CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The first time Minnesota Twins minor league pitching coach Gary Lucas had a chance to meet the Twins right-handed pitching prospect Hudson Boyd came during instructional league play in the fall of 2011. Boyd, a supplemental first-rounder chosen with the 55th pick of the 2011 MLB amateur draft, had just accepted a reported $1 million signing bonus with the Twins.
Lucas is now the pitching coach for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins’ low-Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. Boyd, drafted right out of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla., is now a member of the Kernels’ early season starting rotation.
“We kind of clicked the first time I met him in instructional league,” Lucas said from Kernels’ clubhouse at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium early this week. “He had just signed that summer and I remember us having a couple of talks and it just felt like dialogue and communication was going to be easy. It was a kind of a settling influence into carrying on to where I think he and I are on a good page and a pretty good track right now as he starts out.
“I think the kid has grown up since then and I think he’s making great strides.”
Boyd spent his first season in professional ball playing with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. It was a serviceable first year – Boyd finished 2-5 with 2.95 ERA, and surrendered 63 hits and 23 walks while striking out 36 in 58 innings.
“There were some learning experiences but I thought I did some things well,” Boyd said from the same Kernels clubhouse where Lucas spoke. “Coming into this year I just wanted to get moved up to low A and come up here to the Midwest League, and thankfully, that happened. I’m just trying to make the best of it now.”
Most players will tell you the game takes on a different feel when it becomes your livelihood. There are more responsibilities and pressures on a day-to-day basis and certainly higher expectations from everybody, including the player himself.
“The hardest thing was dealing with things on the fly,” Boyd said. “We got rained out a lot and had to play a lot of doubleheaders, and that was kind of tough. Obviously, my body got kind of tired after six months of (going) everyday, but hopefully this year that doesn’t happen.
“It’s a big adjustment, just the everyday-ness of it,” he said. “If you just try to deal with it a day at a time it goes a lot smoother than you might think.”
Boyd stands to benefit greatly from Lucas’ tutelage, and that of Kernels manager Jake Mauer, the older brother of Twins’ All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. Lucas spent eight seasons in the big leagues with the Padres, Expos and Angels and has been a minor league pitching coach since 1991; he’s been in the Twins organization since 2005. Lucas said his biggest attribute as a minor league pitching coach – and at the low-A level he’s dealing primarily with 19- and 20-year-olds – is patience.
“Down here (the pitchers) need to understand everything, but it doesn’t have to come immediately with these young kids,” he said. “The information I give them comes over time and any changes I make might just be one or two subtle changes a month. It’s enough for them to get their innings in and be on a routine and schedule.
“There are different guys in different boats,” Lucas continued. “We’ve got several guys that have a lot of urgency to be good here and move up, and then we’ve got young kids like Hudson who maybe have a little more time to settle in and figure some things out and get some consistency going. Either way it requires some patience and teaching.”
The first few weeks of the 2013 Midwest League season were plagued with rain and even snow – “I don’t think you really get used to it; I think you just kind of deal with it,” Boyd said – but Boyd has managed to get some work in. In two starts through April 17, he went 1-0 and gave up four earned runs in 9 2/3 innings (3.72 ERA) on six hits, with nine strikeouts and four walks.
“I feel like I’m doing some things better, but there’s always more stuff to be worked on,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gotten a little better each day, each month, each year. I’m just trying to be a little bit better than the day before, the month before or the year before.”
When Boyd graduated from Bishop Verot in 2011, he was Perfect Game’s No. 37-ranked national prospect in his class, and he had signed a letter of intent with Florida. Perfect Game holds all of its PG BCS Finals tournaments and several showcases each year in Boyd’s hometown of Fort Myers, so it should not be surprising that he attended 22 PG events between 2007 and 2010.
He participated in four big PG showcases: the 2008 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event in Fort Myers; the 2009 PG World Showcase in Fort Myers; the 2009 PG Showcase at the Perfect Game All-American Game in San Diego; and the 2010 PG National Showcase in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Most of Boyd’s PG experiences came from pitching in PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals tournaments, in the early years with SWFL Baseball and in his final year with FTB Mizuno.
“All the better players were there, and playing against the better competition was a lot of fun,” he said. “The World Wood Bat were always the best tournaments because you were always playing against the best teams. I remember in Jupiter, the first year I went as a sophomore … just to sit back and see how everyone flocked to the games – all the scouts and stuff – that was pretty cool.”
The FTB Mizuno/Cardinals Scout Team that Boyd pitched for at the 2010 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., is enjoying a reunion of sorts in many of the cities and stadiums that populate the Midwest League this spring.
Zach Eflin is at Fort Wayne (a Padres affiliate); Tyler Marlette and Tyler Pike are at Clinton (Mariners); Jesse Winter is at Dayton (Reds); and Daniel Vogelsbach is at Kane County (Cubs). In 2012, FTB Mizuno/CST alumni Javier Baez was at Peoria (Cubs) and Francisco Lindor was at Lake County (Indians) before receiving promotions this spring. Another member of that 2010 FTB Mizuno/CST squad was Jose Fernandez, who made his major league debut with the Miami Marlins on April 7.
The relationship between Boyd and Vogelsbach goes a step further. They were high school classmates and teammates at Bishop Verot and both had signed with Florida.
“There’s a bunch of us up here, and we talk quite a bit,” Boyd said. “Daniel’s doing pretty good, but I know they were supposed to be playing up in Wisconsin and they got snowed-out of a bunch of games and I don’t think he was too thrilled about that.”
When Boyd participated in the 2010 PG WWBA World Championship, he was listed at 6-foot-2, 235-pounds. His weight fluctuated between 200 (2007-08) and 245 (2009) throughout most of his Perfect Game career and it was never viewed as much of an issue – until last Thanksgiving.
That was when, according to a report in the Fort Myers News-Press, he had ballooned to 280-pounds. Knowing he needed to get his weight down by the coming spring, Boyd altered his diet, gave up drinking soda and began working with a trainer; by the time spring training camp rolled around he weighed-in at 233-pounds. The Twins currently list him at 225.
“My impressions are that he’s made some nice adjustments in what’s necessary as a young pro: understanding work ethic (and) understanding the sacrifices that have to be made,” Lucas said. “I think he’s aware through conversations with me and other people in our organization that being in shape and staying in shape is very important, and getting your rest is very important. … I think he’s discovering some balance on when to have a good time and when to understand that you’re a pro now, and that this isn’t easy. It requires some focus and some sacrifice.
“He understands that this is a small window of opportunity for anybody – first round picks or where ever they’re drafted – and I think he’s becoming a better pro daily.”
Boyd and the other players on the Kernels’ roster sat down as a team with Mauer, Lucas and hitting coach Tommy Watkins and talked about team goals in early April. The coaching staff then met with each player individually and talked about what they wanted to accomplish and the direction they were headed.
“They asked me what my goals were and obviously the biggest one is to just get better,” Boyd said. “But I want to throw a complete game this year; to go nine innings is my big goal. I feel real good physically – a lot better than I did last year – and I think that’s just from getting older and kind of growing into myself.”
To Lucas’ way of thinking, 20-year-old Hudson Boyd has everything required to succeed as he continues to make himself a better ballplayer. It all goes back to maintaining the dialogue and communication they first established at that instructional league introduction in the fall of 2011.
“Hudson has tools, and he’s like a lot of the other young pitchers; we’re trying to make them (smarter) pitchers with those tools,” Lucas said. “Those tools will only go so long, so through the innings and through the teaching they can get more of a pitching head and develop some savvy and see different situations such as hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. Just the little things that maybe they can saturate their mind with that make them a better pro; more tuned-in.”