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On Friday we learned that Devin Smeltzer was already sent to the minor league side of camp while several other fringe starters and Wholesale Minnesota Twins Jerseys relievers remain with the big league club. What does it mean? What does his future hold?
Image courtesy of © Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Devin Smeltzer is one of my favorite Twins. His debut in 2019 was electric, he’s interactive with the fan base, and his story is one of the best you’ll find. Smeltzer however is nearing a point where he needs to find his role at the Major League level or risk getting passed up.
Smeltzer’s being sent down already doesn’t necessarily mean he’s fallen out of favor with the Twins. Afterall, newly acquired Shaun Anderson was simultaneously sent down who Wes Johnson has been raving about. The issue is that it goes to show that Smeltzer is firmly behind his two competitors for a swingman/rotation role in Dobnak and Thorpe despite all three finishing 2020 in the minors. There’s little doubt in my mind that we see the soft tossing lefty back in the majors this season, but at this point it looks as if it may require at least 3 injuries for it to be in a starting role.
Smeltzer spent his 2020 at the MLB level as a bullpen arm which rounded out to be kind of odd. By actual performance standards, Smeltzer put up an ugly season with a 6.75 ERA. All the while, his indicators suggested he pitched better than his impressive debut in 2019 with a 4.07 FIP and 4.13 xERA. Regardless, it was hard to argue that Smeltzer was a necessity in the bullpen by years end with left handers Caleb Thielbar and Taylor Rogers available.
All of this leaves Smeltzer in a difficult spot. It’s been made clear that his spot on the depth chart lies behind much if not all of his competition in the rotation as well as almost all of his competition in the bullpen. Meanwhile the young group of arms in the Twins system continues to creep closer to the Major League Level. Where can Smeltzer go from here?
At this point it’s difficult to imagine Smeltzer settling into a rotation role. Pairing the Twins current and upcoming rotation options with Smeltzer’s sub 90 mph fastball just doesn’t make him an obvious fit. While there’s a realistic chance he could make a spot start or two this year, I’m hoping to see the Twins make a dedicated effort to integrate Smeltzer into a bullpen role even without an immediate spot to fill.
Smeltzer does exactly what a soft tossing lefty should do by leading his pitch mix with a changeup to equalize right handed hitters that may be sitting on his fastball. With a .310 slugging allowed on the pitch paired with a 26% whiff rate he has the #1 tool to make it in short stints as more than just a lefty specialist.
Unlike most lefties, Smeltzer’s biggest enemy in his career has been left handed hitters so far. This led to him developing a slider which he threw almost 17% of the time last season. He got unlucky but the 27% whiff rate is encouraging for his first season featuring the pitch. Going into 2021 Smeltzer may just have a strong go to option for hitters on each side of the plate.
If Smeltzer’s performance on his offspeed pitches holds, his fastball would be the final piece to the puzzle, as opponents have slugged around .550 against the pitch in his career. Luckily the Twins have shown an affinity for such a problem, as they often target pitchers with a similar profile and have shown success in fixing it.
Many fans grew underwhelmed by Smeltzer by the end of 2020, but he’s likely to get at least a few shots in 2021. Target Field may not be on their feet for a 100 mph fastball at any point for the left hander, but Devin Smeltzer’s development so far along with his being left handed could mean that his best days are still ahead of him in a Twins uniform.