In the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, the Twins selected their first of two closers from Rice University. Three rounds later, the Twins selected Rice’s co-closer that year, Tyler Duffey. It was an interesting situation.
“If he played first base, or he made a lot of throws, they’d call me in,” Duffey told Twins Daily in spring training. “If I was getting loose, they said ‘You take the 8th and JT will take the 9th.’ It just depended upon the situation. If we needed his bat or something, they wouldn’t mess with him. It was fun though. It wasn’t really a competition, but we kind of fed off each other a bit… We’d have strikeout competitions. It was fun.”
Chargois grew up and went to high school in Sulphur, Louisiana, a city of about 20,000 people just west of Lake Charles. Former big leaguers (And Mr. Jennie Finch) Casey Daigle went to the same high school.
As a freshman at Rice, Chargois pitched in 15 games and hit in just three games. After that, it was hard to keep him out of the lineup. As a sophomore, he pitched in just seven games. He hit in 63 games. He batted .299/.378/.379 (.757) with nine doubles, three triples and two homers in 63 games. Following the season, he spent time playing in the Cape Cod League. That’s where he made a strong impression on the mound. In 17 games, he posted a 0.43 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.
As a junior, hit hit .323/.411/.376 (.787) with 10 doubles in 51 games. However, on the mound, he pitched 37.2 innings over 25 games out of the bullpen. He went 4-1 with eight saves and a 2.15 ERA. He walked 12 and struck out 38.
Chargois would start at first base or DH and come into games late. Well, either he or Duffey would. he noted, “We pretty much switched roles in the back of the bullpen. That was fun, challenging each other.”
After the draft, Chargois signed quickly and spent the summer in Elizabethton. He struck out 22 and walked five in 16 innings over 12 games. He posted a 1.69 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP.
By then he was solely a pitcher. An upper-90s fastball will also make that an easy decision. That was just fine with the right-hander. He pointed out, “Surprisingly, I don’t really miss it (hitting). I have enough going on worrying about pitching.”
Chargois’s career was off to a fast start. There was so much to look forward to, and then came the arm issues, and the question marks.
Chargois missed the 2013 season. He spent the first half of the season attempting to rehab. Unfortunately, it didn’t take, and in September, he had Tommy John surgery. He also missed the entire 2014 season.
Putting it in its most simplistic way, Chargois said, “It was a rough two, two-and-a-half years.”
Following surgery, he put in a lot of work. He spoke about the rehab process. “I felt like through the rehab there is so much throwing. There’s more throwing that goes into your rehab throwing than actually pitching in a game. I felt more sore and more exhausted during the throwing program than I actually was throwing in games. It was pretty rigorous.”
He returned to the mound in the Instructional League following the 2014 season. He was the player there that was being talked about. Rumors came out that he was consistently hitting 99 mph on the radar gun.
“I felt like I was lucky, really lucky. My body responded really well. It’s almost 50/50 whether you’re going to come back, so it’s scary. There’s not a guarantee. As successful as the surgeries are, it’s not a guarantee.”
Following rehab, he stayed in Ft. Myers at the Twins complex, something he did again quite a bit this past offseason.
“Last year, being the first year coming back from injury, I wanted to be down there pretty much the whole offseason. I wanted Chad (Jackson) around, Eric Beiser, our strength coach. It worked out. They took care of me. Comfort. Security. It’s just a good situation. Dorms down there. Living arrangement. Quality of food. It’s just a good situation.”
In 2015, he was hoping to start in Chattanooga, but the team decided that he should begin in Ft. Myers. He pitched in just 16 Miracle games. In 15 innings, he gave up just four earned runs on 12 hits and four walks. He struck out 19. He was named to the Florida State League All-Star team but was instead promoted to Chattanooga.
“I can say coming out of spring training, I was disappointed. I really wanted to play with basically the group that I started with (in Chattanooga). I wanted to be with those guys to start. There was a reason I went to Ft. Myers. I really needed it. I’m glad I did actually. Going up to Chattanooga, I was hitting full stride.”
He gave the Lookouts a guy they could rely on in the back of their bullpen. He pitched 33 innings in 32 games for Chattanooga. He recorded 11 saves and posted a 2.73 ERA. He struck out 34, but he also walked 20. But that doesn’t tell the story. In his first 12 games with the Lookouts, he gave up three runs in 11.2 innings and went 1-0 with five saves. He had one clunker. On July 12, he gave up six earned runs on three hits and three walks in ⅔ of an inning. Then he ended the season with a 0.46 ERA in 18 games (19.2 innings) and opponents hit just .164 off of him. He gave up just one more run (on August 27).
Note: This is also a reason why looking solely at ERA and WHIP for relievers isn’t the best way to measure their success.
During the Chattanooga Lookouts run to the Southern League championship, Nick Burdi pitched the eighth inning. JT Chargois pitched the ninth inning. Jake Reed and Brandon Peterson were also dominant performers in that Lookout bullpen. Though the players were close, there was a measure of friendly competition among them as well.
“I loved it. It’s kind of a competition. There are a very limited number of bullpen spots. I love having those guys around. I feel like I text Burdi all the time, wanting to compete. In the stadium. In the weight room. They’re great guys and great teammates. We feed off of each other and it’s a great camaraderie.”
And being part of that championship with his teammates, the teammates he started with meant the world to him.
“That group has won a several championships already. We won it in Elizabethton. I was really disappointed. I felt I was ready to come back when they won in Ft. Myers in 2014, but they won it then. I don’t know how to explain it. The camaraderie is great. Great talent. At the end of the year no one wants to go home. You want to play and you want to win.”
Following the season, Chargois was able to go home. He had pitched enough for his first year back after missing two years. He didn’t go to the Arizona Fall League. He didn’t pitch in a foreign winter league. He was able to enjoy a normal offseason. Most important, he ended the season healthy.
“Everything’s good. Following Dr. Andrew’s rehab program and just continued to do that throughout the season, modified it a little bit. Going through an injury like that, you understand the importance of doing all the little things that you have to do for your arm and your body.”
Of course, in mid-November, the thought of being added to the 40-man roster comes to mind. It is a big deal for minor leaguers for a couple of reasons. First, financially, it is a nice boost to a minor league contract. Second, and probably more important, it removes one obstacle from an eventual call up to the big leagues. Third, it means you are required to go to big league spring training, an opportunity to be seen and work with the big league coaching staff and players.
Though we at Twins Daily felt that it was a lock that he would be added, until he found out and it was official, you never know.
“Talking to my agent, the days leading up to it, I was anxious, excited, nervous at the same time. I was on a little mini-vacation in Houston, hanging out. I was headed to the weight room and got the call. It was kind of crazy. Rob Antony let me know. It was really good news, but he also challenged me at the same time. It’s not something that’s just, you can’t take it for granted.”
He won’t take it for granted. He’s already working in Ft. Myers, preparing for the season. What are his thoughts heading into spring training? Does he think he can compete for a big league job?
“Absolutely! Not trying to waste any time. Mentally I’m ready. I feel like showing everyone in the front office and coaching staff that I can perform. I’ve turned my mindset into performing.”
Chargois was last a Target Field after the draft. He saw Minnesota in June. This was his first trip to Minnesota in the winter. However, the opportunity to be there was a highlight for him. He was very excited to be there, meeting fans, as well as future teammates and coaches.
“It’s good seeing guys that are accomplished in the major leagues, seeing how they work, seeing their routines. They know how to push things. Know when to back off. Definitely helpful being able being around guys like that. Being able to observe them. It’s cool. It’s really cool. Putting on this jersey, being around this stadium around the fans, the accommodations are really nice. It’s a great life!”
It is a life (the big league life) that JT Chargois will need to get accustomed to, and probably soon.