Neshek Defying The Odds

Patrick Neshek is the best relief pitching prospect in the Twins organization, and is off to a hot start in his first stint in Triple-A ball. On Thursday, he sat down with TCD to discuss what it is going to take to get to the next level.

A power arm at the end of the bullpen is an invaluable commodity for every franchise. A pitcher who can take the mound and record three outs with overwhelming fastballs receives the attention of fans and the organization alike. However, all too often a flame throwing prospect reaches the Majors only to fail due to a lack of maturity in their repertoire. Rochester closer Pat Neshek looks to break through such fears as he continues to rise within the Twins' system.

The 25-year-old right-hander enters his first season of Triple-A ball fresh off a stellar season with the New Britain Rock Cats. While leading all Twins' minor league pitchers in saves, Neshek improved key statistical areas of his game, most notably his earned run average, WHIP, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Yet on-field success is nothing new to Neshek, who has dominated opponents since his college days at Butler University. With a career ERA of 2.22 in 173 career games coming in to the 2006 season, fans have been waiting for Neshek to emerge on the scene as a dominate Major League closer.

Consistent success at a young age is unquestionably rare, but one look at Neshek on the mound, and it is quick to see why Neshek has had no trouble excelling.

"I keep doing the same thing year after year. Each year I've done well, and it definitely carries over. But this winter, I concentrated more on lifting weights, and it has paid off. I was at 91-92 with my fastball but now I'm getting up to 95-96," Neshek told TwinCitiesDugout.com.

As a starter in 2002 at Butler, Neshek boasted with a 3.10 ERA and a four-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. During Rookie League ball the following season, Neshek got his first crack at closing, and demonstrated great control and power. Since then, he has impressed at all levels of Minor League Baseball, blowing away the competition with a biting, sinking fastball, and a developing slider which he attributes to his success.

"The slider has been the biggest thing," Neshek explained. "My first couple years I got by just overpowering guys since I was 20-21 years old, and I was pitching against 18 year olds. But each year, with better conditioning, my pitches improved, and it has helped get me here".

Neshek attributes his growing as a pitcher for his success in the Minor Legaues, and not just his ability to overpower batters. Throwing heat by hitters may get a pitcher one Major League invitation, but inevitably, Major Leaguers are going to catch up with your fastball. Neshek knows this fact, and battles to avoid falling into that trap.

"I've got to hit my spots," Neshek explained. "I've learned to throw inside and move the ball just enough to get guys to chase. If I miss my spots guys are going to get hits. The guys in Double-A were not forgiving so it will only get worse as I move up if I don't learn that now." The 2006 season proves to be a pivotal year for Neshek. This past spring he was placed on the Twins' 40-man roster, which hints that his appearance on the big stage may be sooner rather than later.

As he has in the past, Neshek is putting up eye popping statistics in Rochester this season. His 56 strikeouts to nine walks, and 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings pitched, support the fans' calls for his promotion to the big leagues. For his career, Neshek has put together a 17-11 record, 336 strikeouts and .209 batting average against.

Such fierce dominance over a five year period is rare for young pitchers. One would figure that a young arm would experience struggles at some point in their career, but that has yet to occur for the Minnesota native. Fans, and Neshek himself, cannot help but anticipate an upcoming advancement to the Metrodome.

"It could happen anytime because there are a couple guys struggling up there right now," Neshek told us. "I don't think it's going to take much right now. I have just to keep putting up good numbers, stay consistent, and I will get there. Over the next few weeks or later this year, it's going to happen," said a confident Neshek.

However, he remains level-headed regarding the fanfare surrounding his ascension through the ranks.

"You would think it would be a big thing, but once you've played five or six years in the minors, you get sick of it. I just want to get there already," he said.

For Neshek, a chance to pitch in front of his family and friends would be a dream come true.

"It's awesome. My whole family and my friends are there, it's in the papers all the time. I haven't really had a chance to think about but when I get a chance to get up there it's going to be something else to play in the spot where you watched your first game," he added.

As his strikeouts and saves pile up, his flame will only burn brighter as the next Twins star. Experiencing each level of play has set the stage for his debut. His talent is too valuable to have risked early promotions only to see him struggle. It is unquestioned that once Neshek breaks outs into the Major League, it should be for long-term gains for all.

TwinCitiesDugout.com would like to thank Patrick Neshek for taking the time to sit down with us. He is one of the biggest prospects in the organization, and we hope he gets a shot at the big leagues very soon.


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