Drafted by the Twins in the 24th round out of the University of California, Berkeley in 2014, the right-handed sidearm-throwing Trevor Hildenberger has always been a reliever. Back in December, he signed a minor league deal with the Mets.
The Twins got him into professional games that year, his age-23 season, in rookie ball, and things went well. In 29.0 innings of relief, Hildenberger had a 2.48 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just five walks, only three of which were unintentional. That pretty much set the standard for the pitcher that he would be for his next next few seasons in the minors.
In 2015, Hildenberger threw 64.0 innings between Single-A and Double-A with a 1.55 ERA, 80 strikeouts, and seven walks—good for rates of 11.3 strikeouts and 1.0 walks per nine innings. He earned a trip to the Arizona Fall League that year and pitched well there, too, with a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings. And in 2016, Hildenberger started the year in High-A and moved to Double-A after a few appearances. In total, he had a 0.75 ERA in 48.0 innings before an issue with his right elbow ended his season in July.
Coming off the injury, Hildenberger returned strong in 2017, starting the year in Triple-A and putting together a 2.05 ERA with 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 30.2 innings with Rochester. The Twins then called him up, and he made his major league debut on June 23. He stuck at the major league level and spent the rest of the season there, and his numbers looked much like they had in the minors. In 42.0 major league innings, Hildenberger notched 44 strikeouts, issued just six walks—four unintentional—and had a 3.21 ERA and 3.02 FIP.
In 2018, Hildenberger picked up where he left off, starting the year in the Twins’ bullpen. In 36 appearances from Opening Day through June 28, he had a 2.06 ERA with 33 strikeouts and eight walks. Two days later, though, he had a brutal outing in which he walked four batters and gave up five earned runs while recording just one out. You can tinker with the endpoints a bit, but including that appearance, Hildenberger had a 9.36 ERA in 33.2 innings through the remainder of the season. He still struck out 37 batters, but he walked 18—a rate of 4.8 per nine innings that far exceeded his rate from any previous point of his professional career. With that, he finished the season with a 5.42 ERA.
Although things went poorly over those last few months of the season, Hildenberger broke camp with the Twin again in 2019. In his first eleven appearances, he didn’t allow a run and struck out ten and walked just two in 7.2 innings. But he had a staggering 18.47 ERA in his next eight appearances, got demoted to Triple-A, continued to struggle, and was shut down for a couple of months because of another issue with his elbow.
Hildenberger made some rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League and Triple-A in August, and he rejoined the Twins in September. But in the three outings he made with them that month, he gave up a total of six runs in just 2.1 innings. Add up all the major league innings, and he had a 10.47 ERA for the Twins that year. Minnesota non-tendered him following the season, and he signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox during the offseason.
During spring training last year, Hildenberger was optioned to minor league camp in early March, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in full force. He didn’t end up pitching in a game during the shortened season that followed.
The long layoff between appearances in games seems like it could only help Hildenberger, who studied film and thought he might pursue a career as a film critic even after he was drafted. Considering his elbow issues and heavy workload, there’s a chance that he could be fresh in spring training.
Even if he doesn’t make the Mets’ Opening Day bullpen, Hildenberger has options and would presumably benefit from logging some innings in Triple-A to start the year. And regardless of where he starts the year, if he regains the form that he had during the first season-and-a-half of his major league career, he’d be a useful piece of the Mets’ bullpen.