Twins pitcher Varland got his competitive start at home
Louie Varland of the Twins is a starting pitcher who was in Rochester for the Twins Winter Caravan. His brother Gus, one year older, is a starting pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.
ROCHESTER — Louie Varland grew up in a competitive household and he is used to a challenge. And he is ready for a big challenge heading into the 2023 Major League Baseball season.
Varland is a starting right-handed pitcher in the Minnesota Twins’ organization. The St. Paul native earned his way to the Major Leagues last season despite playing college ball at Division II Concordia University, St. Paul.
He was in Rochester on Monday as part of the Twins Winter Caravan.
“It’s great being a part of this,” the 25-year-old said.
Varland could be referring to being a professional baseball player as much as being on the tour talking to fans around the state. Growing up, Varland had a built-in competitor at home, his brother Gus, who is one year older and also a starting pitcher in pro baseball. The two are very close and competitive.
“We are extremely (competitive),” Louie Varland said. “Actually I was blessed enough to face off against him this last year in double-A twice.”
The younger brother, Louie, had the advantage in those head-to-head matchups in 2022. And he was also the first of the two to make it to the big leagues.
Gus Varland was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. Gus is currently on the Brewers’ 40-man roster and is hoping to earn a spot in the team’s starting rotation this spring.
“I have the bragging rights,” Louie said with a smile. “But I will say he’s been an MLB caliber pitcher for a couple of years now. It’s just that he was with the Dodgers, who are stacked.”
Varland will face his own challenge this season as he tries to earn a spot in the Twins’ starting rotation. The rotation could be solid with Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda and Bailey Ober all in the mix.
“I think it’s going to be a tough rotation to crack, but I’m going down to spring training optimistic,” Varland said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m going to compete and just see what happens.”
Varland has been used almost exclusively as a starter since he was drafted by the Twins in the 15th round in 2019. He made a quick rise through the minor-league system and was selected as the organization's minor league Pitcher of the Year in both 2021 and 2022.
His reward for the strong 2022 season was a promotion to the Twins in September. And his first big-league start was on Sept. 7 at Yankees Stadium.
“It was a complete dream come true,” Varland said. “I was fortunate to make my debut and stay up there for five starts so it was a lot of fun.”
In those five starts, the stocky 6-foot-1, 205-pound Varland went 1-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings. He struck out 21, walked six and had a WHIP of 1.23.
The Twins have a number of veteran starting pitchers who appear to be ahead of Varland. But manager Rocco Baldelli said MLB teams can never have too many starting pitchers and that Varland will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation.
“Louie Varland is going to factor into that conversion,” Baldelli said.
Varland throws a four-seamed fastball, a circle change-up, a cutter fastball (which darts away from hitters) and a slider.
“My bread-and-butter is a high fastball because I have a lower slot (arm angle) with some ride, so that pitch works the best,” Varland said. “And I’ve been trying to work on my slider and trying to throw it in the zone more this offseason, and fine tune it.”
Varland’s average fastball is 94 miles per hour, but he has topped out at 98. He said his mentality is not going all out on every pitch, however.
“I think starters have more of a coast mentality to them,” Varland said. “I’m not saying throw 100 percent every pitch, but more like 90-95 percent so they can go longer in games and hold their average speed longer in games.”
Varland said he has gotten some great advice from Twins pitchers once he reached the majors. He cited reliever Caleb Thielbar, a native of Randolph, and Gray as well as Twins pitching coach Pete Maki.
“He’s a great guy and a true vet,” Varland said of Thielbar.