June 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Gibson’s debut, Buxton’s promotion, and Slama’s release

kyle gibson rochester

• It took Mike Pelfrey going on the disabled list with a back injury, but the Twins finally called up Kyle Gibson from Triple-A. Gibson will start Saturday at Target Field against the Royals, making his debut four months before his 26th birthday and nearly 22 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in 2011. He'll be the ninth different pitcher to start a game for the Twins this season, which shows the lengths they went to avoid calling up Gibson.

He leaves Rochester having thrown at least six innings in seven consecutive starts, posting a 2.20 ERA and 41-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings over that span. Overall in 15 starts there Gibson had a 3.01 ERA and 79-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings, holding opponents to a .229 batting average and four homers in 371 plate appearances. His age and modest strikeout rate keep Gibson from being an elite pitching prospect, but he's plenty good and very ready.

Gibson has never missed a ton of bats, but the 6-foot-6 right-hander throws harder than a typical Twins starting pitcher and has a chance to post an above-average strikeout rate in the majors. His main strength is keeping the ball out of the air, with 57 percent ground balls and just 16 homers in 210 career innings at Triple-A. To put that in some context, only four MLB starting pitchers have a ground-ball rate above 55 percent this season. If things go well he has No. 2 starter upside.

• Gibson is presumably in Minnesota to stay, which could get tricky because of a team-imposed innings limit in his first full season back from surgery. It's been tough to nail down specifics on Gibson's workload cap, but it's likely somewhere around 130-150 innings and he's already thrown 93 innings at Triple-A. If he started every fifth day for the rest of the season he'd be in line for 17 starts and even at just five innings per outing that's 85 innings. He'd fly past any limit.

Gibson sticking around for good would also require dumping someone from the rotation whenever Pelfrey returns from the DL. Pelfrey could be that someone considering he's signed to a one-year deal and has a 6.11 ERA in 14 starts, but P.J. Walters would also be an obvious candidate to dump. Walters imploded Saturday against the Indians, failing to make it out of the first inning, and now has a 5.42 ERA in 18 starts for the Twins.

Walters has a 6.06 ERA in 144 total innings as a major leaguer, which is about what you'd expect from a 28-year-old with a 4.45 ERA in 597 innings at Triple-A. There's little in his lengthy track record to suggest more than a replacement-level starter. He was acquired on a minor-league deal last offseason, passed through waivers unclaimed shortly after the season, and then re-signed on another minor-league contract.

• Two weeks after promoting Miguel Sano from high Single-A to Double-A the Twins promoted Byron Buxton from low Single-A to high Single-A. Buxton wound up playing 68 games for Cedar Rapids and stuffed the stat sheet by hitting .341/.431/.559 with eight homers, 33 total extra-base hits, 32 stolen bases, and a 56-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is incredible production from a 19-year-old center fielder in a league where the average player is 22.

As of the promotion Buxton led the Midwest League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, triples, and runs. He also ranked second in batting average and third in walks, steals, and RBIs. It doesn't get any better for a stud prospect's first exposure to full-season competition and as Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette pointed out Buxton's performance looks a lot like what Angels superstar Mike Trout did as Cedar Rapids' center fielder back in 2010:

            PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR   XBH    BB    SO    SB
Trout      388    .358    .452    .514     6    32    45    76    45
Buxton     320    .341    .431    .559     8    33    44    56    32

It's worth noting that Trout was 18 when he played for Cedar Rapids and Buxton is 19, but those numbers are close enough to make me grin from ear to ear. Trout got promoted to high Single-A for the second half of 2010, crushed Double-A to begin 2011, and made his MLB debut that July at 19. And now he's the best player in baseball. None of which means Buxton is destined to become the next Trout, but so far at least he's walking in Trout's footsteps.

• Here's a complete list of all the teenagers with an OPS of .975 or higher in the Midwest League during the past 30 years:

Byron Buxton      2013     .990
Javier Baez       2012     .979
Oscar Taveras     2011    1.028
Mike Trout        2010     .979
Alex Rodriguez    1994     .984
Larry Walker      1986    1.011

Six total players in 30 seasons. Buxton, Oscar Taveras, and Javier Baez are currently among the top 20 prospects in baseball, Trout is the best player in baseball at age 21, Alex Rodriguez is a three-time MVP with 647 career homers, and Larry Walker is a three-time batting champ with an MVP. Buxton has a long way to go, but doing what he just did as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League is special.

• For years I wrote about how frustrating it was that the Twins refused to give Anthony Slama an extended opportunity in the majors despite extraordinary numbers in the minors and now it's too late. Slama is nearly 30 years old and injuries have started to pile up, causing him to struggle for the first time this season at Triple-A and leading to the Twins releasing him. Not exactly how I envisioned the whole "Free Anthony Slama" campaign ending.

Prior to this year Slama had a 1.99 ERA and 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in six seasons as a minor leaguer, including a 2.27 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A. And yet for all that dominance in the minors the Twins saw fit to give him a grand total of just seven innings in the majors, relegating him to Triple-A for parts of five seasons before finally cutting him loose as a shell of his former self.

It's a real shame, not because Slama was capable of being an elite reliever but because he was certainly deserving of a chance to show that he was at least capable of being a useful part of a major-league bullpen. His raw stuff didn't match his incredible numbers, but Slama threw in the low-90s just like plenty of other successful relievers and the Twins have given bullpen jobs to all sorts of awful pitchers over the years. I'll never understand why they ignored him.

• In the past week Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff and St. Paul Pioneer Press beat reporter Mike Berardino have separately compared Oswaldo Arcia to Bobby Abreu. Both players are relatively short and stocky left-handed-hitting corner outfielders from Venezuela, which may be where a lot of the comparison stems from, but in terms of actual skill sets Arcia and Abreu are very different.

Abreu was among the most disciplined hitters of his era, drawing 100 walks eight seasons in a row, at least 70 walks every year from 1998 to 2011, and the 22nd-most walks of all time. He even averaged 80 walks per 150 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Meanwhile, if Arcia has one clear weakness as a hitter it's his lack of strike zone control. He has 40 strikeouts versus 12 walks in the majors after posting a 92-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Double-A and Triple-A.

Abreu was also a good base-stealer, with at least 20 steals in 13 straight seasons and 399 career steals at a 76 percent success rate. Arcia has 29 steals in 449 pro games and has been caught 22 times. There's no doubt that Arcia has huge long-term upside and Twins fans should be thrilled if he's anywhere near as valuable as Abreu, who played 17 seasons and hit .292/.396/.477 with 300 homers, 400 steals, and 4,000 times on base. But stylistically any comparison seems forced.

• Just like Buxton last year, No. 4 pick Kohl Stewart signed with the Twins just two weeks after the draft. He agreed to the exact slot bonus recommendation of $4,544,400 and will begin his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Of the Twins' top 15 picks only second-rounder Ryan Eades, fifth-rounder Aaron Slegers, and eighth-rounder Dustin DeMuth are unsigned and all three are expected to agree to deals eventually.

• Two weeks ago I wrote about Triple-A center fielder/on-base machine Antoan Richardson and he hasn't slowed down. Richardson is now hitting .317/.454/.413 with 58 walks and 29 steals in 71 games between Double-A and Triple-A, raising his career on-base percentage to .404. As a 29-year-old journeyman with little power he's not exactly a hot prospect, but a switch-hitter with good speed and a .450 OBP seems worth giving an opportunity to at some point.

• Nearing the midway point of the season the Twins are 10-2 against the Brewers and White Sox compared to 24-36 versus every other team, which is probably the most fun way to be 34-38.

Joe Mauer has scored 53 percent more runs than anyone else on the Twins. He's on pace for 103 runs. No one else is on pace for more than 68.

• Pitching staff walks: Twins 193, Tigers 197. Pitching staff strikeouts: Twins 424, Tigers 701.

• MLB.com headline: "Phillies remaining patient with Delmon Young."

• For a lot more about Gibson's call-up, Arcia's upside, and Richardson's on-base skills check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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June 11, 2013

Twins follow Kohl Stewart pick by loading up on pitchers and catchers

ryan eades lsu draft

By choosing high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the fourth overall pick the Twins took a huge risk and veered away from their typical draft strategy, but they went back to normal in the second round. As a college starter with three seasons of major conference experience LSU right-hander Ryan Eades was a prototypical Twins target with the 43rd pick and in fact he's the eighth college pitcher selected by the Twins with a top-50 pick since 2005.

Eades missed his senior season of high school following shoulder surgery, but was injury free for three years at LSU and led the team in starts this season. However, fading down the stretch in both 2012 and 2013 puts his durability in some question and caused ESPN to rate Eades as the draft's No. 59 prospect despite noting that he "looked like a mid-first-rounder for the first seven weeks of the season."

Even after a late-season fade Eades finished with an 8-1 record and 2.81 ERA in 16 starts for one of the best teams in the country, but a .269 opponents' batting average and just 77 strikeouts in 96 innings are underwhelming. And that modest strikeout rate is actually an improvement over last season, when Eades managed just 63 strikeouts in 94 innings while allowing opponents to hit .296. Combined during his final two years Eades averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Eades' bat-missing ability paled in comparison to LSU's aces. Last year it was Kevin Gausman, who was drafted fourth overall by the Orioles, and averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. This year it was Aaron Nola, who projects as a potential top-10 pick in 2014, and got 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Eades obviously isn't on the same level as Gausman and Nola or he wouldn't have been available at No. 43, but the point is that his raw stuff has yet to turn into strikeouts.

With that said, it's good raw stuff. Baseball America rated him 37th in the class, noting that Eades "looks the part of a frontline starter" with "an athletic 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame" and fastball that reaches the mid-90s. According to BA he's "honed his breaking ball into a power curveball" and also works with a two-seam fastball and a changeup, the latter of which may prove to be the key to Eades developing into a successful big-league starter.

In the third round the Twins selected University of Mississippi catcher Stuart Turner, who has a reputation for being a good defender with an iffy bat despite hitting .374/.444/.518 in 62 games this season. Turner played just one season against top-flight competition, transferring to Ole Miss from a junior college, and Baseball America notes that "scouts don't like his swing and question his ability to sting the ball consistently."

There are no such questions behind the plate, as BA calls Turner the best defensive catcher in the class who "combines strength at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds with flexibility, agile feet, and excellent arm strength." ESPN offers similar praise, calling Turner the draft's "best catch-and-throw guy" with "outstanding hands and a plus arm." All of which suggests that he'd project as a backup if the scouts are right to doubt his bat and a good all-around starter if the numbers prove them wrong.

In the fourth round the Twins took another high school pitcher in California left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, who actually rated three spots higher than Turner on BA's list. Their scouting report says 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." When he's going well Gonsalves throws in the low-90s and at 6-foot-5 "is intriguing because of his body and projection."

And he's tiny compared to fifth-round pick Aaron Slegers, a 6-foot-10 right-hander who starred for Indiana after barely pitching before this season due to injuries. Slegers walked just 15 batters in 16 starts and had a 2.16 ERA, but also managed just 54 strikeouts in 97 innings. BA notes that he's capable of reaching the mid-90s, but "got tired as he dealt with a regular workload for the first time" and lacks a consistently effective breaking ball.

In the eighth round the Twins took Slegers' teammate, third baseman Dustin DeMuth, who led Indiana with a .389 batting average but didn't draw many walks or hit for much power. According to BA scouts aren't sure if he'll stick at third base defensively and despite being 6-foot-3 his swing isn't really conducive to power development, but "he makes consistent contact ... with plus speed and arm strength."

Florida high school catcher Brian Navarreto was the sixth-round pick and the Twins took another catcher, New Mexico senior Mitchell Garver, in the ninth round. Based on skills alone Navarreto may have gone 2-3 rounds higher, but his involvement in an ugly on-field brawl likely dropped his stock. Garver had good numbers in a hitter-friendly environment and he's a typical "senior sign" who's already agreed to a below-slot deal that saves the Twins money to use on other picks.

In all the Twins had 10 of the first 300 picks in the draft and used all but one of them on pitchers or catchers, with DeMuth the only exception. Loading up on pitching certainly isn't surprising, but taking catchers in the third, sixth, and ninth rounds stands out as an unexpected strategy. Overall they went for long-term upside in Stewart and Gonsalves, did their standard thing with a bunch of college right-handers, and stocked up on backstops.

It'll be hard for the 2013 draft to look like a good one for the Twins unless Stewart pans out, but in general their approach seems fairly sound and based on pre-draft rankings from BA, ESPN, and MLB.com they didn't really step too far out on a limb with any selections. Last year it was tough not to love the Twins' draft haul because of Buxton at No. 2 and a bunch of extra early picks as compensation for losing free agents, but this year's group has a lot to like too.

For much more on the Twins' draft picks, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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June 7, 2013

Twins draft Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with No. 4 pick

Kohl Stewart

In a draft with three consensus top talents in Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, and Kris Bryant the Twins picked fourth and you'd have been hard-pressed to find a mock draft that didn't have them taking Texas high school right-hander Kohl Stewart. There was some speculation this week that the Twins would pick Stewart even if one of the top three guys fell to them, but it ended up being a moot point. Appel, Bryant, and Gray went 1-2-3 and the Twins snagged Stewart at No. 4.

None of which means that Stewart is necessarily a consolation prize. His raw talent and long-term upside have frequently been compared favorably to Appel and Gray, but the inherent risk involved in giving millions of dollars to an 18-year-old pitcher dropped him below the pair of proven college aces and the NCAA's premier slugger on just about every public draft board. Stewart has immense potential, but high school arms take a long time to develop and flame out at an incredible rate.

That risk is a big reason why Stewart is just the fourth high school pitcher to be a top-five pick since 2005 and the 13th high high school pitcher to go in the top five during the last 20 years. And the previous 12 include a lot more misses than hits: Kerry Wood, John Patterson, Josh Beckett, Mike Stodolka, Gavin Floyd, Clint Everts, Adam Loewen, Chris Gruler, Mark Rogers, Matt Hobgood, Jameson Taillon, Dylan Bundy.

It's too early to pass judgment on Hobgood (fifth in 2009), Taillon (second in 2010), and Bundy (fourth in 2011), each of whom are still in the minors, but it's certainly worth noting that Bundy and Taillon are currently considered elite prospects. As for the other guys ... it ain't pretty. Gruler, Everts, and Stodolka never even reached the majors, Loewen and Patterson won fewer than 20 career games, and Rogers will struggle to avoid the same fate.

Wood, Beckett, and Floyd are the only real success stories, but Wood finished with 86 wins after injuries derailed a potential Hall of Fame career and Floyd has never developed into more than a mid-rotation starter with just 70 wins at age 30. Beckett developed exactly as hoped and emerged as an elite pitcher, although with his career winding down at age 33 he may not reach 150 wins. Obviously wins aren't a great way to evaluate pitchers, but you get the general idea.

All of which is the bad news. The good news is that Stewart's future isn't dependent on the past and if he does pan out the Twins may have an ace. Not only did Stewart have video game-like numbers as a senior with a 0.18 ERA in eight starts, he's a two-sport star and ESPN ranks him as the sixth-best prep quarterback in the country. He committed to play football at Texas A&M, but Stewart is expected to sign instead of waiting behind Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Baseball America rates Stewart as the draft's fifth-best prospect and quotes one scouting director as saying that "his pure stuff is as good as" Appel and Gray, touting his mid-90s fastball and "a power mid-80s slider" that's considered his best pitch. According to BA his changeup and curveball give Stewart the potential for four above-average pitches and at 6-foot-3 he has "a clean delivery and should get even better once he concentrates solely on baseball."

ESPN rates Stewart as the draft's fourth-best prospect, praising a mid-90s fastball "with good downhill plane" and a slider that "is his best pitch." Within the ESPN scouting report there are questions about Stewart's mechanics and command, but that tends to be the case with teenage pitchers and "even with those issues he's by far the best prep arm in the class." MLB.com rates Stewart as the draft's seventh-best prospect, behind only Appel and Gray among pitchers.

Here's what Twins scouting director Deron Johnson told reporters after making the pick:

He was the best prospect on the board left for us. It just so happened to be a high school right-hander. I think his ceiling is unlimited. I think he has the makeup and attributes to be a front-end starter. I'm not going to sit here and say he's going to be a No. 1, but he has the ability and athleticism to be as good as the guys taken ahead of him.

"It just so happened to be a high school right-hander" is interesting because the Twins have long favored college pitchers and high school hitters in the draft. In fact, from 2005-2012 they used a top-50 pick on seven college pitchers compared to just one high school pitcher, J.O. Berrios at No. 32 last year. For an organization that has shied so heavily away from high school arms to use the fourth overall pick on Stewart suggests they feel he's truly special.


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June 5, 2013

Going to WAR: What to expect from the No. 4 overall pick

wood zimmerman bundy

Last week I looked at the nine players most likely to be the Twins' target with the No. 4 pick in this year's draft, so today I thought it would be interesting to examine the history of that spot in the draft. Talent levels vary wildly from draft to draft and trying to draw conclusions based on 48 players spanning 48 years is silly, so this is mostly just an exercise in curiosity. In other words, Dave Winfield being the No. 4 pick in 1973 doesn't mean much for the Twins in 2013.

For the purposes of this little investigation I'm going to focus on the 25-year history of the No. 4 pick from 1983 to 2007, because going back any further seems particularly irrelevant to the Twins' current situation and for the most part the players selected since 2007 haven't really had a chance to establish themselves in the majors yet. So here are the 25 players selected No. 4 overall from 1983 to 2007, along with their career Wins Above Replacement totals:

YEAR   NO. 4 PICK           TEAM           WAR
1983   Eddie Williams       Mets          -1.1
1984   Cory Snyder          Indians        0.7
1985   Barry Larkin         Reds          70.2
1986   Kevin Brown          Rangers       68.3
1987   Mike Harkey          Cubs           6.3
1988   Gregg Olson          Orioles       13.2
1989   Jeff Jackson         Phillies       0.0
1990   Alex Fernandez       White Sox     28.9
1991   Dmitri Young         Cardinals     12.1
1992   Jeffrey Hammonds     Orioles        8.7
1993   Wayne Gomes          Phillies       0.3
1994   Antone Williamson    Brewers       -0.8
1995   Kerry Wood           Cubs          27.7
1996   Billy Koch           Blue Jays      5.6
1997   Jason Grilli         Giants         4.8
1998   Jeff Austin          Royals        -0.7
1999   Corey Myers          Diamondbacks   0.0
2000   Mike Stodolka        Royals         0.0
2001   Gavin Floyd          Phillies      14.9
2002   Adam Loewen          Orioles        0.5
2003   Tim Stauffer         Padres         3.4
2004   Jeff Niemann         Rays           4.1
2005   Ryan Zimmerman       Nationals     30.9
2006   Brad Lincoln         Pirates        0.3
2007   Daniel Moskos        Pirates        0.2

For some Twins-specific context for the above WAR totals, consider that Luis Rivas had -1.5 WAR for his career, Jacque Jones had 11.5 WAR for his career, Roy Smalley had 27.8 WAR for his career, Kent Hrbek had 38.2 WAR for his career, and Rod Carew had 81.2 WAR for his career. There are lots of factors, but basically 0-10 WAR is a role player, 10-20 WAR is a regular, 20-35 WAR is a very good regular, 35-50 WAR is a star, and above 50 WAR is Hall of Fame territory.

As you can see, that list of No. 4 picks isn't exactly packed with Hall of Famers. In fact, of the 25 players selected No. 4 from 1983 to 2007 three failed to reach the big leagues at all, three others produced negative WAR when they did, and a total of 17 didn't crack double-digit WAR. In other words, more than two-thirds of the No. 4 overall picks were no better than role players or, in a few of those cases, very good players who stumbled on the path to sustained stardom.

There's one Hall of Famer on that 25-player list in Barry Larkin, who was selected fourth overall by the Reds out of the University of Michigan in 1985 and went on to become one of the 10 best shortstops in baseball history. Kevin Brown had a Hall of Fame-caliber career even though he'll never get in and Ryan Zimmerman is about halfway through what could potentially be a Hall of Fame-caliber career. And if not for injuries Kerry Wood might have been the best of the bunch.

Alex Fernandez was a really good pitcher before injuries wrecked him, posting all 28.9 of his WAR by age 30. Dmitri Young has a modest 12.1 WAR because he was a negative defensively and health issues ended his career at 34, but Delmon Young's big brother hit .292/.351/.475 in 13 seasons. Not to be confused with the Minnesota-born catcher, Gregg Olson was a Rookie of the Year-winning closer who was once the youngest ever to reach 100 saves.

More recently Dylan Bundy was the No. 4 pick in 2011 and entered this year as the consensus top pitching prospect in all of baseball, but elbow problems have sidelined him at the moment. Last year the Orioles took LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman at No. 4 after the Twins passed on him and other college pitchers in favor of Byron Buxton and he's already reached the majors. Of course, the No. 4 picks in 2009 and 2010, Christian Colon and Tony Sanchez, look like busts.

Overall the crop of No. 4 picks from 1983-2007 is pretty underwhelming, although it's not really any less impressive the No. 3 picks or No. 5 picks in that same time frame. Drafting, even in the top five, is incredibly unpredictable. None of which is to say that there wasn't much more career value available with the No. 4 pick in those 25 years, because almost every draft class during that time included multiple star-caliber players who didn't go in the top three.

For instance, the Pirates had back-to-back No. 4 picks, taking Brad Lincoln in 2006 and Daniel Moskos in 2007. They've both been busts, but some players taken after them in those two drafts include Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Matt Harvey, Matt Wieters, Jordan Zimmermann, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Craig Kimbrel, Matt Moore, and Max Scherzer. And there are a bunch of other impressive young players on the list.

As for what that all means for the Twins come Thursday ... who knows. This year's draft class is not considered strong in terms of elite-level talent, although the same was said about last year's class and for now at least the Twins are awfully happy with Buxton. History suggests that the No. 4 pick has a one-in-three chance of turning into a quality regular, which isn't exactly encouraging, but then again a 15 percent chance of a Larkin, Brown, Zimmerman, or Wood sounds pretty nice.


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May 30, 2013

Getting to know the Twins’ draft options with the No. 4 overall pick

2013 draft appel gray bryant

Next week the Twins will add the No. 4 pick to their stacked farm system, making a top-10 pick in back-to-back drafts for the first time since taking Adam Johnson second in 2000 and Joe Mauer first in 2001. Johnson was a bust and Mauer is on a Hall of Fame path, which is the draft in a nutshell even when picking so high. Their other top-10 picks since 1990 are B.J. Garbe, Ryan Mills, Michael Cuddyer, Travis Lee, Todd Walker, and David McCarty. You get the idea.

Last year having the No. 2 pick worked out perfectly for the Twins when the Astros passed on the consensus top high school player and the consensus top college player with the No. 1 pick, leading to the Twins choosing Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton over various high-end college arms. They could use a similar break this year because most draft analysts agree on three players standing out above the class, possibly leaving the Twins to choose among the best of the rest.

Let's get to know the players who could potentially be the Twins' choice with the fourth pick ...


Mark Appel, Stanford University right-hander

Last year at this time Mark Appel was widely projected as the No. 1 pick, but when his hometown Astros passed on him in favor of high school shortstop Carlos Correa the Stanford right-hander fell all the way to the Pirates at No. 8. Appel and agent Scott Boras then played hardball with the Pirates, ultimately turning down a $3.8 million offer. He returned to Stanford for his senior season and was fantastic with a 2.12 ERA and 130-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 innings.

Appel is once again projected as the potential No. 1 pick, although if Houston passed on him there once it seems likely to happen this year too. That probably won't be enough for Appel to fall to the Twins at No. 4, although with Boras in the mix anything is possible. It's also unclear if the Twins would actually take Appel at No. 4 even if he's there, because just like the Astros they've already passed on him once in favor of Buxton.

Keith Law of ESPN writes that Appel has improved his off-speed pitches, which were often cited as a relative weakness last year, and calls him "clearly the draft's top talent" thanks to "top-of-the-rotation stuff and great command." Baseball America rates him as the draft's No. 2 prospect and calls Appel "everything scouts look for in a frontline pitcher" with a 6-foot-5 frame, mid-90s fastball, and plus slider "that generates swings and misses."


Jonathan Gray, University of Oklahoma right-hander

At the beginning of the season Jonathan Gray wasn't even rated among Baseball America's top 50 draft prospects, but the University of Oklahoma right-hander has vaulted all the way to their top spot by throwing 110 innings with a 1.55 ERA and 127-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. According to BA he was "a live-armed but chubby high schooler" whose raw stuff now compares to Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA in 2011.

Law rates Gray second behind Appel, but says he "might have better pure stuff ... touching 100 miles per hour regularly, with a plus slider." Last year Gray was good but not great for Oklahoma and he came into this year as his own team's No. 2 starter, which is why he's generally viewed as less of a sure thing than Appel. However, his odds of actually falling to the Twins at No. 4 seem even lower than Appel's and right now Gray looks like the favorite to go No. 1.


Kris Bryant, University of San Diego third baseman/outfielder

Considered the best college bat in the draft, Kris Bryant is a 6-foot-5 right-handed slugger with huge power and an excellent eye at the plate. He's hit .340/.500/.860 with an NCAA-leading 31 homers and more walks (62) than strikeouts (40) in 58 games for the University of San Diego as a junior. As a sophomore last year Bryant hit .366/.483/.671 with 14 homers and more walks (39) than strikeouts (38) in 57 games.

In addition to topping a 1.000 OPS in each of his three college seasons Bryant was also projected as a potential first-round pick out of high school, so there are no holes to poke in his track record offensively. Defensively is another issue. His arm strength draws positive reviews and it's possible he could stick at third base, but both BA and Law expect him to wind up as a right fielder or first baseman. If he falls would the Twins pass on pitching help for another high-upside bat?


Kohl Stewart, Texas high school right-hander

Considered the top high school pitcher in the draft, Houston right-hander Kohl Stewart is also a star football player signed to play quarterback at Texas A&M. Like most high school aces Stewart throws in the mid-90s, but he's unique in that Law says he "has four legitimate pitches" including a hard slider that's considered his best offering. Even in citing his inconsistent control Law calls Stewart "by far the best prep arm in the class."

Baseball America quotes one MLB scouting director who says Stewart has better raw stuff than Appel or Gray, but also notes that "some clubs could shy away from Stewart because he's a Type 1 diabetic." BA has published two mock drafts and both have the Twins taking Stewart, but it's worth noting that J.O. Berrios last year is the only high school pitcher they've selected in the top 50 picks since 2005. Even more so than the draft in general high school pitching is boom or bust.


Colin Moran, University of North Carolina third baseman

Colin Moran can't compete with Bryant's raw power, but the University of North Carolina junior is a helluva college hitter and may have better odds of remaining at third base long term. Moran has hit .352 in three college seasons, including .357/.485/.579 with 55 walks versus just 20 strikeouts in 60 games this year. And the left-handed hitter is certainly not without power, smacking 13 homers this season and 25 total homers in 650 college at-bats.

In ranking Moran seventh in the class BA says "he covers the plate, lays off pitcher's pitches, has excellent hand-eye coordination, and drives the ball to all parts of the ballpark." That's evident in his great production and strikeout-to-walk ratios, but Law raises questions about an "unorthodox" and "not pretty" swing, which includes "a long stride forward in the box." And if Moran is forced to move down the defensive spectrum any lack of power development would hurt a lot.


Braden Shipley, University of Nevada right-hander

Assuming that Appel and Gray are both off the board Braden Shipley would be the best available college pitcher and the Twins have targeted a ton of college right-handers in recent years. They've chosen the following college righties within the first 50 picks since 2000: Adam Johnson, Aaron Heilman, Matt Fox, Matt Garza, Shooter Hunt, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, Luke Bard. However, choosing Shipley this year might be a stretch.

He ranks among the top 10 according to BA, ESPN, and MLB.com, but none have Shipley in the top five and everyone seems to agree he's a clear step below Appel and Gray. Shipley starred for a bad Nevada team as a junior, posting a 2.77 ERA and 102/34 K/BB ratio in 107 innings, which is impressive for a guy who moved from shortstop to the mound as a sophomore. Shipley reaches the mid-90s with his fastball and BA praises his changeup as "one of the draft's best."


Austin Meadows, Georgia high school center fielder

Last year the Twins selected Buxton out of a rural Georgia high school and the consensus two best high school position players in this year's class are also Georgia outfielders. Austin Meadows was considered the best of the bunch coming into the season, although his stock has seemingly dipped a bit since then. Meadows is 6-foot-3 and already pretty big at 210 pounds, so sticking in center field long term may be an issue despite good speed and athleticism.

Baseball America praises Meadows' "mature" approach at the plate and calls his left-handed swing "smooth and easy" while questioning how much power he'll develop. Law reports that some scouts are put off by Meadows' lack of energy and notes that his "fringy" arm would likely limit him to left field if he outgrows center field. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com cites Meadows' "five-tool potential," which is the most common trait attached to high school center fielders.


Clint Frazier, Georgia high school center fielder

Clint Frazier is the other stud high schooler from Georgia and rates slightly higher than Meadows according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. He's much smaller than Meadows and Mayo cites Frazier's "lack of physicality" in wondering how much room he has to develop. He does have plenty of power potential as a right-handed hitter and Law says Frazier "has the best bat speed in this draft ... maybe the best I've seen on an amateur prospect."

He's a center fielder now, but Law is convinced he'll wind up in right field and that puts Frazier's long-term upside in some question. No team drafts more toolsy high school outfielders than the Twins and they've stressed a "best player available" approach of which I'm definitely in favor, but given their outfield-heavy prospect crop it's hard to see Meadows or Frazier being a top target. According to BA scouts don't consider Meadows or Frazier to be on the same level as Buxton.


Reese McGuire, Washington high school catcher

It never would've occurred to me to have a high school catcher in the mix, but Jim Callis reported in the aforementioned mock draft that "rumors persist that Minnesota could cut a deal with Reese McGuire and spend heavily further down in the draft." He'd be an overdraft at No. 4, but perhaps not by a ton. BA, ESPN.com, and MLB.com all have McGuire in their top 20 and all rave about his defense behind the plate. And all question his offensive potential.

The track record of high school catchers drafted in the top 10 isn't encouraging to say the least, although Mauer being one of the biggest success stories probably makes the Twins less wary of that than most teams. McGuire, like Mauer, is a left-handed hitter with a good glove, but unless the Twins have something big up their sleeve with the money they'd save it would seem awfully risky to use a top-five pick on a catcher who may not hit a ton.


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