Twins

Jordan Balazovic's Career Has Always Been Shrouded In Promise and Mystery

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins scouted Jordan Balazovic in a snowstorm. Their Canadian scout, Walt Burrows, was convinced he had something in Balazovic. He wanted Tim O’Neil, another scout, to see Balazovic so the Twins would prioritize drafting him.

“O’Neil was the national crosschecker, and he wanted to come to Canada to see Jordan throw because he hadn’t seen him in Florida,” Burrows told MLB.com in 2020. O’Neill arrived in Dorchester, Ont. during a mid-May snowstorm wearing only a windbreaker. “He went into the porta-potty behind home plate between innings for warmth and peeked out when Jordan was going to come back out to pitch.”

Balazovic pitched well enough that the Terry Ryan regime took him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. Balazovic was 17 years old, stood 6’3”, and weighed 175 lbs. He threw in the upper 80s at St. Martin Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., outside Toronto. But Balazovic turned himself into Minnesota’s No. 4 prospect in 2021, tucked between Trevor Larnach and Jhoan Duran, and owned a 4.44 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched last year.

Still, Balazovic says that few of his friends back home knew he had debuted in the big leagues. “I’m not really sure how many even know,” he told the Star Tribune last year. “If I played hockey, it would be different. A bunch of kids from my high school got drafted into the [Ontario Hockey League], kind of a semi-professional league, and it’s like, wow, they’re a big deal. It’s not the same with baseball. It’s more like, ‘You’re still playing? That’s nice.’”

Mississauga isn’t a baseball hotbed, but the scouts who recommended him to the Twins projected him to throw hard enough to get big-league hitters out. “The least of my concerns was velocity,” said Burrows. “I knew it would come, though I thought it would be 91 to 93 with great feel, and it’s 94 to 97 with great feel now.”

Balazovic has become many things to many people over the years. In 2019, he broke out and became trade bait. A year later, Patrick Reusse advocated for him to become a starter. But COVID wiped out the 2020 minor league season, and back and knee injuries delayed Balazovic’s debut. Last spring training, Derek Falvey and Rocco Baldelli expressed disappointment after Balazovic broke his jaw in an altercation at a Fort Myers bar. Balazovic later revealed that someone had sucker-punched him.

On Feb. 7, Minnesota designated Balazovic for assignment. The Twins had signed Carlos Santana to replace Jorge Polanco’s bat in the lineup, added veteran reliever Jay Jackson, and claimed Zack Weiss off waivers. To fit them on their 40-man roster, they DFA’d Balazovic, Daniel Duarte, and Bubba Thompson. Balazovic was out of options and didn’t have an immediate role in Minnesota’s bullpen.

“Jordan obviously has had some ups and downs along the way,” Falvey said. “Ultimately, [we] still really think highly of Jordan’s mix and things he can continue to do. But at this time, it didn’t fit as well on our 40-man.”

Balazovic, 25, debuted last year and had a strong June before regressing in July and August. He pitched in relief and relied heavily on his fastball, but his long journey to the majors had finally paid off. Perhaps he could become a versatile long reliever in Minnesota’s bullpen with a little more seasoning in the minors. If nothing else, it was an excellent example of prospect management. The Twins didn’t have room in their rotation, but they gave him a role and saw Balazovic face major-league hitters.

Balazovic’s path has always been unique. In 2019, he pitched for America in the All-Star Futures Game because the World’s roster was full. “[Balazovic] has had one of the most winding roads to the Futures Game,” Sam Dykstra wrote for MiLB.com. Dykstra noted that Balazovic was the fourth-lowest drafted player in the showcase and that 26 of the 50 players were first-rounders or taken in the competitive balance rounds. “Given his cold-weather background and raw nature coming from the prep ranks,” Dykstra wrote. “Balazovic was put on the slow road through the Minnesota system.”

Because Balazovic came from a cold-weather background, the Twins had him play in the complex-level Gulf Coast league for two years. Balazovic ended his second season in the complex league with a 4.91 ERA, and the Twins held him in extended spring training before playing A-ball in Cedar Rapids. But he finished the year strong and broke out in 2019, becoming Minnesota’s No. 19 prospect and cracking MLB’s top-100 list.

In 2019, Balazovic owned a 2.69 ERA in A-Ball and a 3.62 ERA in 2021. It’s difficult to know how the pandemic affected his career or if he would have debuted earlier had he not suffered injuries in 2022. Likewise, it’s impossible to know how this move will affect the Twins this year. They filled out their bullpen with veterans, and Anthony DeSclafani and Louie Varland will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. David Festa sits behind them in Triple-A.

The Twins don’t have an immediate role for Balazovic, but he still has promise. At 25, he’s no longer a top prospect. But he pitched well in his first month after they called him up, and every team needs pitching depth. Perhaps he makes it through waivers and ends up in Minnesota’s minor league system again. Or another team may pick him up, and he’ll continue his baseball journey elsewhere. The unknown feels fitting for Balazovic because promise and mystery have always shrouded his career.

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