The Twins suspect they may have hit the jackpot in the Rule 5 draft back in 2016—but not by snagging a player off another team’s roster. The Twins’ stroke of luck came when the draft ended and 6-foot-10 righthander Aaron Slegers remained in their system.
“We took a risk and didn’t put him on the (40-man) roster,” vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said. “To be honest, we didn’t know how high the industry was on him. We decided to gamble.”
It paid off in more ways than one. When the rest of baseball passed on the 2013 fifth-round pick out of Indiana, Slegers took it as a blunt and disheartening appraisal of his skills.
With a fastball that sat around 90 mph, Slegers had never been a strikeout pitcher, but his towering height helped him generate ground balls and prevent home runs. He was durable at Double-A Chattanooga in 2016, recording a 3.41 ERA in 145.1 innings.
But when nobody took a chance on him? “It had an impact. That sent a message better than anything we could say,” Radcliff said. “When he didn’t get selected, he realized, ‘I have to do something here.’ ”
Slegers improved his conditioning and refined his mechanics. He opened the 2017 season with six hitless innings at Triple-A Rochester, and between June 15 and July 31 he won eight consecutive starts, never allowing more than three runs. He led the International League with 15 wins, posted a 3.40 ERA in 148.1 innings and was selected as the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year.
And when the Twins needed an emergency start for an Aug. 17 doubleheader against the Indians, Slegers made himself noticed by giving up just two hits and two runs over 6.1 innings of his big league debut.
Slegers returned in September and it didn’t go as well—he surrendered 10 runs in 10 innings—but the Twins are willing to blame the two weeks between each appearance.
“He showed a lot, even when it got messy. You could see him learning,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s an interesting candidate (for the 2018 rotation). I’m not overlooking him.”
So at least that much has changed.