After deliberating for a month, the Twins identified Triple-A reliever Duke Welker as the player to be named who would finalize their August trade of Justin Morneau to the Pirates. Or did they?
Welker spent less than two months with the Twins organization before being traded back to the Pirates for 29-year-old Kris Johnson, a southpaw plucked off the scrap heap in 2011 who made his big league debut two years later. By trading Welker for Johnson, the Twins acquire a pitcher who has ample starting experience, and even a fringy starter would be valuable to a Minnesota rotation whose starting corps ran up a worst-in-baseball 5.26 ERA in 2013.
Johnson also has the added benefit of having three minor league options remaining, whereas Welker has only one.
Kris Johnson, lhp
Career Transactions: Selected by Red Sox in supplemental first round (40th overall) of 2006 draft; signed June 7, 2006 … Released by Red Sox, May 16, 2011 … Signed by independent Kansas City (American Association), June 2011 … Signed by Pirates, Dec. 14, 2011.
Johnson has firmer stuff than one might think for a pitcher who washed out of affiliated ball even after being a premium draft pick out of Wichita State and who only received a second chance after spending a half-season in the independent American Association. He throws an above-average low-90s fastball that he two- and four-seams to good effect to both sides of the plate. His curveball and changeup teeter on the verge of average in most starts, with the former showing tight rotation and the latter the requisite arm-side action and fade. Johnson won the Triple-A International League ERA title in 2013, going 10-4, 2.39 in 26 appearances (21 starts) for Indianapolis while also finishing fourth in WHIP (1.17) and opponent average (.234).
Duke Welker, rhp
Career Transactions: Selected by Pirates in second round of 2007 draft; signed June 19, 2007 … Traded by Pirates to Twins, Oct. 5, 2013, completing deal in which Twins traded 1B Justin Morneau to Pirates for OF Alex Presley and a player to be named (Aug. 31, 2013).
A second-round pick from Arkansas in 2007, Welker’s career prospects brightened when he converted to the bullpen full-time in 2010. In short bursts, he can dial his fastball up to 95-97 mph with a mid-80s slider that touches plus at times. At Triple-A this season, he handcuffed righthanded batters, holding them to a line of .232/.308/.319 with two homers in 138 at-bats, though he allowed a .352 OBP to lefties due to an elevated walk rate. Welker has one minor league option remaining for 2014