Falvey. “Big picture, looking at our roster, where we were, who was on the roster, that’s all a factor. Jorge spent a lot of time in the minors starting, he threw more innings probably than other guys. Sometimes you want to be a little bit thoughtful about when you want to shut a guy down. He’s a young pitcher that has never thrown into late September; you might be better served at the end of the year to do that [shut him down]. We got him used to the Triple-A ball at the end of the year, we got him used to pitching out of the ‘pen at the end of the year, so we definitely factored him into the conversation, but we felt at this point the best thing to do was kind of get him ready for his offseason program.”
Graterol, of course, missed two months in the middle of the season with a shoulder injury. While it’s obviously not the Twins’ preference, in some ways the injury may have helped Graterol reach the big leagues this season, because he didn’t log the number of innings he otherwise would have.
“You never want see a guy get injured,” said Falvey. “It did limit his innings during the course of the season. That played some small role, but at the end of the day we looked at both those guys and looked at their mix, which guys fit from a roster standpoint, all those things. We just wanted to make sure we put Brusdar in the right spot. We weren’t going to bring up either if we felt they weren’t capable of impacting us here.”
It’s been a lost year for Stephen Gonsalves, who pitched just two innings for Triple-A Rochester before being shutdown with an arm injury. The good news for Gonsalves and the Twins is that he didn’t require surgery, and has recently returned to pitch out of the bullpen with Double-A Pensacola. He’ll likely pitch through their playoff run, but it doesn’t sound like a call-up is in the cards, even though he’s the only healthy player on the 40-man who’s not with the big league club (Sean Poppen and Nick Gordon—the only other 40-man players not with the team—ended the year on the IL).
“Stephen at this point, with where he was, he hasn’t really been built up,” Falvey said. “Some other starters we feel work better out of the ‘pen, and that’s nothing against Stephen, it’s just the way his pitch mix works. So we thought the best thing to do was continue pitching him as a starter, let him finish out his season and see where things are at that point.”
The Twins are making full use of their 40-man roster. Next year, teams will be limited to 28 active players in September, but this season teams can still use their full 40-man. When Kyle Gibson returns, the Twins will have 37 active players.
20 of those players are pitchers, which makes sense given the uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation. Having so many active pitchers allows the Twins to do what they did Tuesday and pitch a full bullpen game.
“Some years you’re making callups in September that are about development only, and that’s just reality,” he said. “Well, every out matters right now. So now we have the added benefit of adding in a competitive environment. Rocco and his staff have done a really good job of trying to message to these guys, ‘We don’t know when your number is going to be called, and it might not be that frequently, but when it is you’re here to help us win a game.’ And I think if we can do that, do some work on the side, that’s fun to watch.”
While the Twins may not have top-end starting pitching, they do have a lot of depth in the bullpen and high levels of the minor leagues. Pitchers like Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, Trevor Hildenberger, and Devin Smeltzer have all been called upon this season, and will continue to be into September. On the position player side, we’ve already seen LaMonte Wade draw a critical walk that started the Twins’ eighth inning rally against Detroit.
“One of the strengths of this team is that we have depth,” said Falvey. “Guys that can help us, whether it’s for an inning, a batter, a guy coming off the bench for a moment, I feel like that’s valuable now more than ever. In the month of September, hopefully we can tap into that depth over the course of the month, and hopefully Rocco can find a way to utilize all those guys effectively.”