Baseball: Former Warrior flourishes as closer in first minor league season
When a 6-foot-5, 195-pound pitcher lights up 97 mph on the radar gun, major league scouts have a tendency to sit up in their seats.
Such was the case for Brainerd High School graduate Nick Anderson when he was pitching for the Frontier Greys of the independent Frontier League last summer. The right-hander was clocked at 97 mph by a Texas Rangers scout.
Word about a flamethrower spreads like a grass fire through the baseball world.
Age: 25 (July 5, 1990)
Draft: 32nd round by Milwaukee Brewers in 2012
High school: Brainerd graduate 2008
College: St. Cloud State & Mayville State universities
Eventually, Anderson was signed by the Minnesota Twins who assigned him to the Class A Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels of the Midwest League. As a reliever, he has consistently been clocked between 92 and 97 mph.
"A few years ago, I worried about the gun because obviously the harder you throw the more people are going to like you," Anderson said, "but you also can't try and step outside of what you're capable of doing. You have to be consistent, you have to find your groove. I don't put too much emphasis on it, but it's a nice tool to know where you sit."
Anderson signed with the Twins Aug. 7. In nine relief appearances consisting of 12 innings for the Kernels, he converted all four of his save opportunities. He allowed just seven hits, one run (earned), walked none and struck out 12. Opponents batted a measly .167 against him.
"I felt really comfortable going in there," Anderson said. "It really wasn't anything that I didn't expect to be honest. In talking to guys who've played affiliated ball before and in independent leagues, I kind of knew the Frontier League and A ball are pretty close. They might have a little more depth in affiliated ball.
"It's been my goal, to get into a system. I was pretty ecstatic that it's with the Twins. That's a bonus."
In 25 games with the Greys, Anderson was lights-out - 2-0 with a 0.65 ERA. After taking over as the team's closer May 17, he recorded 13 saves. In 27.2 innings, he allowed just 17 hits, walked six and struck out 35.
Anderson credited much of his success with the Greys to the tutelage he received from pitching coach Billy Bryk.
"Billy and I just connected," he said. "I started finding my groove, getting better. We had three guys picked up before me so we had some scouts coming to our games. In the baseball world, word travels fast, so scouts were interested. I even had scouts calling me that I talked to in previous years.
"Billy Milos, the Twins' scout, came and watched me 4-5 times. Finally he got the OK and the Twins pulled the trigger."
Last summer was Anderson's second stint in the Frontier League. In 2012 and 2013, he pitched for the Rockford RiverHawks/Aviators, compiling a 6-14 record and 7.07 ERA, primarily as a starter. In 23 starts and 114 innings, he allowed 136 hits and 59 walks with 89 strikeouts.
"I would have two games in a row where I would do pretty good, then I would have two bad, then a mediocre game, then a bad game, then a good game, it was just a big rollercoaster," Anderson said.
Rockford released him following the 2013 season. Anderson spent 2014 in the Twin Cites, working, training and playing amateur ball. Last winter, he went to the Indy Pro Showcase in Florida where he caught the eye of Greys manager Vinny Ganz.
"I went there and threw well," Anderson said. "I talked to a couple managers. (Ganz) said you're experienced so I want you, I just have to get my ducks in a row. I'll call you in the next week or two.' He ended up calling me, offered me a spot, so I took it."
Anderson is spending this winter in Oklahoma preparing for spring training. He could be placed anywhere in the Twins' system.
"One of the cool things is being 25 I'm a little bit older and have some experience under my belt from playing in the Frontier League," he said. "A lot of teams don't pick up older guys. They're looking for high school or college guys to get in their system. But I feel like the Twins wouldn't have picked me up if they didn't think I have a shot."
His future may be as a closer but he's willing to perform whatever role pleases the Twins.
"I'm under their power," Anderson said. "If they want to turn me into a starter, I will start.
"I was put into the closer's role with the Twins which was cool because I love the closing role. It's something that I fuel off of. I just love shutting the door. It's worked out well, especially coming from the Frontier League since I was a closer the majority of the time I was there and that's the role my body got used to, my arm got used to.
"Maybe two times I threw two innings. A couple times I came in for the third out in the eighth, then the ninth, so my body fell into that comfort of just coming in, shutting the door and being done."