The Long Journey of Sam Deduno
It has been another long, difficult season for the Minnesota Twins. A pair of unheralded rookies (Scott Diamond and Cole De Vries) have been the most reliable starting pitchers. A third rookie starter has provided some exciting (and excruciating) moments down the stretch: Sam Deduno.
Deduno has had strong outings on August 29th (nine strikeouts, no walks, seven shutout innings against the Mariners) and September 10th (two runs and six strikeouts in seven innings against the Indians). He was also blown up for seven hits, three walks, and seven runs in 2.1 innings on September 22nd against the Tigers.
Deduno is no stranger to up-and-down performances, having had a mercurial minor league career. Does he have any chance to help in Minnesota in 2013?
Sam Deduno was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2003, as a free agent from the Dominican Republic. A hard-thrower, he was dominant in the Pioneer League in 2004, fanning 118 in just 76 innings for Casper, with 32 walks and 62 hits giving him a 3.18 ERA, enough for him to earn Pitcher of the Year honors for the league. 2005 and 2006 were different: control problems hampered him, although he continued fanning hitters at a good clip, posting a 110/65 K/BB ratio in 90 innings in Low-A in 2005 (5.62 ERA) and a 167/92 K/BB in 146 innings in High-A in '06 (4.80 ERA).
Deduno spent 2007 with Double-A Tulsa, posting a 5.44 ERA but a 121/66 K/BB ratio, being your basic guy-with-a-good-arm-who-might-develop. 2008 was a lost campaign: he missed the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Back on the mound in 2009, Deduno continued to walk people frequently, giving up 72 passes in 133 innings for Tulsa. However, he also fanned 123, gave up just 94 hits and three homers, posted a 2.14 GO/AO, and went 12-5 with a 2.73 ERA. It looked like he was on the verge of a major league trial, but injuries stuck again in 2010, limiting him to 47 innings in the minors. He did receive a very brief trial in Colorado, throwing 2.2 innings with one run allowed.
Nevertheless, by 2011 Deduno was almost a forgotten prospect, now 27 years old, hampered by command problems and uncertain health. The Rockies no longer saw a future for him and placed him on waivers. Claimed by the Padres, he saw action in two major league games but spent most of the year with Triple-A Tucson, posting a 3.93 ERA with an 85/58 K/BB in 105 innings, with a 1.62 GO/AO and just two homers allowed.
That wasn't bad at all for the Pacific Coast League context, but he was just considered a journeyman minor leaguer entering 2012. The Twins signed him for Triple-A fodder, where he performed well for Rochester, posting a 2.14 ERA in nine starts with a 46/22 K/BB in 42 innings. Keep in mind that this was literally the first time in his career that he wasn't pitching in a high-offense environment.
Deduno has made 14 starts for the Twins this summer, going 6-5 with a 4.54 ERA in 77 innings, allowing 69 hits with a 55/51 K/BB. He's getting a good number of ground balls, as he usually does, but the sabermetric problem here is obvious: his 55/51 K/BB ratio is poor; simply too many walks, giving him a 5.54 FIP. His xFIP is better and closer to the ERA at 4.75, but that's still not good.
It is not, and has never been, a matter of simple stuff. Deduno's velocity is decent at 89-93 MPH, but the pitch has unusually good movement; he's always racked up a lot of ground balls to go with solid strikeout rates. Joe Mauer reportedly says his fastball acts like a knuckleball. Deduno's curveball and slider bend properly, and when he throws strikes he's quite tough.
But there's the problem...the throwing strikes part. The hitters don't know where his pitches are going, but he doesn't either.
Deduno is now 29 years old. Will he continue as he currently is, surviving for awhile as a marginal major league starter? Will his command totally collapse and send him back to the minors? Or will he make some adjustments, some needed tweaks, and run off a successful season or three?
The sabermetric case is not in his favor. However, at the risk of alienating the objective data contingent of the intertubes, there is something about Deduno that makes me think he might very well figure this pitching thing out.
Perhaps this is merely a subconscious side-effect of seeing him dominate minor league hitters several times in Double-A. The talent is there, and I've seen him put it together on occasion.
I can't say that it will happen, and if I were the Twins I wouldn't bet my starting rotation on it. But it would not surprise me at all if, in the next year or two, Sam Deduno turns into a good pitcher, for awhile at least. File that away for future reference.
LATE NOTE: About 20 seconds before I pressed the "publish" button on this post, Deduno was removed from his start in the second inning against the New York Yankees with an apparent injury. We'll update as more information becomes available. MORE INFO: this is said to be a vision problem, not an arm injury.