Twins' Thorpe emerging from Down Under

Teenage southpaw developing as top prospect from off beaten path

Lewis Thorpe's performance in the ABL means he'll likely move from the GCL to a full-season assignment. (SMP Images/ABL Media)

By Jake Seiner / | March 15, 2014 10:00 AM

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's all come together pretty quickly for Lewis Thorpe.

Less than three years ago, pro baseball wasn't on the mind of the Australian left-hander. The 18-year-old knew he was good -- success as a member of the Australian national team dating back to Little League was evidence of that.

But it was tough for him to gauge his ability and upside compared to American prospects, considering he hailed from a country where baseball is a niche sport.

The young hurler -- a 6-foot-1 beanpole at the time -- began thinking of baseball as a profession during an Under-16 tournament in Mexico. Then 15, Thorpe pitched well and caught the eye of Howard Norsetter, a Twins scout renowned for his ability to discover and sign Aussie hurlers such as Liam Hendriks and Grant Balfour.

"He'd keep coming out to watch me," Thorpe said. "We'd have a chat and he'd say how I was doing, what I was doing wrong, what I was doing right."

Norsetter was the first scout to touch base, with the New York Yankees not far behind and another 15 or so teams to follow. A year later, it was Norsetter's early presence -- as well as a $500,000 signing bonus -- that convinced Thorpe to sign with the Twins.

In 2013, the Twins brought Thorpe stateside. It was his second trip to the United States -- he'd participated in a Cal Ripken tournament in 2007 in Maryland. Fort Myers underwhelmed the hurler a bit -- his free time was spent mostly "just hanging out in the hotel" -- but the baseball experience proved valuable and successful.

Minnesota kept the then-17-year-old in extended spring training, preparing him for a stint in the Gulf Coast League. Already touching 90 mph with a quality changeup, Thorpe was ahead of the game stuff-wise but needed work on his command.

The Twins thought some sharpening to Thorpe's mental approach would help, suggesting a preparation technique they call "zoning." The purpose, as the name suggests, is to help get in the zone more easily before every pitch, limiting his vision to his target and quieting some of the noise that can rattle around a young pitcher's mind.

"Zoning is like mental imagery," he said. "You come set in your windup, look at the ground, close your eyes, then pick up your target. It makes it easier."

Zoning, paired with a simpler motivational ploy -- GCL Twins pitchers are fined a dollar for every walk they issue -- helped Thorpe find command of his pitches. His mound work cost him $6 over 44 innings as he posted a 64-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.05 ERA.

The hurler's workload for the season was expectedly light, considering his age, and made it possible for him to return home and pitch in the Australian Baseball League over the winter. The ABL -- Australia's top professional league -- is stocked with Double-A and Triple-A hitters sent by big league teams to get more at-bats. It was a unique circumstance for Thorpe to pitch there, having turned 18 in November.

The Melbourne native was lights-out for his hometown Aces, compiling a 2.45 ERA in seven starts. Over 36 2/3 innings, he struck out 30 batters and walked 10 with a .241 batting average against.

That he succeeded is a promising sign, but Thorpe was more eager to talk about the stint's influence on his routines and approach. He was especially struck by Rockies prospect Ryan Casteel, Melbourne's catcher, who earned an invitation to big league camp this spring.

"There were a lot of knowledgeable guys around teaching you things every day," Thorpe said. "It was just awesome watching those guys and playing with them and facing good hitters."

"Zoning is like mental imagery. You come set in your windup, look at the ground, close your eyes, then pick up your target. It makes it easier."
-- Thorpe on how the Twins help their pitchers focus

The Twins were thrilled to get Thorpe the experience and pleased with the communication between Melbourne and Minnesota regarding his innings count. The Aces and Twins spoke regularly about his workload, what he was throwing and how well he was throwing it.

"I think the people in Australia did a nice job communicating with us and adhering to what we wanted to do with him," Twins director of Minor League operations Brad Steil said. "It was good for him to pitch in Australia. Faced some better competition than you see in the GCL, more mature hitters who can be a little more patient, have a little more discipline."

Thorpe arrived at Spring Training vying for a spot on a full-season roster, a determination that hasn't been made yet. His resume is looking strong, however. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds when he signed, Thorpe is now a fit 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and hopes to maintain that size.

In his first spring outing on Monday, Thorpe sat at 90-93 mph with his fastball, locating that and his promising changeup well. They've already become go-to pitches for the Aussie, who said his goal is to get his curveball and slider to catch up.

"I need to get them sharper," he said. "I don't have the feel for them just yet. I'll keep working on them. Hopefully, I can get them going for when the season starts."

If the past three years are any indication, Thorpe will have them figured out soon.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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