Dropping Down Boosts Stock For Twins’ Hildenberger

MINNEAPOLISRighthander Trevor Hildenberger wound up and threw, releasing an unremarkable overhand fastball toward the plate. It was about as ordinary a two-strike pitch as you’ll see in a spring-training game.

The batter flinched. Strike three.

“Sometimes you can catch them unprepared,” Hildenberger said with a smile, reminded of the hitter he flustered with a conventional over-the-top delivery. “They have trouble adjusting.”

Hildenberger has had no trouble after being drafted almost as an afterthought in the 22nd round in 2014. The 25-year-old was lightly regarded at California, a fact that, entering his junior season, caused him to make a radical change in his delivery. He became a sidearmer, swinging his right arm wide and below his waist.

“It’s a totally comfortable motion, once you get used to it,” Hildenberger said. “But it took me awhile. I got hammered at first.”

Those days are over. Hildenberger has adapted three pitches to his down-under delivery, with interesting side effects: His control is pinpoint-precise. And every pitch, released from so close to the ground, seems to rise toward the batter, then dive into the dirt.

“He’s a groundball machine,” vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff said. “It’s so tough to hit his pitches in the air—perfect for a reliever.”

Through 93 innings entering 2016, he had struck out 112 batters and walked just 12. He gave up 24 hits in 45 innings last summer at low Class A Cedar Rapids with an ERA of 0.80. That earned him a promotion to high Class A Fort Myers, where he struck out 21 with just two walks, and played in the Arizona Fall League.

Hildenberger earned a quick promotion to Double-A Chattanooga in 2016.

“He’s got a résumé now that gets your attention,” Radcliff said. “He’s fun to watch. Quick innings. Hitters think they’re on it, then they swing and hit a groundball. Six pitches and he’s out of the inning.”


• Righthander Loek Van Mil, at 7-foot-1 the tallest prospect in Twins history, was released after giving up 15 runs in five innings in his comeback attempt at Triple-A Rochester.

• Outfielders Byron Buxton and Max Kepler returned to Rochester in late April after disappointing starts in Minnesota.

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