Perspective: Swarzak bounces back

Twins pitching prospect learns valuable lessons from suspension

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By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | October 17, 2007 2:33 PM

PHOENIX -- In the idyllic setting of the Arizona Fall League, with the perfect weather, cloudless skies and laid-back atmosphere, it's hard to imagine anyone having a single care in the world.

Twins pitcher Anthony Swarzak isn't quite in carefree mode, but he's a lot closer than he's been in quite some time.

Swarzak, a big right-hander taken in the second round of the 2004 draft, came into the 2007 season as one of the top arms in a very deep Minnesota system, perhaps a shade behind Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey. But just two starts into his Double-A debut, Swarzak had to pay the price for making what he considers the biggest mistake of his career. Testing positive for a recreational drug -- word is it was marijuana -- Swarzak had to put his career and development on hold to serve a 50-game suspension.

"For about 30 games, I just sat and I really got to reflect, sitting in the stands, wanting to be part of the team," he said. "There definitely was a feeling of letting down the team, my family, the whole organization. I worried about what I had to do to get better and prepared for my comeback."

When Swarzak did come back, he pitched much like the guy who previously was ranked so highly within the organization. In 13 starts the rest of the way, he posted a 2.67 ERA. After the Eastern League All-Star break, Swarzak held opponents to a .226 average. More important than how he handled hitters, however, was how he dealt with the suspension and the adversity.

"Obviously, he made a bad decision, but he took responsibility, he was accountable for his actions," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said. "Every place he went, he had to answer those questions. He did a nice job and he was held accountable for his actions and he didn't duck any of his responsibilities. It was a tough lesson to learn, but hopefully down the road it'll pay off for him.

"Hopefully, that doesn't happen again because next time, it's really a bad situation. But we're behind anyone who makes that type of mistake."

Any organization can give lip service like that, but how many actually mean it? The Twins did, and it's not something that was lost on the young pitcher.

"I'm glad they're still behind me," Swarzak said. "It is a very genuine organization, one that truly cares about its players, and that goes from Terry Ryan all the way through."

Swarzak says certain people in particular were helpful as he dealt with the situation. Pitching coach Gary Lucas, who is with him here in Arizona as the Phoenix Desert Dogs pitching coach, was very supportive. So was Gary Knapp, the Twins Minor League pitching coordinator. Without him, going through the ordeal would have been a lot more difficult.

"He was very understanding," Swarzak said of Knapp. "He had a lot of good stuff to say and helped put things in perspective."

Swarzak's outlook is obviously much sunnier than it was back in April. The support of the organization and the decision to send him to Arizona have done wonders for his confidence and make him realize the Twins still think highly of his abilities.

"I was very eager to do well in such a prestigious league," Swarzak said. "If you can put up numbers here, it says a lot about who you are as a player and about your character. I'm trying to show I'm still a prospect and can get the job done."

The Twins clearly think he has the potential to do just that, otherwise they wouldn't have sent him to Arizona in the first place. And it's not just about Swarzak's natural talent, but the organization's faith that he's headed in the right direction after his earlier indiscretion.

"He has a high ceiling. He was one of our top prospects coming into the year," Rantz said. "He's got what you're looking for -- a good arm with a three-pitch mix. We felt he did what he needed to do. He never balked at anything we asked him to do. [Sending him to the Arizona Fall League] was an opportunity to get some more innings, which he desperately needed. Better yet, in his mind, it was a vote of confidence by the front office that we're behind you."

Swarzak appears to have received the message. Everyone, in baseball as well as life in general, deserves a second chance. With the bright Arizona sun shining down on him, it seems that Swarzak is determined to take full of advantage his opportunity.

"I paid my dues. I just want to put it behind me," he said. "I definitely learned a few lessons from this. I'll never forget it, I'll tell you that much, and I'll never put myself in that situation again."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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