The Twins announced on Tuesday that Michael Tonkin would be called up to make his MLB debut. The 23-year old right-handed relief pitcher has been in the Twins organization since 2008. He was drafted in the 30th
round that year out of high school and he has spent the last six seasons working his way through the minor leagues.
Tonkin was used as a starter in the lower level of the minors and he got mixed results. In 2009, he started nine games for the GCL Twins and posted a 3.62 ERA with 60 strikeouts over 54.2 innings. The next year he was asked to start 12 games for Beloit in High-A and his ERA continued to rise; he threw 65 innings and finished with an ERA of 4.29.
The front office decided to go in a different direction with Tonkin entering the 2011 season. He was moved to the bullpen to take advantage of his ability to miss bats. It was a tough transition as he threw 76.2 innings, again for Beloit, and had a 3.87 ERA. His WHIP was an ugly 1.383 but he did strike out 69 batters.
It had to be a tough offseason for Tonkin, having taken some bruises in his first two trips through the Midwest League. When Minnesota sent him back to Beloit for the start of 2012 something finally clicked. He pitched 39 innings for the Snappers, compiling a 1.38 ERA with an eye-popping 53 strikeouts. He moved to Fort Myers and continued to post solid numbers.
The Twins decided to send Tonkin to the Arizona Fall League during this past offseason. In what is considered a tough pitching environment, Tonkin held his own. Over 14.2 innings, he had a 2.45 ERA with seven strikeouts and three walks. His 0.75 WHIP was the second best mark on his AFL club. This performance stood out and the Twins were ready to put Tonkin on the fast track.
Tonkin started 2013 by tossing 24.1 innings for New Britain. In 22 relief appearances, he had a 2.22 ERA with 30 strikeouts and eight walks. This was enough to earn him a promotion to Triple-A. After arriving in Rochester, Tonkin was very good. He threw 14.2 innings and limited opponents to two earned runs. He posted a 0.955 WHIP with 16 strikeouts and three walks.
His 6-foot-7 frame carrying 220 pounds allows him to be quite the presence on the mound. It also helps that he can scare opponents with an upper-90s fastball that has some movement. His slider is also a very good pitch. It sits in the mid to upper 80s and can be thrown regularly for strikes. There have been some issues in the past with his mechanics but he seems to have gotten those under control.
Tonkin was added to the 40-man roster this past off-season. The club probably didn't plan for him to make it this far in 2013; it will be an unexpected and good experience for him to get a taste of the big leagues. It sounds like the club might keep him around if he is able to perform well.