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 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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