Twins Porn 3/10/13

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In last week’s Twins Porn, we took a look at a pitcher turned actor and a catcher turned spy; this week, we’ll look at the uniqueness of minor league free agent signing Jason Lane, a country music legend pursued by the Phillies, and the only pitcher in the modern era to throw from both sides of the rubber.

Minor league players reported to camp on Tuesday. The players to watch, of course, are the hot prospects, and with the World Baseball Classic taking place this year, we’ve been lucky enough to get an early look at Eddie Rosario playing well in major league camp against stronger competition than he’d normally be facing. There are also a handful of minor league free agents that sign with the team each year that aren’t invited to major league camp. For the most part, this tends to be a pretty motley lot, but Jason Lane has a pretty interesting story, and it has the potential to become incredibly unique.

Like many college players, Lane pitched some while at USC but was drafted as a hitter in the 6th round by the Astros in 1999. He hit well in the minors with a 316/.407./.608 line that included 28 HR and 14/16. He had a couple of good years with Houston then just stopped hitting. While bouncing around the minors, Lane began pitching again here and there and became a full time pitcher last year, although he still played ten games in the outfield.

So far, Lane isn’t that unique; there are plenty of position players that are converted to pitchers in the minors every year and, while there are certainly exceptions, very few of them pitch in a MLB game. Still, it would make for a nice story if Lane did pitch for the Twins at some point this season, and it would be pretty neat to have a pitcher/pinch hitter on the team. With 61 career home runs, Lane could conceivably join Rick Ankiel as the only players since Babe Ruth to hit 50 HR and win ten career games as a pitcher. But what makes Lane’s story potentially unique is that he’s doing all of this while batting right-handed and throwing with his left.

Only 14 position players that batted right and threw left have more MLB at bats than Lane, and outside of Rickey Henderson, Cleon Jones and Hal Chase, they probably aren’t names you’d readily recognize. But within this small group of left-throwing, right-batting players are the wonderfully-named Rube Bressler and Johnny Cooney, both of whom came up as pitchers and then resurrected their careers later on as MLB hitters in the first half of last century. If he makes it back to The Show, Lane would be making a reverse switch, becoming a truly unique outlier in the long history of Major League Baseball.

So what are the chances of this all actually happening? Not good, but with another year under his belt as a pitcher, who knows. Lane’s numbers were solid enough in independent ball last season to give some hope, but he gave up far, far too many hits in a stint with Arizona’s AAA affiliate. Either way, he’s a guy to keep an eye on throughout the season, and I’ll be pulling for him to be the comeback story of the 2013 season.

Conway Twitty Played Baseball
Born Harold Jenkins, Twitty hit about .450 as a center fielder in high school and played semi-pro ball before being offered a contract by the Phillies in 1954. The MLB amateur draft didn’t begin until 1965, but the US Army had a draft of their own, and Twitty found himself stationed in Japan while serving in the Korean War. He played baseball on local military teams, and the Phillies approached him again about pursuing a baseball career upon his return stateside.

Instead, Twitty chose music, his other passion, and went on to a career as country music’s most popular performers of the 70s. You know the song, “Hello Darlin,” even if you think you don’t. Twitty stayed close to baseball throughout his life, though, and was a part owner in the minor league Nashville Sound. The photo at the top of this post is of Twitty at around the time he was being pursued by the Phillies; Twitty is on the right.

Greg Harris Pitched with Both Arms
Harris pitched 15 years in the Majors for eight teams as a right-handed starter and reliever. However, on September 28, 1995, while pitching for the Expos in the second-to-last game of his career, he threw to the first Reds batter as he normally would, then pitched to the next two batters as a left-handed pitcher, and returned to the right side to retire the final batter of the inning.

After throwing batting practice from the left side for years, Harris became the first pitcher of the modern era to switch pitch in a MLB game, although there may be a second not too far on the horizon. Pat Venditte is a switch pitcher in the Yankees system who reached AAA last season. And Drew Vettleson is a 21-year-old former first round draft pick in the Tampa system who was a switch pitcher in high school but has played exclusively in the outfield thus far as a professional. He’s hit well to this point, too, but who knows, maybe one day he’ll pull a Jason Lane, and we’ll see him back on the mound.

Here is a link to Harris’ historic box score.

This Week’s Number: 5
That’s the number of players the Twins reassigned to minor league camp this morning in the first round of spring cuts.

This Week’s Fact: The chances of being hit by a foul ball are roughly 300,000 to 1, but HOFer Richie Ashburn once hit the same spectator twice in the same at bat. The second time was while she was being carried away on a stretcher.

Here’s a video of Venditte facing a switch hitter a few years back:

With the first cuts made, I’ll begin looking this week at how the spring training competition has played out thus far at a few positions of note.

 

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