"Watch out for this guy."
You hear that on occasion from a scout, a minor league coach or a staff member on the back fields of the Twins complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
I heard that three years ago about Jose Miranda as a hitter, and the third baseman finally put up numbers at Class AA Wichita and Class AAA St. Paul this season to support that heads-up from scout Billy Milos.
The watch-out prospects as starting pitchers for the Twins a couple of years ago were Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran. This spring in Florida, those starting pitchers were Matt Canterino and Josh Winder.
They all missed 2020 due to the minor league shutdown. Then came 2021:
Balazovic missed time because of a back problem before working 97 innings in Wichita. Duran had a bad elbow and pitched 16 innings in St. Paul. Winder was shut down after 72 innings because of shoulder fatigue. Canterino totaled 23 innings due to an elbow problem.
Into this breach came a new watch-out starting pitcher in Louie Varland. He had 20 appearances, 18 starts and 103 innings with a 2.10 ERA. He received the Jim Rantz Award as the Twins minor league pitcher of the year.
Varland played football and baseball and wrestled for North St. Paul. He followed brother Gus, older by the 13 months, to the mound with the Polars, and then to St. Paul's Concordia University.
Gus was drafted by Oakland in the 14th round in 2018. Louie was drafted by the Twins in the 15th round in 2019.
"Chalk that up for Gus … he went one round earlier," Kim Varland said. "But Louie was the first to throw a pitch at 100 [miles per hour] this summer. Gus probably wanted to do that first."
Kim is the mom. Wade is the dad. Gus, Louie and sister Georgi came along in a three-year period.
"I had three kids under 3," Kim said. "That'll keep you hopping."
Mark "Lunch" McKenzie was the coach that recruited the Varlands to Concordia, along with their pal Zach Lauzon, another North St. Paul pitcher.
"Gus and Louie do everything together, but it's always competition," McKenzie said. "If they are working out, they are trying to have the best workout. Throwing bullpens … they want to have the best bullpen."
Kim confirmed Lunch's assessment. "Those two are the best thing that ever happened to each other,'' she said. "They have pushed each other since they were little kids."
Wade took over a drywall business from his father, Denny. The sons were recruited frequently to help out.
"Gus and Louie were both walking around on stilts, slapping on the mud, by age 10," Kim said.
Asked about his sheet-rocking experience, Louie said: "It's a great motivator to have a successful baseball career. My dad's a baseball nut, and so is our grandpa. The best way to get out of a few hours of sheet rocking always was to have a ballgame."
Varland pitched 8⅔ innings for the Elizabethton rookie team after signing with the Twins in 2019. There were no official innings last year without minor leagues, so that was it entering 2021: 8⅔ professional innings.
The 103 innings he had in two levels of Class A ball this season included 142 strikeouts for the righthander.
"When I first recruited him, he was small," McKenzie said. "When I saw him that summer, he had added 20, 25 pounds.
"I said, 'Louie, what happened?' He said, 'I was a wrestler. I stopped cutting 20 pounds to get down to 160."
Varland said last week: "I was in the state meet three times, but always ran into the wrong wrestler in the first match. And when it ended … I could start eating again!"
Louie's now 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds and hits the high 90s with his fastball routinely. Gus is now in the Dodgers system. He had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2019, rehabbed during the lost COVID-19 season of 2020, and pitched limited innings this summer at Class AA Tulsa.
Louie and Gus are not the first pitching Varlands of note in North St. Paul. Wade's sisters, Denise and Sue, were pitching greats in softball.
Gus was talking from the Dodgers' Arizona camp last week, his aunts were mentioned and he said: "Denise and Sue were such North St. Paul legends that my dad says, when he hit a home run in a baseball game, the local paper just called him 'Sue Varland's brother.' "