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Andrew Albers' baseball journey has taken him to some interesting places.
Before joining the Minnesota Twins as a minor-league free agent in 2011 after driving clear across the country for a tryout, the left-hander had played ball all around the continent; from prep ball in his native Canada, to the University of Kentucky, to the San Diego Padres organization as a 10th-round draft pick and then back to Canada for a year of independent ball.
During his two years in the Twins' organization, he has played at five different levels, including the majors in late 2013. Now, it appears that he is poised to continue chasing his dream on the other side of the globe, in South Korea.
Reports arose on Tuesday that Albers has reached a tentative agreement with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization. It sounds like the only remaining hurdle for completion of the deal is a buyout between the Eagles and Twins.
Albers is no doubt interested in continuing to pursue an MLB career, but likely saw the writing on the wall here in Minnesota. With four spots in the big-league rotation already committed to veterans, and a logjam of starters competing for that fifth spot (several of whom are out of options), the 28-year-old stood little chance of claiming a roster spot on the Twins this spring.
In fact, he may have had a tough time cracking the rotation in Rochester. Consider this: new arrivals Kris Johnson (the minor-leaguer ultimately received in the Justin Morneau trade) and Sean Gilmartin (acquired from Atlanta in exchange for Ryan Doumit) both pitched in Triple-A last year, and the Twins are surely eager to see what they have in the two. Kyle Gibson is probably pegged for assignment with the Red Wings; same goes for Trevor May after two full seasons in Double-A. Alex Meyer, who was dominant when healthy at New Britain last year and looked good in the Arizona Fall League, is also a candidate.
That's five already. Then you've got the losers of the three-way battle between Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley for Minnesota's fifth rotation spot. Given the situation with options, the losers of that competition may end up in the bullpen or claimed by another team, but if not they would be destined for Rochester.
So it's not hard to see how Albers could have been squeezed by the suddenly deep group of arms gunning for jobs in Triple-A and the majors this year. Although he performed very well in Rochester last year and his brilliant first two big-league starts made for an awesome story, the soft-tossing southpaw ranks behind most of the aforementioned names in terms of true prospect luster.
In Korea, he'll earn more money, and he'll have a chance to perhaps catch the attention of another MLB organization if he excels. It's a smart move for him and a convenient enough one for the Twins, who can clear up a space on the 40-man roster and turn their attention toward younger pitchers with more upside.
Nevertheless, Albers' debut and follow-up were easily among the most fun moments of the 2013 season, and I will miss watching his memorable story unfold from up close. I wish him the best as he continues his unique baseball journey, assuming the deal goes through.
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