There is a man who preaches the fundamentals of pitching to willing pupils in much the same way the Twins do. While he is not affiliated with Minnesota, he could have as much to do with the future success of the Twins’ pitching staff as anyone else.
He is Gary Henderson, the coach of the University of Kentucky baseball team. Four of his former pitchers are either with the Twins or are showing potential in their minor league system — most notably, given the unbelievable start to his major league career, Andrew Albers.
“He does a lot of what we talk about here, which is nothing new in the world of baseball. Do your basics and do them really well,” said Henderson, who was Albers’ pitching coach at Kentucky before taking over as head coach in 2008. He watched via computer as his former player threw 17⅓ scoreless innings to start his career. “First-pitch strikes, switching sides of the plate, working right-handers in — and in off the plate with two strikes — and eliminating predictability. I was really proud of [Albers] with the first-pitch strikes. I don’t think anybody in the country emphasizes that as much as we do.”
The Twins might challenge him for that title, meaning his former pitchers are in good hands.
The other three pitchers in the Twins organization taught by Henderson: Alex Meyer, a hard-throwing righty and the prize of the Denard Span trade, who has battled an arm problem this year but has fared well at Class AA New Britain; Logan Darnell, a lefthander who had a 2.61 ERA in 15 Class AA starts this season before being promoted to Class AAA Rochester; and Taylor Rogers, a lefty with 10 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA at Class A Fort Myers.
“They all obviously throw harder than Andrew,” Henderson said. “Meyer has one of the biggest arms on the planet. Logan, if he continues to mature, has a very good chance to pitch in the big leagues. Alex will pitch in the big leagues. Taylor Rogers is a guy we pitched on the weekends here for three years, and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make it eventually.”
Albers, though, has already arrived. Henderson let the lefthander stay at his house for a couple of weeks as Albers made a last-ditch attempt to get noticed by a major league club. Henderson even helped arrange the workout that led to Albers being signed by the Twins in 2011.
Henderson was an assistant coach at Florida when undersized shortstop David Eckstein played college ball there. At Kentucky, he coached Collin Cowgill, another underdog now playing outfield for the Angels. Did he believe Albers would make it?
“For anybody to say an 86-88 mph guy is going to have a big league career, looking at the pure statistics of it, I’m not sure that’s genuine,” Henderson said. “But if you believe in kids like Cowgill, Eckstein and Albers, and you think there’s something extra there, then you think they can make it.”
He paused for a moment, then finished the thought: “Now, 17⅓ scoreless? Come on.”