TODAY: The Twins designated right-hander Jake Jewell for assignment, as Varland’s selection is now official. Jewell had just been claimed off waivers from the Guardians three weeks ago,
SEPTEMBER 6: The Twins are calling up one of the top pitching prospects in their system, as they’ll select the contract of right-hander Louie Varland to make his big league debut Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, per Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Twitter link).
Varland’s call to the Majors continues a nice development story for a North St. Paul native who’ll now suit up for his hometown club. He’s one of just four players ever to be drafted out of Division-II Concordia University in St. Paul — older brother Gus Varland, currently in the Dodgers’ system, is another — and the Twins grabbed him well down the board, in the 15th round. (The Varland brothers, just one year apart in age, faced off against one another earlier this season, when both started the same game for their respective teams’ Double-A affiliates.) The younger Varland pitched just 8 2/3 innings in the Twins organization in 2019 after being drafted and didn’t pitch in 2020, when there was no minor league season.
A D-II 15th-round pick with 8 2/3 professional innings (all coming in Rookie ball) obviously isn’t going to carry much prospect fanfare, but Varland erupted with a 2021 breakout that saw him named the Twins organization’s minor league pitcher of the year. Beginning the season in Class-A Fort Myers, Varland came roaring out of the gates with a 2.09 ERA and a massive 38% strikeout rate before being promoted to High-A Cedar Rapids, where he largely repeated that success. In 55 2/3 frames with the Kernels, he posted a 2.10 ERA with a 29.9% strikeout rate. Varland walked just 7.1% of his opponents between the two levels, and by the conclusion of the ’21 season, he featured prominently among Twins prospect rankings.
It’s been more of the same for Varland in 2022 — this time between Double-A (105 innings, 3.34 ERA, 26.4% strikeout rate) and Triple-A (21 1/3 innings, 1.69 ERA, 32.1% strikeout rate). The right-hander explained to FanGraphs’ David Laurila this time last year that despite throwing just 90-92 mph during his college days, he’s now sitting 94-95 mph and peaking in the upper 90s after working with the Twins’ development staff.
“I would put it to our pitching coordinators and the pitching coaches with my teams,” Varland told Laurila. “But also Martijn [Verhoeven], our [motion performance] coach. He really cleaned up my mechanics so that I could pitch with an efficient arm path. That was really the root of it all; everything has stemmed from that.”
The results speak for themselves, as Varland has ascended from obscurity to the Major Leagues in short order — and with a career 2.61 ERA, 30% strikeout rate and 7.6% walk rate in the minor leagues. MLB.com ranks him 10th among Twins prospects, while Baseball America has him listed 16th and FanGraphs at No. 25. Varland complements a high-spin four-seamer that now draws plus grades with a trio of offspeed offerings: a changeup, a slider and a seldom-used curveball. Both the changeup and slider have potential to be above-average pitches, per that group of scouting reports, with MLB.com suggesting the changeup is already there. He’ll be controllable through at least the 2028 season.
Once he’s formally selected to the roster — which may not happen until tomorrow, if he is indeed slated for a Wednesday debut — Varland will immediately join the Twins’ rotation mix for the remainder of the season and for the 2023 campaign as well. He’ll have a full slate of three minor league option years, meaning he could be moved up and down on an as-needed basis for awhile he doesn’t immediately seize a starting job. And, with the reworked arm slot and mechanics unlocking some additional velocity, it remains possible that Varland could eventually end up a hard-throwing bullpen piece, should a role in the rotation not pan out.