See also: Baseball America updated all its prospect rankings for subscribers in August.
It’s a nice piece of hardware, the trophy that the Twins present their best minor league pitcher each year. It’s an engraved glass award that fancies up any display case.
But for his second straight season as Minnesota’s top minor league pitcher, 24-year-old righthander Louie Varland received an even better reward: an all-expenses-paid trip to New York.
To face the Yankees.
“I never expected that,” Varland said of his Sept. 7 debut at Yankee Stadium. “Completely blindsided me.”
That’s the same reaction that Varland, a St. Paul native drafted out of Division II Concordia in the 15th round in 2019, induced in hitters by mixing his high-90s four-seam fastball with a newly refined dive-for-the-dirt changeup in 2022.
The changeup “became an additional out pitch, a fire extinguisher when he got into trouble,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations. “He worked on it and raised it to another level.”
It’s had the same effect on the righthander’s career. He began this season at Double-A Wichita, where “my goal was to pitch well enough to reach Triple-A,” he said.
Varland was underselling himself, though everyone does.
While he is only occasionally spectacular, he is remarkably consistent. Varland started a total of 19 games for Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul, never pitching fewer than four innings, and just twice allowed more than three earned runs.
“Nothing flustered him, nothing threw him off his game,” Falvey said. “Our reports kept mentioning the confidence he was showing in his (pitch) mix.”
Varland’s confidence and competitiveness shows in his final numbers: a 3.06 ERA with 146 strikeouts, 42 walks and 15 home runs in 126.1 innings.
Varland was especially sharp at Triple-A when the Twins promoted him to his hometown of St. Paul after the trade deadline. He logged a 1.69 ERA in four starts with a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
All of which made him the obvious candidate when the Twins needed a spot starter for a doubleheader in Yankee Stadium.