The spring training town produced a hard-throwing righthander who got his first taste of pro ball last season.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - The Twins brought a 19-year-old righthander named Rich Garces to the big leagues in September 1990. They saw the hard-throwing Venezuelan for a mere five games and were extra-impressed.
It was a possibility that Garces would be the reliever to replace veteran Juan Berenguer in front of closer Rick Aguilera to start the 1991 season. Then Garces showed up in the Twins' first spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., and looked as if he had eaten Caracas.
Garces would pitch only four more innings for the Twins (in 1993), and it took him until 1999 in Boston to have any impact in the big leagues.
Two decades later, the Twins were getting quietly nervous that a similar fate could befall Hudson Boyd, another hard-throwing righthander who was a recipient of a $1 million signing bonus as the 55th overall choice in the 2011 draft.
For now, it appears that everyone involved in that selection can relax. Boyd has spent this offseason making a healthy reduction from his weight that was advertised at 275 pounds on his 6-2 frame last season.
"I'm 245 right now," Boyd said. "I think the Twins would be happy if I report to camp at that in a month. I have to admit ... I feel much better."
Boyd was a much-scouted pitcher at South Fort Myers High School, located directly across Plantation Road from the minor league fields at the Twins' spring training complex.
He transferred to Bishop Verot, an area baseball powerhouse, for his senior season in 2011. Boyd pitched a shutout in the state semifinals. He singled home Dan Vogelbach with the winning run in the Class 3A championship game.
Boyd and Vogelbach, a lefty-hitting first baseman, were headed to the Florida Gators basically as a package deal. Then Boyd was drafted as a compensation pick between the first and second rounds, and Vogelbach went to the Cubs in the second round, and both signed.
"I love the Gators," Boyd said. "I go to some of their football games. I did tell the Florida coaches that seven figures was my cutline; if the offer got there, I'd probably sign."
The recommended slot for the 55th pick was $653,000, but the Twins went to Boyd's number -- $1 million -- to get him signed at the Aug. 15 deadline.
The Twins didn't put him with a club for the last two weeks of the 2011 minor league schedule. He didn't pitch formally in pro ball until reporting to the Elizabethton, Tenn., rookie team last summer.
Boyd was OK there -- a 2.95 ERA in 13 starts -- but there were more reports on his heft than his pitching.
"I didn't see it that way, but the Twins thought my weight hurt my endurance as a starter," Boyd said. "They kept talking about getting in better shape."
This week, Boyd was talking outside Hammond Stadium, the Twins' spring ballpark. Hudson said it was more than the message from the team that caused the resolve he has shown this winter.
"I'm going to be 21 in October," Boyd said. "I want to look good on my 21st birthday. That's the last big one to celebrate, right?"
Boyd hired Wes Parker as a trainer this winter. They have been meeting in a local park five days a week. Parker sets up cones and puts Boyd through running and agility drills. Boyd lifts weights independently, in accordance with a program given him by the Twins.
He was clocked consistently from 91 to 94 miles per hour with his fastball in high school. "I topped out at 97 a few times," he said.
The fastball was 91 to 93 last summer at Elizabethton and his strikeouts were low -- 36 in 58 innings.
"I'd like to get a little more velo [velocity] this spring," he said. "I have to work on my changeup, too. Ras showed me a few ways to throw one in instructional league this fall, and I got one that might work."
"Ras" is Eric Rasmussen, the Twins' minor league pitching instructor. Assuming Boyd stays on his current regimen of working out and healthful meals, most of the discussions will be about pitching, not conditioning, when Boyd reports with the minor leaguers on March 5.
"Reporting to camp won't be too tough for me," Boyd said. "My condo is 10 minutes away and I don't have to make a turn until I get to the ballpark."
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. email@example.com
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