From Baller to Boston: Danny Kirwin makes history with Red Sox minor-league deal

From Baller to Boston: Danny Kirwin makes history with Red Sox minor-league deal

Before the 2020 season, Danny Kirwin would likely have been one of the 1,200 or so names called during the annual MLB Draft.

Rounds 21 to 40 were traditionally littered with players like Kirwin, a college senior who was the 2023 MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year for Rider University, where he had a 2.32 ERA in 50 1/3 innings last season. But a draft trimmed to 20 rounds has left many players like Kirwin looking for alternate paths to affiliated baseball.

Kirwin’s road took a brief tour through the independent leagues. The right-hander, who agreed to a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox this week, became the first member of the Oakland Ballers to have his contract purchased by a major-league organization. And he didn’t even have to throw an official pitch with the Ballers to get that opportunity.

After wrapping up his senior season with Rider, Kirwin pitched in the MLB Draft League for Mahoning Valley and then finished his summer with Tri-City of the Coastal Plain League. He spoke to a couple of MLB teams ahead of last July’s draft about signing an under-slot deal in the later rounds, but his name ultimately wasn’t called. A few teams kept in touch during the offseason but none offered him an opportunity to sign.

Kirwin says his time in the MLB Draft League motivated him to go to a pitching lab to increase his velocity. He spent the winter at Tread Athletics and saw his velocity jump up considerably. His best pitch — a cut fastball — went from 84-86 mph to 90-93. And he went from throwing in the low 90s with his four-seam fastball to sitting 95 and topping out at 97. He also added a kick changeup, which utilizes a spiked middle finger in the grip.

Kirwin — who signed with Oakland shortly after the team was launched in mid-December — had planned to roll out his improved arsenal next month as a member of the rotation for the Ballers, one of two new members of the Pioneer League, now an MLB Partner League after losing its affiliation during the 2021 minor-league restructuring. A video tweeted out by Ballers manager Micah Franklin last week changed those plans.

A day after that post, the Red Sox contacted Kirwin about joining their organization. He’s flying to Fort Myers, Fla., to take a physical on Wednesday and is expected to join the Red Sox’s Low-A affiliate soon thereafter.

Though the Ballers will never benefit from Kirwin’s skills on the mound, they are thrilled that he is headed to affiliated baseball. The team is designed in large part to give players a platform to showcase their skills for MLB organizations. From general manager Don Wakamatsu to Franklin to coaches JT Snow, Ray King and Aaron Miles, the Ballers have a lot of connections to affiliated baseball and are eager to promote their players.

“We want to create the best player program in the country in the partner league system,” Ballers assistant general manager Tyler Petersen said. “As a new team, this (signing) is a great way for us to show players what our pitch is … (that), yes, we do think we are better equipped than other teams to make you more visible. We do think that this situation is a better one than you can find with other clubs.

“These are the kinds of players we want to attract, the players that would have been drafted, but for the fact that there’s only 20 rounds now.”

Kirwin was quick to praise Franklin and his efforts to promote him on social media. Though he’s trading one “B” hat for another, Kirwin is thankful for the opportunity the Ballers gave him.

“The Ballers have something good going,” Kirwin said. “They’re a new team and I think they’re gonna bring a lot for Oakland. It’s a really good thing for Oakland. So I’m excited for them. They’re gonna be great.”

(Photo of Red Sox spring training: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

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