After whirlwind winter, Haley ready to grind

Rule 5 pick pitched in Dominican Winter League, got married before landing with Twins

After whirlwind winter, Haley ready to grind

MINNEAPOLIS -- As Justin Haley was preparing to make his final start for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League on Nov. 18, he received word from the Red Sox that he wasn't going to be added to the 40-man roster.

Haley shook off the bad news, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings to finish with a 0.38 ERA in five starts. But it was the start of a whirlwind for Haley, who got married eight days later and was taken in the Rule 5 Draft 12 days after that.

Haley essentially didn't have time to worry about whether he'd be selected, but he said he's excited about the opportunity to compete for a spot on the Twins' roster, which is something he wouldn't have been able to do with Boston.

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"The offseason was pretty crazy for me this year," Haley said with a laugh. "I didn't pay any mind to [the Rule 5 Draft]. I'm not a big spotlight guy. I've never been that top guy. And I'm fine with that. I work my butt off. That's the way I look at it. I didn't get protected, but that wasn't God's plan or the path I was supposed to take. I look it as something good is coming, and something great came."

Haley, 25, will be stretched out to start this spring, but is likely to compete for a spot in the bullpen for the regular season. The right-hander is coming off a strong season, as he posted a 3.01 ERA with 126 strikeouts and 45 walks in 146 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Haley has made 106 starts in the Minors and only 12 relief appearances, but he said he's open to any role the Twins have for him.

"I just love to pitch," Haley said. "Whatever they let me do, I hope I earn it. I want to earn it every second I'm out there. That's my mentality. Earn it and make them keep me."

Haley faced his first test on Thursday, throwing live batting practice to Minor Leaguers Nick Gordon, Engelb Vielma and Dan Rohlfing. Twins manager Paul Molitor is intrigued by Haley, and has utilized a Rule 5 Draft pitcher in the past with J.R. Graham in 2015, who stuck on the roster the whole season.

"I do want to see him get stretched out a little bit here, but I think part of his value and potential for sticking here is the fact that he's going to have versatility in the things he can do," Molitor said. "He can pitch an inning, he can pitch multiple innings, he can start. He's got some things that he can do. He's a confident young man."

Haley has also been picking the brain of right-hander Ryan Pressly, who went through nearly the exact same situation in 2013, when he was selected from the Red Sox, remained on the roster the whole season and has now developed into one of the club's best relievers.

"I'm definitely going to learn from him," Haley said. "That's a path I'd love to take."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.