'Unique' curveball could be Magill's key to spot
Reliever working on mental approach, pitch placement in bid for bullpen role
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Matt Magill finally found a foothold in the Twins' bullpen last season after making only 11 appearances in the Major Leagues over his first 10 professional seasons. Coming off of his first extended stint in the big leagues, he arrived at Spring Training determined to make an impression.
His first pitch of live batting practice this spring pounded into the catcher's mitt at 96 mph.
"Me and [pitching coach Wes Johnson] went and saw him in January, and he might have been throwing 96 in his bullpen there, too," assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. "Which is good."
The 29-year-old Magill faces another tough battle this spring to crack a Twins bullpen that has several younger options to build out its depth. But that's all Magill has known throughout a 10-year Minor League career that included a Tommy John surgery in 2015 and three conversions between starting and relief work.
Magill's ability on the mound isn't in question. The Twins really like his arsenal, which is predominantly a hard fastball with life and a unique curveball that he throws at a higher velocity than most pitchers. Part of the pitching ideology that Hefner and Johnson have tried to impart upon Magill this offseason has been to push back against the prevailing baseball fixation on fastball usage and command.
If it's Magill's curveball that gives him a unique look, why not take advantage of that?
"Nolan Ryan had a really good fastball. He should throw his fastball a lot," Hefner said. "Matt Magill has a unique curveball. Maybe throw that some more.
"It's a very unique pitch. You don't want to mess with it too much. But at the same light, you always want to get better and more consistent on those types of things."
With that in mind, Magill worked with Hefner last season and throughout this spring to optimize his pitch placement and usage. But Magill doesn't feel that's the biggest hurdle he faces in trying to stay in the Major Leagues.
Instead, Magill spent the offseason devouring books and articles to improve his mental fortitude, including "Ninety Percent Mental" by former MLB pitcher and current Cubs mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury. He was seeking techniques for controlling his heart rate and breathing to calm himself down on the mound. He feels he lost his mental edge towards the middle of last season, when he frequently started second-guessing himself during his appearances and felt the game speeding up on him.
"Physical ability is here for everybody in this room," Magill said. "There's no doubt. And on the Minor League side, too. It's just the mental side. That's what I've found over the years of being in baseball. My mental ability has kept me from being in the big leagues more than my physical ability."
If Magill does earn a roster spot this spring, his experience as both a starter and reliever could make him a strong candidate for multiple-inning relief appearances in the Twins' evolving idea of bullpen usage -- not just in long relief, as he did last season, but also with extended appearances in higher-leverage situations.
"He wants to be that guy that can throw two or three innings," Hefner said. "A time or a time and a half through the order. Because he knows the value that it can create. So it's just another tool in his tool belt that he can provide value for the club."
Even through the mental challenges of 2018, Magill finally felt the sense that he belonged when he established himself in the Twins' bullpen. Like he's done before, he just wants to earn that again.
"To have people that are really in your corner and believe in you, it makes it that much easier," Magill said. "It's your turn to go out there and show them that their belief in you is not going to go untampered."