D.J. Baxendale didn’t even have 20 innings of professional experience, and none of it as a starting pitcher, when he arrived at spring training in March. By the time camp finished, he had already played his way up two levels of the Twins farm system.
“We jumped him up to Fort Myers because we thought he was ready, even though there were pitchers we had taken ahead of him” who started a rung or two lower, said Rob Antony, the Twins assistant general manager. “We didn’t have any hesitation moving him up to [advanced Class A] Fort Myers and skipping over the lower levels.”
The righthander had little experience, zero pro starts and no supercharged fastball, the kind that normally gets scouts excited.
And after a month with the Miracle, here’s something else he doesn’t have: a loss.
“He’s aggressive in the zone, but he doesn’t center a lot of pitches. … He knows how to pitch,” Antony said of the 22-year-old, who is 6-0 and has yet to give up more than two runs in a game. “He’s done very well.”
You could say that. His 1.07 ERA leads the Florida State League, and batters are hitting only .171 against him. He pitched seven shutout innings Friday, giving him a streak of 21 innings without giving up an earned run.
Maybe most impressive of all: Baxendale has struck out 44 hitters and walked nine in 50 innings. Not bad for a guy who tops out at the low 90s, if that.
“He’s not a hard thrower. He’s got a below-average fastball, in terms of velocity,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
Not that the Twins are complaining. They pounced on Baxendale, an All-SEC performer who helped lead Arkansas into the College World Series last June, in the 10th round. “Those guys usually fall in the draft,” Ryan said, “because everybody wants hard throwers first.”
A grand (slam) time
Byron Buxton only added to his collection of first-year heroics with Thursday’s walk-off grand slam to beat Burlington. But one of Buxton’s Cedar Rapids teammates might have been saying: “What took you so long?”
Adam Brett Walker II, the Twins’ third-round pick last June, already has three grand slams this season, having cleared the bases roughly once a week since late April. His 45 RBI entering the weekend are running away with the Midwest League lead. He already has had a pair of two-homer, seven-RBI games, and his power stroke is being compared to Miguel Sano.
Walker, the Kernels right fielder, played three seasons in college at Jacksonville, so at 22 he is a couple of years older than Buxton. He bashed 14 home runs last year for Elizabethton and hit a tying ninth-inning home run in the decisive game of the Appalachian League playoffs last September.
A home-heavy May schedule isn’t working out so well for Class AAA Rochester so far. After a 4-4 road trip that seemed to have them back on track, the Red Wings promptly lost five of their first six games of a homestand at Frontier Field.
Pitching is the biggest problem. Entering the weekend, the Red Wings had given up 210 runs, 12th-most in the 14-team International League. Of the nine pitchers who have thrown 20 or more innings this season, only Andrew Albers (2.34) and P.J. Walters (3.42) have ERAs below 3.91. Liam Hendriks’ ERA ballooned to 5.53 before he went on the disabled list because of elbow pain.
The offense hasn’t been much better; Rochester had scored only 154 runs, or 70 fewer than league-leading Norfolk. One bright spot: First baseman Chris Colabello, who was tied (with former Twins third baseman Danny Valencia) for the league lead in home runs with 11. He also had 32 RBI and 16 doubles, including two Friday.