It took Andrew Albers six weeks to win his first game for Rochester this year, even though his ERA of 2.70 was among the International League’s best. Albers is 10-2 since May 17, but his ERA has actually gone up — albeit only to 2.97 — in that time.
Albers ranks third in the IL in strikeouts with 105, even though his fastball is hardly fast, registering around 85 mph most nights. He’s a pitcher of the year candidate, and a major league callup waiting to happen, even though he was released by the Padres after only five games and spent a season pitching for Quebec in the Can-Am Association.
He’s 27, grew up in Saskatchewan, and probably wouldn’t have been signed by the Twins if he hadn’t decided to drive cross-country from California to Fort Myers, Fla., for a tryout in 2011.
“There’s not much typical about Mr. Albers,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ vice president of player personnel.
Especially his results. Albers is a classic lefthanded junkballer, the kind of pitcher who frustrates batters because every windup looks identical, but every pitch does something a little different. “He’s a guy who gets outs with touch, feel, command, deception,” Radcliff said. “When he’s going good, he can actually throw an 85-mph fastball by people because he’s got them looking for something else.”
It’s almost a baseball cliché, the crafty, late-blooming lefty who racks up wins in the majors by outthinking hitters — Jimmy Key, Jamie Moyer, John Tudor, Terry Mulholland and Charlie Leibrandt are all 20th Century examples of the breed.
And while Radcliff isn’t ready to put Albers in that class, he admits to being impressed with Albers’ season for the Red Wings. Albers is 10-4 overall. “He’s been our most consistent starter, maybe at any level,” the executive said. “He’s a finesse guy, but with an aggressive style. Expands the zone, disrupts timing. He doesn’t have any signature thing about him, where you say, ‘Wow, that’s why he’s good.’ But he is.”
Albers, drafted by San Diego in 2008 after pitching for Kentucky — the alma mater of top Twins prospect Alex Meyer, plus minor leaguers Logan Darnell, Lance Ray and Taylor Rogers — needed Tommy John surgery (named for yet another lefty junkballer) on his elbow, and the Padres cut him loose. After a year of recovery and a year in Quebec, where he faced future Rochester teammate Chris Colabello, he was noticed on UK’s campus by Twins scout Earl Winn. The Twins were interested but were convinced only when Albers took a chance and drove to Fort Myers, where he pitched his way into a contract.
Now he’s a step away from the majors. “That’s a big step,” Radcliff said, “but he’s got our attention, for sure.”
Two promising arms
Radcliff recently spent a few days following the rookie-league Elizabethton Twins, and said he is most excited about two 19-year-old righthanders. They are Yorman Landa, from Venezuela, and Felix Jorge, from the Dominican Republic. “Both look like they have legitimate stuff already,” Radcliff said. Landa is throwing in the high 90s, he said, with a “slurve” as a breaking pitch, while Jorge has a well-developed changeup to pair with his slider. Both have control issues, typical for their age.