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 25, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Jorge Polanco | Shortstop | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     68     .250     .309     .283      0      2      6      9
         RK-    119     .223     .299     .301      1      6     12      9
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26

Jorge Polanco signing with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2009 largely flew under the radar because he was part of the same international prospect haul that included fellow 16-year-olds Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Sano got $3.15 million and Kepler got $800,000, but Polanco was considered one of the top middle infield prospects in Latin America and signed for $750,000.

In most organizations that signing bonus would have been enough to make Polanco someone to keep close tabs on, but with the Twins he took an immediate backseat to Sano and Kepler before falling further out of the spotlight with underwhelming rookie-ball numbers in his first two pro seasons. That all changed last year, as Polanco hit .318 with walks and power at rookie-level Elizabethton as one of just seven 18-year-old regulars in the Appalachian League.

Hitting for a high batting average and controlling the strike zone matches the pre-signing reports on Polanco, but last season's 22 extra-base hits in 51 games came as a surprise because he's a slight 5-foot-11 and projects as a contact hitter. Reviews of Polanco's defense have always been positive, but it's worth noting that he played much more second base (35 games) than shortstop (15 games) at Elizabethton. His full-season debut this year should reveal a lot about Polanco.

14. Mason Melotakis | Reliever | 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

After taking Byron Buxton second overall the Twins selected J.O. Berrios and Luke Bard with compensatory picks for losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel as free agents and then used their own second-rounder on Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis. Prior to the draft ESPN.com actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63, while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88.

He ended up coming off the board with the 63rd pick 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 called 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.com called him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft."

However, along with at least a couple of the other college relievers they drafted the Twins plan to give Melotakis an opportunity to start. That's the opposite of a traditional development path for pitchers, which usually involves starting initially and shifting to the bullpen if needed, but it's an interesting approach considering the Twins' dire need for long-term rotation help and the lack of promising college starters available past the first round last June.

13. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51

Travis Harrison was touted as one of the best bats in the 2011 high school class and showed why in his pro debut, skipping the lower level of rookie-ball for Elizabethton and hitting .301 with 24 walks and 21 extra-base hits in 60 games as a 19-year-old. Selected with the supplemental first-round pick that the Twins received as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent, Harrison is a 6-foot-2 slugger who for now at least plays third base.

Before the draft there were doubts about his ability to stay at third base and Harrison committed 24 errors in 59 games there during his debut, but rookie-ball error totals aren't necessarily an indication of anything other than young players, inexperience, and iffy playing conditions. He may eventually slide to an outfield corner or first base, but much like with Miguel Sano the Twins will probably give Harrison plenty of time to prove he can't remain at the hot corner.

Striking out 51 times in 60 games is a red flag for a hitter whose ability to handle breaking balls was questioned leading into the draft, but for now at least that's picking nits. Harrison performed exactly like the Twins hoped after signing him away from USC for $1.05 million as the 50th overall pick and looks like one of the highest-upside hitters in a system that's made strides to add some right-handed power bats in recent years.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     3      1     6.75       4.0       3      0       3      5
         RK+     4      0     0.00       3.0       2      0       4      2

After taking high schoolers Byron Buxton and J.O. Berrios with their first two picks the Twins kicked off their run of hard-throwing college relievers by drafting Georgia Tech right-hander Luke Bard with the supplemental first-rounder they received for Jason Kubel walking as a free agent. His brother, Daniel Bard, had a miserable year for the Red Sox, but Luke Bard dominated ACC hitters with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings.

His college season was cut short by an injured lat muscle that may have caused his draft stock to fall, but Bard was healthy enough to appear in seven rookie-ball games after signing for $1.227 million. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's once-overpowering raw stuff, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Like several of the college relievers they drafted last June the Twins have said they think Bard has a chance to be an effective starter if they can refine his changeup, which he'll likely attempt to do at low Single-A to begin this season. As a reliever Bard has the potential to move very quickly up the organizational ladder, but his timetable will probably be significantly delayed as long as he's trying to become a starter.

11. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    153     .286     .346     .343      0      7     13     27
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33

Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, and Aaron Hicks got all the attention, but Max Kepler had a breakout season to emerge as one of the Twins' highest-upside prospects. When he signed out of Germany as a skinny 16-year-old for $800,000 in 2009 the focus was on Kepler's physical tools, including rare speed and athleticism from a 6-foot-4 frame. He held his own in 2010 and 2011 at rookie-ball, hitting .275 with solid on-base skills, and then last season the power arrived.

Kepler got off to a slow start, but destroyed Appalachian League pitching for the final two-thirds of the short-season schedule to finish with the league's highest slugging percentage (.539) among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. He ranked among the league's top five in doubles, triples, and homers while hitting .297 with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (33) in 59 games, and did all that playing center field at age 19.

Kepler's age is key, because dominating rookie-ball at 21 or 22 is totally different than doing so as a 19-year-old and he was one of 16 teenagers in the 10-team league to play at least 50 games. That doesn't necessarily mean Kepler is destined for stardom and he's several years from being on the Twins' radar even if things go well, but with his age, physical tools, unique athletic pedigree, and production it's tough not to dream on his ceiling.


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June 13, 2012

Byron Buxton gets $6 million as Twins sign 10 of their first 11 draft picks

One of the nice things about the draft-related changes to the collective bargaining agreement is that MLB moved the signing deadline from mid-August to mid-July, encouraging players to sign quickly and get their pro careers started in the minors. Kyle Gibson and Levi Michael are recent Twins first-round picks who signed too late to debut the year they were drafted, but this year the Twins have already signed 10 of their first 11 picks within two weeks of the draft.

That includes No. 2 overall pick Byron Buxton, who arrived in Minnesota yesterday to undergo his pre-signing physical exam and also took batting practice at Target Field in the same hitting group as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Jim Callis of Baseball America reports that Buxton agreed to a $6 million signing bonus, which is slightly below the $6.2 million slot figure and substantially more than the $4.8 million Carlos Correa got from the Astros as the No. 1 pick.

Not every dollar figure is public yet, but Baseball America reports that No. 32 pick Jose Berrios agreed to a deal for the exact slot amount of $1.55 million and No. 63 pick Mason Melotakis accepted $750,000 compared to the slot amount of $818,500. And among the 11 players the Twins took within the draft's first 250 overall selections Georgia Tech right-hander and No. 42 pick Luke Bard is the only one yet to sign.

All of which is a major change from past years and particularly encouraging for Buxton, who can now get an early start on his development and potentially play a full rookie-ball season at age 18. Buxton will likely be assigned to the Gulf Coast League, which is the lower level of rookie-ball, and if things go well there early on Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that the Twins could move him up one level of rookie-ball to the Appalachian League by season's end.

Even the best-case scenario for Buxton's development probably won't get him to Minnesota before 2015 and not arriving until 2016 or 2017 wouldn't be surprising, but to get him signed, get him working with Twins coaches, and get him in the lineup against professional pitchers just weeks after being drafted is a nice first step down the long road to the big leagues. I'm already looking forward to checking those rookie-ball box scores.

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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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