BOSTON–Prior to Thursday’s game against the Red Sox, Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson discussed the progress of Twins prospects Joe Ryan, Jordan Balazovic, and Drew Strotman, along with current starter Bailey Ober.
Below are Johnson’s thoughts on the four pitchers, who all figure to be candidates for the starting rotation in 2022.
*Conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity*
Q: Why is his fastball so effective, despite sitting in the low-90s?
Wes Johnson: He throws from that lower slot, and yet his hand gets on top of the ball. But when he’s from that little bit of a lower slot, that hitter’s anticipating sink, and it just doesn’t. It’s not like he’s got crazy carry, he doesn’t have crazy carry. It’s more the slot, vertical approach angle, that makes his fastball effective. And he’s got good command of it.
Q: How do you assess his curveball, slider, and changeup?
WJ: They need to get tightened up a little bit, I’ve talked to him a little bit about it, when I had him. (Note: Ryan threw a bullpen with Johnson before the Twins left for this roadtrip). His changeup is closer than what people think to be a pitch here at this level. The hardest part of this deal is, We really don’t know until they get here. These guys will tell us. We can look at a movement plot and stuff, and it’s really cool, but a guy will come here, and all of a sudden you’re like ‘the slider’s good, and the slider’s getting hit.’ It might perform well in the minors, but it’s not performing here. And there’s different reasons. For me right now where I think he’s at, we got to continue to tighten them. Curveball probably has the most work to do. Slider’s close. Changeup’s close. But there’s still some work to be done.
Q: Do you think Ryan can get Major League hitters out right now?
WJ: I do. To comp him, they’re different obviously, way different, one’s 6’9”, but Bailey Ober. When Bailey first came up, Bailey had good fastball command, a little deceptive fastball, throws it a lot. Came up, his slider at first was 78, now it’s 85, changeup was just ok, changeup is coming [now]. Joe’s in that same category, he’s going to be able to come in and get through a lineup twice. Right now I think that. You wish they were robots, put in a little flathead screwdriver, make a quarter turn and get everything. It doesn’t always work that way. But those hitters will tell us how much we need to tighten stuff up.
Q: Balazovic’s had some ups and downs in Double-A. Where do you think he’s at right now?
WJ: We could have left Jordan alone, he would have low walk numbers. We challenged him to throw his changeup more, challenged him to do some different things with his breaking ball. It’s a growing process. There’s times he goes out and feels good, there’s times he’s not, he struggles, and falls behind in counts. I’m personally excited about what he’s doing. We challenged [Griffin] Jax to do some things with his slider. He did it sometimes. Gotta build on those. Same thing with Jordan. We challenged him to throw his breaking ball this way in these counts and he did, we got success with it, now we just got to get it more. We challenged him to throw his changeup 30 percent of the time in the game, he fell behind behind a lot trying to do it, but he started to get better as the game goes on. I’m excited about what he’s doing.
Q: What’s Balazovic’s ceiling? Can he be a 1 or 2 starter in the big leagues?
WJ: That’s a tough question anymore, especially with today’s game. I think that’d be easier to answer five years ago, three years ago even. Now, I see him being a good MLB starter. Hopefully a tick above average major league guy. If he reaches his full potential and ceiling can he be a 1 or 2? Sure. But I just see him as being a good MLB starter.
Q: What’s your view of Drew Strotman?
WJ: His stuff is really good. I could talk a long time about his stuff. We have to get him in the zone a little more. It’s coming, it’s getting there. Confidence will help him get in the zone more from what I see and what I watch. And just knowing how good his stuff really is. He’s got good stuff, in my opinion, and you’ll see him occasionally nibble. We can’t do that right now. There’s times to nibble, maybe when he gets up here, but right now we need to get back to just attacking the white of the plate.
Q: Ober’s been really good the past two months, and his velocity is up. What’s led to that success?
WJ: Bigger guys, the challenge is it is harder to cluster movements. They got more space to get out of whack. We do a lot of work on his lower half. We re-patterned his arm action in spring training. That’s why he didn’t throw an inning in spring training for us. We re-patterned his arm to get it a little more spirally. He picked that up. Once we got that in place we were able to get him to hinge a lot more. Get comfortable with that hinge. You start to see it now, it’s starting to come together. We thought the velo was in there, sometimes you go through this thing of how do they feel? How do they recover? How’s their health? What changes do we think they’re capable of making? You wish it was easy, and it was that quarter turn of a screwdriver on a robot. It’s not sometimes. But where he’s at now, we really like what’s going on with his slider, he’s really made some improvement. We’ve worked a lot on that and the changeup the last couple weeks. I really like where he’s at with his lower half and his fastball.