Diamond's sparkling rise boosting Twins' staff

Diamond's sparkling rise boosting Twins' staff

Diamond's sparkling rise boosting Twins' staff
MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Diamond wasn't one of the 1,453 players selected in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Three and a half years later, the Twins' decision to trade hard-throwing prospect Billy Bullock to Atlanta to retain Diamond after he was selected as a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Braves came with some question marks.

However, the 25-year-old Diamond has validated the Twins' decision and is now busy establishing himself as not only Minnesota's best starter, but also as one of baseball's best pitchers over the past month.

Diamond's 1.61 ERA is tops in the Majors among all pitchers with at least 40 innings. That number is also the best by a Twins rookie through the first seven starts of a season since the club came to Minnesota in 1961.

This is all from a guy who didn't even survive the first round of Spring Training cuts just a few months ago, and one who only was recalled from Triple-A Rochester after Minnesota's rotation sputtered out of the gates.

"[We told him], 'Go down [to Triple-A] and get it done and be the guy,' and that's what he did," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He pitched his tail off down there. And when he's come up here, he's carried it right through.

"It's a good story. That's kind of what you hope for out of Spring Training."

Diamond's path to becoming his team's most reliable starter is a winding one.

Binghamton University head coach Tim Sinicki spotted the Guelph, Ontario, native by accident when he traveled to Canada to see another prospect play. Though Sinicki's assistant coach had seen him pitch before, he never turned him in because Diamond only threw around 80 mph.

"But Scott showed flashes that he just flat out knew how to pitch," Sinicki said.

So Diamond attended Binghamton, where he honed his craft, improved his velocity and won 37 games during his collegiate career from 2005-07. His play in the Coastal Plain League during 2006 attracted the attention of scouts, so much so that they wanted to see Diamond early in the '07 season.

"Early in the Northeast, guys are pitching in pretty cold temperatures," Sinicki said. "Guys are taking the mound without having a chance to compete outside in live situations or in the elements. Scott's velocity wasn't what the scouts wanted to see."

Sinicki told scouts to come back later in the season, but they didn't. All 30 Major League teams passed on Diamond in the 50 rounds of the 2007 Draft.

"It was disappointing," Sinicki said. "But in typical Scott Diamond fashion, he turned it into a positive."

Diamond returned to the CPL that summer and impressed Braves scouts enough to earn a free-agent contract. His road to the show was far from complete.

Diamond bounced around Atlanta's system for three seasons before Minnesota chose him in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft. In order to keep Diamond, the Twins parted with Bullock, a 2009 second-round pick. Most pundits tabbed the trade as a steal in the Braves' favor, yet Diamond is putting together a terrific season, while the 24-year-old Bullock pitches in Double-A this season.

Despite starting 4-8 with a 4.70 ERA at Triple-A Rochester, Diamond's contract was selected by Minnesota as an emergency option after Scott Baker was placed on the disabled list in July 2011. Things didn't go any better for Diamond, as he went 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA in seven starts with the Twins.

Though he struggled, that first stint proved invaluable for Diamond since he was called up again this season on May 5.

"I think that little taste that I got last year really helped me feel a lot more comfortable coming around this time," Diamond said. "It really helped me develop as a pitcher and also become better mentally prepared this year. I've been able to settle in and become a little more comfortable on the mound. So when the game seems to speed up on me, I'm able to control it a little better."

Diamond's numbers reflect that progression. His four starts of six-plus innings with zero earned runs allowed are the second most in baseball, trailing only Brandon Morrow (five), even though Diamond's big league campaign started late.

The biggest improvement Gardenhire sees is in Diamond's confidence. The southpaw can consistently throw each of his pitches -- fastball, changeup and curve -- successfully for strikes, and he knows it.

"His mechanics are solid," Gardenhire said. "He's not really getting out of whack mechanically. His arm slot is about the same. His pitches are going down. He's locating his fastball so much more now, in and out, and working the count. It's just a maturing process of a pitcher."

Diamond doesn't possess the most overpowering array of pitches. His fastball rarely exceeds 91 mph.

Instead, Diamond succeeds with pragmatism. His mind is constantly operating strategically, regarding the game, his pitches and opposing hitters.

"Even coming in between innings, he talks about the mistakes he made that inning and where he should have got the ball to," Gardenhire said.

Teammate Drew Butera, who caught Diamond with the Twins and in Rochester, has witnessed his cerebral approach firsthand.

"Everything is deliberate," Butera said. "Everything is thought out. Everything has a purpose and a plan. It's not just, 'OK, I'm going to go out and I'm going to throw this pitch for no rhyme or reason.' I think he has an idea and a plan behind each pitch."

Given a chance to heap too much praise on his young starter's shoulders, Gardenhire wisely shied away. The 11th-year manager knows success can be fickle. Still, Diamond looks to be here to stay, though he quickly shoots down any suggestion that he has become the leader of Minnesota's rotation.

"I look at it as we're all teammates and we're all trying to build off each other," Diamond said with a modest smile. "I'm just trying to do the best I can."

Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.