MINNEAPOLIS -- Don’t look now, but Jordan Balazovic might be getting his career back on track.
It’s been a tough two years for the one-time prized top pitching prospect, who has plummeted from being ranked as high as No. 4 in the organizational rankings, per MLB Pipeline, all the way down to his current place at No. 21. A brutal year of injury and underperformance with Triple-A St. Paul last season cooled his prospect status -- and it didn’t help when he lost much of this Spring Training after sustaining a broken jaw before camp.
But he and the Twins may have found something that is working.
Entering play on Sunday, the 24-year-old had a 1.80 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 15 innings with the Saints, including a pair of stingy starts in his last two appearances where he totaled 11 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball. And with the way he’s throwing now, he’s finally giving himself a chance to figure into the Twins’ Major League plans.
“I think the role that we've put him in and the way we've tried to build him back has really worked well for him just in terms of strike-throwing and just in terms of more effectively landing the pitches he's trying to land,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “He's always had a good arm. I think now, he's starting to put himself in a position to have that conversation.”
The shorter starts -- 3 1/3 innings and four innings -- aren’t solely a reflection of his delayed buildup into the season after he was struck in the face in February and had his jaw wired shut. He won’t be stretching out to a full starter’s workload, Falvey said; instead, Balazovic will be built into a mid-range role akin to those of Cole Sands and Josh Winder.
Those shorter stints help the stuff play up a bit more -- Balazovic’s fastball sat at 94-95 mph and touched 96 on Tuesday against Indianapolis -- and could also afford him a cleaner path to the Majors as part of the Twins’ rotating long relief mix. Sands, Winder, Brent Headrick, Dereck Rodríguez and Simeon Woods Richardson have also filled that role.
“It certainly makes it a little easier for some guys to come in and pitch out of the bullpen than it does sometimes to really build back to the full starter, and he ultimately could be part of the mix in the rotation of guys that have to come up and go down from time to time,” Falvey said.
Triple-A St. Paul: Helman hits IL
The Twins have needed a right-handed outfield or utility option for years, it seems -- and though Michael Helman has never ranked among the club’s top prospects, the 26-year-old was off to an eye-popping start with the Saints, hitting .359/.468/.703 with four homers, six doubles, two triples and five stolen bases to build off his 20-40 season last year.
He caught a tough break when he hit the IL on Friday with a dislocated left shoulder -- and that’s in addition to his late start to the season due to a Spring Training hamstring injury.
Double-A Wichita: Severino keeps crushing
Third baseman Yunior Severino was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Week after going 8-for-18 with three homers, two doubles and six RBIs this week for the Wind Surge. That week moved Severino into a tie for second place in homers in the Texas League. The switch-hitter added a burst of power last season, when he hit 19 homers to reach double digits for the first time, and he’s on pace to well eclipse that in 2023.
Single-A Fort Myers: Culpepper cruises
The Twins have made a habit in recent years of maximizing the pitching talent of relatively low Draft selections -- Ober, Varland and David Festa come to mind -- and they might have more brewing down in Single-A.
That’s where 2022 13th-rounder C.J. Culpepper was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Week after allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings against Tampa, lowering his ERA to 3.09 through five starts. Eighth-rounder Zebby Matthews has also impressed with a 3.10 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 29 innings.