Expectations are never particularly high for a 10th-round pick in their first full professional season. Then again, DJ Baxendale may not be your average 10th-rounder.
The University of Arkansas right-hander was slated to go as high as the second or third round in last year's Draft, but his stock dropped following some rough outings against some of the SEC's best competition. He fell to the Twins in the 10th round and has looked like a steal ever since.
Baxendale went 4-0 with a 1.84 ERA in five April starts with Class A Advanced Fort Myers en route to winning the Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Month award.
"That was a huge confidence booster," he said. "To be recognized by your professional organization in your first full season, it was a great honor. The Twins have been a really top-of-the line club to play for, and it was great to receive that so early in my career."
If his first start of May is any indication, he could be on his way to even more hardware.
Baxendale struck out 10 and allowed just three hits without a walk over seven innings Monday to help the Miracle blank the Tampa Yankees, 7-0, at Hammond Stadium.
The gem produced career highs in strikeouts and innings pitched and was the right-hander's second scoreless outing through his first six starts this season. Over that span, he's led the Florida State League in wins (five) and WHIP (0.83) and ranks third in ERA (1.49) and sixth in strikeouts (35) -- all for a Miracle squad that has a produced a Minor League-best 24-6 record.
"It'd have been tough for me to see it going better than this," Baxendale said. "I'm really confident in everything I'm doing right now, and it has a lot to do with these guys around me. When you see how well they're doing, it breeds confidence in yourself that I can go out there and produce well too. It adds incentive to keep everything going."
Still, the 22-year-old was at his best Monday. His three hits allowed were all singles. (In an attempt to stretch a base hit into a double, No. 2 Yankees prospect Mason Williams was thrown out at second by left fielder Aderlin Mejia to close the third.) Baxendale also notched at least one strikeout in each of his seven frames, including a pair in the first, second and fifth.
"The key tonight was just attacking with the fastball," said the former Razorback, who finished his outing after 95 pitches. "I knew I had a great defense behind me, and it seemed like any time I got into trouble, the defense would make a play. Mejia was huge tonight, for example.
"When that happens, you know you want to use all fastballs early in the count to get early outs, so you can be efficient. But when it got to two strikes, we started mixing in some curveballs and sliders that had a really hard, sharp break. My catcher Matt Koch did a great job of blocking some of those balls."
It wasn't only the Miracle's gloves that aided Baxendale, but also their bats. Eight of the nine position players in the Fort Myers lineup scored or drove in a run. (Angel Morales went 1-for-4 with a double.) All seven runs were scored in the first four innings with the starter in the game.
Twins' No. 8 prospect Eddie Rosario led the way offensively, going 2-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and a walk while upping his average to .347. Top prospect Miguel Sano was 1-for-2 with an RBI, a run scored and a walk before exiting the rout early in the seventh.
"When I see my team hitting like they did tonight, I just want to have as quick an inning as I can when I'm out there," Baxendale said. "They say hitting is contagious. So the shorter time I can stay out there, the quicker they can get back to the plate and continue hitting. That's a pretty good motivator."