Anthony Slama may be the best pitcher the Twins never use. The 28 year old right-handed reliever has been putting up exceptional numbers in the minor leagues for more than five years, but for some reason the Major League club has consistently refused to give him a chance to prove himself at the highest level.
He was drafted as an afterthought out of the University of San Diego in 2006; the Twins waited until the 39th round to give Slama a call. From that point on, he has spent his life striking out hitters like a man on a mission. In five plus minor league seasons, Slama has a cumulative 2.03 ERA and a 12.3 K/9 rate – exactly the kind of numbers a team should want in a short reliever. And that success is not confined to the lower levels, either. Since being promoted to AAA in 2009, Slama has a 2.44 ERA for Rochester and still whiffs more than a batter per inning (10.6 per nine).
This year he seems to be pitching on a completely different level. Through 11.1 innings, Slama has struck out an astounding 18 batters, and only six men have managed to record hits off him. His ERA is 0.79 (last year he added a cutter to his arsenal of pitches, and mastery of that pitch may have something to do with him becoming unhittable).
And yet, for all his minor league mastery, the Twins have only allowed Slama to pitch seven innings in the Big Leagues. True, Slama has not been very effective in that time, allowing seven walks and six hits to MLB hitters. But seven innings is certainly not enough of an audition for a team to confine a pitcher to eternal minor league purgatory. Especially since Slama did not allow a run in 2.1 innings when he was last called up, in 2011. You read that correctly. The 2011 Twins’ bullpen, which was so horrid that they gave the ball to Phil Dumatrait 45 times, still could not find more than 2.1 innings for Slama (he missed the last two months of the season with an injury, but there is no excuse for the Twins not using him when he was healthy). This year the snub was even worse. Not only did the Twins fail to give Slama a serious opportunity to win a job in Spring Training, they don’t even have him on the 40 man roster.
The only legitimate knock against Slama is walks. He does have a tendency to walk more batters than one would like. This season he has eight walks to go along with the 18 Ks. His walk rates are not so high as to be egregious, though. In 2011 he walked 16 in 37 minor league innings, and the previous year he had 32 walks in 65 innings. Maybe the Twins fear that he would walk too many hitters in the Major Leagues, since the hitters are more patient there, but it’s difficult to defend that contention without giving him a chance to prove the team wrong. There is certainly very little for the Twins to lose, given that the team is not going to contend for a playoff spot this year.
Calling up Slama could make the team as a whole better. That move would allow the Twins to move a relief pitcher (perhaps Brian Duensing) to the starting rotation, which is screaming for help right now. There is absolutely no indication that they plan to do so. As losses and bad starts keep piling up, it will become more and more difficult for the Twins to justify not giving Slama a legitimate opportunity.