Twins Organization Report

Real Deal, Or No Deal?




MINNEAPOLIS--Righthander J.D. Durbin, it seems, has been a pitcher on the rise for as long as anyone can remember.

He was the Arizona high school player of the year at Scottsdale's Coronado High in 2000, and the Twins drafted him in the second round that June. In 2002 he was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year after a 13-4, 3.19 campaign at low Class A Quad City.

By 2004, Durbin was a Double-A all-star in the Eastern League, moved up to Triple-A in August and made his major league debut in September. But health problems have derailed Durbin's progress since then and cast doubts on his future. The 24-year-old needs a strong performance this season--he began the year at Triple-A Rochester--to make himself a part of the Twins' long-term plans.

Until the injuries, Durbin had made a steady rise through the system. He made two appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing in 2000, and it was there that he earned his nickname. Returning to the dugout after a strong inning, he declared to his teammates, "See? I told you I was the real deal." Ever since, he has been known "Real Deal."

Durbin had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum early in 2004, and in 2005 he was on the shelf for six weeks with shoulder tendinitis. He went 5-5, 4.33 at Rochester last season when he was able to pitch.

He agreed to play in Venezuela last winter but was slowed by lingering shoulder problems, butted heads with the manager and left before the season was over. He was not a factor in major league spring training this year, making four appearances and ending with a 16.20 ERA.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Durbin has seen his velocity drop from the occasional 100 mph reading to the mid-90s. He needs to improve his changeup and gain consistency with his curveball and hard slider. He could move to the bullpen if he doesn't show progress in the Rochester rotation this year.

The early returns were mixed. In his season debut, he struck out five and walked four in four hitless, scoreless innings, and after two starts he had a 6.43 ERA and no decisions.

TWIN KILLINGS

• Lefthander Dave Gassner is recovering from an elbow injury but was expected to return to the Rochester lineup in May. Outfielder Kevin West is expected to return from a knee injury in June.

• Jake Mauer, 27, retired as a player to become a Twins minor league coach. He worked with young prospects in extended spring training and will be a coach with the GCL club when its season begins in June.