FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eighteen-year-old Lewis Thorpe has been playing baseball all his life. So when the opportunity to play in the Australian Baseball League for his hometown Melbourne Aces presented itself this past offseason, he jumped at the chance.
"I didn't want to be sitting around just working out and going to the gym. I can't stay away from the game," he said after a day of Spring Training at Twins camp. "I got to be around a lot of great guys and learn some more about the game. I couldn't have had a better season."
Signed by the Twins at age 16 in the summer of 2012, the Australian-born prospect was terrific in his first professional stint at home. The left-hander finished fourth in the league with a 2.45 ERA, allowing more than one earned run just twice in his seven starts. Thorpe was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week following a Dec. 8 gem in which he allowed one hit, struck out eight and did not issue a walk.
Perhaps what made the campaign most impressive was the fact that Thorpe was facing the most seasoned, mature competition of his life. These were not teenagers from Australian Juniors or the fresh faces of the Gulf Coast League that he dominated. Many of Thorpe's opponents hailed from higher up in the Minor League chain, some even carrying Major League experience into the box. Thorpe knew there was little room for error.
"I think I had to keep the ball down more, because if I left the ball up, these guys could capitalize on my mistakes and hit the ball out of the park," Thorpe said. "It was a pretty tough league to pitch in, but I enjoyed the challenge. And it just felt great to be out there."
Among the highlights of his experience in Melbourne, Thorpe cited spending time with Aces teammates Brad Harman and Justin Huber -- both former big leaguers. But he also appreciated the relationship that he had with his catcher, Rockies prospect Ryan Casteel.
"Ryan Casteel gave me a lot of information about the way I pitch, and he kept throwing new things at me," said Thorpe. "I also learned a lot from Brad Harman about how to play the game -- he's had a great career in baseball."
A naturally hard thrower, Thorpe worried less about blowing hitters away this winter and more about what areas he could improve upon.
"I was working on the curveball and slider," Thorpe said. "I haven't been able to find the right release point of those pitches yet, and I was just trying to get out in front of [them] and not stay behind my body. I just really wanted to work on those two pitches this offseason, and it really helped me to get out there and try new things."
Even though he didn't have his offspeed stuff where he wanted it, Thorpe was still able to excel in his first year of pro ball during the 2013 season in the GCL. Among other eye-popping numbers, Thorpe racked up 64 strikeouts in 44 innings, held opponents to a .203 average and finished the season 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA.
However, Thorpe isn't looking at his past success as a free pass to the higher levels of the Minor Leagues. Instead, he is committed to the process of working his way up the ladder.
"I just take it day by day, and we'll see how things turn out," said Thorpe. "I'll probably be sent to extended [spring camp] again, and I'm not going to be too unhappy about that. I'm just going to keep pitching and keep doing my thing, so I don't really need to worry about [my next stop] just yet."
Poised, modest and endowed with a powerful arm, Thorpe is also proud to be a part of a Twins system that is packed with young talent.
"It's exciting to be a part of the Twins," Thorpe said. "There's a lot of great guys and a lot of great players, too. Our Minor League system is one of the best in baseball."
Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.