FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins beat out a dozen teams to sign Lewis Thorpe as a 16-year-old Australian pitching prospect in July 2012. The Twins gave the lefthander a $500,000 signing bonus and had him start his professional career in this country in the Gulf Coast LEague in the summer of 2013.
Thorpe had 64 strikeouts in 44 innings in the rookie league. He pitched another 36 2/3 innings in the Australian Baseball League that winter (which is summer in Australia).
Thorpe was 18 when the Twins sent him to Class A Cedar Rapids for the 2014 season. He was the youngest player in the Midwest League and did OK: a 3-2 record with a 4.65 ERA in 16 starts, and 80 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings.
A few days after the season ended, Thorpe had elbow pain and was diagnosed with a strained ligament. Thorpe skipped the Australian league. He made a start against Tampa Bay’s high-Class A team in 2015 spring training and that was it.
The elbow ligament was torn. He had Tommy John replacement surgery last April 10.
He was home in Australia for three weeks over the Christmas holidays. Other than that respite, Thorpe has been in Florida, going through the slow rehabilitation process that pitchers must endure after elbow surgery.
On Friday, Thorpe had a throwing session off a mound for the second time since the surgery. Catcher Alex Swim set up in front of the plate, making it a 55-foot session.
“The plan is I’ll be ready to throw live batting practice next month, and then I’ll stay here with the extended-spring team,’’ Thorpe said. “If everything goes OK, I’ll be pitching for a minor league club later in the summer.’’
Thorpe’s still only 20 and you watch him throw – even from 55 feet – and he has the look of a pitcher. He’s now more muscular than the listed 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, and as Ron Gardenhire used to tell us, “the ball comes out of his hand.’’
The Twins have signed many players from Australia. Assuming the elbow holds, this kid should be the deal.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Australians who could make it to Twins before Lewis Thorpe (in order):
*James Beresford, 27, 2B-ss: Entering 10th season in organization. LH hitter, batted .307 at Class AAA. With the beloved Doug Bernier gone, maybe he’ll see big leagues.
*Sam Gibbons, 22, RH starter: Had four-start stretch last August at Cedar Rapids with 1.16 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 31 innings.
*Logan Wade, 24, utility: Plays everywhere but catcher and switch hits. There’s always hope for a guy like that.
ADDITIONAL AUSSIE BASEBALL NOTES
Thorpe had a strong interest in what was happening with baseball back in Australia when I talked to him last week. The Aussies were hosting the first of four qualifiers for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The fourth WBC will be held next March, assuming there's no roadblock in the negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players association for a new labor contract after this season.
There are 12 countries qualified by their finish in 2013 for the next WBC: Dominican Republic (champion), Puerto Rico, Japan, Netherlands, Cuba, United States, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, Venezuela, Canada and China.
Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Spain were in the 16-team WBC field in 2013. Those countries finished last in their four-team brackets, so all will be going through qualifiers to reclaim a place in the 2017 tournament. There are 12 other countries in the four qualifiers that will send the winner to the 2017 WBC and complete the 16-team field.
The first was held in Sydney, Australia in recent days, with the Aussies competing against South Africa, the Phillippines and New Zealand. Australia went 3-0 and won the qualifier with a 12-5 victory over South Africa on Sunday.
The Australians actually trailed late in the game, before rallying in the late innings and then putting the game away with a raft of unearned runs.
There was a strong Twins' presence on the Australia roster (no surprise):
Outfielder Trent Oeltjen, a member of the Twins' organization for most of his career, came out of retirement to play in the qualifier. He had three hits (two doubles) and two RBI in the win over South Africa.
Luke Hughes, who once looked like a pull hitter with a chance to have a solid career with the Twins, also had a couple of hits and batted .444 in the three games.
Catcher Allan de San Miguel, a long-time catcher in the Twins' organization, homered against South Africa. He recently signed a minor league contract with Kansas City.
Beresford played shortstop and Wade played third for the Aussies. Both batted .500 during the three games.
Aaron Whitefield, an outfielder who played for the Twins in the Gulf Coast rookie league, was used primarily as a pinch-runner during the qualifier.
One more local note: Anthony Phillips, the outstanding shortstop for the St. Paul Saints last summer, went 6 for 13 and scored seven runs during the qualifying tournament for South Africa.