Monday, June 11, 2012

Diamond flourishes while Bullock struggles

It has been a long strange ride to get to this point in the life of Scott Diamond. The Canadian-born pitcher was not even drafted out of college in 2008 and he had to sign with the Atlanta Braves as a amateur free agent. This forced him to have to prove his worth as he worked his way through the farm system of the Braves. The lower levels of the minors were very good to Diamond as should be expected from a left-handed pitcher with college experience. After not posting an ERA of over 3.52 at any level, he made it all the way to the Braves Triple-A affiliate in 2010.

At the end of that season, the Braves left Diamond off of their 40-man so this allowed team's to select him in the Rule 5 Draft, a draft meant to prevent teams from stockpiling too many young players on their minor league affiliate teams when other teams would be willing to have them in the majors. He spent all of spring training in 2011 with the Twins but near the end of camp the Twins wanted to send him to Rochester. Under the rules of the Rule 5 Draft, the Twins would have to work out a deal with the Braves or offer him back to the organization.

The Twins and the Braves were able to work out a deal with the Twins sending hard throwing prospect Billy Bullock back to the Atlanta organization in return for the rights to Diamond. At the time, there were many, including myself, that questioned the move by the front office. It seemed like the team was giving up a decent level prospect for a pitcher who hadn't shown any reason to think he would be a major factor at the big league level. It seemed like it was a high price to pay for Diamond.

Diamond's first year with the Twins did not take away from the doubts that surrounded his arrival with the club. The transition to a new organization was not a smooth one for Mr. Diamond as he struggled through his worst season ever in the minor leagues. His 5.56 ERA with Rochester was over two runs higher than any ERA he had in the Braves system. The 24-year old made his debut in July for one start before heading back to Rochester but the Twins would need him again at the end of the year for a handful of mediocre starts.

During the same time frame, Bullock spent most of the season pitching at the Double-A level as a 23-year old pitcher. He was very consistent in the fact that he could strike out a lot of batters but he also allowed a lot of walks. The Braves allowed him to get some save opportunities even with an ERA north of 4.50 for the year. It was a rough 2011 season for both of these players and it was hard to know what the future would hold for these young men.

Flash-forward to the 2012 season and the move by the Twins to acquire Diamond is starting to look like it was a steal. In the seven starts he has made for the Twins, Diamond has won five contests and posted an incredible 1.61 ERA over 44.2 innings. One of the most positive signs could be the fact that he is controlling the strike zone by not walking batters and by increasing his strikeout rate. After walking 17 batters in 39 innings at the big league level last year, he has only walked four batters in close to 45 innings in 2012. Diamond has stepped up and been the most consistent man on the mound when it looked like the Twins would fumble through the season with all of their starters struggling.

Meanwhile Bullock is spending his third straight year at the Double-A level and he continues to struggle with different parts of his game. He is walking close to a batter an inning and his strikeout numbers have dipped significantly since last year. His ERA of 4.00 is lower than last year at Double-A but it is still too high for a 24-year old that is repeating this level for the third time. He is going to need to focus on his control or he will never be able to find success in the higher levels of the minor leagues.

Diamond has looked like the ace of the Twins pitching staff for the last month and there are few who would argue that point. He has turned skeptics into believers with his performance on the mound and the hope is that he will continue to be a very strong presence in the rotation. Even with a wide-open race in the AL Central and a recent winning streak, the Twins find themselves in a huge hole as the calendar inches into the middle part of June. While Bullock struggles in the minors, Diamond can be one of the bright stars for the Twins, a role few thought he would occupy a short time ago.

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