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Stingers add former Twins’ minor leaguer

Trent Higginbotham

WILLMAR — It’s not often a Northwoods League team has a chance to sign a former professional baseball player, but the Willmar Stingers have done just that for 2014 with Montevallo pitcher Trent Higginbotham.

Higginbotham, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2011 and played for their Gulf Coast League affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2012, was able to leave pro ball and retain his NCAA eligibility.

NCAA rules usually prevent players with professional experience from playing, but Higginbotham had not hired an agent, which turned out to be the key.

“They told me that I had a 365-day window from when I signed,” Higginbotham said, though he was a member of the Twins’ organization for just under two years. “The guy who was going over my case just kind of gave it to me and gave me all four years. Not having an agent was really the big factor.”

Stingers’ co-owner Ryan Voz said that if a player is drafted out of high school and doesn’t hire an agent, and then is cut, he’s eligible to go back and play collegiately.

“He’s actually considered a free agent, so he’s able to be drafted and signed again,” Voz said. “It’s kind of a unique situation where this kid signed with the Minnesota Twins and pitched for one season, was let go, and now has found himself as a freshman in college.”

The Stingers see the same potential in him that the Twins did two years ago.

“The Twins felt he was going to have a high ceiling and it didn’t work out in their program, so we’re getting a seasoned veteran even though he’s only a freshman,” Voz said. “This guy has pitched to players in the professional ranks so we have high hopes for him in the summer.”

According to his high school scouting report from Baseball America, Higginbotham threw in the 87-91 mph range and touched 94 on occasion. He has a four-pitch mix, throwing a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.

The Twins picked Higginbotham in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft out of high school in Alabama. He signed Aug. 15, 2011, too late to play that summer, and debuted with the rookie ball GCL Twins in 2012, pitching 23.1 innings out of the bullpen with a 7.71 ERA and two saves.

The Twins released him June 14.

Higginbotham said they told him he hadn’t made enough progress and wasn’t throwing as hard as when they’d drafted him.

“My mentality changed once I got up there,” he said. “I turned into a closer and wasn’t really used to it. Once I got going I could never pick it back up. This year I did a lot better but I still got released.”

He’ll debut with Montevallo this spring.

“Once I got released I didn’t really know if there was some kind of rule,” he said. “My dad called around, he talked to a juco, and a few days later Montevallo called me and said we figured out this ruling.”

Coming out of Clay-Chalkville High School in Clay, Ala., the 6-foot-2 righthander was set to play for Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, but he said the opportunity with the Twins was too big.

“That’s all I ever wanted to do was play pro baseball,” he said. “I got what I needed to go. … I’m going to do everything I can to get back there.”

Stingers add 2 infielders

The Stingers also signed two sophomore infielders, Ohio State’s Troy Kuhn and West Florida’s Alex Greene.

Kuhn, who is the younger brother of Stingers’ third baseman Max Kuhn, split time between designated hitter, second base and third base for the Buckeyes as a freshman last spring. He hit .272 in 92 at bats.

Voz said Troy was going to be a Stinger in 2013 but that the team was already full on middle infielders.

“We had to pass on him,” Voz said. “It was something that his parents and coaches wanted to see if we were interested in having Max and Troy on the team.”

Greene was a redshirt freshman at West Florida and batted .318 in 85 at bats with a .366 on-base percentage, and posted a .963 fielding percentage at shortstop.

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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