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Meet Brian Bass

Introducing the latest in Minnesota's ever-evolving bullpen, courtesy of the pitching-loaded farm system (sort of).

After appearing in the Alabama high-school All-Star game in 2000, Bass was drafted in the sixth round of the amateur-entry draft by the Kansas City Royals.  He appeard in twelve games for the GCL Royals that summer, posting a 44-to-18 strikeout to walk ratio in 44 innings with a 3.89 ERA.  His immediate success as an 18-year old wasn't much of a surprise, but even though he remained with Kansas City's A-ball affiliate for both 2001 and 2002 his age kept the Royals from raising too many red flags.  Bass compiled 46 starts over the two seasons and was unable build off his impressive rookie-league campaign, only striking out 135 in 249.2 innings.  In spite of the low strikeout numbers he was still effective in '02 (1.21 WHIP, 3.83 ERA), and earned a promotion to high-A the following year.

2003 was Bass's best season in the minors, leading his team in strikeouts (119) as he went 9-8 with a 2.84 ERA in 26 starts.  His peripherals improved across the board:  strikeout rates, home runs rate, hits allowed.  In August he hit the highlight of his summer as he came within one out of recording a no-hitter.  Baseball America had ranked Bass as Kansas City's 8th best prospect, and graduating high-A at 21 isn't bad.

Over the next three seasons Bass stumbled.  Between 2004 and 2005 he started 42 games, but most of his time was spent in double-A Wichita.  In 201.1 innings he posted a scary 122-to-75 strikeout ratio and had trouble keeping hitters off the base paths.  The Royals sent him to the Arizona Fall League again, where he had found success the prior year in a relief role.  Although this time around he was used as he'd been groomed, as a starter, he again found success in the AFL.  As effective as he was however, scouting reports still insisted that his fastball and curve didn't offer enough to make him a legitimate candidate for a rotation slot in the majors.

After all this, the Royals still sent him to triple-A in 2006 as a 24-year old.  In seven starts he walked more batters than he struck out and looked out of his league.  At some point the Royals realized Bass wasn't ready for triple-A as a starter (1.97 WHIP, 7.59 ERA, 32 IP, 49 H) and sent him back to Wichita, where he still struggled in five starts and one relief appearance despite pretty decent peripherals.

Bass's struggles as a starter didn't just stem from his own tendencies.  To be fair some of the defenses he pitched for were hideous, as some defense-independent metrics came in lower than his traditional lines.  Nonetheless, he was hittable, lacked a strikeout pitch and was having trouble adjusting to increased competition as he progressed through the Royals' system.  In a system that was already full of mediocrity at the top and had some promising arms on the way, Bass had run out of time in Kansas City.

About to enter his age-25 season, Brian Bass was signed to a minor-league contract by the Minnesota Twins.  Spending all of 2007 in triple-A Rochester, the Twins changed tactics on Bass:  he was largely utilized out of the bullpen.  In 37 appearances he rebounded, posting his best ERA (3.48), WHIP (1.16), and strikeout rate (6.97 K/9) since 2003.  Suddenly, instead of being talked about as just another floundering pitching prospect, he was just another effective arm in the Minnesota farm system.  It certainly seems that the relief role agrees with Bass.  At the least the Twins believe so as they signed him to another minor league contract in November.

This spring in eight games, Bass has continued to impress in marginalized time.  Out of options he's pitched himself into the bullpen for Opening Day, striking out 10 in 14.1 innings.  While he's still not a top arm, and likely isn't going to find himself in the high-pressure situations like Pat Neshek or Jesse Crain, it's a long way from where he was just a year and a half ago.