Some people thought Kevin Slowey should have gotten a shot in the majors toward the end of last season, after he had wrapped up a dominant season in the Twins' minor league system. Many people thought he should have gotten a shot in the Twins' rotation at the beginning of this season after he had posted a 3.38 ERA in spring training while Carlos Silva and Sidney Ponson had been shelled. Just about everyone seems to think that Slowey should get a chance now, as he has spent the past two months dominating the highest level of competition in the minors while Ramon Ortiz's implosion has earned him a demotion to the bullpen. Fortunately, it appears that Slowey will be getting that chance, as the Twins have made it all but official that he will be called up on Thursday and will be making his major-league debut in Oakland on Friday night.
Slowey's performance in Triple-A this year has been tremendously impressive for a number of reasons. He leads the International League in ERA (1.54) and WHIP (0.81), he's second in innings pitched (64.1) and fourth in strikeouts (57), and he's issued fewer walks than any other pitcher with 50+ IP. All this would seem to clearly indicate that Slowey has mastered the Triple-A level and is in need of a new challenge. The most exciting things about Slowey's dominance are the facts that he is still only 23 years old and he's in his first year at pitching at that level. Many pitchers that rank around him in various categories on the league leaderboard are either older or have more experience pitching in Triple-A.
Through his entire professional career up to this point, Slowey really has not faced any serious adversity. He has pitched well at every single stop in his journey through the Twins' system so far. After being drafted 73rd overall in the 2005 draft, Slowey pitched 7 1/3 effective innings in the Appalachian Rookie League before being bumped up to Beloit, where he posted a 2.24 ERA and 68/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 64 1/3 innings. He started his 2006 campaign pitching in High-A at Ft. Myers, where he was unspeakably dominant over 14 starts, posting a 1.01 ERA and 99/9 K/BB ratio over 89 1/3 innings. That performance earned him a promotion to Class-AA New Britain, where he finished the year with a 3.19 ERA over 59 1/3 innings.
Of course, just because a pitcher hasn't experienced any real problems in his climb through the minor leagues doesn't mean he won't hit a wall in the majors. Just ask Matt Garza. The major concern about Slowey is that he lacks a devastating arsenal. While his numbers in the minors are comparable to those of guys like Garza and Francisco Liriano, Slowey doesn't have the kind of nasty over-powering pitches that those two hurlers possess. He has a very good fastball that he can throw with great command, but most scouts describe the rest of his pitches as average. There is reason to think that this will affect him more in the majors than it has in any level of the minors. Of course, when a guy is able to post numbers like Slowey has throughout the minors with stuff that is not generally classified as dominant, it's evident that he really knows how to pitch.
That's why I feel that Slowey has a good chance to perform well in the majors. One of the biggest reasons that Garza struggled once he reached the majors last year was his lack of control. Overall, Garza pitched in 10 games and posted a 5.76 ERA last season. However, in the three outings where he issued fewer than two walks, Garza's ERA was 1.40. In the seven outings where he issued multiple walks, his ERA was 9.39. There is plenty of reason to believe Slowey can avoid these problems; he has issued a total of 35 walks over 285 innings in his career so far. That translates to a 1.11 BB/9 IP rate. For comparison, Garza's career BB/9 rate in the minors is 2.60.
In addition to his spectacular control, Slowey has not had problems with giving up too many home runs and he's shown a decent ability to induce ground balls. And, despite his purported lack of great stuff, Slowey has still managed to strike out more than a batter per inning on his way through the minor leagues.
All of these facts don't guarantee that Slowey is going to come up and start dominating major-league hitters. There's a very good chance the 23-year-old will have to go through an adjustment period and will encounter some struggles early on. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that he can help this team right now, and there is every reason to think that he will provide a significant upgrade over Ortiz. My prediction is that a Slowey outing this season will be similar to a typical Brad Radke outing; he'll get hit a little bit and maybe give up a few runs early on before making some adjustments and settling into a groove to finish well. I think Slowey will give the team a chance to win, which would be a refreshing change from Ortiz.