Top 10 Minor League 1st Half Stories: #5

Now that the Minor League full-season teams have reached the halfway point of their respective seasons, takes a look at the Top-10 performances of the first half. In our #5 selection, we look at the re-birth of J.D. (Real Deal) Durbin, who has been one of the best pitchers in the Twins system this season. After a rough 2005 season, Durbin is back on the prospect map.

There was a time when J.D. Durbin was considered the top right-handed pitching prospect in the Twins organization. In fact, during the 2004 season, Durbin made his way from New Britain to the Major Leagues, though he was roughed up once he got to Minnesota. After an average 2005 season, which saw him missed significant time due to injury, Durbin needed a solid 2006 season to put himself back into the upper echelon of Twins prospects, and he has done just that.

Armed with one of the best arsenals in the organization, Durbin has been hit with the injury bug since being drafted in the second round of the 2000 draft. He appeared in only two games for the Gulf Coast League Twins after being drafted, mostly because of a sore right elbow, posting a 0.00 earned run average before being assigned to Elizabethton the following year.

For E-Town, Durbin appeared in eights games, making seven starts, and finished the year with an earned run average under 2. In 33 plus innings, he struck out 39 batters, and held opponents to a .190 batting average. In 2002, he made his full-season debut as a member of the Quad Cities Swing, and that is when his star began to shine brightest. He finished first in the Midwest League in strikeouts with 163, and was named a Low-A All-Star by Baseball America after winning 13 games for the Swing.

Some other highlights of the 2002 season were his eight game winning streak, his being named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June, and most notably, he won the Jim Rantz Award, which is given to the Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He also led Twins Minor Leaguers in strikeouts, was tied for first in innings pitched, and finished second in wins. The 2002 season would result in him being promoted to High-A ball to start the 2003 season, and he put together another solid season.

The 2003 season was again a special one for Durbin, as he excelled for both the Miracle and the Rock Cats. For Fort Myers, Durbin had a season-high six game winning streak from May 9 to June 9, and was named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Week for the week of May 17-23. He struck out a season-high 12 batters against Daytona on May 19, and was named Florida State League Player of the Week for that week. To finish off his career with the Miracle, Durbin would go on to be named Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Month in May, and would pitch in the Florida State League All-Star Game.

Durbin was promoted to New Britain mid-year, and would end the season ranked as being the sixth-best pitching prospect in the Eastern League. Durbin would also be selected to play for the United States in the Futures Game, pushing himself into the upper echelon of Minor League Baseball players. He would end the season as the organizational leader in wins, games started, innings pitched, and strikeouts.

In 2004, Durbin made his dream a reality, as he moved from Double-A ball to the Major Leagues, battling through surgery to repair a torn right labrum. After earning a selection to the Eastern League All-Star Game, Durbin was promoted to Triple-A Rochester on August 1, and proceeded to post a 13-strikeout effort on August 3. He was also named International League Pitcher of the Week in his short stay with the Wings, and was recalled to the Minnesota Twins on September 7. Though he would struggle with the Twins, there was no denying what kind of season Durbin put together, and he even played in the prestigious Arizona Fall League that Fall.

Last season was a tough one of Durbin, as the self-proclaimed Real Deal battled through injuries and a sub-par season. There would be no return for Durbin to the big leagues, as he spent the entire season with Rochester. He did not have a bad season, but it was nowhere near the two seasons he put together in 2003 and 2004. In 22 games, making 19 starts, Durbin posted a 4.33 earned run average, striking out 90 batters in 104 innings of work.

This season, Durbin has been on a mission, and everyone within the organization has taken notice. In a season that has seen the like of Scott Baker and Boof Bonser in the Red Wings rotation, it has been Durbin who has been the most consistent starter for Rochester, and it is only a matter of time before he is back with the big league club. He has allowed three or more earned runs in only two of his 16 starts, and is currently third in the Twins organization in earned run average. If he continues on this pace, the 2005 season will be forgotten, and Durbin will once again take his rightful place as the Real Deal.

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