FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Twins are deciding where Lewis Thorpe will be starting the 2021 season, they no longer have to worry about losing him if they don’t carry him on their 26-man roster.
The left-handed pitcher received a fourth minor-league option this year, giving the Twins some flexibility with how they handle him. Had he been out of options, he would need to be placed on waivers and cleared before they could send him to Triple-A. But while the Twins aren’t at risk of losing him anymore if they send him to the minors, a rejuvenated Thorpe is hoping to make the Twins’ decision difficult nonetheless.
Thorpe, whose fastball touched 93 mph on Monday in a scoreless two-inning start against the Tampa Bay Rays, has reported to camp in a much better place both physically and mentally, and is ready to show the Twins his potential after a difficult 2020 season. He is in line to make his next spring start on Sunday.
“Our hope was he was prepared to come into this spring training ready to compete. … He’s had some ups and downs; he’d be the first to tell you that. But I think we saw with a good offseason of work, he was going to put himself in a position to compete for this team, option or not,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “I think, so far, he’s kept that mindset. I don’t think that’s changed anything.”
Last spring, Thorpe, 25, had to step away from the team for unspecified personal reasons. At the time, he said he had to clear his head and was “going through a little rough time.” Just a couple of weeks after his return, camp shut down due to COVID-19, and once the season began Thorpe ran into trouble, posting a 6.06 earned-run average. His four-seamer took a noticeable dip in velocity, down from his 91.2-mph average in 2019 to 89.7 mph last year.
“He’s had a phenomenal offseason. His body is right. More importantly, I think his mind is right,” pitching coach Wes Johnson said earlier this spring. “…People don’t understand that dealing with success is just as hard as dealing with failure. And Thorpe had a little success in ’19, and I think he felt he was just going to be able to show up and it was going to come easy for him again in ’20. And, obviously, it didn’t.”
Thorpe dedicated his offseason to putting on weight and being consistent with his workouts. He worked with Anthony Tumbarello, who also trains Twins outfielder Max Kepler, in nearby Bonita, Fla., and spent his free time golfing and fishing.
“That’s something I was really focused on during my offseason, getting after it and going in there every day with a positive attitude and having fun,” Thorpe said. “Last year really wasn’t fun for me, and I just needed to clear my head a bit.”
What brought back the fun?
Having his stuff back, Thorpe said.
Thorpe said as a result of weight loss last year, his offspeed pitches weren’t very good and his fastball didn’t have any carry to it.
“Just being able to trust my stuff, that’s what makes the game fun. To have that back is awesome,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience. To have it back this early in spring is a major relief, and I’m very proud of myself for where I am today.”
Thorpe is in a familiar position this spring, seemingly competing for a roster spot with Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer for a spot in the Twins’ bullpen. If all five members of the starting rotation — Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker — are healthy, it seems likely that one would win a spot in the bullpen, the other two would head to Triple-A St. Paul.
To this point in spring, Thorpe, who once was the Twins’ No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has showed the Twins enough to be excited.
“I don’t think any of us have been able to see exactly what Lewis is capable of. I think the sky’s the limit for him,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think he’s a major-league starting pitcher that could definitely establish himself at some point, hopefully in the very near future.”