Posted at 9:59 PM on May 3, 2005
by David Zingler
Johan Santana’s rise from obscure Rule V draft pick to dominating Cy Young winner has been well documented. Chances are however, that you have never heard of the man who may have the best perspective on his unlikely path to greatness. Aron Amundson, the Twins’ bullpen catcher, can remember the days when the Venezuelan national hero was an afterthought buried deep in the Twins bullpen.
“He was one of those guys in my first year, 2001, who had to have live bullpen (sessions) before the game so he could get innings in,” Amundson said of Santana, who pitched just 43 2/3 innings that season. “With the team we had, our starters would go a long time and LaTroy (Hawkins) and Eddie (Guardado) would finish the games, so he wasn’t getting his innings in. He would have to throw to live hitters during batting practice.”
During Santana’s tenure with the team, several catchers – A.J. Pierzynski, Tom Prince, Henry Blanco, etc. – have suited up for the Twins, while their current trio of backstops, Joe Mauer, Mike Redmond and Corky Miller, are all in their first full season with the team. Amundson meanwhile, joined the organization before Santana’s second big league season.
It was the following year, Amundson says, that he began to realize Santana was headed for stardom. “In 2002 he started the season in Triple A and we had an injury and he came up and was like a different person,” the bullpen catcher explained. “He got all those starts under his belt (in Triple A) and finally got a chance to throw…he’s been amazing ever since.”
Forget the high tech radar guns and super slow motion break downs of his windup and delivery, according to Amundson the secret to Santana’s dominance is quite simple, yet very difficult to master.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that he has really worked hard on trying to make all of his pitches look exactly the same coming out of his hand,” the former Gophers’ first baseman said of the Twins ace. “For a long time there he was struggling with this change up and his slider would come out of a different spot every time – he would throw one kind of side armed, then the next one would be over the top. He’s really worked hard at making those pitches look exactly like his fastball. That’s one thing that has made him so successful – the hitter has no idea what is coming.”
Corky Miller Note
Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows I have a strange fascination with Twins reserve catcher Corky Miller. So it should come as no surprise that I asked Amundson, who spent a lot of time with Miller during spring training, what he thought of the now legendary Cork man. Here is his take:
“He’s kind of a hard guy to figure out. He’s one of those guys that you never really know if he’s serious or not so you just kind of play him kind of careful. I am starting to figure him out – he’s a real funny guy.”