Color Me, and Joe Mauer, Impressed
That was pretty cool to see, but my particular interest in this game was tied to a couple of the Kernels’ pitchers. Lewis Thorpe, who made the start and picked up his third victory of the year, and Nick Burdi who closed out the ninth inning for his fourth save.
Thorpe has been heralded as perhaps the best prospect to ever come out of Australia, and acknowledged by several outlets coming into the year as a guy who could move up prospect lists pretty quickly. Armed with a four pitch mix and extreme willingness to work hard and improve his game and his body (he added about 50 lbs and 5+MPH to his frame and velocity last season), Thorpe is definitely a pitcher to keep a close eye on, and one to not forget among the glut of pitching talent the Minnesota Twins now seem to possess.
Asked to describe his arsenal of pitches after the game, Thorpe gave a pretty good scouting report on himself, “My go to pitch is mostly my fastball and changeup. And now, the curveball and slider have picked up astonishingly. I can throw those pitches now where I want them, they’re nice and hard, and good sharp break.”
If you go by the “+2” rule everybody in the know talks about with the Veteran Memorial Stadium radar gun, Thorpe sat 91-93MPH all night with his fastball (from the windup and stretch), and touched 95. His curveball was sharp and came in around 75, while the changeup sat around 80 and the slider at 84.
I though everything looked great and when I asked him what he thought he did well and what was working for him in the game, he agreed.
“I think everything was working tonight. Just down in the zone, throwing it where I wanted to throw it at times I needed to throw it. Just regrouping and getting those low strikes. Everything was working tonight.”
Even Mauer noted his effectiveness, “Threw the ball well. His curveball looks pretty nasty, mixing speeds. Second start I’ve seen him throw and he was pretty good today.”
He retired the first seven batters of the game, before a low line drive single snuck between the shortstop and third baseman in the third inning. It wouldn’t matter much, as Thorpe paid close attention to the runner at first, and it paid off as he nabbed him with a quick throw.
“Pretty good pickoff move I found out first hand,” Mauer would also add.
Thorpe didn’t record his first K of the night until the last out of the third inning, but nobody had come close to squaring him up to that point. There were two weak infield line drives along with a tapper back at him on the mound in the first, then two easy ground balls including a broken bat and then another tapper to him in the second.
It was the fourth inning when Thorpe really started to dial it in, as in each of the next three innings he picked up two of the outs via K’s. In the fourth, it was two swinging strikeouts on fastballs at 92 and 93, and the two in the sixth were swinging K’s on a nice changeup and a dirty curveball. Like he said, everything was working for him.
Needless to say, Thorpe had control of the game for all his six innings, in which he allowed just four hits and two walks, while striking out seven. An unearned run scored in the fifth, the only one I didn’t chart (you can blame me, Lewis), after the inning was started with the only loud contact of the night against him, a double from Kane County’s Jeffrey Baez to left field. He came around to score after Thorpe misfired his throw toward Mauer at first base on the next hitter’s bunt attempt.
Unfazed and quick to refocus, he proceeded to strike out the next two batters to end the inning.
When asked about that sequence and how he felt in those situations, Thorpe remarked, “I’m calm. I clear myself off. I need to get myself back in the zone, throw strikes. Lost it for a couple of those batters, found myself down to that lefty, but got a good strikeout out of that.”
Dallas Gallant came on in relief for the seventh inning, but six innings was all it would take for Thorpe to leave me with a good impression. While being chauffeured around the Kernel’s facilities after he was done, a friend (of mine and Twins Daily) asked what I thought of Thorpe’s outing. I pondered the question for a moment, trying to think of the right word, but it wasn’t hard.
“I was impressed.”
With the opportunity that was presented to chat with Thorpe post game, I also asked if he had any specific goals going into the end of the year, and what he was going to work on in the offseason.
“Get stronger is a big key now. Work hard in the offseason, and if I go to instructs, probably the most likely, work on my mechanics more and make sure I have them all down pat so I don’t lose focus. That’s going to be a big key for me this year working into the offseason.”
I also asked if he had picked up anything from Mauer or Ricky Nolasco while they had been around, and he was glowing in praise of the Twins rehabbers.
"Just the way they act around the clubhouse. Both those guys are so good to us. They talk to us, teach us, having their presence around is amazing. I love having [them] around, but they're not going to be here for much longer. They're going to go back up with Minnesota and do their thing up there."
After Gallant finished the eighth, it was the next pitcher, 2014 second round fireballer Nick Burdi, who intrigued me. I was quick to go back and find my seat behind home plate to take in the action.
The first pitch of his outing registered 98 on the scoreboard, which as mentioned above, would equate to 100MPH with a properly calibrated gun. It was bounced to second base for an easy 4-3 putout. The fastball to start the next hitter came up as 99 (101) on the board, and the third pitch of this at-bat was the first slider of his outing, clocked at 89 (91) though taken low and away for a ball. It was then a 94MPH (96) fastball that was sent down the left field line for a double, and a game-tying threat from Kane County.
The next sequence from Burdi was the most telling for me and his future MLB prospects, however. A three pitch K, in which he used every bullet in his gun. It was started with a 94 MPH (96) heater for strike one, followed by an 86 MPH (88) swing-and-miss slider for strike two, and finally an 87 MPH (89) changeup that froze the batter as it darted down on the outside corner for strike three and a looking-K. Nasty, nasty stuff. In fact, take a look for yourself:
The final batter of the game took a slider for strike one, before popping out to the catcher just behind home plate on a fastball to end the game.
If you ignore Burdi’s now irrelevant Midwest League debut, he has appeared in twelve games, thirteen innings pitched, with just eight hits, four walks and two earned runs allowed, while racking up twenty six strikeouts.
Mauer was even asked if he would like to grab a bat and stand in against Burdi, he laughed.
“I’ve seen it before. Not from him, but he’s got a great arm and I imagine I’ll probably see him pretty soon.”
One can hope, Joe.