March 31, 2016

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to be a playoff team?

Last year the Twins emerged from the wreckage of four consecutive 90-loss seasons sooner than anticipated, out-performing expectations by climbing above .500 in Paul Molitor's rookie season as manager. Miguel Sano immediately established himself as the big bat around which the lineup can be built, leading the way for a deep, upside-rich farm system that's ready to stock the Twins' roster with young talent for years to come. It's a fun time to be a Twins fan again.

However, rather than build on that momentum and their sooner-than-expected contender status by making a series of significant offseason moves to beef up the roster the Twins basically stood pat. They went outside the box to replace Torii Hunter in the lineup by spending $25 million on Korean slugger Byung Ho Park and addressed the organization-wide lack of catching depth by trading Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. And that was it.

No significant additions were made to a pitching staff that was 10th among AL teams in ERA last season after ranking dead last from 2011-2014 and one of the team's best second-half pitchers, Tyler Duffey, was sent back to Triple-A in favor of contractual albatross Ricky Nolasco. Rumors that the Twins would trade Trevor Plouffe to open up third base never materialized and led to their shifting the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Sano to right field despite zero outfield experience.

Aside from some minor tinkering, the Twins' offseason consisted of two moves and was over by December 1. And while the perception is that the Twins are a young team on the rise thanks to Sano and an impressive farm system, the actual Opening Day roster is heavy on veterans. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the rotation at 28, the average age of the pitching staff is 30, and only three of the nine Opening Day hitters are younger than 27.

Their relative inactivity leaves plenty of room for criticism, particularly on the pitching side, and the front office's decades-long conservative streak always offers a viable explanation. With that said, the Twins' disinterest in adding even moderately priced veterans to an 83-win team is easy to explain: Terry Ryan and company are convinced the young talent they've stockpiled through all the losing is now ready to turn the Twins into winners. Just not right away, apparently.

Jose Berrios is an elite pitching prospect and many teams would have promoted him in the middle of last season, but he's back at Triple-A with Duffey for a second go-around because the Twins spent the past two offseasons handing out long-term deals to mediocre starters. Based on service time considerations the Twins should be planning for Berrios to debut in late April or early May, but that makes the shaky assumption that they'll be ready to ditch veterans by then.

Bypassing the many veteran relievers available via trades and free agency may hurt the Twins in the short term, but they clearly believe that by midseason at least one or two good bullpen arms will step forward from a group of hard-throwing prospects that includes Nick Burdi, Alex Meyer, Brandon Peterson, J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, and Luke Bard. They had similar hopes heading into last year and the payoff was non-existent, but Burdi looks especially close to the majors now.

If by midseason Berrios and Duffey are leading the rotation turnaround and Burdi or Meyer have joined Trevor May and Kevin Jepsen setting up for Glen Perkins then the lack of offseason pitching moves will look prescient. If instead Rochester's pitching staff is thriving and Minnesota's pitching staff is again among the league's worst the fingers will point themselves. Right now the Twins' pitching looks mediocre at best, but the cavalry is coming. Or at least that's the plan.

Offensively most of the cavalry has already arrived and the young, crazy talented starting outfield of 22-year-old stud prospect Byron Buxton flanked by 23-year-old Sano and 24-year-old Eddie Rosario may tell the story of the 2016 season. That trio has the potential to be the Twins' three best players, but Buxton has yet to prove himself as a hitter, Rosario's lack of discipline threatens to stall his development, and Sano's right field sojourn threatens his health and the team ERA.

Here's the beauty of the Twins' farm system: They also have 23-year-old outfielder Max Kepler, a consensus top-100 prospect coming off an MVP-winning campaign at Double-A, waiting in the wings at Triple-A. Their outfield options are so young, so talented, and so plentiful that Oswaldo Arcia--a 25-year-old former top prospect with a .741 OPS in the majors--is an afterthought. If the Twins take a big step forward this season the young outfield figures to be a driving force.

Park is neither young nor inexperienced, winning a pair of MVP awards and four home run titles in Korea through age 28, but he's an MLB rookie for whom outlooks vary wildly. Based on his Hall of Fame numbers in Korea, the scouting reports from people who watched him there, and his spring training showing it's clear that Park will hit for big-time power, but that power will likely come with tons of strikeouts and a modest batting average.

For years the Twins' lineup was lefty dominated, but adding Sano and Park to Plouffe and Brian Dozier has swung the balance to the right side. In fact, this might be the most right-handed pop any Twins lineup has ever featured and Target Field is an ideal home for right-handed power. Six of the nine Opening Day hitters are right-handed, along with switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar and lefties Joe Mauer and Rosario.

Mauer simply hasn't been the same since suffering a concussion in August of 2013 and at age 33 the odds are heavily stacked against him being more than an above-average first baseman, but his on-base skills are desperately needed in a lineup long on power and short on OBP. Last year Sano and Mauer were the only Twins to crack a .330 on-base percentage and all the right-handed power bats need base-runners to drive in.

Escobar has quietly been one of the best shortstops in Twins history whenever they've actually given him a chance to play the position regularly, hitting .285/.331/.452 with solid defense in 203 career starts. For decades the Twins have repeatedly failed to find competent offensive shortstops, but Escobar is a switch-hitter with plus power for the position and has the ability to lengthen the lineup considerably. He's turned a lot of people--me included--from doubters to believers.

Nearly every hitter in the lineup comes attached to a question mark because of inexperience or injuries and that makes it tough to feel confident predicting how the offense will fare overall, but it's impossible to ignore how much young upside, right-handed power, and depth the Twins have assembled. If they get any sort of decent bottom-of-the-order production from the catcher spot and Buxton the Twins are going to score a bunch of runs.

And they'll need to, because the pitching staff with by far the fewest strikeouts in baseball since 2008 is again lacking the same type of upside and power that fills the lineup. There is some depth in that Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, and Gibson are solid veteran starters and May, Jepsen, and Perkins are a strong bullpen trio, but at a time when MLB-wide strikeouts and velocity have never been higher the Twins simply lack firepower.

That could change if Berrios and Burdi receive quick call-ups and thrive right away, but counting on two prospects who've never thrown a pitch in the big leagues to drag an entire staff kicking and screaming into the power pitching era is probably wishful thinking. Molitor keeping the lesser starters on a short leash could be crucial, because turning games over to fresher, harder-throwing relievers often makes more sense than risking another trip through a lineup past 75 pitches.


Based on the Opening Day roster the Twins look mediocre, with an above-average offense and a below-average pitching staff. Based on the much younger, higher-upside roster they could begin transitioning to as soon as late April the Twins absolutely have a chance to build on last season's surprising success by making a run at the AL Central title. They just need to trust the youth and have it pay off. And here's the best part: This figures to be the worst Twins team for a long time.

March 1, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Nick Gordon | Shortstop | DOB: 10/95 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2014-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     RK+    255     .294     .333     .366      1     11     11     45
2015     A-     535     .277     .336     .360      1     31     39     88

Selected fifth overall in the 2014 draft out of a Florida high school and signed for $3.85 million, shortstop Nick Gordon followed up a solid pro debut at rookie-ball with an up-and-down first full season at low Single-A. Gordon got off to a rough start, hitting .230 in 45 games through the end of May. He played well from then on, hitting .304 in 75 games after June 1. His overall .696 OPS looks modest, but was actually above the Midwest League average of .682 as a 19-year-old.

Through two seasons Gordon has shown his natural ability with a .282 batting average, but has shown his inexperience with a 133/50 K/BB ratio and his iffy power potential with two homers in 177 games. Also of note is that Gordon grounded into 29 double plays--including a league-leading 20 last season--which is an incredibly high total for a speedy 19-year-old left-handed hitter who stole 36 bases during that same time. He's putting the ball on the ground a lot.

Simply holding his own offensively as a teenage shortstop at low Single-A is an accomplishment for Gordon, whose father Tom Gordon and brother Dee Gordon have both been All-Stars in the majors. He was named the best defensive shortstop by Midwest League managers, although some reviews wonder if he'll be able to handle the position long term or will need to shift to second base eventually like his brother did. He'll take on high Single-A this year.

4. Byung Ho Park | First Base | DOB: 7/86 | Bats: Right | Sign: Korea

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     KBO    556     .318     .437     .602     37     54     92     96
2014     KBO    571     .303     .433     .686     52     70     96    142
2015     KBO    622     .343     .436     .714     53     89     78    161

As a 29-year-old with two MVP awards and four home run titles in Korea he's far from a standard prospect, but Byung Ho Park is technically an MLB rookie and thus qualifies for this list. Signed to a four-year, $12 million contract after the Twins won the bidding for his exclusive negotiating rights for an additional $12.85 million, Park is slated to be the Opening Day designated hitter and occasional first baseman. And hopefully a middle-of-the-order bat.

Park's numbers in Korea were incredible, including hitting .343/.436/.714 with 53 homers in 140 games last season to top a 1.000 OPS for the third straight year. His power potential is massive and his spray chart suggests he's capable of going deep from foul pole to foul pole. Park also hit for big batting averages in Korea, but in doing so he struck out a ton and because of that it'd be tough to expect that to continue for the Twins without a change in approach.

Numbers-based projections for Park are highly encouraging, viewing him as a legit slugger who draws enough walks to offset a poor batting average, but because there are so few KBO-to-MLB or MLB-to-KBO data points on which to rely the confidence levels are low. Given the Twins' relatively modest investment Park simply being an average hitter would pay big dividends and the potential is there for him to be much more.

3. Max Kepler | Right Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43
2014     A+     407     .264     .333     .393      5     31     34     62
2015     AA     482     .322     .416     .531      9     54     67     63

Max Kepler's raw talent has rarely been in question since the Twins signed him out of Germany for $800,000 as a 16-year-old, but injuries and underwhelming on-field production kept him from emerging as a top prospect. That all changed in a huge way last year, as he hit .322/.416/.531 in 112 games at Double-A to lead the Southern League in OPS and be named MVP as a 22-year-old. He debuted with the Twins in late September, collecting his first career hit off Johnny Cueto.

Kepler's performance was nearly flawless. He hit .323 off righties and .318 off lefties, walked more than he struck out, went 18-of-22 stealing bases, and did all that while facing pitchers older than him 90 percent of the time. His homer total was modest, but Kepler smacked 54 extra-base hits in fewer than 500 at-bats and his solid 6-foot-4 frame should lead to more bombs. While they were Chattanooga teammates Kepler had a .947 OPS and Miguel Sano had a .918 OPS.

Kepler has been primarily a center fielder in the minors, which speaks to his athleticism, but long term he projects as a corner outfielder with plus range. If the power develops Kepler has a chance to be a star and even if he tops out at 10-15 homers per season his all-around skill set is enough to make him a very good everyday player. He'll begin this season at Triple-A and could force his way to Minnesota by the All-Star break. Kepler would be the No. 1 prospect for a lot of teams.

2. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40
2014     A+     16     16     1.96      96.1      78      4     109     23
         AA      8      8     3.54      40.2      33      2      28     12
2015     AA     15     15     3.08      90.2      77      6      92     24
         AAA    12     12     2.62      75.2      59      6      83     14

Jose Berrios was selected by the Twins out of a Puerto Rico high school with the 30th pick in the 2012 draft--28 spots after they snagged Byron Buxton--and four years later he's on the verge of the majors. Actually, he seemed on the verge of the majors this time last year, but the Twins took an extremely conservative approach to handling Berrios by sending him back to Double-A for the first half and then citing workload limits for a lack of August or September call-up to Minnesota.

Instead of making his MLB debut Berrios logged 166 innings at Double-A and Triple-A with a 3.03 ERA and 175/38 K/BB ratio as a 21-year-old, leading all of minor-league baseball in strikeouts while facing hitters older than him in 655 of 667 plate appearances. Despite a slight frame Berrios has mid-90s velocity, plus a pair of quality off-speed pitches that allowed the right-hander to fare better versus lefties than righties in 2015.

Berrios has improved his strikeout rate, walk rate, and durability on an annual basis while moving up the organizational ladder and from both a statistical and raw stuff standpoint he shines as the best Twins pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006. Many teams would have called up Berrios last year, but the Twins will send him back to Triple-A for even more seasoning while delaying the start of his service time. If he's not one of the Twins' best starters by June something went wrong.

1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49
2014     A+     134     .240     .313     .405      4     10     10     33
2015     AA     268     .283     .351     .489      6     25     26     51
         AAA     59     .400     .441     .545      1      5      4     12
         MLB    138     .209     .250     .326      2     10      6     44

Because he struggled and got injured in his MLB debut a too-large segment of Twins fans soured on Byron Buxton, but soon enough he'll make those same people impossible to find. There's no disputing that Buxton had a rough first taste of the majors and has had trouble staying healthy, making him an imperfect prospect. However, hitting .305/.367/.500 at Double-A and Triple-A as a 21-year-old center fielder with jaw-dropping speed also solidified his status as a great prospect.

Buxton's inability to control the strike zone led to an ugly 44/6 K/BB ratio with the Twins, but his plate discipline wasn't awful so much as misguided. He actually showed decent patience, but too often laid off hittable pitches only to chase two-strike junk. It's a common problem for rookies and Buxton's track record shows he's anything but an undisciplined hacker. It may take a little more time, but if Buxton controls the strike zone the rest of his skill set screams superstar.

His range is spectacular, his arm is well above average, and he's one of MLB's fastest players. All of which means he doesn't need to be an impact bat to have huge value, but Buxton might be an impact bat too. In the minors he's hit .301 with a solid walk rate and once his lanky frame fills out 20 homers per year is doable along with tons of triples. Don't let a lack of current polish fool you into thinking Buxton is anything but an elite prospect with massive all-around upside.

October 6, 2015

Eight big positives to take from the Twins’ half-full, half-empty season

Miguel Sano Twins

There are half-full and half-empty ways to view the Twins' season. On the half-full side they won 83 games compared to a Las Vegas over/under of 72.5 and local optimism topping out around 78, emerging as a contender ahead of schedule. On the half-empty side they made plenty of decisions on playing time, player evaluation, and call-ups that seemed iffy at the time and now stand out as especially damaging within the context of missing out on a Wild Card spot by just three games.

Whichever side you lean toward from a team-wide perspective, there's no doubt that looking at the Twins' season from a player-by-player view leads to an abundance of half-full glasses and a few that are overflowing. I've identified eight players whose 2015 performance stood out in a very positive way, both for this season and for the Twins' long-term plans. There are more, of course, but these eight made me feel the best about what happened this season on the way to 83-79.


Miguel Sano: I've spent the past three months obsessively posting Sano statistical porn on Twitter, so I'll try to keep this #SanoPorn somewhat brief. Sano arrived from Double-A on July 2 as a fully formed middle-of-the-order monster and one of the most extreme Three True Outcomes bats of all time, hitting .269/.385/.530 with 18 homers, 17 doubles, 53 walks, and 119 strikeouts in 80 games at age 22. He was a revelation, shattering the typical Twins hitting mold.

He's not without flaws, including a strikeout rate that will make posting decent batting averages difficult, but Sano's power and patience are both 99th percentile skills and his debut was one of the best in Twins history. Actually, that's underselling it. Sano had the 12th-highest OPS (.915) in MLB history among 22-year-old right-handed hitters, taking his spot on the list directly after Hank Aaron (.923) and Alex Rodriguez (.919). His long-term potential is drool-inducing.

Eddie Rosario: Despite little in his 2013 or 2014 performance to suggest he was ready for the majors Rosario was the first outfielder called up when reinforcements were needed in early May and never went back to the minors. He swung at everything on the way to 118 strikeouts and 15 walks in 122 games to match the idea that he wasn't ready, but Rosario also batted .267 with 46 extra-base hits and plus defense to show Paul Molitor was right to believe in his raw talent.

There's no doubting Rosario's tools, which include an extremely quick bat, very good speed on the bases and in the outfield, and a strong arm that killed 16 runners when stubborn teams refused to stop testing him. None of that will mean much if Rosario can't develop some semblance of strike zone control, but in terms of debuts for 23-year-olds there was a ton to like and even with the undisciplined approach at the plate he was an above-average player as a rookie.

Trevor May: May was sent down to Triple-A at the end of spring training, but Ricky Nolasco immediately getting hurt opened up a rotation spot and he had the best strikeout rate, swinging strike rate, and xFIP among Twins starters through mid-July. And then the Twins moved May to the bullpen, where he took the unwanted and undeserved role change in stride and thrived as a reliever with a 2.87 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 31 innings.

Like most starters May's velocity and raw stuff went up a tick or two as a reliever, giving him the potential to be a late-inning setup man or closer. However, he's also shown enough as a starter to think he can help the Twins more logging 200 innings in the rotation instead of 70 innings in the bullpen and May has made it clear he wants to start. Whatever happens, May took a huge step forward this season at age 25 and gives the Twins' pitching staff a much-needed building block.

Eduardo Escobar: For whatever reason the Twins were very hesitant to trust Escobar as their starting shortstop despite a strong 2014 in that role, first handing the Opening Day job to Danny Santana and then waiting three months to give it back to Escobar when Santana flopped. Escobar ended up starting 71 games at shortstop--along with way too many games miscast as a left fielder and designated hitter--and batted .262/.309/.445 with 12 homers and 47 total extra-base hits.

For his Twins career Escobar has started 187 games at shortstop and hit .281/.328/.480 in those games, which is the best shortstop production in team history and should be more than enough to make him the 2016 starter. Escobar is a free-swinger, but he's got rare power for the position and offers solid, sure-handed defense too. At age 26 he's under team control through 2018, so they may have stumbled into a shortstop solution after two decades of unsuccessful searching.

Tyler Duffey: Entering the year as a mid-level prospect with questions about his durability and bat-missing ability, Duffey finished it as arguably the Twins' best starter. Called up in early August as a short-term rotation patch, Duffey got knocked around by the Blue Jays in his debut and then went 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 56 innings over his final nine starts while giving up just two homers in 229 plate appearances.

Duffey was even stingier with the long ball in the minors this season, giving up just one homer in 138 innings and 559 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A before the call-up. Because he's not an extreme ground-ball pitcher those low homer totals figure to be somewhat of a fluke long term, but Duffey has good command of a low-90s fastball and his curveball is a swing-and-miss weapon. At age 25 he deserves a full-time shot in the Twins' rotation next season.

Aaron Hicks: All but left for dead as a prospect after back-to-back awful seasons in the majors, Hicks earned his way back to Minnesota by dominating Triple-A for six weeks and finally showed the skills that made him a first-round draft pick and four-time Baseball America top-100 prospect. With a revamped approach at the plate that dialed up aggression and converted passiveness into patience, he hit .256/.323/.398 with 11 homers in 97 games.

Hicks also looked much better defensively in center field, making his usual assortment of standout plays without mixing in as much shaky route-running, and went 13-for-16 stealing bases too. He slumped down the stretch and it remains to be seen if the switch-hitting Hicks can handle right-handers well enough to thrive as an everyday player, but he was an above-average all-around center fielder at age 25 and that's a remarkable turnaround given how far his stock had fallen.

Jose Berrios: Setting aside whether or not the Twins should have called up Berrios to the big leagues this season--in July or August would have been my preference--his performance while spending the entire year in the minors firmly established the 21-year-old right-hander as the organization's best pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006. Berrios began the season at Double-A, moved up to Triple-A in early July, and was one of the best pitchers in both leagues.

Overall he threw 166 innings with a 2.87 ERA and 175/38 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to a .223 batting average and 12 homers. His handling may have been frustrating to Twins fans, but it was a fantastic season for an excellent prospect and one that would have gotten Berrios to the big leagues in most organizations. Pitching prospects fail at a remarkably high rate, but Berrios looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential front-line starter. His development in 2015 was impressive.

Max Kepler: Prior to this season Kepler's prospect status was based more on his physical tools and youth than actual production, which was mostly mediocre thanks in part to a bunch of injuries keeping him off the field. That all changed in a huge way this year, as Kepler stayed healthy and crushed Double-A, hitting .322/.416/.531 with 54 extra-base hits, more walks (67) than strikeouts (63), and 18 steals to be named MVP of the Southern League at age 22.

Kepler is 6-foot-4 and significantly stronger than when the Twins signed him out of Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009, but still has enough range to occasionally play center field and figures to be a plus defender in a corner spot. Much like with Berrios, in most organizations Kepler likely would have been called up to the big leagues for more than a September cup of coffee, but regardless of that his season was a true breakout and thrusts him into the Twins' long-term plans.


For a lengthy discussion of the highs and lows of the Twins' season and Paul Molitor's first year as manager, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

February 23, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43
2014     A+     407     .264     .333     .393      5     31     34     62

As a 16-year-old Max Kepler was big and fast with lots of tools and a unique background that included his parents meeting as performers in the German ballet, so when the Twins signed him out of Germany for $800,000 he was viewed as an intriguing, high-upside prospect. Five seasons later some of that intrigue and upside have vanished, in part because Kepler has struggled to stay healthy and in part because his performance beyond rookie-ball has underwhelmed.

Kepler played 163 games at Single-A during the past two seasons, hitting .253/.325/.405 with 14 homers. He also seems less and less likely to stick in center field, playing quite a bit of right field and first base. On the other hand Kepler was one of the Florida State League's youngest regulars last season at age 21, so even holding his own there is a positive sign. And after a bad first three months Kepler finished the year on a high note by hitting .303/.359/.442 in July and August.

Kepler is no longer incredibly young and no longer oozes upside, so now he simply needs to start hitting and in particular turn his 6-foot-4 frame and power potential into actual homers. Despite not playing above Single-A he was added to the 40-man roster, which means the clock is ticking on Kepler showing he belongs in the majors and the door is open for him to reach Minnesota at some point this season if he plays well.

14. Michael Cederoth | Starter | DOB: 11/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+    11     10     3.55      45.2      41      1      42     18

In their ongoing effort to add more high-end velocity to the organization the Twins picked San Diego State right-hander Michael Cederoth in the third round last year. Cederoth was a starter in 2012 and 2013, but shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and topped out at 100 miles per hour while racking up 20 saves with a 2.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. Despite that relief success Cederoth made his pro debut as a starter and fared pretty well for rookie-level Elizabethton.

Making the abbreviated outings that are common for rookie-ball starters, he posted a 3.55 ERA with just one homer allowed and a 42/18 K/BB ratio in 46 innings. His fastball predictably wasn't able to reach triple-digits as a starter, but Cederoth worked in the mid-90s and his control was encouraging. He walked 3.5 per nine innings, which is a lot, but in college Cederoth walked 5.2 per nine innings.

Converting hard-throwing college relievers into pro starters has repeatedly gone poorly for the Twins in recent years and Cederoth's mediocre results as a college starter leave even less room for optimism, but he's 6-foot-6 with an equally big fastball and there's always a role in the majors for that profile even if it's yet to be determined. This year he'll make the jump up to full-season competition at Single-A and try to develop his secondary pitches.

13. Amaurys Minier | Left Field | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29
2014     RK-    205     .292     .405     .520      8     21     29     52

When the Twins signed Amaurys Minier for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic there were immediate comparisons to Miguel Sano, but those quieted down when he hit .214 at rookie-ball in his pro debut. However, within the ugly batting average Minier showed a ton of power and last season he made it clear why the Twins were so high on him by crushing the Gulf Coast League in his second go-around.

Minier hit .292/.405/.520 with eight homers, 21 total extra-base hits, and 29 walks in 53 games, leading the GCL in homers and ranking third in both slugging percentage and OPS. And he did so while playing the entire season at age 18. He was signed as a shortstop, debuted at third base, and played left field and first base last season, but his eventual defensive home is secondary to Minier's offensive upside as a switch-hitting slugger.

Rookie-ball numbers should be viewed skeptically because the level of competition is inconsistent and the sample size is small, but Minier's production was special. He posted a .925 OPS, which is the highest by any Twins prospect in the Gulf Coast League during the past decade. And the only Twins prospects in the Gulf Coast League within 30 points of his OPS from 2005-2014 were Chris Parmelee (.901 in 2006), Aaron Hicks (.900 in 2008), and Kennys Vargas (.895 in 2010).

12. 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
2014     RK+     6      6     2.79      29.0      23      1      26     10
         A-      8      8     3.19      36.2      31      1      44     11

Stephen Gonsalves was viewed as a first-round talent in 2013, but fell to the Twins in the fourth round following a suspension during his senior year of high school in California and then signed for second-round money at $700,000. His pro debut was impressive, as the 6-foot-5 lefty logged 28 rookie-ball innings with a 0.95 ERA and 39/11 K/BB ratio without allowing a homer. He stayed in rookie-ball to begin last season and then moved up to low Single-A, where he thrived at age 19.

Despite being younger than around 90 percent of the pitchers in the Midwest League he started eight games for Cedar Rapids with a 3.19 ERA and 44/11 K/BB ratio in 37 innings, striking out 30 percent of the batters he faced while opponents hit .228 with one homer. Toss in his rookie-ball numbers and through two pro seasons Gonsalves has a combined 2.39 ERA with 109 strikeouts and two homers allowed in 94 innings.

His control still needs work and Gonsalves' off-speed pitches generally receive mediocre reviews, both of which may need to change for his success to continue against tougher competition if his fastball stays in the low-90s. He also needs to handle a full-season workload for the first time at age 20, so expectations should be held in check, but Gonsalves looks like a potential mid-rotation starter down the road if things go well.

11. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67
2014     AAA    18     18     2.84      98.1      75      4      94     39
         MLB    10      9     7.88      45.2      59      7      44     22

When the Twins acquired Trevor May from the Phillies along with Vance Worley in exchange for Ben Revere he was coming off an underwhelming 2012 season at Double-A. They had him repeat the level in 2013 with similarly mediocre results, but May moved up to Triple-A last year and took a big step forward. He posted a 2.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 98 innings, cut his walk rate by 15 percent, and allowed just four homers after previously struggling to limit long balls.

That earned May an August call-up to the majors, where everything unraveled. His debut was a mess, as he issued seven walks in two innings and 10 of 15 batters reached base. He continued to struggle for the next few starts and finished with a hideous 7.88 ERA, but May actually showed signs of progress down the stretch. He posted a strong 41/9 K/BB ratio in his final 37 innings, averaged 92 miles per hour with his fastball, and generated a solid number of swinging strikes.

There's no doubt that it was a sour first taste of the majors, but May at least showed glimpses of his potential to match the 18 good starts at Triple-A. He'll likely be a part of the Twins' rotation at some point in 2015 and if May can throw strikes he's capable of being a mid-rotation starter. At age 25 and with 400 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his leash may not be particularly long considering the Twins were so hesitant to promote him in the first place.


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March 25, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

15. 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
2013     A-     537     .253     .366     .416     15     43     68    125

Travis Harrison was selected by the Twins with the 50th pick in the 2011 draft as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent and signed away from USC for $1.05 million. Touted as one of the best bats in the high school class, Harrison had an impressive debut at rookie-ball and then showed some of his flaws last year while moving up to full-season competition, hitting just .253 while striking out 125 times in 129 games.

Combined with his rookie-ball showing Harrison has 176 strikeouts in 189 games, which is a red flag in the low minors. Beyond that his power has been somewhat underwhelming after being billed as elite coming out of high school, with 20 homers and a .161 Isolated Power in 790 total plate appearances. That's certainly not a lack of power, especially considering Harrison played last season at age 20, but given questions about his ability to stick at third base he needs to mash.

One bright spot is that Harrison drew 68 walks last season and also got plunked by 14 pitches, which suggest he should be able to get on base at a decent clip even if all the strikeouts keep his batting average modest. Ultimately much of his value depends on where he ends up defensively and how much power he can develop by the time he reaches Minnesota. So far he's shown enough to be an intriguing prospect, but the edges are still pretty rough.

14. Danny Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77
2013     AA     587     .297     .333     .386      2     34     24     94

Danny Santana is generally more highly thought of as a prospect than his performance in the minors would suggest based on the idea that athleticism, speed, and defense will eventually allow him to become a starting-caliber shortstop in the majors. At age 23 he still has an opportunity to develop further, but in the meantime he hasn't been all that impressive, making a lot of errors (for whatever that's worth) along with little power and awful strike zone control.

Last season he hit .297 at Double-A, but managed just two homers and 24 walks in 131 games on the way to a modest .333 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage. His numbers at high Single-A in 2012 were similar and combined during the past two seasons he totaled 10 homers in 1,134 plate appearances, struck out 171 times versus 53 walks, and was successful on just 66 percent of his steal attempts. Right now he projects as a sub par offensive player.

The good news is that Santana is still pretty young and the bar for offense at shortstop is very low, so even hitting, say, .275 with minimal power and a poor walk rate would make him a solid all-around player if his glove is a huge asset. If instead his defense at shortstop is merely decent, then his current offensive skill set leaves Santana looking like something less than a building block, even considering the Twins' longstanding inability to develop competent middle infielders.

13. Max Kepler | First Base | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43

When the Twins signed Max Kepler out of Germany for $800,000 in 2009 he oozed potential. At age 16 he was still growing into a 6-foot-4 frame and had uncommon athleticism along with the unique background of parents who met while performing in the ballet. He was seen as a potential center fielder long term and performed well in the low minors, but Kepler took a step backward last season and has lost a lot of upside as he's matured physically.

He played primarily first base at low Single-A last season, in part because of an elbow injury that delayed this 2013 debut and in part because he no longer has the speed to handle center field on a regular basis. Going from center field to first base or an outfield corner puts far more pressure on the development of Kepler's bat and he hit .237 with a high strikeout rate last year. However, he also showed solid power and patience with nine homers and 24 walks in 61 games.

Kepler is still just 21 years old and still has considerable potential, but his upside has shrunk dramatically. At this point he needs to stay healthy and put up some big numbers offensively to re-emerge as a top prospect, as he's yet to play more than 61 games in a season and yet to advance past low Single-A. If the power arrives Kepler could reach Double-A this year and work his way into the Twins' plans for 2015, but for now he's a question mark.

12. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11
2013     AA     22      0     2.22      24.1      21      0      30      8
         AAA    30      0     4.41      32.2      33      3      36      8
         MLB     9      0     0.79      11.1       9      0      10      3

Michael Tonkin was a 30th-round pick out of high school in 2008 and looked like a mediocre starter prospect in the low minors, but Jason Kubel's brother-in-law has emerged as a potential impact arm since switching to the bullpen full time in 2011. Tonkin stands 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s fastball and has racked up 242 strikeouts in 213 innings during the past three seasons, including an impressive nine-appearance debut with the Twins.

And unlike a lot of hard-throwing young arms Tonkin has also shown good control with a career walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings and just 19 walks in 68 innings last season while rising from Double-A to the majors as a 23-year-old. He's huge, he throws a very hard fastball-slider combo, he misses lots of bats, and he actually knows where the ball is going most of the time, which is the most reliable recipe for a good relief prospect.

Bullpen depth is one of the Twins' few strengths at this point, making it unclear how early Tonkin could be in the big-league relief mix this season, but he certainly looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential late-inning setup man for Glen Perkins. As a reliever in a stacked farm system Tonkin is often overlooked, but in terms of the ability to make an immediate impact few Twins prospects are better.

11. Lewis Thorpe | Starter | DOB: 12/95 | Throws: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      8     2.05      44.0      32      2      64      6

Investing baseball's most resources into scouting Australia has yet to pay huge dividends for the Twins, producing a handful of marginal big leaguers and Grant Balfour, who starred elsewhere. Lewis Thorpe has a chance to change that after signing for $500,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012 and dominating rookie-ball in his pro debut last season, posting a 2.05 ERA and 64/6 K/BB ratio in 44 innings against Gulf Coast League hitters.

At age 18 he works in the low-90s and tops out in the mid-90s, complementing his fastball with a changeup that draws praise, and the extent to which he sliced up opponents last season suggests he's ready to skip a level of rookie-ball and go directly to low Single-A. Thorpe is the youngest of my top 20 prospects and if you want to feel really old consider that he was born six months after the Twins drafted Doug Mientkiewicz, so he's a long way from the big leagues.

In terms of long-term upside, however, few prospects in the Twins' farm system can compete with the 6-foot-2 left-hander and he has more polish than most rookie-ball pitchers. His place on this list reflects how I'm generally conservative when it comes to rankings prospects--and particularly pitchers--who've yet to face full-season competition, but Thorpe has cracked some prominent MLB-wide top-100 lists.

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