Ober eager to be big man on Twins' campus

Minnesota's 6-foot-9 pitching prospect fanned 100 against 9 walks in 2019

January 12th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Just about every November, Daniel Ober and his side of the family organize a hunting trip into the Maine wilderness, a tradition that dates back decades. This time, his son, Bailey, tagged along with the hope of landing some white-tailed deer. Bailey Ober, a right-handed pitcher in the Twins' organization, dropped off the grid and into the woods from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. before returning to cell-phone range for the first time all day.

All of a sudden, his phone exploded with missed calls, voicemails and texts.

Evidently, Ober hadn't been aware of the significance of the day as the deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man rosters to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. He was among those players. Farm director Alex Hassan and the Twins had been frantically trying to get ahold of Ober to share the good news.

The other two additions that day, top starting prospect Jordan Balazovic and highly regarded defensive catcher Ben Rortvedt, had been more widely known as they climbed the levels of the organization. Ober is a former 12th-round Draft pick who just recently cracked the Twins' Top 30 Prospects list according to MLB Pipeline. So, yes, he was caught a bit off-guard when the organization moved him to the cusp of the Majors.

"I did not see that coming," Ober said.

Forget the lack of prospect pedigree, though -- considering only his pitching track record, nothing about this should come as a surprise.

Ober wasn't part of the Twins' player pool in 2020 and didn't participate in the instructional league camp following the season, but the last time he was on a mound for organized activity in '19, his numbers were stunning -- an 0.69 ERA in 78 2/3 innings, with a patently absurd ratio of 100 strikeouts to nine walks. In fact, over his Minor League career, Ober has 10.6 strikeouts for every walk he has issued.

"Bailey's a fascinating case," Hassan said. "He's a guy who, when he's been on the mound in his professional career, he's performed pretty incredibly. He misses bats, doesn't give up free passes. He does a lot of things that you look for. He's a unique profile."

Unique in what way?

Ober is listed at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds on his player profile (which is quite accurate, he said). Strangely enough, that Randy Johnson-esque height doesn't exactly endow the right-hander with overpowering stuff. In 2019, he frequently struggled to stay around 90 mph with his fastball, and he was "super happy" to be back up to 91-92 mph in bullpen sessions this past summer.

Still, Ober has kept the ball in the ballpark and prevented hitters from reaching base to a laughable extent at all levels of the Minors. That's right: He's a 6-foot-9 finesse pitcher with pinpoint command and the ability to miss bats despite having far from overpowering stuff. You likely won't find another pitcher like him on 40-man rosters around the league, which makes him all the more fascinating.

"I feel like I've always been able to locate the ball pretty well," Ober said. "I don't know when it started, really. I remember pitching in high school and college, obviously, and my walk numbers weren't super high either. I don't know. I just feel like sometimes when you don't have blow-away velo, you've got to be a little bit more precise on every position."

The former golf standout has always been tall as a baseball player, but Ober didn't feel like he was able to take full advantage of it until he reached the Twins' organization. There, the analytical pitching minds introduced him to more advanced data and concepts like pitch tunneling that allowed him to take full advantage of his four-pitch arsenal and the advantages afforded by his height -- namely, the different release point and a unique extension toward the plate that helps his fastball appear faster than it actually is.

One problem, though, has been that he has struggled with staying healthy -- with the height perhaps playing a factor. Ober underwent Tommy John surgery while with the College of Charleston in 2015, and he hasn't pitched more than 80 innings in a season as a professional. An elbow issue in '19 held him out for more than two months, and even as he posted eye-popping numbers across three levels, he felt awful.

"I'd have a great outing, and then that night or the next day, my body would just be killing me, and my wife would be like, 'Cheer up, you just had a fantastic outing. Why are you just kind of down in the dumps?'" Ober remembered. "I'm like, 'I'm just not feeling good.' Like, it was hard to take in my success that I was having at the time just because of how I was feeling."

The Twins have found ways to help there, too. With help from motion performance coach Martijn Verhoeven and the organization's development personnel, Ober has been hard at work in strengthening his body through targeted drills and making changes to his mechanics to more effectively use his lower half instead of introducing an overwhelming amount of stress on his arm through his previously inefficient delivery.

Ober felt he made a lot of progress leading into the 2020 season, making it all the more disappointing that the Minor League season was shut down, leaving him to throw indoors at a pile of cushions stacked on his couch when his workout facilities were shut down. He's used that time productively, though -- his velocity is back up, and more importantly, he's feeling much better about his mechanics and arm health. It's perhaps more encouraging that he had posted such gaudy numbers before any of these improvements happened.

Ober spent part of the offseason working with physical therapists and pitching coordinators in Fort Myers, Fla., on a program developed in conjunction with the Major League staff -- the same staff that, under Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, has coaxed the best out of a wide range of players, from the hard-throwing Trevor May to slider specialist Matt Wisler. Ober is similarly unique -- and he's thrilled to finally get back on a mound to see all this work pay off.

"We're really excited about the work that he's doing and excited about his potential in 2021," Hassan said.

"Continue to work on my mechanics to optimize my body and how I'm feeling. So [staying] healthy is probably [my] number one [goal]," Ober said. "And then obviously, like personal goals, I want to obviously make the big leagues this year, make my debut this year, and stick around. That's going to be the goal going forward, and we'll see what pans out."