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Hard-throwing Tyler Kinley trying to land spot in Twins pen
By MAUREEN MULLEN
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Tyler Kinley started spring training knowing he had a tough task to make Minnesota's roster.
The 27-year-old right-handed reliever has been throwing hard to try to fulfill his goal of making the major leagues, and that happens to be his greatest asset.
Because Kinley was selected from Miami in the winter meeting draft, he must be offered back to the Marlins if the Twins don't keep him in the majors.
"I really try not to think about it. I try to just think about preparing myself the best I can and trying to go out and execute that plan," Kinley said. "Just to establish myself as a reliable bullpen arm, not only to the coaching staff and front office's eyes, but to the players as well. Gain everyone's trust and gain everyone's respect."
The radar gun can accomplish some of that. He consistently touches the upper 90s mph, presenting the type of power arm the Twins have long been in short supply of in their bullpen.
Selected by the Marlins in the 16th round of the 2013 amateur draft out of NCAA Division II Barry University, Kinley is a distant relative of the nation's 25th president, William McKinley. He had a 3.96 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 50 innings over 36 games at Double-A in 2016, then was promoted to Triple-A and struggled in eight appearances. He began last season at Double-A again, had a 5.19 ERA in 27 games and was demoted to Class A.
The Twins have a history of success in the Rule 5 winter meeting draft with Johan Santana, selected from the Houston Astros in 1999. The left-hander won AL Cy Young Awards with the Twins in 2004 and 2006, but he had a lot of work to do to get there after struggling as a reliever in 2000 and 2001.
"Johan was just a thrower then," said Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, the closer for the team during part of Santana's tenure. "It's about the person. Johan was willing to work and get better. Kinley reminds me of that. I'm not saying starting-wise, but he wants to learn, works hard, very good person. And I know he's got a lot of pressure on him because of Rule 5. He really wants to make the team. Who doesn't? But we talk, and I just say, `Hey, you've got good stuff.' But he knows that, or he wouldn't be here. Now it's the mental part of the game. How are we going to handle that? How are you going to handle yourself when you go out there and have a bad inning?"
Commanding those fastballs that clock in between 95 and 99 mph can be a challenge, though, has often been a challenge. Same goes for his slider that comes in around 90. But he has 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 career minor league innings, a tantalizing ratio. There are precious few bullpen openings available, leaving Kinley competing with youngsters like Alan Busenitz and Gabriel Moya and perhaps Tyler Duffey for a spot.
"He's young. He's learning," Guardado said. "I tell him that: `You don't even know yet what you're capable of doing.'"
For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Updated March 21, 2018