Sid Hartman: Twins having tough time developing arms

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2012 - 12:35 AM

Cole De Vries' fine outing aside, starting pitchers from the Twins farm system have not pitched well this season for the big-league team.

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Cole De Vries, wearing the Minneapolis Millers uniform Saturday night, has pitched well for the Twins, but he is one of few pitchers they developed who has been effective in the majors.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The Twins overall have not had great success developing pitchers in recent years. This year's staff features only a couple of standouts who were developed in their farm system. Their top starter is Scott Diamond, who was a Rule 5 draft pick from Atlanta last year.

Diamond is 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA after he beat the Royals in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Of the Twins' 77 games this season, only 29 have been started by pitchers either drafted or signed as rookie free agents by the team. But what's more troubling is how the starting pitching that has come through the organization has struggled recently.

The organization has had some bad luck with some of the pitchers it developed in recent years, like with Scott Baker, who is out for the season because of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Then the two starting pitchers they drafted in the first round on successive years, Alex Wimmers (2010) and Kyle Gibson (2009), wound up with arm problems as well.

Among this year's starting pitchers that have been in the Twins organization their entire careers, they have a pretty poor collective record.

Eden Prairie native Cole De Vries, whom the Twins signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota in 2006, has pitched the best of anyone directly out of the farm system. After his six excellent innings in the second game of the doubleheader, he is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA in four games in the majors.

Nick Blackburn, a 29th-round draft pick in 2001, is 4-5 with a 7.74 ERA in 59 1/3 innings this season. Liam Hendriks, signed as a free agent out of Australia in 2007, is 0-5 with a 6.82 ERA in 34 1/3 innings and has yet to win a major league game. Anthony Swarzak (second round, 2004) and Brian Duensing (third round, 2005) have primarily been used out of the bullpen but both have also made spot starts, and combined they are 0-6 with an 8.61 in the six games they have started.

In total, in starts this season by pitchers who have been with the Twins from the start of their professional careers, those pitchers are 6-17 with a 7.01 ERA.

In the bullpen, it's a different story. Glen Perkins (first round, 2004) and Alex Burnett (12th round, 2005) have both been strong this season, and Swarzak and Duensing have been effective as relievers, too. Recent callup Tyler Robertson has shown some promise.

Of course, many of the pitchers who have come from other organizations have had their problems this year, too. Veterans Carl Pavano and Matt Capps are on the disabled list, as is P.J. Walters, who had shown some promise in the rotation before getting hurt. But perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year has been the excellence of Jared Burton, a free agent from the Reds organization.

Big improvement by Diamond

The amazing thing with Diamond is the leap he has made from 2011, when he wasn't viewed as a major prospect, although the Twins thought enough of him that they worked out a trade with the Braves to keep him after deciding not to keep him on the major league roster.

Coming into this year, he had posted a career 32-34 record in the minors with a decent 3.78 ERA, but that included a 2011 at Class AAA Rochester where he went 4-14 with a 5.56 ERA. He also started seven games with the Twins last season, going 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings.

But things changed for Diamond at Rochester this year. In six starts, he had posted single-season lows in ERA (2.60), WHIP (1.212) and more important a ratio of only 1.8 walks per nine innings pitched -- a major improvement over his career minor league mark coming into the year of 2.9.

Still, what has been most surprising is the way that those numbers have transferred to the big leagues. He has posted nearly identical numbers to his minor league stats this year: a 2.63 ERA, a 1.208 WHIP and a ratio of 1.4 walks per nine innings.

"I feel a little more comfortable this year, so I'm just trying to run with it," Diamond said. "You know obviously definitely Bobby Cuellar, the pitching coach down [at Rochester], helped me a lot. But also just talking with [pitching coach Rick Anderson] last year and how to approach the offseason and what to work on. You know a lot of the staff here, Carl Pavano and talking to Joe Nathan and Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker and all those guys, I think it really helped last year to help me find a redefined curveball."

Injury update

Gophers football coach Jerry Kill had good news about three good players who could play a lot this fall but didn't take part in spring practice. Kill said he expects offensive linemen Jimmy Gjere and Josh Campion, both of whom have had concussion problems, to be fully healthy. Kill also has hopes for outstanding linebacker Brandon Beal, who transferred from Florida but ran into a knee problem.

Jottings

Pat Reusse had a very interesting story about the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team that won the gold in Barcelona, a team that  in his opinion was the greatest athletic team ever assembled. It reminded me about Michael Jordan’s appearance in the 1984 Olympics. That team, coached by Bobby Knight, played an exhibition at the Metrodome before the Olympics. Knight had me play host to the entire team at my St. Croix home. At that point, Jordan was a good player but not a great one. But as Jordan walked by the dining table, Knight said, “There is going to be the greatest player that ever played the game.” Some of the assistant coaches didn’t agree. That was eight years before Jordan’s great performance at the 1992 Olympics. Nobody could judge players better than Mr. Knight.

• According to team President Dave St. Peter, the Twins will send a delegation of 12 front-office staffers to Kansas City to study this year’s All-Star Game festivities. The team remains confident that Minneapolis and Target Field will soon be named the site of the 2014 All-Star Game.

• Former Twins pitcher and assistant GM Bob Gebhard was in town this week to receive the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) Roland Hemond Award for distinguished service within the game of baseball. SABR’s annual convention ends Sunday in Minneapolis.

• The UNLV football team recently saw four players suspended and two players transfer, good news for the Gophers, who open the season in Las Vegas on Aug. 30. Receiver Marquis Thompson, defensive tackle Nate Holloway, cornerback Ken Spigner and guard Allen Carroll are ineligible to play. And receiver Kurt Davis and offensive lineman Nick White have transferred. UNLV lost its 2011 finale to TCU 56-9. But despite their poor record, the Rebels will get $1 million to play at Michigan in 2015.
 

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