Minnesota Twins prospect Rob Delaney mowed down the competition out of the bullpen this season, posting a combined 1.23 ERA in 46 games at Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain to earn a MiLBY for Best Overall Reliever. He collected 18 saves, struck out 72 batters while walking 11 in 66 innings and limited hitters to a .189 average.
It's not the first MiLBY for the 24-year-old Delaney, either. He was equally dominant as last year's Best Class A Reliever, compiling a 3-0 record with 35 saves and a 1.03 ERA in stops at Class A Beloit and Fort Myers. He fanned 83 while walking 16 in 70 innings and holding batters to a .176 average. In 2007, Delaney was 28-for-29 in save opportunities at Beloit with an 0.77 ERA in 36 games before moving up to Fort Myers in mid-July, where he shared the closer role with Eduardo Morlan (who has since been dealt to Tampa Bay in the Delmon Young-Matt Garza trade).
Not bad for a guy that sat through 50 rounds of the 2006 Draft without hearing his name called.
Delaney was a jack-of-all-trades for St. John's University in New York: starting, relieving, closing and doing whatever was needed with his low-90s fastball and slider. His numbers there weren't remarkable, but it was still disappointing not to have a single team take a late-round chance on him.
Twins scout John Wilson, however, one of Delaney's high school fall league coaches, had liked him enough to get him signed. Two years later, he's looking pretty smart.
Still, no one could have predicted the numbers the 6-foot-3 230-pounder has posted in the past two years, which would be good for a first-rounder.
Delaney gives much of the credit to his pitching coaches, notably Steve Mintz (with Beloit in 2007 and New Britain in 2008) and Eric Rasmussen (at Fort Myers both years), who helped him get more bite on that nasty slider. Rasmussen also gets extra credit for dubbing him "Big Daddy."
When the 2008 season opened in Fort Myers, the Miracle had a strong one-two punch in the bullpen featuring Delaney and fellow right-hander Anthony Slama, a 2008 MiLBY winner for Best Class A Advanced Reliever.
The Miracle cruised to the first-half West Division title in the Florida State League, with the Delaney-Slama combo alternating in the setup and closer roles. Delaney posted 13 saves and a 1.42 ERA in 23 games with Fort Myers before being promoted to the Rock Cats following the Florida State League All-Star Game. Slama remained in Fort Myers and became the lone closer for the Miracle.
"Losing Big Daddy in the bullpen in Fort Myers definitely left a gap chemistry-wise," said Slama, who is once again sharing bullpen duties with his buddy for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. "We're really good friends, we hang out whenever we can outside the field, and we're a good team."
Though Delaney's role at Double-A was setting up 28-year-old veteran Ben Julianel, who led the Twins system with 26 saves, he approached his job with the same mindset and with the same sparkling results.
"Splitting time with Slama at closer was fun, but when I got moved up I was more of a late-inning set-up reliever because they had a great closer in Ben Julianel," Delaney said.
He used the new role and new setting as a learning experience, and by season's end he was in the closer mix with Julianel, collecting five saves in his last eight outings and finishing the season with a streak of 10 1/3 shutout innings.
"I just focused more on hitting my spots and really paying attention to the game," Delaney explained. "Watching my hitters throughout the course of the game, learning my catchers and what they like to call. That's important and it works out well."
Mintz, who has seen a lot of Delaney over the past two seasons, was especially impressed with how much the pitcher had matured from 2007 to 2008.
"The biggest thing is his baseball maturity," Mintz said. "Once you get to this level you have to recognize hitters, recognize swings, recognize strengths and weaknesses and where to pitch to them in different situations. Just winging back and throwing doesn't work anymore because guys can hit anything out of the park."
While Minnesota's outstanding young rotation brought it one game short of a playoff spot in 2008, there is definitely room for good young arms in the Twins bullpen. Don't be surprised to see the guy they call "Big Daddy" factor into that picture soon.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.