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Trevor Hildenberger could be a sleeper reliever

A few things need to fall in place, but he is throwing the ball well.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know much about Hildenberger until he popped up as one of the better performing players over the last month. I’m glad I did a deeper dive. It appears the Twins are the best threat to the Indians in the Central Division and they could be competitive in the second half of the year—helping Hildenberger’s chances for holds and (gasps) saves.

History. Fresh out of Archbishop High School in San Jose, California, Trevor went to play for the University of California Berkeley for four years. He was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2014 draft by the Minnesota Twins. He spent all of 2014 at rookie level, throwing over nine K/9 with a sub three ERA and 10 saves. 2015 was more of the same as he moved his way up to A and A+ ball. 2016 saw him go to Double-A where he had 16 saves with a 0.7 ERA and 10.47 K/9. Last year he had a 2.05 ERA with 6 saves for the Triple-A affiliate the Rochester Red Wings before Minnesota brought him up.

MLB. He finished his 2017 season in the pros with 3.21 ERA, 9.43 K/9 and one save, 10 holds including three wins and three losses. This year he already has 10 holds and he has struck out 33 batters with just eight walks across 39 innings pitched. He has a “slower” fastball sitting around 88 mph, so ultimately it’s his changeup and slider (thrown a combined 60% of the time) that really carry his hit tool. When batters are not striking out, they are grounding out often. He is getting swinging strikes at 13.7% (league average of 9%)! Adding to that his contact % is 71% which is 9% lower than the league average of 80%.

The Twins.

Reason to be optimistic. While he’s down the depth chart behind Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney, It’s not that Fernando Rodney is struggling but let’s compare the pair’s 2018 season (Hildenberger vs. Rodney vs. Reed):

ERA: 2.06 vs. 2.96 vs. 3.38 SO: 33 vs. 31 vs. 32 WHIP: 0.92 vs. 1.21 vs. 1.34 ER 9 vs. 9 vs. 6

Hildenberger is generally better but the variances are not massively different. Now let’s adjust for the last 30 days.

ERA: 0.00 vs. 2.89 vs. 5.59 SO: 12 vs. 13 vs. 3 WHIP: 0.65 vs. 0.96 vs. 1.86 ER 0 vs. 3 vs. 6

What this tells me is that Rodney is probably still locked in as the closer but there is a chance Hildenberger steps up past Addison Reed on the depth chart and if history is any precedent, it wouldn’t take but a few bad starts for him to step into the closing role for a team that has the 10th most save opportunities so far this season in the MLB. In the interim, he has accumulated six holds in the last month and continues to contribute in Ks, ERA, low BB and holds.

Reason to be cautious. The Twins have the 7th fewest runs from the 7th – 9th innings and Fernando Rodney has been closing for 15 years now. Sure he’s struggled and been traded, but he finds traction again and excels. Rodney has now played for seven teams over his MLB career, posting respectable numbers at each location.

Hildenberger currently has the 34th lowest ERA among relievers who have pitched at least 20 innings and he is 7% owned. I know the relieving position is a fickle thing but I’m trusting Trevor..until I’m not.