FORT MYERS, FLA. – Righthander Anthony Slama was cut from one college team, survived a rocky year at a junior college, rebounded and earned another college scholarship.
He was a low-round draft pick who put up dominant numbers in the minors but hasn’t gotten a break. And when he’s seemed on his way to a big break, he’s broken down.
He’s watched time — and prospects — pass him by. And he’s not considered a favorite to make the Twins bullpen this year.
Yet he tries to carry himself as if he belongs and has tried to pitch like he belongs. He owns a chain that bears the word “perseverance” as he waits for his chance.
He’s 29 years old.
“Whether I do or I don’t, I feel like I can pitch up there,” he said after a workout Monday. “I feel like I can get outs up there. Whether my stuff plays up there or not that it is not for me to decide. I’m just there to get outs. I feel my stuff can get hitters out 10 times out of 10 times.”
His fastball usually sits in the upper 80s, but has good movement. He couples that with some deception, a slider and a changeup he’s fine-tuning to throw against lefthanded hitters.
His tools have been more than good enough in the minors. In 254 minor league games, Slama has a 1.99 ERA with exactly 100 saves, has held opponents to a .186 batting average and averaged 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season, Slama posted a 1.24 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 36⅓ innings.
Yet Slama’s major league career consists of seven appearances — five in 2010 and two in 2011. It doesn’t add up.
When the Twins have needed a bullpen arm, they have turned to others.
“Patience has been one of my strong points,” Slama said. “I’ve learned to have patience my whole career.”
Slama was born in Orange, Calif., and signed with Cal-Riverside out of high school. After a redshirt year, he was cut from the team and headed for Santa Ana CC. He posted a 5.54 ERA his year but cut it down to 2.51 the second year, earning a scholarship to the University of San Diego.
The Twins drafted him in the 39th round in 2006 and he quickly flourished. He was the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2008 and has pitched at Class AAA Rochester the past four seasons.
Injuries played a role in him not getting a shot the past two seasons. His 2011 season ended in July because of a flexor pronator strain. He missed two months last season when a line drive hit by Miguel Tejada caused a right leg contusion.
His statistics scream for a call-up, if he can stay healthy.
“Look at the numbers, and depending on the situation and the league, some of them are certainly valid,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “But ultimately, when it comes to productivity, this is a different league. Health is a piece of the equation with him, a big piece. If he keeps doing the job, he’ll get an opportunity.”
Does Ryan feel he has major league stuff?
“What would you call big-league stuff? A radar gun? No.” Ryan replied. “He’s an 88 mph guy. He’s a deceptive guy. The ball comes out of his shirt. I don’t care how hard a guy throws, nobody cares, as long as he gets people out. And he has shown that ability. When he’s been healthy, he’s put up impressive numbers.”
Slama gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Feb. 24 in his first spring outing. He came back four days later with a scoreless inning and could pitch Tuesday when the Twins play host to the Rays. The Twins have a core of relievers returning from last season. Newcomers Tim Wood and Josh Roenicke are out of options. Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly has to stay on the major league roster.
It could be tough for Slama to break through again. If he can’t get a long look this season, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the year.
“Overcoming things isn’t something that I’m afraid to do,” Slama said. “I kind of like being the underdog. trying to prove myself.’’