March 28, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40

Selected out of a Puerto Rico high school 30 picks after Byron Buxton in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios had a great rookie-ball debut and then made the jump to full-season competition last year at low Single-A. While his 3.99 ERA and .265 opponents' batting average were unimpressive, Berrios struck out 100 batters in 104 innings and allowed just six homers while being one of only eight teenagers in the Midwest League to log at least 100 innings.

Obviously it would be ideal to see Berrios overpowering hitters in the low minors, but missing plenty of bats and holding his own overall as a teenager is a very good sign. Berrios throws hard and receives praise for his off-speed stuff, but like most 19-year-olds his control needs work and one potential red flag is that he's been a fly-ball pitcher. That tendency usually gets more extreme further up the organizational ladder, so it'll be something to keep an eye on.

Berrios is a slight 6-foot-1 and so far the Twins have been cautious with his workload by limiting his starts in-season and convincing him to skip winter ball, but he'll likely be given a longer leash this year at high Single-A. He tends to get lost in the shuffle of what has become a stacked deck of Twins prospects, but in some recent years Berrios would have been the team's top pitching prospect and his long-term upside is substantial.

4. Kohl Stewart | Starter | DOB: 10/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     6      3     1.69      16.0      12      0      16      3
         RK+     1      1     0.00       4.0       1      0       8      1

From 2005-2012 the Twins used a top-50 draft pick on seven college pitchers compared to just one high school pitcher, but they bucked that trend in a big way last year by picking 18-year-old Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall. Considered the top high school talent in the draft class that saw college stars go 1-2-3, Stewart dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings.

Not only did Stewart have video game-like numbers as a senior with a 0.18 ERA in eight starts, he was a two-sport star and ESPN ranked him as the sixth-best prep quarterback in the country. He committed to play football at Texas A&M, but Stewart signed for $4.5 million instead of trying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He throws a mid-90s fastball, but both ESPN and Baseball America peg Stewart's slider as his best pitch.

Across baseball during the past decade using top-five picks on high school pitchers has proven to be a terrible investment, but the Twins taking such an uncharacteristic gamble suggests they truly believe Stewart is a special prospect. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and given their recent inability to develop front-line starters the high-risk, high-reward approach makes sense.

3. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11
2013     AA     13     13     3.21      70.0      60      3      84     29

Despite being 23 years old Alex Meyer had yet to pitch above Single-A when the Twins acquired him from the Nationals for Denard Span last offseason, but he made the jump to Double-A last season and posted a 3.21 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a .227 opponents' batting average. Unfortunately a shoulder injury limited Meyer to 13 starts and 70 innings, but he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and threw 28 strong innings.

Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the right-hander has the raw stuff to match his 6-foot-9 frame, throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and complementing it with a hard curveball and useful changeup. Last season among all Eastern League pitchers with at least a dozen starts Meyer ranked second in strikeout rate and sixth in ERA while actually faring better versus lefties than righties.

He induces a ton of ground balls and has allowed a grand total of just nine homers in 207 innings, but not surprisingly for a huge pitcher who throws extremely hard Meyer's control is pretty shaky. If things go well for Meyer this season he could be in Minnesota by the All-Star break and he has the potential to be the first top-of-the-rotation starter the Twins have had since Johan Santana, but first he'll need to stay healthy and shut down Triple-A hitters.

2. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144
2013     A+     243     .330     .424     .655     16     33     29     61
         AA     276     .236     .344     .571     19     37     36     81

Miguel Sano crushed high Single-A pitching to begin last season, hitting .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he continued to show huge power with 19 homers in 67 games but saw his batting average drop nearly 100 points. And yet even while hitting just .236 there only seven Eastern League hitters had a higher OPS than Sano and he was one of only four 20-and-under position players in the entire league.

Overall he hit .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers, 70 total extra-base hits, and 65 walks. He even swiped 11 bases to show that he's got some wheels at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. And then just as Sano was on the verge of the majors, perhaps even having a slight chance to win an Opening Day job, he had elbow problems while playing winter ball. Rest and rehab worked, but only briefly, and after a setback early in spring training he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery.

Even before the elbow injury Sano was questionable to stick at third base long term, but the vast majority of his value will come from his bat no matter where he is defensively. Missing a year of development at age 21 is unfortunate, especially since Sano's high strikeout rate is an area that could use improvement, but he may get some late-season at-bats as a designated hitter. His timetable has been delayed and his picture is a little blurrier, but Sano remains a stud.

1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49

Considered the highest-upside prospect in the 2012 draft class, Byron Buxton fell to the Twins with the No. 2 pick when the Astros chose high school shortstop Carlos Correa instead. At the time there were questions about whether Buxton was ready to thrive as a pro after facing sub par competition as a Georgia high schooler, but he made those disappear almost immediately and two years later he's the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

Buxton hit .341 in 68 games at low Single-A and batted .326 in 57 games following a promotion to high Single-A, where he was the only teenage hitter in the entire Florida State League. Overall as a 19-year-old in his first full season he batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks in 125 games, which would be incredible for, say, a plodding first baseman. Buxton is a potential Gold Glove-caliber center fielder with truly elite speed and athleticism. He's a freak.

His high walk rate and reasonable strikeout rate were particularly encouraging to see, because it's tough to predict how well raw high school hitters will control the strike zone. Single-A is still just Single-A and he needs to prove himself against advanced competition, but Buxton's combination of age, tools, skill set, and production is nearly flawless to this point. As long as a spring training wrist injury proves relatively minor he has a shot to debut for the Twins before his 21st birthday.

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