Brad Hand has tried to pattern his pitching style after that of Johan Santana. His coach at Chaska, Troy Stein, said Hand might be the best prospect to come out of Minnesota since Joe Mauer.
And if all goes as planned, Hand will begin his own professional career a week from today in Jupiter, Fla.
Hand, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, is enjoying a spring that dreams are made of, and it has a chance to get even better. The 6-3, 210-pound lefthander will be on the mound at 12:30 p.m. today when Chaska (18-8) faces Grand Rapids (24-2) in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Midway Stadium.
Regardless of how things play out, Hand, a second-round pick of the Florida Marlins in last week's amateur draft, hopes to be signed and on the field for the start of Rookie League play on June 19.
"It's very exciting,'' Hand said. "Two years ago there's no way I would have thought I would be the 52nd pick in the draft.''
Hand's development from being a "thrower" to more of a pitcher is the reason behind his breakthrough season. He lived in the past on a fastball clocked in the low 90s, but he wasn't always sure where it was going. He has better command of the fastball now and also can rely on a hard curve.
Hand has an 8-1 record this season and is coming off what was probably his best outing of the season. He pitched a two-hitter in Chaska's 3-0 victory over Eden Prairie last week that earned the Hawks a trip to the state tournament.
"It was the fourth time he faced Eden Prairie this season,'' Stein said. "They have a good hitting lineup. The previous time Brad faced them they just sat on the fastball and they were able to catch up to it.
"This last time he was getting them out with the curveball. It was the difference-maker. Brad has been very sharp the past four weeks. He has a good changeup, too, but he hasn't had to use it because his fastball and curve have been so good.''
Hand's every pitch, if not his every move, has been watched closely by major league scouts this spring. He admits to being nervous early on but said with the help of his coaches he has been able to "pitch to the game" rather than pitch for the scouts.
"He went about his business very professionally,'' Stein said. "He's only 17, but he acted like he was 24. There usually were 30 scouts with radar guns at the games he pitched. They critiqued everything he did from the moment he got off the bus.
"That puts a lot of pressure on a kid, but that's what the scouts wanted to do. They wanted to see how he would react to the pressure.''
Hand was nearly as impressive at the plate this season as he was on the mound. He hit a team-high eight home runs while batting third in the order.
"He's been our best hitter since he was a sophomore,'' Stein said.
Had he elected to attend Arizona State rather than turn pro, Hand likely would have continued to contribute at the plate. But he will be paid to pitch.
"I like hitting, but pitching has always been my thing,'' Hand said. "I like being in charge.''