With spring training less than a month away, players are starting to put their off-season routines into overdrive to be fully prepared to showcase the improvements they have made since last season. While every player hopes to impress their coaches and earn a promotion, not many are as determined to succeed then that of Minnesota Twins right-handed pitcher A.J. Achter.
Reporting to major league camp on February 22nd, Achter is ready to get back to work with the Twins catchers and coaching staff. Focused on building off the success he had as a September call-up last season, Achter feels he’s ready to get to Fort Myers and compete for a spot in the Twins bullpen come opening day.
“My main goal for this year is to come to spring training in the best shape of my life to try to compete for a job on the big league staff,” said Achter. “I have high expectations for myself, but I’m mainly focused on staying healthy and competing at the highest level possible.”
Feeling more prepared than ever to maintain a spot on the big club, the righty feels his chances are better due to the improvements he has made with his slider. Achter began the transition last season in AAA, but he admits that it required some attention this past off-season, as it was still a work in progress at the end of the year.
“I’ve continued to work extremely hard with my slider. I expect the best out of myself, so I continue to make adjustments to all of my pitches, but my slider in particular is the pitch that needs the most improvement,” explained Achter, who also throws a fastball, cutter, and change up. “I made significant strides with the slider last year, but I need to be more consistent with the pitch moving forward.”
Appearing in 11 major league innings last September, Achter made an instant impression on Twins fans going 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA and five strikeouts in his brief stint in Minneapolis. Obviously, every outing in the big leagues has left a footprint in the back of Achter’s mind. But like many professional players his debut really stands out as a moment he will never forget.
Having the opportunity to throw a scoreless inning in relief against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field was a tremendous way to get acquainted with the home fans, but for Achter it was even sweeter sharing the moment with his parents and girlfriend who made the trip from Ohio, as soon as they heard the news of Achter’s call-up.
“Making my debut was an unbelievable experience. It was very emotional for myself personally, and for my parents and girlfriend who were in attendance that day,” stated Achter. “It was an awesome reward for not only myself, but for all the people who sacrificed so much to help me get to that point.”
What makes Achter’s story even more remarkable is the fact that he was selected in the 46th round of the 2010 MLB draft. Even though he was picked late, and most baseball fans probably viewed him as a career minor leaguer, Achter refused to let his draft positioning define the kind of professional that he had the potential to become.
Choosing to use his late round selection as motivation throughout his minor league career, Achter admits his drive to make it to the majors only got higher when the league decided to lower the number of rounds to just 40 in 2012.
“In the minor leagues I tried to use everything I could as motivation daily. Especially after they made the draft 40 rounds,” explained Achter. “I thought everyday how awesome it would be to make it to the big leagues after being drafted in a round that doesn’t exist anymore. I did whatever I could to not become complacent and try to reach a dream I’ve had since I was a young boy.”
Spending part of five seasons in the minor leagues, Achter has performed well at every level he has pitched at between rookie-ball to AAA. Pitching in 320 innings throughout his career, the 26-year old pitcher has a career record of 18-16 to go with a 2.93 ERA and 338 strikeouts. But his success didn’t end there, as his most impressive stats are his advanced ones. Maintaining a 1.13 WHIP and a 9.51 K/9 ratio throughout his entire minor league career speaks volumes for the kind of pitcher Achter has the potential to be for the Twins moving forward.
While he has enjoyed every stop in his minor league journey, the Ohio native feels his time in AAA prepared him the best for the challenges of playing major league baseball. Spending the majority of his 2014 campaign in the International League really gave Achter some great insight of what to expect during his late season promotion.
“The experience I gained in Rochester was critical for me when facing advanced hitters,” said Achter. “The three hitters I faced in my debut, I had faced the past two years in AAA. The International League is extremely competitive and it’s a challenge every day.”
Achter credits much of his success in professional baseball on the coaching he received while playing at Michigan State University. Spending three of the most memorable years of his life in East Lansing really helped Achter figure out what he needed to improve on to be successful at the next level.
“I don’t believe that I could’ve picked a better place to attend college than Michigan State,” explained Achter. “I grew so much as a person on-and-off the field there. I can’t thank head coach Jake Boss and pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde enough for turning me into the pitcher I am today. I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t be where I am without the people and the experiences I had at MSU. Making the decision to leave school a year early was the hardest one I’ve had to make thus far.”
Be sure to follow A.J. Achter as he continues his amazing journey in professional baseball in 2015.