Dan Runzler, one of the Twins' free agent signees is a dark horse for the bullpen

Earlier this week, and lost among winning the rights to negotiate with Buyng Ho Park, trading Chris Herrmann for Daniel Palka, and Aaron Hicks for John Ryan Murphy, the Twins signed LHP Dan Ruzler to a Minor League Contract.   I broke the news here, but did not have much time for analysis, since the other events happened, so here it is.

The transaction seems pretty unremarkable, reading something like this:  The Twins have signed LHP Dan Runzler from the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League and have assigned him to AAA Rochester Red Wings.  Dan Rusler is not Andrew Albers or Kaleb Thielbar, a couple of unremarkable Twins' minor league free agents originating from the independent leagues and playing in the majors during the Twins' recent dark years.   Who is Dan Runzler and why I am so sure that he might actually be a factor?   First things first:

Dan Runzler is 30 years old, listed at 6'4" and 230 lbs (but his physique looks a lot like that of former Twins' Tyler Robertson; think NFL defensive end.)   He is from Santa Monica, CA, and was drafted by the San Fransisco Giants from the University or Riveside, CA, in the 9th round of the 2007 draft.  At Riverside in his junior (last) season, he was a swingman, staring 10 games (including a complete game) and relieving in 12.   He did have an electric fastball in college and added a devastating slider in the Giants' minors, allowing him to make the jump in the majors in 2009, just 2 seasons after he was drafted.  After that season he was listed as high as number 4 in the Giant's prospect lists.  Baseball America had him at number 5 with Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Zach Wheeler ahead of him.  So he was a highly regarded prospect. 

2010, the season that the Giants won it all, he was an integral part of their bullpen and has a World Series ring to prove it.  The local press held him in the same regard (as a potential closer) with Sergio Romo and Jeremy Afeldt.   Not a shabby company to have, especially if you can back it up on the mount with a plus plus 95-97 mph Fastball and a 85-88 mph slider, producing a 25.7% K-rate (resulting to 10.2 K/9) and a 2:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio.  Think of Fransisco Liriano before elbow problems.  That season he had a 3.03 ERA and 3.14 FIP.  So what happened?   A couple of things:  Ruzler has always been somewhat wild and the command of his slider has been inconsistent.  Even in the 2010 season, he had a 5.5 BB/9 and 1.500 WHIP (even with a below average .250 BABIP.)  Later in the season he had a knee injury that made him go to a couple of rehab stints and was caught in the numbers game for a team that was after (and won) a World Series.  By 2011 he was bypassed in the depth charts in a highly competitive team and a bad shoulder and lat injury, in his words, "subconsciously made him change his mechanics".   In the same piece he called his command problems in 2010 and before, "mental issues". 

At that point he was demoted.  Regardless the source of his problems, he never made it back, optioned a couple of times and finally outrighted on September of 2013.  The Giants released him in July of 2014 to play in Japan.   For some reason he never made it.  Last season he hooked up as a free agent with the Diamondbacks where he pitched in 39 games (37.7 IP) for the AAA Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League.  His ERA was 5.26 (3.86 FIP), WHIP 2.02 (but an outlandish .407 BABIP.)  He walked 28 (6.7 BB/9) and struck out 40 (9.6 K/9.) Encouragingly, his K% was 21.6% and he was close to 3:1 in Ground outs : Fly outs.  He finished the season playing 19 games (17.1 IP) with Sugar Land of the Atlantic league, where he put insane (but almost irrelevant) numbers:  0.52 ERA, 3 BB (1.6 BB/9), 20 K (10.4 K/9), and 0.865 WHIP.   The one number that is of interest here is the walk number, which is stellar.  And this is a number for which competition does not matter than much because you either throw strikes, or you don't. 

I think that Runzler might be a great signing for the Twins.  Clearly, his issues with command are mechanical and mental.  And he admitted that.  The fact that he was not throwing as many balls while playing at Sugar Land, makes me think that he was not thinking too hard, and just throwing in that level.  Can he do this come Spring Training, and hopefully in the majors, for the Twins?  Can the Twins help his mechanics?  Two very important questions to answer, but lefties who throw 97 mph Fastballs and 88 mph Sliders do not grow on trees, esp. when that repertoire results in 11 K/9 and 2-3:1 GB:FB out ratio and a .212/.282/.263 slash line (his career number) from left hand hitters.

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