Earlier this month, the Minnesota Twins called up Randy Dobnak and he was used for a spot relief appearance against the Cleveland Indians, a game in which he pitched for innings of shut out ball, striking out 3 batters, but allowing 6 hits. After the game, he was optioned back to AAA Rochester, where he will continue to refine his stuff. Sounds typical, to say the least, as a lot of pitchers come up for a game or two, and then, regardless of their output, they get sent back down again. In the curious case of Randy Dobnak, however, there is nothing typical about it. Let me explain.
Undrafted out of Alderson Broaddus University in 2017 at West Virginia, Randy joined the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. He loved baseball enough to give pitching a try, with the hopes of maybe catching on with a team, but didn’t bank on it being a real possibility. He got a call from Brad Steil, a then scout but now current Director of Minor League Operations, and was given a contract to be within their system. Steil actually signed a few other players that year from the USPBL, and seemingly raided a smaller baseball league, looking for talent in unusual and unpopular places.
In 2017, through 5 games in Rookie Ball and one Low-A appearance, he went 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. He struck out 23 batters over 33.1 IP. It was a nice way to start his journey into professional baseball.
In 2018, he threw for 129 innings and surrendered only 6 home runs. And while he didn’t have an impressive strikeout ratio, he walked very few batters too. What made 2018 an important year for Dobnak, however, was his introduction to throwing a sinker, which he paired with a slider, thus inducing more ground outs. He worked on these pitches, while also throwing more 1-seam fastballs to get more of a dip in his throws, and, as more of these ground outs happened, so did his success.
Game 2 Kernels starter Randy Dobnak. pic.twitter.com/gKRMMJk0nb
— Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) May 27, 2018
The next year is when he really started to elevate his stock, as the numbers are off the charts. Here’s what he’s done over THREE full levels in 2019 (as of games completed August 26, 2019):
A+: 3-0, 0.40 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 14 SO, 4 BB, 22.1 IP
AA: 4-2, 2.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 61 SO, 6 BB, 66.2 IP
AAA: 5-2, 2.15 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 34 SO, 18 BB, 46.0 IP
What’s impressive about these numbers is his ability to adapt. Every time he got the call to the next level, he was able to adapt come back a somewhat shaky debut outing. He’s got a fastball that has reached 96 mph at times, a sinker that has hit the low 90’s more than once, and has amassed an ERA of 2.02 throughout 3 minor league levels in 2019.
— Pensacola Blue Wahoos (@BlueWahoosBBall) August 8, 2019
In his MLB debut on August 9, 2019 vs the Indians, he came into the game in the 6th inning. What was nice to see was that Dobnak didn’t surrender any extra base hits. Some were infield singles and some were your standard base hits to the outfield. In fact, according to Baseball Savant, the hardest hit ball was clocked in at 106.6 mph, while the average Exit Velocity of his hit pitches was 91.2 mph. Furthermore, his ground ball exit velocity was measured at an average of 96.5 mph, which were 6 of his outs in the game.
Last week, #GSM stud/Minnesota @Twins RHP #68 @Dobnak_ became just the 6th Reliever in @Twins history to throw 4.0-or-more Shutout Innings in his @MLB debut! Randy went 4 Innings surrendering 0Walks + 3K’s! 🎥: @abullington0 #Family #WorkEthic #Purpose #MLB #MiLB #MinnesotaTwins pic.twitter.com/TZRgmEF5IV
— Gaeta Sports Mgt (@GaetaSportsMgt) August 18, 2019
All in all, he’s a name to monitor. Anytime anyone makes it this quickly up the rankings of a franchise, eyes should be opening. On one hand, he’s dominating at every level and is getting a ton of movement on his pitches. On the other hand, he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters and this could be a Cinderella story sooner or later. Either way, it’s fun watching!
Dave Funnell covers the Minnesota Twins minor leagues for Prospects1500. Located just south of Toronto in the city of Hamilton, he's an hour away from Buffalo (and the Bisons). He's been a fan of baseball his entire life and doesn't have a favorite team, which hopefully gives way for objectivty in analysis. Dave is in multiple keeper fantasy baseball leagues and is active on Twitter at @sportz_nutt51.