When the Minnesota Twins traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana back in 2008, they received in return a trio of pitchers that included Philip Humber (two years later he was pitching in the Royals system) and Kevin Mulvey (one year later he was with Arizona), as well as outfielder Carlos Gomez (traded two years later to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy).
The key to the deal, and the only remaining piece, is 22-year old right-handed pitcher Deolis Guerra, who looked decent in his first season after the trade when he pitched for Class-A Fort Myers. But since then he has stumbled and fallen flat on his face and hasn't made it past Triple-A in six season as a pro.
Despite the fact that Santana has missed portions of the last two seasons and has yet to pitch in 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, it’s easy to call this trade a major bust and Twins fans are surely ready to close the book on this terrible chapter of their history.
But wait just a minute Twins fans, a funny thing has happened as-of-late and there may just be a ray of light seeping through for Guerra who has seen a slight rebirth in a relief role with the New Britain Rock Cats.
In his five Minor League seasons prior to 2011, Guerra had only come into a game as a relief pitcher on five separate occasions. He has had 113 professional starts and his ERA has been north of five since he hit Double-A back in 2009.
In 19 starts with the Rock Cats last season he had a 2-10 record with a 6.24 ERA and opponents were hitting .308 against him. His velocity was down, his command continued to waver and his confidence was surely shot to pieces.
The 2011 season was to be a make-or-break year for him and break was in full command from the get-go. In the first two months Guerra continued his downward spiral on a near epic pace. Over his first 9 starts he compiled a 3-5 record with league-highs in ERA (8.61) and WHIP (1.85).
In his tenth start of the season on June 1st, Guerra allowed 7 runs and 10 hits against the Portland Sea Dogs. This was his last start.
Six days later he appeared out of the pen and threw a solid 4 innings against Akron, allowing no runs and striking out 7 in the process. He has made 7 subsequent appearances in relief and has seemingly found the stuff that dazzled the organization into trading the best pitcher in baseball at the time.
The sample size is still a very small one, but the numbers have been fairly impressive. In 8 relief appearances he has a 2-1 record in 15 innings pitched, has allowed only 11 hits, 4 earned runs and 4 walks and has struck out 25 batters.
And most of the numbers can be attributed to one bad outing he had back on June 11th against the Akron Aeros when he let up 4 earned runs on 5 hits and a walk over two innings.
Take away the stats from that game and it’s even more impressive:
13 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 24 K
Does this signal a turnaround for the big righty from Venezuela? Has Deolis Guerra finally found his comfort zone as a reliever? Will this mean a return to the rotation soon or are the numbers enough to back the case that this is truly where he works best?
The time for these answers are now as the clock is running out on Guerra being a viable option for the organization, so it would be a safe bet to continue down this road and hope that it leads somewhere that finally gets the Twins some sort of production from this trade.