FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jordan Balazovic will miss early spring again, but this time, the twins are disappointed in a completely different way.
While the former top 100 prospect missed time last spring with a knee injury discovered after the end of the lockout, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey announced Saturday that Balazovic is out after suffering a broken jaw in ” an altercation away from the field”.
Balazovic underwent surgery to close his jaw on Sunday and is unavailable to start the pitch, Falvey said.
Formerly a top 100 prospect according to The Athletic, Baseball America, MLB and Baseball Prospectus, Balazovic struggled in 2022, producing a combined 7.68 ERA in 72 innings and 2/3 between Single A and Triple A.
Although Balazovic could play for seven to ten days, Falvey is not happy.
“Obviously it’s a disappointing situation,” Falvey said. “We were confident that after going through a few things over the last couple of years, physically and trying to get on track, we hoped to start the field normal and with some sort of progress. … It needs to go early from a launch standpoint here and hopefully keep progressing. It’s disappointing. There’s no other way to put it.
A team source said Balazovic was shot in the jaw after being involved in a verbal altercation at an unidentified venue last Saturday night. Balazovic has never thrown a punch of him and there are no legal issues arising from the incident.
However, the twins aren’t happy with the 24-year-old pitcher’s actions, who pitched in the 2019 All-Star Futures Game.
Speaking to the media after Falvey made the announcement, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli delivered a terse statement on the matter and moved on.
“You can read into this and say what you want to say: It’s disappointing,” Baldelli said. “Maybe it’s actually better than me trying to put it into words.
“I have been close to him. He has been in the field. But we haven’t seen much of him.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 16, 2021
A fifth-round high school pick in the 2016 draft, Balazovic appeared to be on the fast track after pitching in the Futures Game and posting a 2.69 ERA while striking out 129 batters in 93 2/3 innings at Single A in 2019.
Balazovic made just one late-summer appearance at the team’s alternate site during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season and then got off to a slow start in 2021 when he suffered an oblique strain during his only spring training outing. Balazovic was also sidelined to start the 2021 season with a right shoulder impingement, but rebounded to finish with 102 strikeouts and a 3.62 ERA in 97 innings in Double A.
Because he had been added to the 40-man squad, Balazovic was not allowed to contact the Twins about the knee injury he sustained during the 100-day lockout. The team discovered this during his physical upon his arrival at the camp in March, and Balazovic missed the first three weeks of the season, only making his debut on May 1.
Even then, Balazovic struggled most of the season. In his first 14 starts, Balazovic completed four innings just once. But he turned a corner in his last eight starts, striking out 38 batters and posting a 3.55 ERA in 33 innings, a span that gave the Twins hope this season.
“We saw some signs late last year from a launch standpoint where things were looking a little better for him,” Falvey said. “He didn’t have the year we hoped to have last year, so he’s just delaying the restart. … We all need to be aware that the decisions we make, where we go, what we do at different times can have consequences, and I think we just want to make sure that it’s clear here that we need to prioritize baseball and what’s going forward. That is the message we have collectively conveyed in this case.
The day after arriving at the field, Byron Buxton worked out his surgically repaired right knee for team coaches Saturday afternoon. Five months after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, Buxton is in good shape and isn’t restricted this spring, the twins said.
Even so, the Twins plan to be conservative during the early part of the field with Buxton and Jorge Polanco, who spent the entire offseason rehabbing a painful right knee.
“We will be cautious as he (Buxton) rolls back,” Falvey said. “We’ll go slow at first. The day he goes full speed, aggressive (batting practices) and back field versus play, that’s TBD. But there’s nothing he’s going in with that’s a problem. We will probably be on the conservative side of things, same with Polo. He finished the year with the knee, progressing well, probably going more on the court than immediate game stuff to make sure he’s following well.
Polanco missed 58 games last season, including the team’s last 37 with tendonitis in his right knee. He spent half of the offseason at Fort Myers rehabilitating the injury and said the pain is gone. He feels good and is fine with the first training wheels because he needs to build knee strength.
“I can’t hear anything,” Polanco said. “I think it’s part of the process. That’s why I go slow, so I can start building from there and start doing more stuff. Once I start doing that, I think I’ll be good to go. … I feel good right now. It’s just the plan. We have a plan. I have to prepare the knee. We’re just following the plan to start slow and build up until I’m ready to play.
Despite their slow starts, Falvey said there’s no indication Buxton or Polanco wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day.
Falvey noted that although Alex Kirilloff also got off to a deliberately slow start this spring following his second wrist surgery, early results have shown promise. Kirilloff’s surgery last season was drastic in which doctors intentionally broke his wrist bones to shave one to prevent them from rubbing against each other in the future.
Due to the complex nature of the procedure, Kirilloff lags behind his peers in the number of swings he has made at this point in the offseason.
“This is by design,” Falvey said. “The good news is his feedback from him and the feedback from the coaches is that he’s letting it go and never going in at the end of the day, walking into that room and saying, ‘Hey, I’m in some pain. ‘”
News and notes
Buxton was joined by outfielder Michael A. Taylor arriving on Friday, which means every member of the Twins’ 40-man roster is already on the field. Squad position players are not required to check in until Sunday with the first full-squad practice coming up on Monday. … Right pitcher Griffin Jax’s wife is expected to give birth to their first child on March 26, although the couple’s doctor may induce labor a week earlier to avoid any interference with the team’s March 30 opener in Kansas City. … Although he arrived in Fort Myers on Friday, Carlos Correa’s family remained in Houston. His wife, Daniella, is expected to give birth to their second child on March 11. Knowing how much he would miss his 14-month-old son, Kylo, Correa’s family gave him a Cabbage Patch-type plush doll with a picture of his son’s face on it to take to camp. … On Saturday afternoon, the team’s catchers braved high winds while participating in a pop-up drill on the main field. Despite the rough conditions and a few crashes, Twins catching/first-base coach Hank Conger jokingly suggested the group was “in the best shape of their lives” after an impressive session. … The twins spent part of Friday afternoon filming commercials featuring their players and some of their hobbies or interests. Among those featured in the commercials are Buxton, Joe Ryan, Jhoan Duran, Correa and Baldelli.
(Top photo of Jordan Balazovic in 2021 courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/Twins)