Bradley Hanner’s youth baseball career began as a member of the East Orange Little League’s Twins T-Ball team.
This summer, Hanner’s baseball career has come full circle.
The former Orange County High School standout was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the Major League Baseball Draft in June and spent his first summer as a professional baseball player in Fort Myers, Florida as a member of the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team.
“My first professional season was indeed what I expected,” Hanner said. “A grind from sunup to sundown, only baseball. I loved every second of it.”
This year has been a memorable one for Hanner.
After two standout seasons at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, the 20-year-old was selected by the Twins in the 21st round (629th overall pick) of the MLB Draft.
In 12 starts last spring for Patrick Henry, Hanner compiled a 7-4 record and pitched four complete games. He surrendered 36 runs on 56 hits and struck out 107 batters in 71.1 innings of work.
Hanner signed with the Twins shortly after he was drafted and joined Minnesota’s Rookie League team.
He admitted the difference between college and pro ball was drastic. One of the big adjustments was making the switch from starter to pitching out of the bullpen.
“It was a little different in school. I knew I was throwing every Saturday,” Hanner said. “Down there, I really didn’t know when I was going to throw. I just had to make the most out of all my opportunities.”
In addition, the Twins also helped Hanner fine tune some things in his pitching repertoire.
“They didn’t change my mechanics, just fixed some small things,” Hanner said. “I washed my four-seam fastball and started throwing a two-seamer. It was something myself and the organization think will be best for me in the future.”
Hanner made his debut on June 26 against the GCL Pirates. He tossed two innings of scoreless relief and struck out three batters.
“Running out of the bullpen onto the field for my first outing as a pro was bittersweet,” Hanner said. “I had some nerves, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure if anybody wasn’t nervous. It’s a great feeling to say the least.”
He took the loss in each of his next three appearances, including a four-strikeout performance against the GCL Braves on July 4. Despite the early struggles, Hanner never got down on himself.
“Getting those losses early in the season for me really motivated me to pitch better and compete,” Hanner said. “Everybody has bad outings, I’m just lucky that mine were at the beginning of the year, not at the end. It’s all about finishing strong, which I think I did a pretty good job of doing.”
The hard work was rewarded on Aug. 6, when Hanner secured his first professional victory against the Pirates. He struck out one and walked another in a scoreless inning of relief.
“The first professional W was a great feeling because leading up to that, I had three losses, so it was nice to finally get one,” Hanner said.
Hanner followed that up with a victory in his next appearance on Aug. 9 against the Red Sox. He allowed an earned run and struck out two in 2.2 innings of work.
This spring, the 20-year-old appeared in 11 games for the Minnesota Twins’ Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League. He posted a 2-3 record, including a 4.39 ERA, and a save. He struck out 30 batters in 26⅔ innings of work and allowed 13 earned runs and 16 hits.
Hanner said he learned a lot about himself in his first full season in professional baseball.
“The best part was just being around all the guys that have the same goals as you,” Hanner said. “The most challenging part for me was just knowing when to warm up and get going out of the pen. It’s going to take some getting used to. I enjoyed meeting and talking to all the guys down there because everybody has different paths to pro ball. It’s pretty cool getting to know that.”
After a successful college and pro season, Hanner is taking some much-deserved time away from the game. The Twins organization shut him down from throwing for 10 weeks and he will not be involved in any winter league games.
The plan is to return to Florida in January and take part in camps prior to spring training. Hanner said he’s not sure whether he will continue to work out of the bullpen or as a starter next season, but is open to either option.
“My goal for next year is to stay healthy and throw to the best of my abilities and see what can happen,” Hanner said. “I learned that what I’ve been working for all my life is what I wanted. There’s not a better job out there and I’m lucky to have a chance.”