Anthony Swarzak is, without a doubt, the goofiest player on the Minnesota Twins.
He always has a sinister grin that gives you the impression he’s got something funny spooling in his brain, ready to unleash it into the world. You almost want to laugh before he says anything because his cheeky smile is just so wacky.
Swarzak kind of an oddball. He hails from Fort Lauderdale, but has none of the brashness Danny Valencia brought with him from South Florida. He’ll sing along with DMX after a win while making wild gestures with his hands in front of wide-eyed, clueless teammates.
When rookie Kyle Gibson was sent down recently, Swarzak immediately slapped a big, hearty hug on him and then placed his hand on Gibson’s shoulder, telling him something that made the dejected starter smile for a brief second.
Nobody can stay upset with Swarzak around.
My favorite Swarzak quote of this year was in regards to hitting.
On August 3, during a game against the Houston Astros, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gave up the designated hitter spot and was forced to use one of his pitchers to hit in a crucial position.
He opted for Correia, who laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt.
A day later, Swarzak was asked if he was willing to pinch hit.
“I will never shy away from a baseball game in any aspect,” he said before pausing to grin. “But I don’t think the team wants me up to hit.
“I’ll jump at the opportunity, though, but for the game’s sake,” he said, stopping to chuckle for a second. “We should probably let somebody else get a chance.”
That’s right: Swarzak is worried that the baseball gods will strike him down if they ever see him with a bat in his hands.
Fortunately, the Twins play in the Junior Circuit and he should never have to hit a baseball.
When he is on the mound, however, he is all business.
Swarzak began his career as a starter, going 3-7 with a 6.25 ERA as a 23-year-old in 2009. After spending an entire year in the minors, he emerged better than ever in 2011, going 4-7 with a 4.32 ERA and seeing his ERA+, which adjusts for the difference in size between the Metrodome and Target Field, increase from 70 to 94.
He had a setback in 2012, however, and was moved to the bullpen after five starts. His 3-6 record and 5.03 ERA were far from sterling and his ERA+ dropped to 82.
Additionally, for the second time in three years (not including 2010), baseball-reference.com indicates that he had a negative WAR.
Despite his track record, Swarzak has earned a chance to start with his play this year. In 37 appearances, mostly as a long reliever, Swarzak has posted a 1-2 record and 2.87 ERA. His ERA+ has ballooned to 144 and his 1.3 WAR is a career high.
“I would love the opportunity to start,” he said after relieving Gibson, who only pitched three innings against the Astros on August 3.
“I’ll never let that go. Maybe I should for my own good, but as of right now I would love the opportunity to grab the ball every five days and give my team a chance to win.”
Gardenhire appeared to agree at the time, at least to some degree.
“I just got through saying that back there,” he told the media while gesturing to the rooms behind his office. “[But] he’s so valuable at what he’s doing right now that we’re probably going to try and leave him there.”
Fast-forward 16 days and Gibson once again exits in the fourth inning against an inferior opponent—this time, it’s the New York Mets—and once again Swarzak comes in and chews up the opposing lineup.
“He’s been overlooked a lot,” said catcher Joe Mauer. “The last couple of years, he goes in and does a great job.”
Gibson was sent down and Gardenhire was once again faced with the potential of putting Swarzak in the starting lineup.
“We’ve had Swarzy in the starting rotation before, you can go back and look at the numbers. He’s been there before,” said Gardenhire. “He’s done really well where he’s at, but that’s not to say we won’t put him there.
“He is a candidate.”
At this point, just about everyone is a candidate for the rotation next year.
Scott Diamond appeared to be the only sure thing coming into this year, but he has struggled after having bone chips removed from his elbow in the offseason and was ultimately sent down.
Kevin Correia dominated in the first half of the season, going deep into games with low pitch counts, but has been shelled in a few recent starts.
Mike Pelfrey had three years of success in Queens, but hasn’t been himself after Tommy John surgery.
Gibson got the T.J. bug as well.
Samuel Deduno and his wacky fastball are an absolute wild card. One day, he’s throwing smoke. The next day, he loses control.
And that’s just five names off the top of my head. Independent ball lifer Andrew Albers had two solid starts before faltering against the White Sox. Liam Hendriks and P.J. Walters each had a stint this season. Prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May will both get a look.
With the rotation wide open and plenty of issues to boot, why not give Swarzak a shot?
He had his fair share of struggles, but remember that his record is also more indicative of how poorly the team played in 2011 and 2012 than anything else.
The bullpen already has two long relievers. Brian Duensing appears tailor-made for the role and Ryan Pressly can more than get the job done, so it is not as though Swarzak’s absence leaves a huge vacancy.
Also, consider that Swarzak really has nothing to lose—unlike many of his other teammates.
Diamond went undrafted out of college and was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves. He seems in the midst of writing a rags-to-riches-to-rags story in the vein of The Jerk.
Pelfrey is a veteran who doesn’t have a contract next season. Correia’s is up after 2014. Deduno could easily be gone next year.
Swarzak, on the other hand, is under team control until 2017 and can always go back to being a long reliever.
He has nothing to lose.
Swarzak was upset to see Gibson go. On August 3, after the rough start against the Astros, he told the rookie that he needed to let go of all the outside pressure and just do his thing.
“He’s got unbelievable stuff, I told him,” Swarzak says. “And he was born to be here in this league and we all see that.
“When I got called up in ’09, I kind of l did the same thing. I was just trying too hard, forcing the issue a little bit. You want to do good so bad it kind of works against you sometimes.”
Gibson admitted that he was pressing on the day he was sent down, saying that he felt the pressure of playing against better players at the game’s highest level.
“I think a lot of it is coming up here and trying to do too much,” he said before heading out to Rochester. “I understand the hitters are better, and I haven’t been able to make good pitches.”
Unlike Gibson, Swarzak is no stranger to big league hitters at this point in his career. He also does not have to worry about his next contract. He can just go out there and do his thing.
Like when he is singing DMX in the clubhouse after a win, he can just let go while standing on the mound, which brings a smile to all of our faces.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.