Pitching prospect Balazovic out with broken jaw

February 18th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins pitching prospect will be delayed in his buildup for the 2023 season after sustaining a broken jaw due to being struck in an off-site altercation on the night of Feb. 11 in Fort Myers, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey announced on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Balazovic, who is ranked No. 16 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, underwent a surgical procedure on Feb. 12 to have his jaw wired shut. He is expected to rejoin camp in the coming days and eventually progress to playing catch, though the Twins do not yet have a timetable for a throwing program and a ramp-up in his baseball activity.

Falvey and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli both expressed disappointment in Balazovic ahead of what is expected to mark a pivotal season for the right-hander’s professional future.

“We talk to all of our guys about some of the situations that lead to outcomes off the field that get you in some trouble,” Falvey said. “We all have to be aware that the decisions we make, where we go, what we do at different times can have ramifications, and I think we just want to make sure here that we are being clear that we need to prioritize baseball and what’s going on going forward. That’s the message that we collectively delivered in this case.”

Once a Top 100 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline and the top pitching prospect in the organization as recently as 2021, Balazovic dropped down prospect boards following a disappointing ‘22 season. He arrived in Spring Training last year with a left knee injury that kept him on the injured list until May, and he struggled with his control and home run rate as he pitched to a 7.39 ERA in 22 appearances (including 21 starts) with Triple-A St. Paul.

There was a glimmer of encouragement in the 3.43 ERA that Balazovic posted in his five September starts -- including 30 strikeouts and 10 walks in 21 innings -- and the right-hander was slated to enter the 2023 season fully healthy. He had already been in Fort Myers working at the Twins’ complex this spring before the altercation.

“After he’s dealt with some things over the last couple of years physically and trying to get on track, we were hoping to start camp in a normal way and kind of progress,” Falvey said. “We saw some signs at the end of last year from a pitching standpoint where things were going a little bit better for him, because he didn’t have the year that we were hopeful to have last year.”

Balazovic was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the 2021 season, when the former fifth-round Draft selection pitched to a 3.62 ERA across 20 starts in Double-A. Since then, pitching prospects Bailey Ober, Louie Varland, Simeon Woods Richardson and Josh Winder have emerged to impact the Twins’ rotation, while Jhoan Duran -- once paired with Balazovic atop the organization’s pitching rankings -- has emerged as one of the game’s best relievers.

There’s still time for Balazovic to build on the progress of late ‘22, but he’ll once again need to deal with a delayed buildup and, this time, the physical challenges imposed on his body by the liquid diet necessitated by his jaw being wired shut while it heals.

“He didn’t have a good enough year last year to put himself in a position to go compete for a spot right now, so our hope was to get him there, get him rolling and hopefully see a little bit more of the upside we saw a couple years ago,” Falvey said. “Ultimately, we still hope that, but it’s going to be delayed.”

Worth noting
• The Twins missed cornerstone second baseman as they scuffled last September while the normally durable infielder sat with left knee tendinitis. Though he enters camp healthy, they will be more deliberate with his buildup and work with him on a routine to strengthen his knee.

They’ll exercise similar caution with , who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee at the end of last season and also enters camp healthy.

“Trust in the exercises, trust in the routine that I have,” Polanco said. “Don't try to be too quick or try to get too excited. Right now, I'm feeling good. I've just got to keep going with the plan to make sure everything's going good and not try to mess it up by being too excited.”