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Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Month - April

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Yesterday, we looked at the top hitters in the Twins system in May, and today, we’ll be taking a look at the top pitching performances of April. It will be separated into two blog postings, one for the relievers and this one for the starting pitchers.

While the hitting leaders were primarily in the lower levels of the Twins farm system, there are a couple of starting pitchers that appear on today’s list that may not be too far from contributing to the Twins.

With that, let's jump to the starting pitchers. Here are the Top 5 Starting Pitchers for April:

Number 5 - Rochester – Kyle Gibson - 5 GS, 1-3, 3.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 27.0 IP, 21 H, 9 BB, 26 K

Gibson’s return from Tommy John surgery has been filled with ups and some downs. He had one start in which he gave up five runs in 4.1 innings. It is a process, to be sure. However, the 25-year-old has been able to strike out nearly a batter per inning. The general belief is that he is getting close to being able to contribute to the Twins. Twins Director of Minor League Operations said, “Kyle is making good progress. He pitched into the 7th inning in his last outing, which was good to see.”

Number 4 – New Britain – Alex Meyer - 5 GS, 2-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 28.0 IP, 26 H, 11 BB, 34 K

In Meyer’s most recent start, he gave up four runs in six innings, but all four runs came in the third inning. If we were nice, and we could just pretend that one inning didn’t happen, his ERA for the month would be 1.33. Certainly his walk total is a little high, but his strikeouts are encouraging, even exciting. Meyer is blessed with an upper-90s fastball, a hammer for a curveball, a sharp slider and an ever-improving change up. Still just 23 years old, Meyer could rise quickly.

Number 3 – Ft. Myers – Tom Stuifbergen - 5 GS, 1-1, 2.60 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 27.2 IP, 23 H, 0 BB, 18 K

Stuifbergen doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, and the 24-year-old is back with the Miracle for the third straight year. But he also doesn’t walk anybody. Zero walks in 27.2 innings?! He also doesn’t give up many home runs. He gave up two homers in his first start of the year, and has given up none since, in 22.2 innings. He has the pitches, he just needs to opportunity to advance. Steil said, “He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and be ready when there’s an opportunity. When he’s pitching well, it’s usually because he’s changing speeds effectively and keeping hitters off balance.”

Number 2 – Cedar Rapids – Tyler Duffey - 4 GS, 3-1, 2.60 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 27.2 IP, 18 H, 3 BB, 21 K

The Twins used their fifth round pick last year on Duffey, a relief pitcher from Rice. As would be expected, he dominated the Appalachian League out of the bullpen. The Twins were committed to giving Duffey (And several other college relievers) an opportunity to start. Duffey got that opportunity, and he has made the best of it to this point. In his first start of the season, he threw seven perfect innings for the Kernels, and two pitchers completed the no-hitter. With a six-man rotation and the weather issues, Duffey made just four starts in the month. He has shown impeccable control and general ability to keep runners off base. He is efficient with his pitches and has been able to complete seven innings in three of his four starts.

And the Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Month is:
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Ft. Myers – DJ Baxendale
- 5 GS, 4-0, 1.84 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 29.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 25 K

Baxendale was the top starter of the Arkansas Razerbacks team that advanced to the College World Series. During the season, he set the Arkansas record with 20 starts. He went 8-5 with a 3.11 ERA. The Twins were thrilled to use their 10th round pick on the right-hander as they believed he had the talent to be selected much earlier. He began his pro career with the Elizabethton Twins but quickly moved up to Beloit. Combined, he walked just two and struck out 31 in 18.2 innings.

He pitched out of the bullpen primarily because of the 107 innings he threw during the college season. The plan was for him to start this season, but it is somewhat surprising the he began the season with the Miracle. However, as Brad Steil said, the things he’s done so well in April are the things that got him pushed to Ft. Myers. “He’s been locating well, keeping hitters off balance by changing speeds, and keeping the ball down. Along with (those things), just his maturity and poise on the mound.”

Just take a look at the numbers. 4-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. He has limited long balls and walks. The Miracle were 21-4 in April, and Baxendale was a big part of it.

So, what does he throw? A scouting report might tell you that he throws both a 2-seam and a 4-seam fastball that ranges from 87 to 92 mph. He has a big-bending curveball in the low 70s with downward break that makes it a pitch that induces ground balls. He also has a very good, late-breaking slider in the 78 to 82 mph range. He has terrific control of it, and when he spots it on the outside corner, he can get hitters to chase. He also has good arm speed and sink on his changeup.

What would Baxendale himself say? “I throw a four-seam fastball, sinker, change-up, curve ball and slider. I try to use the slider and curveball both as strikeout pitches in order to keep the hitters guessing what pitch I will come with ahead in the count.”

Baxendale has great command and makeup. He has the ability to move the ball around the strike zone very well. He can pitch to all of the zones of the plate, up and down, inside and out. He gets a lot of swings and misses outside of the zone, in part, because he hides the ball well. He is competitive and wants to win at everything. He has a knack of getting out of jams, and has grittiness and intensity on the mound.

Baxendale credits his pitching coach and his control for his success so far this year. “The biggest key to my success so far is throwing low, quality strikes with all of my pitches. I’ve been working hard with pitching coach Ivan Arteaga to be able to consistently repeat my mechanics which improves my command and control of all pitches.”

It’s also been about making adjustments to the professional game. Baxendale explained, “The biggest adjustment I’ve made so far in pro ball is to be efficient in my innings and keep the pitch count down. I’ve done this by pitching to contact, throwing the ball down in the zone and getting outs in early counts.”

For Baxendale to continue to develop and rise through the Twins system, he may need to get a little bigger and strong. By adding some weight and strength, he would likely see a little increased velocity.

But for now, Baxendale is happen to be part of this tremendous Miracle team. “Being part of a talented team is always fun. We are all really competitive so we want to win. It’s pretty special to be a part of a team that is as talented as we are because every game is fun to watch.”

There were a lot of great hitting performances in April, but several pitchers threw the ball very well and were quite successful in the season’s opening month as well. DJ Baxendale is the choice for April Starting Pitcher of the Year, but Tyler Duffey, Tom Stuifbergen, Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson all performed quite well during the month.

We’ll be back tomorrow to discuss the Relief Pitcher of the Month. Please feel free to comment and ask questions.
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