For pitcher Wimmers, happiness is sticking with Twins
DUNEDIN, Fla.—Two weeks from Opening Day, right-hander Alex Wimmers was still among the pitchers vying for a spot in the Twins' bullpen.
This is no oversight, manager Paul Molitor made clear Monday.
"If you ask me, he's still competing for the team," Molitor said. "He's an interesting guy for me because he's not afraid."
Taken off the 40-man roster shortly after last season ended, the 2010 first-round draft pick out of Ohio State could have interpreted that transaction as a slight. Instead, the unassuming 28-year-old listened carefully as assistant general manager Rob Antony walked him through the process and encouraged him to sign back with the Twins as a minor-league free agent.
A week after being granted his first crack at free agency, Wimmers was back on board, eager to build on a 16-game September audition in the majors.
"There were some talks, but there were no other offers at that time," Wimmers said. "Rob explained to me kind of what happened. They told me some good stuff, so I was pretty positive."
Wasn't he the least bit curious about how other clubs might value him?
"I went through it a little bit, but I was more focused on the Twins," he said. "I could have played it out, but at the same time I knew there's no place I'd rather be. I've been here since 2010. I'd rather be happy here."
According to those that know him best, this sort of sunny disposition is nothing unusual for Wimmers, who has an 8-month-old daughter.
"Alex has always been a happy guy," said fellow right-hander Drew Rucinski, one of two former Buckeyes teammates in the Twins clubhouse (along with outfielder J.B. Shuck). "It doesn't surprise me that he stayed. Sometimes you feel like you have the opportunity in the right place."
In other words, the grass isn't always greener someplace else. That much Wimmers has learned over a long climb through the minors, which included a pair of elbow surgeries that limited him to 77 1/3 innings over his first four professional seasons.
Taken 21st overall in 2010, ahead of Christian Yelich, Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker and Aaron Sanchez, Wimmers long ago stopped trying to live up to that draft status or his $1.3 million signing bonus, or to recapture the college glory that saw him named an all-American and co-Big Ten pitcher of the year.
That's how he was able to make the full-time conversion to a relief role last season, overcoming a 6.43 earned-run average at Double-A Chattanooga to eventually produce a 4.15 mark in 17 1/3 big-league innings.
"It took me awhile to get there, but I was very pleased with myself that it finally worked out," Wimmers said. "Once I got up there and I got my feet wet, understanding the process and the game, I realized the game is still the same. I'm going to compete the way I've always competed. The big thing for me is I've got to get ahead of batters, stay ahead of batters and trust my stuff."
Wimmers won't light up any radar guns the way some of his fellow relief candidates can, but he uses four pitches, including a plus changeup that has been his top weapon since his Ohio State days.
"His changeup was so good in college, he could tell someone it was coming—like, he literally could—and they still couldn't hit it," said Rucinski, who typically followed Wimmers' Friday night show as the Saturday starter. "It was fun to watch. He threw a no-hitter against Michigan. He struck out 17 against Pitt, and it was like, 'Holy smokes!' "
Molitor remains open to taking Wimmers north to start the year, especially if the Twins go with a seven-man bullpen and would like arms capable of multiple innings out there. Finding a roster spot could prove tricky, but Wimmers is showing enough this spring (3.00 ERA with seven strikeouts in six innings) to potentially force the Twins' hand.
In 333 minor-league innings, Wimmers posted a nine-inning walk rate of 3.65 per nine innings to go with better than one strikeout per inning.
"He got thrown into a situation last year," Molitor said. "We all know his journey, and he didn't back down from anybody. I like that and I like that he seems to be the same guy (with) bases loaded as he does with nobody on and two outs. I don't see much change in composure. He's got some of those intangible things."