The Minnesota Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates completed the Justin Morneau trade yesterday, establishing that the player to be named is right-handed pitcher Duke Welker. Welker joins outfielder Alex Presley as the newest member of the Minnesota organization. Here's the scoop.
Duke Welker, RHP: Welker was drafted by the Pirates in the second round in 2007, from the University of Arkansas. Initially a starter, he struggled badly with ERAs over 5.00 and a poor set of component ratios in Low-A in 2008 and 2009, rated as a major disappointment.
That changed in 2010: he was converted to relief and pitched much more effectively, posting a 3.60 ERA combined between Low-A and High-A. A 2.25 ERA with a 45/25 K/BB in 52 innings followed in High-A in 2011, with six saves. He posted a 2.29 ERA with a 49/25 K/BB in 55 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012, then followed up with a 3.48 ERA and a 64/29 K/BB in 62 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis this year.
Welker is a big guy, listed at 6-7, 240. As a starter he had problems developing a third pitch and throwing strikes with his low-90s fastball and a slider. As a reliever, he is much more effective, throwing 95-98 MPH with better command. His slider is sharper, and in the bullpen he doesn't have to worry as much about a third pitch. He keeps the ball down and is generally a ground ball pitcher.
Although his command has improved, it is still erratic. Welker projects as a middle reliever at the major league level. He's not an outstanding prospect, but he isn't a zero either and has some potential to help the Twins relief corps going forward.