FORT MYERS, Fla.—Deolis Guerra didn’t have any problems making positive first impressions with his new organization. The most highly ranked of the four prospects Minnesota received in exchange for sending ace lefthander Johan Santana to the Mets, Guerra is an excellent fit for what the Twins look for in a young arm.
"He’s young, his body’s grown a lot faster than he has," Twins pitching coordinator Rick Knapp said. "He competes, he can change speeds, and he’s got a plus-plus fastball. This is the kind of guy we’re trying to profile."
"First impression is intimidation with the size that he has, and youth on his side," said Twins minor league coordinator Jim Rantz. "He’s got a good arm."
A pleasant surprise for the Twins has been the feel Guerra has shown for his curveball. Projected as an average offering, Guerra has been consistently able to throw curveballs from his high arm slot with a good feel for changing speeds and how to spin the ball. However, some are concerned that trying to be too high with his arm when throwing curveballs may affect his fastball and changeup, his two primary pitches.
Guerra also has impressed with his feel for the other aspects of pitching, such as holding runners and fielding his position, in spite of his 6-foot-5, 200-pound size.
"Usually you see guys his size . . . are gangly that don’t have touch or feel for throwing to bases," Knapp said. "He’s a little bit more refined than your average kid his age. He does those things well, better than I had expected"
There’s still plenty of work to be done with Guerra, most importantly correcting some flaws in his arm action that the team believes should help him avoid injuries such as the shoulder tendonitis that sidelined him for a month last season.
"He’s a real tall kid with straight over the top arm action," Knapp said. "There’s some stuff that he does at the bottom of his arm swing that we’d like to clean up."
Conditioning is another concern. Guerra needs to get in better shape, but so far he’s been a little overwhelmed by what the team is trying to do with him, according to Knapp.
Guerra will likely start the season back in high Class A, where he held his own as an 18-year-old last season, but there’s a chance he could pitch his way to Double-A New Britain by season’s end. To reach Double-A in 2008 would be an impressive feat considering Guerra turns 19 in the season’s second week. Twins officials believe he could dominate the Florida State League with his fastball and changeup alone and not even have to use his curveball, in which case a promotion to Double-A will become more likely. The key is to put him in a place where he’ll be challenged but not overwhelmed.
"He’ll determine whether he moves quick or not," Knapp said. "Obviously we do not want to leave guys in a league where they’re not challenged. But by the same token, we don’t want to force them into a situation where we’re uncertain of their success."
"We’ve got a lot of good arms and he’s one of them," Rantz said. "We’re just going to put a player where he’s going to be able to compete. He’ll get his innings in, whether it’s A-ball or Double-A, we want to make sure he’s going to get his time on the mound. As we tell them all, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish."
Guerra has done a fine job handling any pressure he may feel because of who he was traded for. Knapp credits this to the Twins’ presence in Guerra’s native Venezuela and the fact that the Twins have other Venezuelan players Guerra knows, allowing him to feel comfortable with his new organization.
"I don’t think anything we do here is that shocking to him. I think that he’s handled it tremendously," Knapp said. "I think he’s excited about the opportunities we have here and he likes the way we do it."
Guerra appeared in two Grapefruit League games before he was assigned to the Twins’ minor league camp on March 9. He pitched two scoreless innings while allowing two hits, striking out one, and walking none.