FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins were optimistic over the early signs from Kyle Gibson, a college pitcher from Missouri taken No. 22 overall in the 2009 draft. They decided to go that way again in 2010, taking Ohio State’s Alex Wimmers at No. 21.
Wimmers was the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore in 2009, with 136 strikeouts in 104⅔ innings. He was a repeat winner of that award in 2010, although he pitched only 73 innings.
The Buckeyes said he missed time because of a hamstring problem. The rumor was a sore arm.
“Wimmers returned to pitch against us in the Big Ten tournament,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “There was a rain delay, and he came back out. He wasn’t the same. We beat him and won the Big Ten championship.
“When he was healthy, he was outstanding. I’d say Wimmers was one of the best pitchers we’ve had in the Big Ten in recent times.”
Wimmers also was outstanding when he arrived in the Twins organization. He signed on Aug. 6, 2010, for a bonus of $1.33 million. He was given four late-season starts at Fort Myers, and was 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings.
The fact the Twins gave Wimmers an immediate look at high-Class A indicated the 21-year-old was a candidate to be fast-tracked to the big leagues.
Now, Anderson’s disclaimer — “when healthy” — has been the story of Wimmers’ career. He pitched more innings in his last two collegiate seasons (177⅔) than in five years as a pro (161⅓).
Wimmers was derailed for three months in 2011 by what veteran baseball people call “Steve Blass disease” — a psychological inability to throw strikes that plagued Blass, a Pirates ace, decades ago.
Once he got that fixed, Wimmers suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in 2012, and followed up Tommy John surgery with a second surgery to repair a radial nerve in his forearm.
Wimmers wasn’t back in the pitching picture for the Twins until last season, and that came with an innings limit. He split 31 appearances (eight starts) and 84 innings between Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain.
“I look at it as a great year,” Wimmers said. “I got stronger later in the season. And right now, I’m as healthy as you can get.”
Wimmers was saying that on a morning this week, after an indoor workout, a run in the outfield and some light throwing at the Twins minor league facility. He has been among the early-arrivers, even though there’s no invitation to big-league camp and the minor leaguers don’t officially start until March 10.
“This is all about getting ready for spring training,” said Wimmers, now 26. “Who knows? If I throw well enough in minor league camp, I might get a chance to go ‘over there’ and throw a couple of innings in front of the big-league staff. That happens later in exhibition games.”
Over there is the big-league field, Hammond Stadium. Over there is the big-league clubhouse, where many of Wimmers’ friends with similar seniority in the organization will assemble Feb. 21.
Gibson is among them, of course. He also dealt with a torn ligament in his right elbow and Tommy John surgery in 2011. This delayed his arrival in the big leagues until the summer of 2013, and his first full season with the Twins until 2014.
Gibson is Wimmers’ workout partner on most days here and a source of encouragement.
“We have sort of a Tommy John club down here,” Wimmers said. “Kyle had the surgery before me and explained the recovery process for me. I was recovered last year, but with some restrictions on innings.
“There are no limits now. It’s up to me.”
General Manager Terry Ryan said: “The main reason Alex was a reliever most of last season was to keep down his innings. He still should be a starter with his mix of four pitches.
“Alex is at a crossroads in our organization, no doubt. If you can’t regroup and get back all the way, there are guys passing you by. He also still has a chance. The pitches are there.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. email@example.com