ARLINGTON, TEXAS – On his way to Texas for this weekend’s series against his former employer, Twins General Manager Thad Levine detoured to Pensacola, Fla., where he witnessed something he had seen only once before.
“In my entire career, I’ve never seen a pitcher other than [Yankees All-Star closer] Aroldis Chapman sit above 100 mph for an entire inning,” Levine said after a firsthand glimpse of Brusdar Graterol. “I think he threw one fastball that was timed at 99, and it was almost disappointing.”
Hmm, the general manager of a team with bullpen issues takes a scouting trip to watch the team’s top pitching prospect pitch in relief at Class AA, just two weeks before major league rosters can be expanded? Yes, Levine knows how it looks — but he downplayed the possibility that a call-up to the majors is imminent.
“That idea may have been a little overstated,” Levine said of reports that the Twins are planning to add Graterol for the September pennant drive. “We’re not going to force anything. We would only promote someone if we thought he could genuinely contribute, [and that decision] has certainly not been made.”
Then again, September is still two weeks away and Graterol is consistently impressive. After he pitched two hitless innings in Pensacola’s 5-1 one-hit victory over Chattanooga on Saturday, the Twins announced the promotion of Graterol and another righthander, Jorge Alcala, to Class AAA Rochester, a clear sign that the move is being considered.
“It’s a little bit ill-advised to focus on one guy; it’s more a swath of players that we may be inclined to say, ‘Hey, if everything clicked, if we imposed realistic guidelines and they checked all those boxes, could they actually serve a role for us?” Levine said, apparently with Alcala and his own 100-mph fastball in mind. Alcala, acquired from Houston in last July’s Ryan Pressly trade, has a 5.87 ERA in Class AA but 105 strikeouts in 102⅔ innings. “Our first line of defense is here, in our clubhouse right now. But we are trying to be as creative as we can.”
At the trade deadline, the Twins’ top pitching prospects “were asked about a ton by other teams. And it made us think, maybe we should be looking at these guys a little bit more aggressively,” Levine said. “So we talked to our minor league coaching staffs and [minor league director] Jeremy Zoll and [pitching coordinators] Pete Maki and J.P. Martinez, and said, what type of programming would we need to put around this subset of players to give them a chance to be in consideration for a call-up? But I have to say, it’s probably really unlikely that any of them do, just because they’re all really young and less experienced. But there’s something to be said for maybe that lack of experience might play, just because they don’t know better.”
The prototype for a move like that is Francisco Rodriguez, who was — as Graterol is today — a hard-throwing 20-year-old Venezuelan rookie who was unexpectedly called up in September 2002 and made 11 postseason appearances to help the Angels win the World Series.
“Perfect example. He was incredible. But teams have been chasing the next K-Rod for almost 20 years, so I’m not suggesting we have done anything to make us think we’re smarter than anyone else,” Levine said, invoking Rodriguez’s nickname. “We’re just trying to be open-minded about where we might find help.”
Graterol posted a 1.89 ERA in 10 starts, with 46 strikeouts in 47⅔ innings to start the season, then missed two months with a shoulder impingement. He just returned to action two weeks ago.
He’s healthy again, but “frankly, this season is not a turning point for him in his career. His future is ahead of him,” a risk that must also be weighed, Levine said.