FORT MYERS, FLA. _ Cal Eldred was an Iowa legend. He starred as a pitcher for the Iowa Hawkeyes, then was drafted 17th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989.
Eldred ran into numerous injuries during his big-league career, and still managed a successful run with the Brewers and the White Sox as a starter, and with St. Louis as a reliever.
He has remained a fixture in the Cedar Rapids area. B.J. Hermsen grew up on a farm near Masonville, an hour north of Cedar Rapids. A couple of years ago, Hermsen was early in his pro career with the Twins, and he had a few winter sessions with Eldred.
"He showed me the cutter and thought it would be a good pitch for me,'' Hermsen said. "It has helped quite a bit _ a good contrast to the 'slurve' that I throw as a breaking pitch.''
The Twins drafted Hermsen out of high school in the sixth round in 2008. He had committed to Oregon State, the back-to-back national champion.
"I signed with the Twins about an hour before the deadline,'' Hermsen said. "I think the rule that baseball has now _ that you have to sign by Aug. 15 _ is great. That way, the colleges have some notice on the freshmen that are going to be there.''
The Twins expected the lanky, 6-foot-5 Hermsen to fill out his frame and build on the 90-plus fastball that they saw from an 18-year-old righthander. He's now a solid 235-240 pounds, but the fastball has been sitting at 88 to 90 mph.
"I think it might be the workload when you go from high school to the pros,'' Hermsen said. "There's quite a difference in innings. I do know now that if you're not blowing hitters away, it makes you a 'pitcher.' You can worry too much about the radar gun.''
Hermsen added the cutter and used his worry on getting outs. The last two seasons have been outstanding:
He was 11-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 124 2/3 innings at low-A Beloit in 2011, then pitched 26 2/3 more innings at high-A Fort Myers in August.
In 2012, he was in Fort Myers for only four starts _ 1-0 with a 0.78 ERA _ and was advanced to Class AA New Britain. He was 11-6 with a 3.22 ERA. Combined, he pitched 162 2/3 innings, with 161 hits (that's good) and only 30 walks (that's Brad Radke-like).
Hermsen was named the winner of the Jim Rantz Award as the minor league pitcher of the year and was added to the 40-man roster. He could open the season back at New Britain, or with Class AAA Rochester. He also could pitch in Minnesota before the end of summer if everything goes well in the high minors.
"Patience is a virtue in pro ball,'' Hermsen said. "Wherever you wind up, you have to do the job.''
Hermsen was a football quarterback and a basketball player, as well as the hot pitching prospect, at West Delaware High School in Manchester. The school was a conglomerate of a handful of small Iowa towns that at one time were archirvals.
He broke his left collarbone in football as a senior. Did that make him nervous about the wisdom of playing football with the baseball draft 10 months away?
"Small school,'' Hermsen said. "If you have the ability, you're expected to play all the sports.''
Hermsen has stood taller than other pitchers for most of young baseball life. Now, the pitcher in the next locker in the Twins' clubhouse is 6-foot-9 Alex Meyer. Mike Pelfrey, 6-foot-7, and Kyle Gibson, 6-6, and Trevor May, 6-5, are also walking around.
"I feel like an average-sized pitcher in this clubhouse,'' he said.
Hermsen spent most of two seasons in Beloit, with its marginal (at best) facilities for a minor league team. The Twins have moved to Cedar Rapids for the 2013 Midwest League season.
"Cedar Rapids has a nice ballpark,'' Hermsen said. "It's a good move.''