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Pitching Prospect Louie Varland Tells All


Ted Schwerzler
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Coming off his best season as a professional, Louie Varland has picked up awards, including the Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Year and the Twins' Jim Rantz Award for Minor League Pitcher of the Year. I caught up with him to reflect on the year that was.

Varland was selected in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, and after just a brief debut in that season, he showed out in a big way this year. Putting in a ton of work during the shutdown for minor league baseball in 2020, results showed in a big way for the up-and-coming pitcher.

I checked in with him to see why he thought there was so much success this season, talk baseball, the offseason, and pick his brain. Here’s what he had to say:

Twins Daily: You didn't get much of a debut for Elizabethton following your selection in the 2019 draft. With minor league baseball shut down last season, how did you go about improving and gearing up for the season?

Louie Varland: After pitching 8 2/3 innings and the season getting canceled, I really did exactly what the Twins asked of me, and it spiraled into improving my mechanics and staying healthy. I threw pretty much all COVID year with two short shutdown periods. When I was throwing, I was working on stuff, whether it was mechanics or pitch development. I worked with Richard Salazar, Mark Moriarty, Martijn Verhoeven, the Twins coordinators, and Kevin Walsh with Starters. 

TD: With the dust settled in 2021, you were among the best minor league pitchers in baseball. What was your focus, and what did you feel helped you take the most significant step forwards?

LV: My focus was getting outs and putting my team in a position to win. In order to do that, I had to throw my pitches in my strikeout zones; Fastball top of the zone, changeup bottom right and slider bottom left. What really helped me take that next step and making it easy for me was an arm path fix. Working a lot with Martijn, Zach Bove, and my pitching coaches, I was able to clean it up and make it more efficient and easily repeatable.

TD: Having pitched at two levels this season, you saw equal success in both places. What did you feel was the most significant difference at Low-A and High-A?

LV: The biggest difference that I noticed was the batters not swinging at balls out of the zone as much. I got away with more balls out of the zone being swung at in Low-A than High-A. Batters also had a better approach looking for specific pitches during different innings depending on what pitches I have working. A little more patience, I would say. They barreled more balls as well. 

TD: You've now picked up a few different Pitcher of the Year awards, both from the Twins and Twins Daily. What do those mean to you?

LV: It’s always nice to get awards. I look at them as a reward for my hard work. I do have to give credit to my fielders making great plays behind me. Nonetheless, it is a satisfying feeling even though I have a lot more work to do and more to prove.

TD: As someone from Minnesota and played their college career at Concordia in St. Paul, what would it mean for you to make the big leagues with your hometown team? What steps do you need to take in preparation for Double and Triple-A next season?

LV: It would mean a lot. It was a dream come true to be drafted by the Twins, but it would be more of a dream come true to make the big leagues with them. I need to fine-tune some pitches and continue to improve my pitching in general. Like I said earlier, I need to dial in my pitches and throw them in the strike-out zones when I want. Consistency with my three pitches.

TD: How much of the Major League Baseball postseason are you tuning into? Is there a guy or two you like to key in on and try to learn from their stuff?

LV: I need to be watching more, but I’ve tuned in a little here and there. I always love watching (Gerrit) Cole, (Max) Scherzer, (Liam) Hendriks, and (Josh) Hader.  

TD: Although the offseason doesn't mean the work ends, what are you most looking forward to in terms of recharging and relaxation?

LV: I like to fish, so I will be fishing around Minnesota. Also, a little hunting. I took a couple of weeks off, and I’m back to training now, but I will enjoy the outdoors in the weekends to come before the snow flies. Then I’ll be ice fishing.

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Great season for Varland. Looking forward to seeing how he does next year at AA; it can be a big leap. If Varland thought there was a big difference between hitters in in high-A laying off pitches out of the zone, just wait until he sees more advanced guys in AA! It'll be interesting to see how his stuff plays and if he can continue to hunt up K's like he did in A-ball. He's definitely a candidate to get the quick promotion to AA: by age, performance, and development he looks ready.

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Thank you for the interesting interview. Varland, like all young pitchers, will need to improve command and control of all of his pitches to continue moving forward with success. The huge season he just had gives him a leg up because his stuff played and he built confidence that his work will pay off in the games. Confidence can be a huge boost to an athlete and getting accolades acknowledges that a player has been on top of their game. I hope he can be just as good in AA and AAA next season. The ice fishing comment cracked me up.

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What makes his season even more amazing is he barely pitched after being drafted in 2019, missed 2020 like everyone else, and was this damn good this quickly.

I fully appreciate comments and reports I've read previously that his secondary stuff needs work/improvement. But isn't that true for most any young pitcher? Especially one who has ONE season of experience.

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13 hours ago, DocBauer said:

What makes his season even more amazing is he barely pitched after being drafted in 2019, missed 2020 like everyone else, and was this damn good this quickly.

I fully appreciate comments and reports I've read previously that his secondary stuff needs work/improvement. But isn't that true for most any young pitcher? Especially one who has ONE season of experience.

Absolutely correct. Especially for guys in A-ball where even if they have an already top line breaking pitch the command will almost always need work.

A-ball pitchers are are funny. It's easy to get super excited about a guy and just as easy to find 5 reasons why they're not going to make it.

I feel like the jump to AA is a big delineator for pitchers: it's harder to simply overwhelm guys with stuff, the hitters have a more advanced approach and won't chase nearly as much, and the hitters have also been exposed to a lot more quality pitching and aren't getting surprised as easily. The age range tends to smooth out a bit too: few teenagers (if any) and more bunching around 23-25. (Wichita's average age was 24.7) If Varland kicks butt in AA, I'm going from intrigued and hopeful to really excited in a big hurry.

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5 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

...I feel like the jump to AA is a big delineator for pitchers: it's harder to simply overwhelm guys with stuff, the hitters have a more advanced approach and won't chase nearly as much, and the hitters have also been exposed to a lot more quality pitching and aren't getting surprised as easily...

Agreed. AA is a big leap forward in terms of talent, but I think the biggest difference is going to be how the AA hitters barrel balls. That said, the leap from Low-A to High-A is pretty big too, in my opinion.

MLB >> AAA > AA >>> A+ >> A- > Rk

If Varland is able to produce similar results at AA without a significant jump in walk rate, I'd be fully confident in him having some success at the MLB level. It seems like the only thing which which derails pitchers above AA is control.

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