This Twins prospect unbowed by injury setbacks

December 20th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The toughest part for  was that he couldn’t celebrate with his friends as they blossomed into Major League players and key contributors to a division-winning Twins team.

He would have loved to be there to high-five Brent Headrick after a big league outing, or to howl with Louie Varland or to enjoy moments in the clubhouse with Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner. Instead, Canterino watched from afar from his post in Fort Myers, toiling on the long road of recovery from Tommy John surgery.

“Honestly, it just makes me look even more forward to 2024,” Canterino said. “I really know it's going to be worth it come 2024, and that all this was for a reason.”

After Canterino lost his entire first season on the 40-man roster due to the 14-month rehab process following his August 2022 surgery, he’s finally able to embrace a standard offseason. The 26-year-old right-hander eagerly anticipates a healthy, normal Spring Training, during which indications are that Canterino could build back up to a starter’s workload.

He’s optimistic that 2024 will finally be his year.

“I want to show that I can get outs,” Canterino said. “I've never had issues getting outs whenever I've been on the mound in the Minors. Anyone in the Twins' organization can attest to that. The problem has been staying on the field. So I want to show that I can continually get outs over the course of the season. I know that if I can do that, there's no way that I'm not going to be able to help the Twins.”

In Canterino’s short bursts of health before the surgery, his numbers were simply astounding across parts of three Minor League seasons. A second-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Canterino has a career 1.48 ERA -- as a starter, no less -- with 130 strikeouts, 35 walks and only 38 hits allowed in 85 innings. He has progressed as high as Double-A.

But as Canterino noted, the problem was that he never threw more than 37 innings in any season as he could simply never shake his persistent arm issues, culminating in that Tommy John for the organization’s No. 18 prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Now Canterino feels he entered the offseason in a great spot health-wise after he finished his ’23 work by throwing to live hitters in Fort Myers. His fastball got back up to 96 mph, with good life on his changeup and slider -- but he’s stopping short of declaring himself fully back until he has had more of a sample size throwing live and in games. But what he’s seen so far has clearly encouraged him.

“Obviously, I'm shaking off some of the rust and everything in terms of command and maybe some of the pitch metrics and everything like that, but I was throwing my slider harder than it was in ’22,” Canterino said. “I got plenty of swing and miss on my changeup, which was one of my best strikeout pitches whenever I pitched in Double-A.”

It helped in Canterino’s rehab that he was able to lean on Chris Paddack, who was similarly building back up from Tommy John surgery, but a few weeks ahead of Canterino’s timeline. That made Paddack an important source of experience and recommendations as the pair navigated their buildups together -- culminating, of course, in Paddack’s highly successful return to the Majors as part of the Twins’ playoff bullpen.

“We got to pick each other's brains a little bit, talk about what we wanted to work on and how we wanted to make sure that we were using this time to get better, not just trying to get back to where we were,” Canterino said.

Opportunity might not be very far away if Canterino’s stuff holds up and he can even come close to replicating that past success. He’s already on the 40-man roster, which typically represents a big hurdle, and the Twins clearly regarded his stuff highly enough to put him there even while he was still on the mend from his procedure.

A possible -- perhaps likely -- move to the bullpen has always been at the forefront of the Canterino conversation, and that could perhaps play more prominently in his first season back from this recovery, when his innings are sure to be limited, especially given his extremely small workload in the Minors. With that said, Canterino noted that his surgeon, Dr. Keith Meister, indicated that 125 innings wouldn’t be out of the question, from a medical standpoint.

But regardless of when and in what form an opportunity might come, Canterino knows that, first and foremost, he has a lot to prove -- and he’s just glad he has finally put himself in a position to make that push.

“I've got to hold up my end of the bargain and come in prepared,” Canterino said. “Obviously, some things are out of my control in terms of opportunity, but I know that if I pitch the way that I know how and how my previous performances have shown how, I can help this team win ballgames.”