Stomach churning, Alex Wimmers nervously sat among a full patio of friends and family at the Varsity Club just off Ohio State's campus on Monday night with a grimace on his face as the picks in the MLB amateur draft ticked away.
Even when he received word he was the likely choice of the Minnesota Twins with the 21st pick of the first round, Wimmers didn’t change his expression.
“Oh my god, nerves and everything went through my body,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t want to be all worked up and all of a sudden not hear my name.”
As it turns out, Wimmers heard only his first name when MLB commissioner Bud Selig stepped to the lectern. At the realization that the Buckeye ace hurler was indeed chosen by the Twins, the assembled family, teammates and friends let out a roar that drowned out baseball’s top dog and signified the end of the Cincinnati native’s wait.
“I have no idea what to think right now,” Wimmers said afterward as the celebration continued to rage. “I’m just glad it’s over with and I’m glad the Minnesota Twins picked me. It was a huge rush for me. It’s just such a relief to finally find out what team I’m going to and be able to sit down and finally relax this week and figure out my schedule when I have to leave for the Twins.”
Wimmers said that he had not heard personally from the Twins but expected to this week. With the choice, the righthander goes to an organization with a respected farm system, one that has churned out current homegrown starting pitchers Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey.
“I know they have a great program with pitching, and what I love about them is they had the confidence in me to help their team out,” Wimmers said. “You can’t ask for anything more.”
He is also expected to take the fast track through the minors. Many draft analysts pegged Wimmers as the most major league-ready pitcher in the draft thanks to a fastball that sits in the lower 90s and a fantastic changeup that befuddled hitters for the better part of two years.
“We’ll see how it works out, but I definitely have the confidence to hopefully make it in the major leagues as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’ve worked really hard. We’ll see what happens.”
On MLB Network’s coverage of the draft, Twins representative Joe McIlvane, a special assistant to general manager Bill Smith, lavished praise on the changeup. Wimmers developed the pitch in the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, turning from a reliever who posted an ERA over 4.00 as a first-year player into a two-time All-America starter.
“They just said it on MLB Network, his changeup is as good as any major league changeup there is,” said OSU catcher Dan Burkhart, a childhood friend of Wimmers. “I’ve said it since last year when he came out throwing that thing that it was a million dollar pitch, and here we are on draft day and it’s a million dollar pitch. I knew it as soon as he started throwing it.”
As for the millions, those should soon come. Last year’s Minnesota first-round pick, fellow righty Kyle Gibson, was taken 22nd overall by the Twins and signed a deal worth $1.8 million dollars. Negotiations should begin in the coming weeks.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Wimmers said of the payday.
The junior proved money wasn’t behind his decision-making when he pitched two days in a row with the season on the line May 21-22 against the University of Minnesota after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury. Gutting through six innings separated by a rain delay that caused the suspension of the game, Wimmers threw six solid innings despite fatigue and pain.
That allowed him to complete the year at 9-0 with a 1.60 ERA, the best mark for any starter in head coach Bob Todd’s tenure. After the year, Wimmers – who also struck out 86 batters in 73 innings – was named the Big Ten’s top pitcher for the second year in a row, making him the first to earn the honor in consecutive seasons, and also repeated as a first-team All-American.
Now 100 percent healthy, Wimmers said he’s ready to go.
“Wherever the Twins are taking me, that’s where I’m going,” said Wimmers, who also threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in OSU history last year against Michigan. “It’s a dream come true to have a chance to play professional baseball.”
Many rumors throughout the month had Wimmers a target of his hometown Cincinnati Reds, who held the No. 12 pick, but he instead slid down to Minnesota as he and his family eagerly awaited the call.
“It’s a little farther drive then the Cincinnati Reds, but that’s OK,” his father, Jerry, said. “We’re just super proud of him. He’s earned it.”
Wimmers is the sixth first-round draft pick in Ohio State history and the first since Cory Luebke went as a supplemental first-round pick in 2007 to San Diego. He is the first to go in the actual first round since Oakland tabbed Nick Swisher 16th overall in 2002.
A number of Ohio State players and recruits, including Burkhart, are still on the board as the draft continues Tuesday and Wednesday.