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  • Should Jordan Balazovic Move to the Bullpen?


    Cody Pirkl

    2022 wasn’t just bad for former top pitching prospect Jordan Balazovic, it was disastrous. Now that he’s on the 40 man roster with minimal minor league success above Double-A on his resume, is it time for a change in plans?

    Image courtesy of Theo Tollefson, Twins Daily

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    Jordan Balazovic was seen as the crown jewel pitching prospect in the Twins system for a few years prior to 2022. Even as a fifth round pick out of Canada in 2016, Balazovic became a big name quickly, as his 6’5 frame filled out quickly and velocity soon followed. He dominated his way up to Double-A in 2019 before the 2020 shutdown interrupted what looked to be an ascension to one of the Twins best starting pitching prospects in some time.

    2021 was a mixed bag as Balazovic threw 97 innings in Double-A with a mid-3s ERA. The strikeouts came down and walks came up a bit, but he still flashed the upside the Twins knew was there. While not the dominant pitcher he had shown he could be, 2021 never could have foreshadowed what we saw in 2022.

    Balazovic began the season a bit behind due to a knee issue. Still, the Twins had decided they’d seen enough in Double-A to bump him up to Triple-A, setting the stage for a potential call up later in 2022. Unfortunately, these plans did not come to fruition, as Balazovic wound up throwing around 70 innings and posting a panic-inducing 7.39 ERA. He was often chased from outings in the second or third inning, allowing a 2.55 HR/9 that would make Emilio Pagan blush.

    There were rumblings of the knee issue continuing to limit the right hander, but the 2022 season was enough for Balazovic to lose all national prospect status. Once bordering on Top 100 prospect lists as an up-and-coming mid-to-high end starting pitcher, Balazovic’s future is suddenly a massive question mark. The question of course, is how the Twins view him.

    At 24 years old, the Twins don’t have to rush to make a decision with Balazovic. Plenty of pitchers such as Josh Winder and Bailey Ober debuted at older ages. The issue, however, becomes the fact that Balazovic had to be added to the 40-man roster. If The Twins want to regain trust in him as a starter in 2023, it will likely take a sizable body of work for them to feel comfortable calling him up given what they saw last year. It also runs the risk of him either continuing to struggle or just putting up middle of the road numbers that don’t push the issue at all. Given how often the Twins churn over the fringes of the 40-man roster, it’s hard to stash Balazovic away in Triple-A as a starter if they’ve lost any faith in him. It’s possible they take another route instead.

    Balazovic’s stuff remains intact by all accounts. His massive frame allows him to throw mid-90s out of the rotation, and he has multiple secondary pitches that grade out well. It’s entirely possible that a move to shorter stints out of the bullpen allow him to approach triple digits, and he could greatly reduce the usage on his lowest-graded pitch being the changeup. He should have the raw stuff to put any command struggles behind him and simply overpower opposing hitters. This would also put him on an expedited track to the Major Leagues.

    Nobody ever wants to see a top prospect make the switch to the bullpen, but it’s a quite common outcome. Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Jhoan Duran, all former starters that made a shift for struggles of some kind and found massive success in the MLB. We’ve seen Griffin Jax, a low 90s fringe starting pitching prospect transition into a high leverage reliever who sits above 95 mph. Sometimes a move to the bullpen is exactly what a pitcher needs to reach their potential.

    It’s likely at this point that Balazovic opens 2023 as a starting pitcher in Triple-A once more, which is completely fair. Much like the 2022 Twins, it may be wise not to make any rash decisions when injury accounted for so much of the struggles. Still, it’s likely that Balazovic’s status as a future starting pitcher is on thin ice. Prospects get hurt and struggle every year, but Balazovic’s 2022 was so bad that it’s fair to wonder whether it’s possible for him to come all the way back.

    The Twins should have a backup plan on standby for Balazovic in 2023 should his struggles continue early in the year. He has the talent to make a real impact on the Major League team and if his odds of that impact coming in the rotation continue to wane, the Twins need to be ready to pivot. Jordan Balazovic could easily become the next Jhoan Duran starter turned reliever to make an impact on the Twins roster. It’s not what fans have hoped for all of these years, but it’s far from a bad outcome.

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    Moving to the bullpen generally helps a pitcher's stuff. It is easier to throw hard for an inning and the pitcher can focus on perfecting only a couple of pitches. However, it doesn't usually help a pitcher's command to move to the bullpen.

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    I'd give Balazovic at least the first half of this season in the rotation in St Paul before making that move. I think Winder, Ober, and Canterino are already well on their way to bullpen roles due to their inability to stay healthy in the rotation. Would like to hold off as long as I could on Balazovic (and Ober, but 1 more injury for him and it'd be to the bullpen for me). At some point they need one of these kids to be able to throw 180 innings in a season without being hurt.

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    24 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

    I'd give Balazovic at least the first half of this season in the rotation in St Paul before making that move. I think Winder, Ober, and Canterino are already well on their way to bullpen roles due to their inability to stay healthy in the rotation. Would like to hold off as long as I could on Balazovic (and Ober, but 1 more injury for him and it'd be to the bullpen for me). At some point they need one of these kids to be able to throw 180 innings in a season without being hurt.

    I think this is the likeliest outcome but they should have the backup plan as a reliever at the back of their mind. We may never know how much that knee affected his final performance, but man that was an unbelievably bad AAA debut.

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    The difference between Balazovic and the others is the circumstance into when they went to the bullpen. Trevor May and Griffin Jax failed as starters at the major league level.  Duran was coming off injury and never really built into starter innings. Balazovic appears to have lost command with a walk rate of over 10% at the minor league level. That may be due to the mentioned knee issue. Spring training and the early season will see if health is the fix for the issues

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    Too much more info is needed to make an educated decision - When was he rocked as a starter?  Was it in early innings or did he simply wear down quickly?  Will he be more effective if he has a small number of pitch types to choose from?

    He's in AAA, lets see if last year was a fluke, or the new norm before making this type of move.  

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    2 minutes ago, farmerguychris said:

    Too much more info is needed to make an educated decision - When was he rocked as a starter?  Was it in early innings or did he simply wear down quickly?  Will he be more effective if he has a small number of pitch types to choose from?

    He's in AAA, lets see if last year was a fluke, or the new norm before making this type of move.  

    He had a stretch from May 25 to August 11 where he failed to reach 4 innings in a given start. Had massive problems with walks, homers, etc. so a bit of everything. In all likelihood they won't give up on him quite yet, but I'd guess if he picks up 2023 with the same issues for a few starts they're going to be making some tough decisions.

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    1 hour ago, chpettit19 said:

    I'd give Balazovic at least the first half of this season in the rotation in St Paul before making that move. I think Winder, Ober, and Canterino are already well on their way to bullpen roles due to their inability to stay healthy in the rotation. Would like to hold off as long as I could on Balazovic (and Ober, but 1 more injury for him and it'd be to the bullpen for me). At some point they need one of these kids to be able to throw 180 innings in a season without being hurt.

    You beat me to it but what you said pretty much sums up my feelings.  Need to give him a good hard look so at least half the season as a starter and see if he rights the ship or least shows he has what is needed to remain a starter.  For the most part his arm has been pretty durable but he needs the stuff to get guys out and stop giving up so many HR's.  

    Going to be interesting who starts at AAA with Varland, SWR, Ober, Winder and Rodriguez as likely starters there.  Balazovich makes 6 starting pitchers at AAA so they can take their time and or put him in a variety of roles if they want to.

    I want to believe he will rebound but it has been two years of pretty average stuff so far from confident things will change.  Hopefully with a motivated offseason he takes his stuff to a new level.

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    JB has the stuff to start. That's not the problem. I don't think his pitches play up as a reliever at this time. The issue is command and control plus the manner in which he becomes rattled. Whenever I watched Balazovic pitch he seemed to lose focus. I couldn't tell if he was irritated by an injury, his disgust with himself when he did not execute a pitch, disagreements with the pitched called or the umpire on a close call, his fielders when an error was made, or something else. There were a combinations of factors that caused chaos in Jordan's games. He reminded me of some of the pitchers I coached who could never isolate the world around then from the singular focused goal of throwing a specific pitch to a location. The game gets too complicated for him, seemingly. The thing is - this could all change now and we could see Balazovic find his groove and become the pitcher he has worked and hoped to become. Maturation happens. Thus, he remains a starter in my opinion.

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    I think this would be a mistake to do so this year. Balazovic does not have the injury history that Winder and Duran had as starters.

    He's averaging close to 100 innings per year right now, and never really was right coming out of spring training. Let's go through a full offseason program and have a goal for 130 innings this year. If he flops, then move him to the bullpen. If not, you may have your #5 starter next year. With Maeda, Gray, and Mahle set to depart, we will likely see some combination of Ober, Winder, SWR, and Varland holding down at least two spots. 

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    Yeah...no. He needs at least a half season to get right mentally/mechanically now that his body appears right. I know he wasn't exactly lights out, but IIRC his last month saw a huge improvement as he...more than likely...was feeling better and getting his mechanics worked out.

    Not trying to make excuses, but 2020 messed up some guys development. And last offseason messed up a lot of guys schedule. So JB has a rough knee but keeps trying to work through it and gets all messed up. I'd be tempted to give him the entire season to see how it works out. Anything less than that, IMO, is rushing to a decision that just doesn't have to be made at this time. Right now, I'd be targeting a change for 2024 to the pen if 2023 is a repeat of this past year.

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    1 hour ago, tony&rodney said:

    JB has the stuff to start. That's not the problem. I don't think his pitches play up as a reliever at this time. The issue is command and control plus the manner in which he becomes rattled. Whenever I watched Balazovic pitch he seemed to lose focus. I couldn't tell if he was irritated by an injury, his disgust with himself when he did not execute a pitch, disagreements with the pitched called or the umpire on a close call, his fielders when an error was made, or something else. There were a combinations of factors that caused chaos in Jordan's games. He reminded me of some of the pitchers I coached who could never isolate the world around then from the singular focused goal of throwing a specific pitch to a location. The game gets too complicated for him, seemingly. The thing is - this could all change now and we could see Balazovic find his groove and become the pitcher he has worked and hoped to become. Maturation happens. Thus, he remains a starter in my opinion.

    1st I'd like to say I'm normally in the camp of taking a guy slow especially coming off an injury. I wouldn't have promoted him to AAA like that. Let him find himself & get in his groove then promote him.

    What concerns me is his getting rattled. Even if has all the stuff but if he can't find his composure, he's still some away from MLB (IMO I don't think he should be called up this season). I'm willing to give him a break because he was starting to right the ship towards the end. Maybe he'll start to mature & find some confidence, then we start to think MLB. 

    Since I'm not counting on him this year, I'd be willing to give him a year to find himself before throwing him in the BP. 

    With Ober, Winder, Varland & SWR, I'm a firm believer of acclimating rookie pitchers to MLB by giving them some time in long relief/ spot SP. After that they graduate to a regular SP. I believe that Ober can be a very good healthy SP, I'd start Ober piggy-backing w/ Maeda in the beginning. 

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    I say leave him as a SP for a couple months. Heck, he could go to AA if needed.......

    They really are flush with options in AAA for a change. I think Henriquez needs to go to the BP, as he has the lowest upside of them all.....And Winder should be in the BP to start the year. 

    If only there was an ACE you could deal three of these pitching prospects for (ya, I'd take that chance on losing depth for a proven ACE).

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    4 hours ago, Cody Pirkl said:

    I think this is the likeliest outcome but they should have the backup plan as a reliever at the back of their mind. We may never know how much that knee affected his final performance, but man that was an unbelievably bad AAA debut.

    This take I agree with.

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    5 hours ago, Cody Pirkl said:

    I think this is the likeliest outcome but they should have the backup plan as a reliever at the back of their mind. We may never know how much that knee affected his final performance, but man that was an unbelievably bad AAA debut.

    Pretty much any starter has the back up plan as try as a reliever 

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    6 hours ago, chpettit19 said:

    I'd give Balazovic at least the first half of this season in the rotation in St Paul before making that move. I think Winder, Ober, and Canterino are already well on their way to bullpen roles due to their inability to stay healthy in the rotation. Would like to hold off as long as I could on Balazovic (and Ober, but 1 more injury for him and it'd be to the bullpen for me). At some point they need one of these kids to be able to throw 180 innings in a season without being hurt.

    Amen. I wouldn't be in a hurry to move anybody to the pen at this point. If Balazovic ends up there with the guys you've already mentioned that leaves SWR and maybe Varland as far as the "pipeline," goes? Possibly Prielipp in a few years if everything breaks right for him? Gray, Mahle, and Maeda (admittedly not banking on much from him) are all gone after this year. Lopez follows them the following year barring an extension. That's 3-4 rotation spots with 2-3 prospects and a post TJ Chris Paddack to cover. I don't like that....

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    I would want to leave him as a starter.  I think last year was a fluke and good health will prove that.  I look at Balazovic and Canterino as 2 pitchers that could really help the Twins in the near future but health and durability is key.  I see Canterino as a dominant back end BP piece and Balazovic as a SP.  As others have said, Balazovic needs at least half of this season at St. Paul to show he's healthy and that he can be an effective starter.  This is probably a make or break year for him in the Twins organization.  Patience can only be shown for a finite time.   

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    The Twins will open up 3 roster spots when they can move Paddack, Canterino, and Lewis to the 60 day IL.  That bodes well for JB having sometime to prove himself.  To me the bigger issue is if he starts slow and they wind up needing his roster spot he is likely lost to waivers.  Given the potentially short horizon we may be better served by establishing him as a viable reliever (or not) early so as to be able to make a better determination on keeping him.  He could move back to the rotation once it is clear that committing a roster spot to him makes sense.  Regardless of role if he stinks it up again the first 2 months he will join other washed out prospects on the scrap heap.

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    On 1/24/2023 at 10:29 AM, Cody Pirkl said:

    I think this is the likeliest outcome but they should have the backup plan as a reliever at the back of their mind. We may never know how much that knee affected his final performance, but man that was an unbelievably bad AAA debut.

    Yep, give him a look as a starter over 2-3 months this year……….if still struggling, take a look at him the balance of the year from the Pen. Hopefully, this approach will tell the organization what they want him to do going forward in ‘24!

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