FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Lewis Thorpe was practically glowing as he walked off the mound following his first session throwing live batting practice on Wednesday. The fact that he got Josh Donaldson to swing through both his fastball -- clocked at 93 mph -- and slider below the zone probably had a little something to do with that.
"You always get a little extra adrenaline facing him," the Twins left-hander said. "He's the guy. He's the dude. You always want to make him swing and miss. He's just a great hitter and a great athlete, so it's awesome to face him."
More than anything, though, that session was a tangible demonstration for Thorpe that the relentless work he'd put in this offseason to get himself in a better physical and mental place for this season had paid off. He'd gained 28 pounds -- nearly all muscle. His fastball had its zip and carry again. His ability to locate his offspeed pitches had returned. His confidence was back.
He's determined to pitch himself back into the Twins' plans.
"My head wasn't clear, and this year, in the offseason, I committed myself to working out and working on my arm action and getting strength back in my legs," Thorpe said. "It's all coming along really nicely."
The ball was in the 25-year-old left-hander's court after the former top prospect posted ERAs of 6.18 and 6.06 in his first two seasons as a big leaguer. His strikeout rate and his stuff were at least promising when he debuted in '19, but what should have been a promising '20 season was instead a big step back, as his command was a mess and his fastball velocity dipped to an average of 89.7 mph.
He wasn't using his lower half enough in his delivery. He wasn't putting in his time in the weight room. He was being "foolish" and "lazy," he admits, in a bad place both mentally and physically. LaTroy Hawkins and Rocco Baldelli sat him down. He ended up taking time away from the team during Spring Training for unspecified personal reasons.
"Thorpe had a little bit of success at the big league level in ’19, and I think he just thought he was going to be able to show up and it was going to come easy to him again in ’20, and obviously, it didn’t," pitching coach Wes Johnson said.
His support system -- parents, friends, family, Twins organization -- rallied around him, and that wasn't the same Thorpe who showed up to work with personal trainer and performance coach Anthony Tumbarello at CTP Fitness for the first time last Oct. 12. Tumbarello had never previously seen an MLB athlete show up to his facility that early in an offseason.
"He knew this year was make-or-break," Tumbarello said. "That's what we talked about. First day sitting here: What's the goal? It's make-or-break. We've got to get this done. He had a get-right mentality. As soon as he was in, he was dialed in. From day one until he left. There was never a day where there was a loss of focus or distracted."
Thorpe's goal was to get stronger, not only with his velocity but also with his lower half, an effort to improve his endurance as a starting pitcher. Tumbarello, who also works with Twins outfielder Max Kepler, conducted his own evaluation and gave Thorpe a wide-ranging, "off-the-grid" program for a pitcher to grind away at Thorpe's general fitness, efficiency and confidence. The pair worked together six days a week, 90 minutes to two hours each session. Thorpe only rested on Sundays.
He started eating and sleeping well, doing yoga, easing his mind with golf, fishing and Netflix. He talked to his parents in Melbourne, Australia, at least five times a week.
The confidence steadily began to tick back up as Thorpe met goal after goal in his workouts. The results couldn't be more apparent. When Thorpe first entered that facility, he weighed 192 pounds and managed reps of 285 pounds in his belt squats. By the time he left in February, his body weight was up to 220, and he was squatting 600 pounds.
"The best I've felt since my 2019 year," Thorpe said.
The Twins see it, too, and when they speak of him now, there's no reason for them to speak of the mostly lost 2020 season -- other than how it might have given him the course correction he needed to finally unlock his full potential. There's still a reason he was ranked the organization's No. 11 prospect as recently as 2019, and he appears closer to fulfilling those expectations than ever before.
"I couldn’t be happier with our first impressions of Thorpey in camp," Baldelli said. "I was able to catch the second pass of his live BP, and I think he just flat-out looks great.
"I don’t think any of us have been able to see exactly what Lewis is capable of. I think the sky’s the limit for him. ... With the way he’s throwing the ball right now, he’s putting himself in a spot, in a position, to help this team, to help this team right now. Again, I’m excited. I know the rest of the staff is excited as well."
Thorpe will get his next chance to show the Twins what he's got when he starts against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Monday. He likely won't be in the mix for the 2021 starting rotation, but now that he has been granted a fourth Minor League option, he still has limited time to find the best version of himself and prove that he can be a candidate for meaningful innings as rotation depth.
"He's a dialed-in dude right now," Tumbarello said. "He wants this bad. Real, real bad. His competitive nature is coming out. ... Just knows what he wants and what he can do right now. It's going to be a scary sight when he really starts letting it rip."