July 20, 2010
Alex Burnett experienced initial success after making his big-league debut on April 8, tossing 31.1 innings with a 2.30 ERA, .225 opponents' batting average, and 26-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio through mid-June. Since then he's coughed up 12 runs in 9.2 innings while walking more batters than he struck out and allowing opponents to hit .466, and after his fourth ugly outing of the month last night the Twins demoted Burnett back to Triple-A.
To replace Burnett on the roster and in the bullpen the Twins called up right-hander Anthony Slama, who ranked 19th on my list of the team's top prospects heading into the season and has been deserving of a chance for some time now. Clearly the front office doesn't believe in Slama, keeping him in the minors until five months before his 27th birthday despite a 1.80 ERA in 235 career innings and Ron Gardenhire making it pretty clear he wanted to give him a look.
However, his amazing minor-league track record screams out for an opportunity. I don't expect Slama to be an elite reliever and he's no sure thing to even develop into a quality setup man, but when someone holds opponents to a .170 batting average while racking up 83 strikeouts in 68 innings at Triple-A there's no reason not to give him a shot. Hopefully he'll thrive like Pat Neshek, who the Twins were similarly skeptical about before finally giving him a shot in 2006.
As for Burnett, his overall numbers were reasonably strong for a 22-year-old rookie getting his first taste of the majors, with a 4.39 ERA and 30-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings. He showed a promising fastball-slider combination after making the switch from starter to reliever just last season and certainly looks capable of being a key part of the bullpen long term. He jumped straight from Double-A to the majors, so some time at Triple-A is hardly a bad thing.