FORT MYERS, Fla. – Lewis Thorpe struck out all three hitters he faced on Sunday, giving him three perfect innings thus far this spring in his quest to make the Twins pitching staff.
"Just pounded the zone, trusted my stuff and it went well," the Australian lefthander said. "I got the swings and misses that I wanted. The offspeed was down in the zone and the fastball was up, so it worked out pretty good."
One big factor in Thorpe's chances of making the team, or even remaining with the Twins, however, remains out of his control. Thorpe is one of a handful of players whose status will be determined by an arbitrator who is currently mulling one big question left unanswered in 2020: What constitutes a full season during a pandemic?
It's a technicality but an important one because, in a season in which teams appear likely to use more pitchers than ever in order to prevent injury following last year's shortened season, Thorpe could be more valuable than ever in a hybrid starter/reliever role, especially the way he has pitched this spring.
But trying to pass him through waivers, as might be necessary, would probably mean losing him.
Without an open spot in the rotation at the moment, and with only 16 innings of competitive baseball over the past 18 months, the ability to option him back and forth to St. Paul seems ideal.
It does to Thorpe, too.
"I think it's a good thing. If I'm not ready to pitch at the big-league level, they can send me back to Triple-A and I don't get [designated for assignment]," Thorpe said Sunday. "I'm just happy to still be with this organization. It's a great organization and I'm happy to be here and be able to do my thing."
Here's the issue: Like all professional players, Thorpe could be "optioned" to the minor leagues in three different seasons after he was placed on the Twins' 40-man roster, which happened following the 2017 season. The Twins exercised those options in each of the past three years, meaning to do so again this spring, they would first have to remove him from the 40-man roster and expose Thorpe to waivers, allowing any team to claim him.
But another MLB rule says that teams can exercise a fourth option on the player if the first three have been used before he plays five "full seasons" — defined as at least 90 days on a major or minor league roster. Thorpe played in a short-season league that lasted fewer than 90 days in 2013, and missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. His fifth "full" season, therefore, would have been 2020 — except he was sent to the alternate training site on Aug. 31.
The players association and MLB agreed that anyone in the majors for all nine weeks of the pandemic season would be credited with a season of service time, and that time would be prorated for players not on the roster all year. But the two sides neglected to address how to define a "full season" with regard to the fourth-year option rule, apparently overlooking the technicality.
MLB and the union — individual teams like the Twins are staying out of the dispute for now — have sent the issue, along with a few other service-time questions, to an arbitrator, who is expected to rule in the next 10 days or so, a major league source said. Until then, such players as Thorpe, Cincinnati pitcher Jose DeLeon and St. Louis outfielder Justin Williams are in limbo, one they might not even realize.
"Someone sent me a tweet that said I had a fourth option" at stake, Thorpe said. "I didn't even know, you know."