March 21, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Stephen Gonsalves | Starter | DOB: 7/94 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2013-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     5      2     0.63      14.1       8      0      18      7
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0      10      0      21      4

After selecting Kohl Stewart with the fifth overall pick in last year's draft the Twins used their fourth-round pick on another high school pitcher in California left-hander Stephen Gonsalves. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that he "entered the spring as a potential first-round pick, but his stock has fallen as scouts have been disappointed with his inconsistent velocity and command."

Gonsalves signed for $700,000--which is $150,000 more than third-rounder Stuart Turner and $320,000 more than fifth-rounder Aaron Slegers--and had a very impressive pro debut, posting a 0.95 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28 innings split between two levels of rookie-ball. Gonsalves is 6-foot-5 with a low-90s fastball and developing curveball, which along with the strong debut suggests plenty of long-term upside.

He won't be 20 years old until July, so the Twins figure to take things very slow with Gonsalves and even if everything goes according to plan he likely won't enter into their big-league plans for another few years. He'll probably spend most of this season at low Single-A, perhaps with a workload limit, and one thing to watch is whether he can continue to miss a ton of bats while showing decent control.

19. Tyler Jones | Reliever | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     16     4.67      86.2      90      5     102     35
2013     A-     24      0     1.93      37.1      19      0      44     16
         A+     12      0     4.20      15.0      18      0      22      4

Tyler Jones wasn't particularly good as a starter at LSU, but the Twins liked his mid-90s fastball enough to take him in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. He had a rough pro debut at rookie-ball after signing for $105,000 and then posted a 4.67 ERA at low Single-A in 2012, which caused the Twins to move him from the rotation to the bullpen last year. Jones thrived as a reliever, striking out 66 batters in 52 innings while holding opponents to a .196 batting average and zero homers.

Jones is already 24 years old and has yet to pitch an inning above Single-A, but he should move fairly quickly now that he's a full-time reliever. And even while struggling overall as a starter in 2012 he missed a ton of bats, striking out 102 batters in 87 innings. He also has the raw stuff to match, complementing a mid-90s fastball with a hard slider and throwing it all from a 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame. In other words, he has late-inning potential.

For that to happen, however, Jones will need to improve his control. He issued 3.6 walks per nine innings as a starter in 2012 and 3.4 walks per nine innings as a reliever last season, although he did show some strides down the stretch at high Single-A. He throws hard and he generates tons of strikeouts while inducing lots of ground balls and very few homers. Jones, Michael Tonkin, and Zack Jones give the Twins a trio of high-upside reliever prospects.

18. Adam Walker | Right Field | DOB: 10/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    252     .250     .310     .496     14     25     19     76
2013     A-     553     .278     .319     .526     27     65     31    115

When the Twins drafted Adam Walker in the third round out of Jacksonville University in 2012 they touted his power potential and so far that skill has lived up to the hype. He has 41 homers in 187 career games, including 27 homers and 65 total extra-base hits in 129 games at low Single-A last season. Not only did he lead the entire Midwest League with 27 homers, no other hitter went deep even 20 times. He also led the league in total bases, slugging percentage, and RBIs.

So why isn't Walker much higher on this list? For one thing he posted those impressive power numbers as a 21-year-old with college experience spending a full season at low Single-A. That's not elderly, but age and level of competition are always important factors in evaluating prospects. Beyond that, Walker's plate discipline is terrible. He struck out 115 times compared to just 31 walks and his lack of strike-zone control has been a red flag dating back to college.

Elite power is a helluva skill to have and he's also a good athlete, but it's tough to get excited about a corner outfielder with a .316 on-base percentage and 191/50 K/BB ratio in the low minors. Walker had 184 strikeouts in 168 college games and 191 strikeouts through 187 games as a minor leaguer, and he's done all that whiffing with a swing-at-everything approach that hasn't led to a decent walk rate. He's intriguing, but a major adjustment will be needed at some point.

17. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    230     .275     .352     .382      2     15     21     56
2012     RK+    269     .242     .349     .419      4     24     38     56
2013     A-     455     .260     .364     .369      4     30     60    105

Niko Goodrum spent three seasons in rookie-ball after being the Twins' second-round draft pick out of a Georgia high school in 2010, finally moving up to full-season competition last year. He got off to a very nice start at low Single-A, hitting .270/.382/.388 with 31 walks in 48 games before a home plate collision on June 2 left him with a concussion. He returned two weeks later, but then went through an ugly 20-game stretch in which he hit .151 with 22 strikeouts.

Goodrum bounced back to hit .286/.379/.397 in his final 34 games and ended up ranking among the Midwest League's top 15 in walks and on-base percentage. That's impressive for a 21-year-old shortstop, but Goodrum's lack of power, relatively high strikeout rate, and career .246 batting average are all potential red flags for the switch-hitter offensively. And ultimately a huge portion of his long-term upside depends on whether he can remain at shortstop defensively.

He's big for a shortstop at 6-foot-4 and has made lots of errors so far, but that isn't necessarily indicative of anything negative and unlike several other one-time shortstop prospects the Twins haven't moved Goodrum off the position yet. He's also a good athlete, went 20-for-24 stealing bases last year, and has always gotten praise for a strong throwing arm. Goodrum's skill set is an interesting one with a lot to like, but the flaws are noticeable too.

16. Mason Melotakis | Starter | DOB: 6/91 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     7      0     1.35       6.2       2      0      10      2
         A-     13      0     2.08      17.1      15      3      24      4
2013     A-     24     18     3.16     111.0     106      6      84     39

Mason Melotakis starred as a reliever at Northwestern State, but like several of the other college relievers the Twins selected in the 2012 draft they gave him a chance to become a starter. So far it's gone fairly well for the second-round pick, as Melotakis transitioned to the rotation at low Single-A last season with a 3.16 ERA in 111 innings, allowing just six homers and actually faring slightly better versus righties than lefties despite being a southpaw.

However, his strikeout rate of 6.8 per nine innings wasn't impressive and even that was inflated by some late-season relief work. As a 22-year-old with college experience Melotakis was also old for the level of competition and after finishing the 2012 season in the Midwest League it's a little odd that the Twins let him spend all of 2013 there as well. His inexperience as a starter surely played a part in the lack of a rush to promote him, but now he's 23 heading to high Single-A.

This year should reveal a lot about whether Melotakis has a future as a starter and if he continues to fare well it'd be nice to see the Twins give him a midseason push up to Double-A. He works in the low-90s with his fastball and gets positive reviews on his slider, which is a combination that makes the bullpen a safe fallback option. Right now he looks like the best bet to ever be a full-time member of the Twins' rotation among all the college arms they drafted in 2012.

February 13, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 31-35, 36-40.

30. Kennys Vargas | First Base | DOB: 8/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Puerto Rico

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    160     .324     .388     .507      3     19     13     40
2011     RK+    191     .322     .377     .489      6     17     15     50
2012     A-     186     .318     .419     .610     11     22     28     41

Miguel Sano was the big draw in Beloit last season but Kennys Vargas actually had the highest OPS on the team by more than 100 points, hitting .318/.419/.610 with 11 homers and 10 doubles in 41 games. He also put up big numbers in rookie-ball during the previous three seasons and the 6-foot-5, switch-hitting first baseman has a .309/.390/.509 career line with 68 extra-base hits and 73 walks in 159 games through age 21. That's the good news.

The bad news is that he's played just 159 career games thanks to serving a 50-game suspension after being busted in 2011 for a weight loss drug used to speed metabolism. And as you might expect from a 6-foot-5 slugger who struggles to control his weight Vargas isn't much of a defender at first base and has struck out 173 times in 667 plate appearances. He's big and slow and swings through a lot of pitches, but Vargas' power potential is very intriguing.

Of course, he was also somewhat old for the level of competition in the Midwest League and as far as player types go low-minors sluggers with high strikeout rates who're destined to wind up at designated hitter don't have a particularly good track record of long-term success. This year should tell a lot about Vargas as he moves up to high Single-A and hopefully puts in a full season for the first time at age 22.

29. B.J. Hermsen | Starter | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+     8      6     3.32      38.0      39      2      39      4
         A-     12     12     5.00      72.0      85      6      46     15
2011     A-     21     20     3.10     124.2     131     10      81     31
         A+      5      5     4.39      26.2      34      1      20      6
2012     A+      4      4     0.78      23.0      16      1      12      5
         AA     22     22     3.22     139.2     145     12      75     25

B.J. Hermsen has nice-looking ERAs and win-loss records at every stop since the Twins grabbed him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of an Iowa high school, but his secondary numbers have consistently been underwhelming. Last season he went 12-6 with a 2.88 ERA between high Single-A and Double-A on the way to being named Twins minor league pitcher of the year, but managed just 87 strikeouts in 163 innings and has a career rate of 5.9 per nine innings.

Also worrisome is that after being touted as a hard-thrower coming out of high school the 6-foot-5 right-hander has typically worked in the high-80s with his fastball as a pro. He has excellent control and the ability to pump strikes at inexperienced hitters has no doubt played a big part in his low-minors success, but when a pitcher can't crack five strikeouts per nine innings versus Single-A and Double-A hitters it's tough to take him seriously as a prospect.

There are certainly pitchers who find some big-league success with miniscule strikeout rates, but most of them missed a fair number of bats in the minors and also induce lots of ground balls. Hermsen does neither of things and never has. Throwing strikes and knowing how to pitch have gotten him this far, but it's hard to see Hermsen developing into more than a back-of-the-rotation starter unless something changes.

28. Tyler Duffey | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    12      0     1.42      19.0      10      1      27      2

Drafted in the fifth round as part of the team's focus on college relievers, Tyler Duffey and Twins second-round pick J.T. Chargois were co-closers for Rice University. Duffey can't match Chargois' dominant raw stuff, but prior to the draft Baseball America's scouting report had him throwing in the low-90s with a good slider and his 2012 numbers were even better than Chargois' with a 1.93 ERA and 68-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings.

Duffey also had a 2.52 ERA and 76-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings for Rice in 2011 and struck out a total of 189 batters in 153 college innings. And unlike Chargois there's apparently some hope that Duffey's changeup is good enough to make it as a starter. However, for his debut Duffey was assigned to rookie-level Elizabethton and worked out of the bullpen, throwing 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA and 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Those numbers are obviously incredible, but a 21-year-old college reliever thriving against rookie-ball hitters doesn't prove much of anything. Assuming the Twins eventually decide to actually test Duffey a little bit he could move pretty quickly up the organizational ladder as a reliever, but if they're serious about giving him an opportunity to start that whole process would probably take significantly longer.

27. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5
2012     A-     47      0     3.47      62.1      55      5      68     33

Before binging on hard-throwing college relievers in last year's draft the Twins used their 2011 third-round pick on Vanderbilt left-hander Corey Williams, whose 4.49 ERA didn't match his impressive velocity out of the bullpen. As a draft-eligible sophomore he was a tough sign and the Twins had to spend $575,000 to lure Williams into pro ball, doubling the recommended slot bonus amount.

Williams had a solid seven-appearance debut at rookie-ball after signing and then moved up to low Single-A last season, throwing 62 innings with a 3.47 ERA and 68-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He overpowered left-handed hitters, holding them to a .179 batting average and 24 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances, but had much less success versus right-handed hitters and struggled to consistently throw strikes overall.

Williams had 54 strikeouts in 55 innings for Vanderbilt and has whiffed 79 in 74 innings as a pro, which are far from exceptional strikeout rates for a reliever with a mid-90s fastball facing SEC and Midwest League hitters. On the other hand he's still just 22 years old and induces lots of ground balls to go with the good but not great number of missed bats, so Williams certainly has considerable upside as a potential late-inning reliever.

26. Adam Walker | Right Field | DOB: 10/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    254     .250     .310     .496     14     25     19     76

Adam Walker's professional debut looked exactly like his college numbers suggested it would, as the third-round pick from Jacksonville University filled the stat sheet for rookie-level Elizabethton with extra-base hits and strikeouts. Rarely do the Twins draft college hitters in the early rounds, especially college hitters with big strikeout totals, so they clearly saw something they really liked in Walker's power potential.

And there's no doubting his ability to hit the ball a long way. Walker blasted 41 homers and 51 doubles in 168 college games and went deep 14 times in 58 games in Elizabethton, posting a .246 Isolated Power that was second-best in the entire Appalachian League. Unfortunately all that pop came with extreme contact issues, as he whiffed 184 times in 168 college games despite facing less than elite competition and struck out 76 times in 58 rookie-ball games at age 20.

Those are alarming strikeout totals and become an even bigger red flag when combined with just 19 walks in 254 plate appearances for Elizabethton. Over the years the Twins' farm system has been short on power-hitting corner outfielders and homers can certainly make up for a lot of other flaws, but until Walker cuts down on the strikeouts and posts a decent batting average there will be plenty of reason for skepticism that he can clobber more advanced pitching.


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June 6, 2012

Twins follow Byron Buxton pick by loading up on hard-throwing pitchers

Using their highest pick since 2001 to choose Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton over Stanford right-hander Mark Appel will understandably be the focus of the Twins' draft, but along with the No. 2 pick they also had five other top-100 selections in one of the most stacked collections of early picks in draft history. That included No. 32 and No. 42, which are essentially first-rounders and not far off from where they've usually made their first picks.

For instance, last year their top choice was No. 30 and from 2002-2011 they chose higher than No. 20 just once. This year, thanks to a combination of last season's 63-99 record and losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to free agency, they had picks at 2, 32, 42, 63, 72, and 97. That provided a unique and much-needed opportunity to restock the farm system and after taking the best player available in Buxton the Twins loaded up on high-velocity pitchers.

Buxton being the focus of everything means No. 32 pick Jose Berrios will get considerably less attention than No. 30 pick Levi Michael received last year, but in a draft where Carlos Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be the top pick Berrios also became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher of all time. Berrios threw a no-hitter against Correa's team in April and the Twins snagged the high school right-hander sooner than most draft analysts expected.

Baseball America ranked Berrios as the 49th-best player, including 25th among pitchers, while ESPN.com ranked him 73rd overall and 27th among pitchers. That suggests the Twins may have reached a bit for him, although that's much more common in MLB than the NFL or NBA and the scouting reports on Berrios are encouraging. Baseball America noted that he added significant muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame and "his fastball now sits in the 93-95 mph range."

ESPN had a similar review of his raw stuff, noting that "he'll touch 96 and works at 92-94 with a hard downward-breaking curveball at 80-82 and a straight changeup in the same range." While watching the first round of the draft unfold Monday night it became apparent that there weren't many top-ranked college pitchers left on the board for the Twins at No. 32 and that may have played a part in choosing Berrios, but he certainly sounds like a high-upside arm.

Ten picks later the Twins took Georgia Tech reliever Luke Bard, who'll be given a chance to start. His brother, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard, emerged as a top setup man for the Red Sox before struggling in a move to the rotation. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's overpowering raw stuff, but in ranking him as the 93rd-best player Baseball America noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Bard's college numbers were fantastic, with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings to go along with zero homers allowed, but he missed much of the season with an injured lat muscle that ESPN.com speculated may have kept him out of the first round. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called the injury "a low to moderate risk" and expressed optimism that Bard can develop his changeup enough to be an effective starter.

Berrios was compensation for losing Cuddyer and Bard was compensation for losing Kubel, so with their own second-rounder the Twins took Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis with the 63rd pick. ESPN actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63 while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88 following a junior season in which he threw 62 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Melotakis made the occasional start in college, but Baseball America calls him "a true power relief arm" with "short arm action" who works in the mid-90s and has an inconsistent but potentially solid slider. ESPN calls him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft" and offers more praise for "a hammer curveball" while suggesting that he might have a future as a starter, so like with Bard the Twins may let him try it in the low minors.

With their second compensatory pick for losing Cuddyer the Twins selected yet another college reliever in Rice right-hander J.T. Chargois, whom Baseball America rated 77th and ESPN rated 64th. As a junior Chargois threw 38 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and according to ESPN he has the mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider, and high-effort delivery "that virtually demands he get to the majors as quickly as possible."

Chargois also played first base for Rice and hit .323 with a .411 on-base percentage, but he failed to homer in 51 games and his future is on the mound. Unlike with Bard and Melotakis there's no chance of Chargois starting and concerns about his mechanics appear in every scouting report, but ESPN says he's "someone to sign and send right out to Double-A" and praises his slider for being "almost comical in how quickly it appears to dive down out of sight."

After selecting three consecutive college pitchers the Twins used their third-round pick on a college hitter, taking Jacksonville first baseman Adam Walker with the 97th pick. Rarely have the Twins used high picks on college sluggers, but the Wisconsin native whose father was a replacement player for the Vikings in 1987 apparently caught their eye by hitting .343 with 12 homers, 14 doubles, and a .581 slugging percentage in 56 games as a junior.

And he was even better as a sophomore in 2011, hitting .409 with a .682 slugging percentage in 61 games. Unfortunately all that power came with 110 strikeouts in 117 games, which along with far fewer walks than strikeouts is often a red flag for a college bat. Sure enough, Baseball America notes that Walker "struggles to lay off breaking pitches or fastballs up and out of the zone." Despite that they rated him as the 58th-best player in the class.

After snagging a potential power bat in Walker the Twins went back to the well for more college relievers, using their fourth-rounder on San Jose State right-hander Zack Jones and their fifth-rounder on Rice right-hander Tyler Duffey. Jones started occasionally, but Baseball America says "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacks a quality third pitch to go with a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. As a junior he threw 54 innings with a 60/17 K/BB ratio.

Twins scouts apparently saw a lot of Rice games, because Chargois and Duffey were the Owls' co-closers and now they have both of them. Duffey can't match Chargois' dominant raw stuff, but Baseball America says he throws in the low-90s with a good slider and his numbers were even better with a 1.93 ERA and 68/21 K/BB ratio in 51 innings. And unlike Chargois there's apparently some hope that Duffey's changeup is good enough to make it as a starter.

Stepping away from the college ranks the Twins took Florida high school left-hander Andre Martinez and Puerto Rico high school catcher Jorge Fernandez in the sixth and seventh rounds, but then went to college with their next eight picks. That included big, hard-throwing College of Charleston right-hander Christian Powell and good-hitting, iffy-fielding Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, whose father Lee Mazzilli played 14 seasons in the majors.

They went high school heavy at the top, putting their faith in Buxton over Appel and using the No. 32 pick on Berrios, but the Twins took college players with 14 of their next 16 picks. And within all those college players the theme is clear: After years of hoarding low-velocity strike-throwers the Twins have finally focused on adding more big-time velocity and bat-missing ability. Powers arms is what the fan base has wanted and powers arms is what they got.

Unfortunately this wasn't a deep draft for high-end college starters and by the time the Twins were ready to start picking again after Buxton the cupboard was pretty bare, so they went heavy on college relievers. Normally that's not a great investment in the top 100, but the lack of highly touted college starters available beyond the first round forced their hand and they seem confident that at least some of those college relievers can develop into starters as pros.

This group isn't the amazing collection of high-upside talent you'd like to see come from such a stockpile of early picks, but that has more to do with the weak draft class than any decisions the Twins made. They deserve credit for addressing the organization-wide pitching issues, albeit several years later than they should have and with relievers instead of starters. It'll be years before we can properly pass judgment on this draft, but the approach was a good one.

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