Twins Adjust Expectations For Kyle Waldrop





MINNEAPOLIS—Kids, don't try this at home.

It's not the recommended way to find a baseball niche, but righthander Kyle Waldrop somehow has turned shoulder surgery into a job-placement program.

A career-threatening injury? Waldrop's case was actually career-locating.

"He's had a long journey," vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said, "but the important thing is where you end up."

In the case of Waldrop, 24, that destination increasingly appears to be the Twins' bullpen. Taken by Minnesota out of Farragut (Tenn.) High in the first round of the 2004 draft, he allowed just six earned runs in his first 49 innings for Triple-A Rochester this season (1.11 ERA), adding 32 strikeouts and nine walks.

As Twins fans focus on who might become the next Joe Nathan, Radcliff says the team feels it may have uncovered set-up man Matt Guerrier's eventual successor. "Kyle has thrived as a set-up reliever," he said. "He's really found a home."

Just not the one everyone expected.

In his first four pro seasons, Waldrop made exactly one relief appearance. The Twins were grooming him—and his low 90s fastball—for the rotation.

But Waldrop's walk rate rose each year, while his strikeout rate dropped. His career was on shaky ground after he went 3-6, 5.34 in 11 starts for Double-A New Britain in 2007. Worse, he needed surgery to rebuild his pitching shoulder—an injury that ends plenty of careers.

After missing all of 2008 while he recovered, Waldrop returned with an innings restriction that convinced the Twins to switch his role.

It's been a perfect fit.

"He's not overpowering, but his fastball has shown a lot of sink. He's getting ground balls," Radcliff said. Sure enough, Waldrop boasted a 3.1 groundout-to-flyout ratio this season.

"He's got a changeup," Radcliff said, "but his breaking ball—it's really more of a slurve—has been the last piece. He's not afraid to throw any of them for strikes.

"Once you draft a guy, you have to forget the projections and let him evolve. Kyle has turned into someone who can help us."

TWIN KILLINGS

• New Britain outfielder Rene Tosoni had an operation to repair the labrum in his right shoulder, ending his season after just 185 at-bats. He injured the shoulder during spring training and had been restricted to DH duties. Tosoni batted .270/.369/.422.

• First baseman Chris Parmelee, demoted to high Class A Fort Myers after a six-week slump to open the season, earned a return to New Britain to replace Tosoni. The secret: Parmelee cut down on his strikeouts and batted .338/.430/.463 in 80 Florida State League at-bats.