February 12, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

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

30. Ryan Eades | Starter | DOB: 12/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    10      0     4.60      15.2      13      0      13     12
2014     A-     26     25     5.14     133.0     147     11      98     50
2015     A+     20     20     3.11     118.2     109      5      80     38

Ryan Eades was the 43rd overall pick in the 2013 draft out of LSU and the Twins gave him a $1.3 million bonus to sign, at which point they seemingly regretted the pick immediately. Early quotes from team officials lacked any semblance of enthusiasm and Baseball America, which relies partly on opinions from within an organization to rank that team's prospects, showed him no love. And then Eades flopped in his full-season debut at low Single-A, posting a 5.14 ERA in 133 innings.

Seemingly an afterthought 18 months after being a second-round draft pick, Eades bounced back somewhat at high Single-A last year with a 3.11 ERA and just five homers allowed in 119 innings. However, his strikeout rate fell even further to 6.1 per nine innings and his control remained sub par. For an experienced college starter and consensus top-100 draft prospect to post a 4.21 ERA with 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings versus rookie-ball and Single-A hitters is very discouraging.

Not so long ago Baseball America wrote that Eades "looked the part of a front-line starter" and on some level the Twins must have agreed to invest a top-50 pick and $1.3 million in him, but at this point there's nothing special about his performance or raw stuff. And at 24 years old it's time for Eades to sink or swim beyond Single-A. As a fly-ball pitcher with shaky control and a mediocre strikeout rate the odds are stacked against him. What a weird pick.

29. LaMonte Wade | Center Field | DOB: 1/94 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2015-9

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2015     RK+    284     .312     .428     .506      9     22     46     34

Ninth-round draft picks from major college conferences who fare well in rookie-ball after signing generally shouldn't be given much attention, but LaMonte Wade is worth watching as a possible late bloomer. He didn't hit much in his first two seasons at the University of Maryland, but batted .335/.453/.468 with more walks than strikeouts as a junior to get the Twins' attention and then upped his production even further in his pro debut.

Wade hit .312/.428/.506 in 64 games in Elizabethton, going 12-of-13 stealing bases, drawing 46 walks compared to 34 strikeouts, and smacking nine homers after totaling seven homers in three college seasons. He ranked second in walks and third in on-base percentage among Appalachian League hitters and was impressive enough that the Twins gave Wade a season-ending promotion to low Single-A.

He's unlikely to stick in center field defensively, so for Wade to emerge as a legitimate prospect he'll need to maintain his offensive production against more experienced competition. His power development is particularly important if he profiles as a corner outfielder long term. For now he's merely a low-minors center fielder with good speed, excellent plate discipline, and more intrigue than most ninth-round picks.

28. Felix Jorge | Starter | DOB: 1/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    12     12     2.95      61.0      56      2      72     18
2014     RK+    12     12     2.73      66.0      58      2      61     14
         A-     12      8     9.00      39.0      57      9      23     20
2015     A-     23     22     2.79     142.0     118     11     114     32

Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $250,000 as a 16-year-old in 2011, right-hander Felix Jorge emerged as a prospect worth watching on the strength of 12 rookie-ball starts in 2013. He was promoted to full-season competition at low Single-A to begin 2014 and got clobbered, giving up 40 runs in 39 innings before a demotion back to rookie-ball. Jorge got back on track there and took a second crack at low Single-A last year.

His second go-around in the Midwest League went far better, as Jorge tossed 142 innings with a 2.79 ERA and 114/32 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .225 batting average. Among all Midwest League pitchers with 100-plus innings Jorge ranked in the top dozen in ERA, walk rate, and K/BB ratio. Jorge certainly pitched well enough to warrant a second-half promotion to high Single-A, but the Twins may have decided to take things slowly for a while.

Jorge works with a low-90s fastball and gets positive reviews for his off-speed stuff, which helps explain how he was more effective versus lefties than righties in 2015. His upside doesn't appear to be huge and whenever a young prospect gets demoted backward it takes a big dent out of his perceived stock, but if not for the ugly 39-inning stint at low Single-A he'd be looking pretty good right now.

27. Lewin Diaz | First Base | DOB: 9/96 | Bats: Left | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     DSL    174     .257     .385     .451      5     18     26     24
2015     RK     127     .261     .354     .369      1      9     14     24
         RK+     53     .167     .245     .375      3      4      3     17

Signed by the Twins out of the Dominican Republic for a $1.4 million bonus as a 16-year-old in 2013, first baseman Lewin Diaz drew attention for his long-term power potential and massive 6-foot-4 frame. He had a strong pro debut in the Dominican summer league in 2014, batting .257/.385/.451 with 18 extra-base hits and 26 walks in 43 games, and then made his American pro debut last season between two levels of rookie-ball.

Diaz fared pretty well in the pitcher-friendly Gulf Coast League, batting .261/.354/.369 with nine extra-base hits and 14 walks in 33 games for an OPS that was 75 points better than the league average. He struggled following a promotion to the Appalachian League. As an 18-year-old facing lots of college pitchers Diaz hit just .167 with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 14 games, although he did manage three homers.

At some point it ceases making sense to parse through small samples of games across multiple levels for an 18-year-old, but Diaz has batted .244/.353/.409 with 30 extra-base hits and 43 walks through 90 career games overall. Those aren't jaw-dropping numbers, particularly from a big-ticket signing who'll need to drop jaws offensively to make an impact, but so far he's been an above-average professional hitter at an age when many prospects are in high school.

26. Luke Bard | Reliever | DOB: 11/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     7      2     1.08       8.1       2      0       6      6
2015     A-     28      0     2.41      52.1      45      1      47     15

In the 2012 draft the Twins took Byron Buxton at No. 2 overall, Jose Berrios at No. 32 overall, and then went heavy on college relievers. Luke Bard was the first college arm targeted at No. 42 overall following a great career at Georgia Tech. Initially the Twins planned to turn Bard into a starter, but constant shoulder and elbow injuries pushed that notion aside and simply made it nearly impossible for him to stay on the mound regardless of role.

Bard's final college season was cut short by an injury and after turning pro he threw seven innings in 2012 and 12 innings in 2013 before missing all of 2014. At age 24 and heading into his fourth season he'd thrown a total of one inning above rookie-ball, so the Twins sent him to low Single-A and he had an encouraging bounceback campaign. Working about twice per week and never with fewer than two days off, Bard logged 52 innings with a 2.58 ERA and 47/15 K/BB ratio.

He was a 24-year-old facing much younger competition, but in terms of lacking actual on-field experience he more or less fit in with the rest of the Midwest League. Not only did he pitch well, holding opponents to a .234 batting average and one home run, Bard's velocity returned to the mid-90s and he did his best work in August and September with a 21/5 K/BB ratio. He needs to handle the workload and make up for lost time, but Bard is at least back on the prospect radar.

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March 19, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

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

25. Stuart Turner | Catcher | DOB: 12/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK+    142     .264     .340     .380      3      8     12     22

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

There were no such questions behind the plate, as BA called 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 offered 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.

The early returns weren't encouraging, as Turner began his pro career as a 21-year-old playing against rookie-ball competition in the Appalachian League and still hit just .260 with three homers in 34 games. That's a very small sample size, so it may not mean much of anything, but the lack of walks and relatively high strikeout total certainly aren't positive signs. He'll move up to full-season ball this year and has the potential to go through the system quickly if he hits.

24. Aaron Slegers | Starter | DOB: 9/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     9      0     0.47      19.0      16      0      18      2

Because of injuries Aaron Slegers barely pitched as a high school senior in 2010 or for Indiana University in 2011 and 2012, but the 6-foot-10 right-hander got healthy last season and started a team-high 18 games for a dominant Hoosiers squad. He was fantastic, going 9-2 with a 2.04 ERA, but still fell to the Twins in the fifth round of the draft and signed for a relatively modest $380,000 bonus as a draft-eligible sophomore.

In addition to his draft stock being lessened by a wide variety of injuries related to both his size and his arm, Slegers also missed surprisingly few bats in college. Despite being able to reach as high as the mid-90s with his fastball and posting a pretty ERA he managed just 59 strikeouts in 106 innings for Indiana and allowed opponents to hit .260. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report suggested that he got tired as the season wore on and struggled to maintain peak velocity.

However, he had no trouble beating up on rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut, throwing 19 innings with a 0.47 ERA and 18/2 K/BB ratio for Elizabethton. Between college and rookie-ball Slegers served up just one homer in 128 innings and he issued a total of 19 walks, showing excellent control for a pitcher with his size and lack of experience. There's a lot to like here if Slegers can stay healthy and start generating a decent number of strikeouts.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    191     .322     .377     .489      6     17     15     50
2012     A-     186     .318     .419     .610     11     22     28     41
2013     A+     520     .267     .344     .468     19     53     50    105

Kennys Vargas predictably wasn't able to duplicate the huge numbers he posted at low Single-A in 2012, but his move up to high Single-A last season was actually encouraging. For one thing he played 125 games and logged 520 plate appearances after totaling 159 games and 667 plate appearances through his first four seasons. Beyond that he continued to show very good power with 19 homers and 53 extra-base hits, and Vargas cut down on his strikeout rate too.

Vargas is 6-foot-5 and huge, so like with most defensively challenged, low-minors sluggers the questions are whether he'll make consistent enough contact versus more advanced pitching to cancel out a total lack of fielding value. Vargas seems destined to wind up as a designated hitter or a poor defensive first baseman, and in order to be an impact player under those circumstances his bat would have to truly be special.

His power potential certainly has a chance to fall into that category, but it's difficult to gauge that with any sort of accuracy until he moves up another rung or two on the minor-league ladder and the rest of Vargas' offensive game is somewhat lacking for his player type. Still, a hulking switch-hitter with 30 homers and 43 doubles in 166 combined Single-A games through age 22 is certainly not someone to write off.

22. Felix Jorge | Starter | DOB: 1/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-    12      7     2.34      34.2      30      0      37     12
2013     RK+    12     12     2.95      61.0      56      2      72     18

Felix Jorge signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic for $250,000 in 2011, made his American debut in 2012, and established himself as someone to watch at rookie-level Elizabethton last season. Pitching the entire season at age 19, he started 12 games with a 2.95 ERA and 72/18 K/BB ratio in 61 innings, posting the second-best strikeout rate in the Appalachian League among all pitchers to start at least 10 games.

Jorge already reaches 92-94 miles per hour with his fastball despite being very skinny and there's plenty of room for projection in his 6-foot-3 frame. In ranking Jorge as one of the Appalachian League's best pitching prospects last season Baseball America noted that his "breaking ball can flash plus with slurvy action and his changeup is developing." If the off-speed stuff doesn't improve he could always wind up in the bullpen, but that's far into the future either way.

I tend to be extremely conservative ranking rookie-ball standouts and particularly rookie-ball pitchers, in part because they're so far away from potentially reaching the majors and in part because so many of them ultimately flame out after posting great numbers as teenagers, but Jorge certainly is very intriguing. He'll make the jump to full-season competition in 2014, which should tell us a lot.

21. Zack Jones | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       2      0       9      4
         A-     12      0     3.21      14.0       9      1      25      7
2013     A+     39      0     1.85      48.2      28      2      70     28

Believing that his mid-90s fastball was more telling than his mostly mediocre results in three years at San Jose State the Twins used their 2012 fourth-round pick on Zack Jones. And boy have they been right so far. Jones shifted to the bullpen full time as a pro, added a few miles per hour to his already overpowering heat, and has been almost unhittable with a 1.97 ERA and .165 opponents' batting average, striking out 104 batters in 69 innings.

His control has been terrible with 39 walks and seven wild pitches in 69 frames and despite his overall dominance the Twins had Jones spend all of last season at high Single-A as a 22-year-old, so he hasn't been placed on the fast track to the majors yet. Still, when a young pitcher reaches triple-digits with his fastball and whiffs 38 percent of the batters he's faced through two seasons as a pro that's someone to keep a very close eye on.

The development of his slider figures to be key long term, but Jones and fellow prospect Michael Tonkin give the Twins a pair of high-upside right-handers to potentially fill late-inning setup roles in front of left-hander Glen Perkins. Unfortunately he missed the end of the Arizona Fall League after experiencing numbness in his fingers and then underwent surgery last week for an aneurysm in his upper arm, putting his status for this season in question.

February 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Morneau, Liriano, Gardenhire, Nishioka, Slama, and Punto

Justin Morneau arrived at spring training Monday and spoke extensively about his status to the reporters on hand, saying he's made a lot of recent progress in his recovery from a July 7 concussion but remains less than 100 percent healthy nearly eight months after taking a John McDonald knee to the helmet while trying to break up a double play. He's been cleared to fully participate in workouts and took batting practice yesterday, which qualifies as a big step.

However, the Twins have indicated that he's likely to sit out at least the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule and when asked about a timetable for game action Morneau replied: "We'll find out over the next week or so." In other words he still has plenty of hurdles to clear before anyone should feel confident about Morneau being in the Opening Day lineup. We're six weeks away from that, but he's still not totally symptom-free eight months after injuring his brain.

Francisco Liriano was scratched from his first scheduled throwing session of spring training last week because of shoulder soreness, but an MRI exam revealed no structural damage and he had a problem-free bullpen session yesterday. Pitching coach Rick Anderson blamed that early soreness on Liriano failing to follow his team-recommended offseason workout program, which is certainly the type of thing that adds to the Twins' skepticism about his future value.

UPDATE: And now the Twins announced Carl Pavano, not Liriano, as the Opening Day starter.

• Twinkie Town editor-in-chief Jesse Lund conducted a lengthy interview with Rob Antony in which the Twins assistant general manager gave lots of interesting, detailed answers covering a wide range of topics. Kudos to Lund for asking strong questions and to Antony for being so generous with his time. Good stuff.

Rob Kuhn of MiLB.com has a good interview with Billy Bullock, who ranked 10th on my list of the Twins' top prospects for the second straight season.

• Speaking of top prospects, Kelly Thesier of MLB.com wrote a nice feature article about Twins scouting director Deron Johnson.

• Johnson and the scouting department recently added two international pitching prospects by signing 17-year-old Felix Jorge from the Dominican Republic and 19-year-old Markus Solbach from Germany. Ben Badler of Baseball America has video of Jorge in action and reports that the 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander "has an 88-91 mph fastball that has touched 92 ... a good delivery, a loose arm, and shows feel for spinning a solid curveball." He signed for $250,000.

Solbach spent four years in the United States as a kid and has been pitching in Australia, with international scouting director Howard Norsetter calling the righty "a projectable talent" with "good arm action and a chance of throwing the ball consistently hard with decent breaking stuff" out of his 6-foot-5 frame. Last year Norsetter and the Twins signed 16-year-old German outfielder Max Kepler for $800,000 and now he ranks 16th on my list of the team's prospects.

Ron Gardenhire never actually played for the Twins, spending his entire 285-game career with the Mets, but he did appear in a Twins uniform during spring training in 1987 and Edward Thoma of the Mankato Free Press discovered video evidence of him striking out against Astros right-hander Julio Solano:

In addition to simply getting a look at skinny Gardenhire, the video is great because it features announcers John Rooney and Harmon Killebrew discussing Gardenhire, Al Newman, and Ron Washington being in a three-way battle for utility infielder. Newman beat out the two future managers, but went on to hit .221/.298/.303 in 349 plate appearances despite Rooney saying "he can do a lot of things." Gardenhire hit .272 with a .380 slugging percentage at Triple-A.

Denard Span introduced himself to Tsuyoshi Nishioka and "asked him how his English was." It turned out to be minor leaguer Ray Chang, whose English is fantastic because he was born in Missouri. And then Span tweeted about it.

• Speaking of Nishioka, this 1500ESPN.com video of him fielding ground balls is worth watching because he doesn't use his non-glove hand at all. Presumably the Twins were well aware of his fielding mechanics when they signed him, but I can't imagine the coaching staff letting that go without some tweaks.

• Nishioka was also the subject of a New York Times article by Brad Lefton.

• After retiring former Twins catcher/designated hitter Matthew LeCroy took a job managing in the Nationals' minor-league system and has been promoted from low Single-A to high Single-A, where he may work with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper at some point this year.

Nick Blackburn is the latest in a long line of Twins players to perform horribly while trying to play through an injury. I'll never understand why so many people view that as a positive thing.

Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle explains why the Twins signed more minor-league veterans than usual this offseason.

Anthony Slama told Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com that he spent the offseason adding a cut fastball to his repertoire, which may help the right-hander fare better versus left-handed bats. Slama, who ranks 25th on my list of Twins prospects, will hopefully get an extended chance to show that his dominant minor-league numbers can equal big-league success.

• Remember all that stuff I wrote about how the Twins should have re-signed Nick Punto if he was willing to accept the bench role and $750,000 salary he got from the Cardinals? Well, now he's out 8-12 weeks following hernia surgery. Ouch.

• I may have to add this beauty to my bobblehead collection, which for now is limited to just Al Newman and Bill James.

• This might be the most Joe Mauer has talked, ever. And an important topic, too!