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  • Jordan Balazovic's Development Is Critical


    Nash Walker

    Developing quality starting pitching is undoubtedly the most crucial task on the Twins’ to-do list for 2022 and beyond. Top prospect Jordan Balazovic’s development is critical.

    Image courtesy of Ed Bailey, Wichita Wind Surge

    The Twins selected Balazovic in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft. The Canadian right-hander was just a thin 17 year old with projectable growth. After the draft, he made a solid first impression, pitching to a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings for the GCL Twins. Even with reasonably good numbers through his first two seasons, Balazovic struck out just 45 of the first 316 batters he faced while walking 25. 

    There wasn’t a ton of reason for excitement. Balazovic posted a 4.91 ERA in the GCL in 2017, again with modest strikeout numbers. Gaining strength and more experience, “Jordy Blaze” took a big step forward in 2018. 

    Balazovic pitched for Cedar Rapids alongside Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran, Randy Dobnak, and Bailey Ober. Balazovic wasn’t the shining star of the staff, but he started gaining legitimate steam as a prospect because of how he was getting outs. 

    His strikeout rate jumped 16.5% from his first two years in the GCL, and the stuff was developing at an encouraging rate. Balazovic posted his first sub-four ERA at Low-A, pitching to older hitters in 240 out of 254 plate appearances.

    Balazovic dominated right-handed hitters with sharper stuff and an increased feel. Righties hit .188/.245/.316 and struck out over 40% of the time. Balazovic finally appeared on the Twins’ Top-30 at MLB Pipeline

    His 2019 breakout felt inevitable. Spending most of his time at High-A, Balazovic was excellent. He posted a 2.69 ERA in a career-high 93 ⅔ innings with 129 strikeouts and 25 walks. Perhaps most encouragingly, lefties hit just .189 with a .501 OPS in 185 plate appearances. 

    Balazovic throws a fastball that averages 94-97 MPH with a sharp breaking ball and an underrated changeup. He has a unique delivery with noted deception.

    His teammate in Wichita, Spencer Steer calls Balazovic’s stuff “absolutely electric.”

    “It’s really fun to watch him overpower guys.”

    Balazovic has had an up-and-down season at Double-A, with flashes of brilliance and stretches of poor command. He had a four-start period of 25 2/3 innings where he didn’t allow a run. Then he allowed 15 runs over his next three starts. Then he gave up zero earned runs in 13 2/3 innings before another tough outing Thursday. Overall, he has a solid 3.62 ERA with a 24% strikeout rate and a 9% walk rate. 

    A strong finish could help Balazovic reach St. Paul before the season’s end, with a call-up to the Twins looming in 2022. He’ll turn 23 in September. 

    Prospect progression is seldom linear, and that is doubly true for pitching prospects. While the Twins have stockpiled some intriguing arms, Balazovic has emerged as the best among them, increasing the stakes for his development. 

    The Twins will be defined by how Balazovic and his pitching counterparts pan out and how soon that takes place. 

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    Yup, this is the guy I see as a future Twins #1, the other possibility being Ryan.  He should already be in St. Paul as the Saints make their playoff stretch run.  Lord knows, we should probably be taking some of the Saints talent up to the Twins soon.  But you're right Nash, Jordy Blaze (and I would add Ryan) are the two SP's the Twins really need to get their feet wet and show promise for 2022...IF 2022 is going to be something other than a 75-82 win season.   

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    Excellent article!!  I hope  some of our prospects make it to the big club soon.  I'd like to see what they can do. But it is one thing just to make it to the bigs and pitch for the Twins, it's quite another to become a viable pitcher.  We have had many prospects make the club.  That doesn't mean they are good enough to improve the club.  The way the FO has mishandled the roster this year it's hard to be positive about their direction.  What is their direction?  There appears to be little.

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    Nice writeup Nash, but I am glad he is not the only top rated pitching prospect we have now.  As you've demonstrated, his erratic performance this year raises more questions than answers, leaving one to wonder whether he fits more into the Romero/Gonzales category or a top 3 rotation guy.  Too soon to guess, but I think guys like Ryan, Strotman and Woods-Richardson should be called up in September.  Let Balazovic try gaining consistency at St. Paul this year.  Longer term I think Winder and Canterino offer more promise as major league starters.  There's a reason Balazovic dropped to #88 on MLB's midseason top 100 prospect list..

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    Just some general notes based on the comments:

    1.) No Triple-A playoffs this year, so that's not an issue.

    2.) Only 28-man rosters in September though, so they can't just call up too many.

    3.) There is no reason to call up anyone that doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason (Cano, Woods-Richardson). 

    4.) Balazovic is exciting, but he's young and needs innings... He's right where he should be right now. He's shown a lot of promise, and he's had his struggles. He's only in his first option year, so there is zero reason to rush him this year. 

    5.) I think there is a plan in place and that is to take care of the arms that they see being part of the future while giving opportunities to guys who are probably borderline prospects to see what they can do. Ober, Barnes and Jax all fit into the category. Ober looks to have some good potential. Jax has certainly been impressive at times. Barnes is still in question as he's had less opportunities. And note... I have no idea why Ian Gibaut was called up, other than they needed an arm or two. 

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    https://www.skornorth.com/wes-johnson-on-twins-pitching-prospects/

    Jordan Balazovic

    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.

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    49 minutes ago, SarasotaBill said:

    https://www.skornorth.com/wes-johnson-on-twins-pitching-prospects/

    Jordan Balazovic

    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.

    Thanks for this information and link, Bill.  Great information, especially about Balazovic.  Explains why he may have had a few clunkers with a great game or two mixed in following his nearly 30 innings of shutout ball.

    One name we keep forgetting in all these discussions is Winder.  Watched him several times at Wichita and he was pitching as well as anyone in the organization.  After not pitching at all in 2020 and not a heck of a lot before, understand why they shut him down last month.

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    Lots of information about some very anticipated Twins prospects in that interview. Wes Johnson definitely comes across as intensely confident in his approach and willing to take a lot of credit for results.

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    Jordan Belazovic definitely uses his lower half to power his pitches, but one thing does worry me. His drive leg/hip does carry through in the recommended "hop on a bicycle" fashion, but Belazovic's leg and hip follow through as if he's hopping on a bike that then makes a left turn towards first base. Reminds me a bit of Liriano, but not quite so wild a spin. My fear is that a smoked line drive would either tattoo him in the right butt cheek or somewhere else along his unguarded right flank. What if some young ball smasher hits a blur at his head? In his current form, "Blaze" would have no positive options. 

    I suspect that the lad gets wonderful movement on his slider, as did Liriano. But the tradeoff is a dangerous position on follow through. I just don't see how modern pitchers get through little league without learning to follow through in position to field a line drive right at their face. 

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    1 hour ago, jimbo92107 said:

    Jordan Belazovic definitely uses his lower half to power his pitches, but one thing does worry me. His drive leg/hip does carry through in the recommended "hop on a bicycle" fashion, but Belazovic's leg and hip follow through as if he's hopping on a bike that then makes a left turn towards first base. Reminds me a bit of Liriano, but not quite so wild a spin. My fear is that a smoked line drive would either tattoo him in the right butt cheek or somewhere else along his unguarded right flank. What if some young ball smasher hits a blur at his head? In his current form, "Blaze" would have no positive options. 

    I suspect that the lad gets wonderful movement on his slider, as did Liriano. But the tradeoff is a dangerous position on follow through. I just don't see how modern pitchers get through little league without learning to follow through in position to field a line drive right at their face. 

    Beat me to it. 

    This seems to be the norm (maybe not to this degree) these days. Pitchers just don't think they need to be part of the defense, apparently. At times, the will have no choice. And it will hurt.

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    11 hours ago, SarasotaBill said:

    https://www.skornorth.com/wes-johnson-on-twins-pitching-prospects/

    Jordan Balazovic

    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.

    Thanks for this. 
     

    Overall, it doesn’t seem that he’s particularly close…or at least not particularly close to being effective at the major league level given his secondary pitches are such works-in-progress.

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    I don't know that I would put that much pressure on one prospect.  We have several of them coming up within the next year or so who are starting pitchers.  It looks like we can bank on Ober to be one of our starters moving forward.  I imagine we will sign at least 2 starting pitchers in FA.  maybe Pineda and likely a solid #2 or 3 starter who can pitch close to 200 innings.  I almost forgot we have Gant available should we need a starter.   That leaves 2 more spots with insurance in Gant ad possibly Albers if he is still with the organization next year, with Dobnak, Jax, Barnes, and then Ryan, Winder, Balazovich, and Richardson-Woods.  I left out some like Thorpe and Smeltzer as I am sure their time may be up if we need the 40 man roster spot.  

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    6 hours ago, Brandon said:

    I don't know that I would put that much pressure on one prospect.  We have several of them coming up within the next year or so who are starting pitchers.  It looks like we can bank on Ober to be one of our starters moving forward.  I imagine we will sign at least 2 starting pitchers in FA.  maybe Pineda and likely a solid #2 or 3 starter who can pitch close to 200 innings.  I almost forgot we have Gant available should we need a starter.   That leaves 2 more spots with insurance in Gant ad possibly Albers if he is still with the organization next year, with Dobnak, Jax, Barnes, and then Ryan, Winder, Balazovich, and Richardson-Woods.  I left out some like Thorpe and Smeltzer as I am sure their time may be up if we need the 40 man roster spot.  

    Agree we shouldn't be putting that kind of pressure on a AA prospect who is probably a year away. I figure Pineda is good for missing 2 months per year, so you need a fallback there. Maybe that's where Gant comes in. I would never assume this team will successfully sign a #2 pitcher though. Hardly any of those are available in a given year and they get paid.

    Pitching prospects, even promising ones, struggle to make the leap to MLB all the time. I don't think we can count on anyone outside of Ober for next year. I think Ryan will get a significant opportunity but you still need to assume he'll struggle. I would make every other prospect force their way into the rotation unless we're calling it a rebuild year and are prepared for 100 losses. I don't know how you fill in the other 3 rotation spots at this point.

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