The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 3, 2013

Thoma column:


The Mankato Free Press

---- — With the baseball draft just days away, it’s worth checking on how the Twins’ unique approach last June to drafting pitching is faring.

The Twins, in obvious need of starting pitchers in particular and power arms in general, bypassed the prominent college moundsmen with the No. 2 overall pick last year to take Byron Buxton, and only the most obstinate of critics still find fault with that decision. If nobody else from the Twins draft makes it and Buxton performs in the majors as he has so far in the Midwest League, 2012 was a good draft.

But the Twins still had that need, and taking a high school outfielder in the first round didn’t do much to fill it. And the prime starters had been picked over by the time the Twins’ turn came around again.

What the Twins did: They focused heavily on collegiate relief pitchers, selecting five in their first eight picks (through five rounds), with the express intent of trying several of them as starters.

This reverses the usual process. Relief pitchers are generally in the bullpen because they can’t start effectively.

But the Twins decided to draft power-armed relievers and give them trials as starters. And, really, if one of them does become an effective major league starter, the whole attempt was a success even if the rest fail utterly.

So let’s check on the early returns on these college relief pitchers:

Luke Bard (supplemental round, No. 42 overall): Right-hander pitched seven innings in rookie ball last year, hasn’t appeared in a game this year. He had injury issues last year with Georgia Tech.

Mason Melotakis (second round, No. 63): Lefty is 4-2, 3.69 for Cedar Rapids (low A). Nine starts, 40 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. Not working real deep into games overall, but went seven innings his last time out.

J.T. Chargois (second round, No. 72): Righty, not viewed as a potential starter. Hasn’t pitched this year. The word last summer was that he was likely to reach the majors quickly; a somewhat cynical part of that was the notion that he’d better because he’s destined for a short career because of his delivery. Apparently injured now.

Zach Jones (fourth round, No. 130): Strictly a reliever in high A, tearing up the Florida State League (1.23 ERA, 29 K in 22 innings, just eight hits allowed).

Tyler Duffey (fifth round, No. 160): Like Melotakis, in the rotation at Cedar Rapids and thriving (3-2, 2.78, 47 strikeouts and just six walks in 56.1 innings).

So ... of the five, two are starting, one is relieving, and two are presumably shelved with injuries. The guys who are pitching are doing well, and the starter projects are at least not immediate failures.

That may not sound like much, but this never figured to be a quick-fix approach.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.