Twins' Jon Olsen finding success in AFL after injuries

October 28th, 2022

It’s been a long journey for Jon Olsen getting to the Arizona Fall League.

The 25-year-old has weathered facial reconstruction surgery, Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and UCL reconstruction surgery. Now, he’s getting extra work in the desert and turned in his best start yet.

The Twins prospect held Surprise to just one single in his four innings of work, racking up four strikeouts while firing 35 of his 52 pitches for strikes in Glendale’s 11-1 win over the Saguaros on Friday.

“It’s been a year where I’m just trying to get back to being healthy,” Olsen said. “I feel like I’m starting to get into a groove a little bit. My command, my stuff is starting to get better. I haven’t had a run of being healthy, so the main thing is feeling good and getting back to competing without worrying about injuries. I’m really happy with how it went today.”

Despite being drafted in the 12th round by Minnesota in 2018, Olsen didn’t throw a professional pitch until 2021. In March of 2018 as a junior at UCLA, the right-hander was struck in the face by a line drive that required multiple surgeries. He was back to pitching less than a month later, but in his second appearance back, he felt discomfort in his throwing elbow, which meant Tommy John surgery.

While rehabbing in 2019, he still felt discomfort and was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which required another surgery. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 Minor League season, delaying his debut to 2021. He threw his first 67 professional innings for High-A Cedar Rapids that year, producing a 4.03 ERA in 16 outings.

In September of last year, Olsen discovered an oddity -- his UCL had completely disappeared. He had been pitching without one. It required another surgery to correct, so he didn’t pitch again until June 2022 before rejoining the Kernels after a month of rehab.

“When you’re away from the game for so long like I’ve been, it takes time to get back to feeling comfortable in your own shoes and with your own mechanics,” Olsen said of all the injuries.

The AFL has been nothing short of a positive experience for Olsen despite allowing seven hits, three walks and four earned runs in his fall debut on Oct. 7. After shaking off the rust, he’s steadily been improving, posting a 3.00 ERA across his last three appearances with 12 punchouts. Friday was his first scoreless outing of the fall and his first without a walk.

The California native is focused on developing a slider to better retire right-handed hitters while continuing to work on his current arsenal of fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball.

“I threw [the slider to righties] a few times today, and it wasn’t good,” Olsen laughed. “But the main thing is trying to get that pitch going. I think I can get lefties out at a good clip right now, but with righties, just a little depth to your slider is going to work really well.”

One of the best things about the Fall League, Olsen said, is getting to learn from so many different players and coaches while getting to work on all the things -- mentally, physically and competitively -- that he just hasn’t had the chance to over the last few years.

“It’s just good to continue the season and see a higher level of competition and see where I stack up,” Olsen said. “To have this chance, it’s a great opportunity to showcase what I can do and I’m going to continue to make the most out of it.”