February 27, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Also in this series: 1-5, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

10. Eddie Rosario | Center Field | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     A-     429     .296     .345     .490     12     48     31     69
2013     A+     231     .329     .377     .527      6     24     17     29
         AA     313     .284     .330     .412      4     26     21     67
2014     A+      34     .300     .382     .300      0      0      4      5
         AA     336     .237     .277     .396      8     31     17     68

After a strong 2013 it took less than one week for things to get ugly for Eddie Rosario in 2014. In early January he was suspended 50 games for a second positive marijuana test, causing him to sit out until late May. When he returned the Twins demoted him back to high Single-A despite his playing 70 games at Double-A the previous season. And then when a promotion pushed him up to Double-A again in June he hit .237/.277/.396 with an ugly 68/17 K/BB ratio in 79 games there.

Oh, and after two years trying to convert him to second base the Twins basically gave up on that project and played Rosario mostly in the outfield. Because of his limited center field defense and Byron Buxton's presence he's never going to be the Twins' long-term starter there, which means Rosario will have to put his plus speed to good use in a corner spot and prove that his bat can be an asset in a place often home to sluggers.

So far he hasn't done that, hitting .260/.302/.403 with 12 homers and a 135/38 K/BB ratio in 149 games at Double-A. Rosario is still just 23 years old, so there's time for his power and/or plate discipline to develop further, but right now his offensive game revolves around batting average. Starting strong could get Rosario called up to the Twins by midseason and the good news is that being added to the 40-man roster means he's no longer subject to testing for marijuana usage.

9. Nick Burdi | Reliever | DOB: 1/93 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     A-     13      0     4.15      13.0       8      0      26      8
         A+      7      0     0.00       7.1       5      0      12      2

In recent years the Twins have gone very heavy on drafting hard-throwing college relievers and the returns have been underwhelming so far. That could change with Nick Burdi, their hardest-throwing college reliever yet. His college numbers at Louisville were video game-level ridiculous, with a 0.62 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 73 innings for 2013/2014, and Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report unequivocally called him "the hardest thrower in college baseball."

He was originally drafted by the Twins in the 24th round out of high school and they picked him again last year, this time 46th overall. He signed for $1.2 million and skipped rookie-ball, starting his pro career at low Single-A and quickly moving up to high Single-A. Between the two levels the 6-foot-5 right-hander racked up an incredible 38 strikeouts in 20 innings while regularly cracking 100 miles per hour. His low-90s slider (yes, low-90s slider) is considered a plus pitch too.

College relievers in other organizations tend to move quickly through the minors and while the Twins in general tend to hold back their draft picks Burdi making it to Fort Myers already is a sign they have him on the fast track. As you might expect from a triple-digit thrower his control needs a lot of work, but his walk rate is merely bad and not disastrous. Burdi could be the first pitcher to truly usher the Twins into the modern era of high-velocity arms and he could do it in 2015.

8. 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
2014     A-     16     16     3.52      71.2      62      7      80     36

Lewis Thorpe was signed out of Australia by the Twins for $500,000 as a 16-year-old and one year later he dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut, racking up 64 strikeouts versus six walks in 44 innings. Convinced he was ready for full-season competition, the Twins had Thorpe skip advanced rookie-ball and sent him to low Single-A as an 18-year-old. Not surprisingly he got off to a rough start, allowing 13 runs in his first 18 innings.

Thorpe turned things around quickly and finished the season with a 12-start stretch in which he posted a 2.52 ERA and 73/26 K/BB ratio in 54 innings while holding opponents to a .213 batting average. Those great numbers become spectacular numbers when you consider he was the only 18-year-old in the entire Midwest League to throw at least 70 innings and the average age of the hitters he faced was 22.

Things came to a screeching halt in September when Thorpe was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which can often lead to Tommy John surgery. He skipped pitching winter ball in Australia and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but given the Twins' recent history with such things it's hard not to be pessimistic. If healthy Thorpe has top-of-the-rotation upside and his performance at such a young age really stands out.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26
2013     A-     523     .308     .362     .452      5     47     42     59
2014     A+     432     .291     .364     .415      6     29     46     60
         AA     157     .281     .323     .342      1      7      9     28

When the Twins needed emergency infield depth they surprisingly called up Jorge Polanco from Single-A one week before his 21st birthday, making him the youngest position player to debut for the team since Joe Mauer in 2004 and just the second to do so before turning 21 since 1980. He ended up starting just one game for the Twins, spending most of the season at Single-A before moving up to Double-A for the final six weeks.

Polanco did his usual thing in Fort Myers, hitting for a strong batting average and modest power while controlling the strike zone. He hit .281 following the promotion to Double-A, but it came with very little power and a poor 28/9 K/BB ratio in 37 games. He was one of the youngest players in the Eastern League, so simply holding his own for New Britain was an accomplishment. Polanco also resumed playing mostly shortstop after playing more second base than shortstop in 2013.

His raw numbers aren't eye-popping, but Polanco has moved quickly through the system while faring well and moving him back to shortstop is a positive long-term sign for his defensive value regardless of which position he ends up calling home. He projects as a solid player on both sides of the ball and that hasn't been said about many Twins middle infield prospects for a long time. Despite his early debut Polanco may not factor into the Twins' plans until 2016.

6. 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

For the third time in three years the Twins had a top-five pick and used it on a high school player, taking Florida shortstop Nick Gordon. His father, Tom Gordon, was a three-time All-Star pitcher with 21 seasons in the majors and his brother, Dee Gordon, led the majors in stolen bases last season and is currently the Marlins' starting second baseman. Nick Gordon signed for $3.85 million as the fifth overall pick and made his pro debut in advanced rookie-ball.

He got off to a fast start and then cooled down, finishing at .294/.333/.366 with one homer in 57 games. His lack of power was expected, although Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report was convinced his swing has the potential to develop more pop. Gordon was raw at the plate, striking out 45 times compared to 11 walks, and he was successful on just 11 of 18 steal attempts while showing speed that's several notches below his brother.

By drafting Gordon at No. 5 despite a lack of big-time offensive upside the Twins clearly think he has a chance to be a plus defensive shortstop with a solid bat, which is a tough combo to find as Twins fans know all too well. However, outside the organization opinions on his long-term ability to play shortstop seem mixed and as a second baseman Gordon's skill set is far less promising. Last time the Twins used a top-10 pick on a high school shortstop: Michael Cuddyer in 1997.


For a lengthy discussion of the Twins' top 10 prospects, including all five players listed above, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

July 9, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco, Buxton, Sano, Gordon, Parmelee, and Dozier

ricky nolasco and ron gardenhire

• In signing Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins touted his durability as a major selling point, as the 31-year-old right-hander had started at least 30 games and logged at least 185 innings in five of the previous six seasons. Now, just four months into his Twins career and with an ugly 5.90 ERA in 18 starts, Nolasco has been shut down with elbow soreness that he's apparently been pitching through since spring training.

If everyone involved is to be believed that news came as a surprise to the Twins, which means either Nolasco went out of his way to hide the injury from trainers and coaches or those same trainers and coaches went out of their way not to investigate his season-long struggles. Or maybe a mixture of both. Certainly if he was hiding the elbow injury that has to be very frustrating for the Twins and Nolasco is absolutely at fault.

However, it's also worth noting that the Twins--from the front office to manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff--have created and repeatedly fed into a culture in which acting like a tough guy and playing through pain is considered noble rather than stupid or irresponsible. Even in discussing how Nolasco hid the injury from the team Gardenhire almost couldn't help acting as if there was something positive about the so-called "old school" approach taken by the pitcher.

Meanwhile, seemingly every season one or two key players try to tough their way through injuries with disastrous results and no one ever seems to learn a lesson from it. Who knows whether that played a role in Nolasco pitching through pain, but it certainly didn't play a role in convincing him to do otherwise. When can we end this outdated, shortsighted approach of letting hugely valuable athletes risk their short- and long-term health and productivity in the name of being tough guys?

If you're a player and you're hurt, tell someone in charge. And if you're someone in charge and a player tells you he's hurt, don't let him continue playing. As simple as those two directives sound, they've been sadly lacking for the Twins in recent years. This time around it led to their trotting out an injured pitcher for 18 horrible starts and putting at risk a $48 million investment. If that's "old school" then everyone flunked out.

• Worst single-season adjusted ERA+ in Twins history among pitchers with 100 or more innings:

68 - Jim Deshaies, 1994
66 - Ricky Nolasco, 2014
71 - Boof Bonser, 2008
72 - Ray Corbin, 1974
72 - Joe Mays, 2003
72 - Jim Hughes, 1976

Helluva list.

• MLB starting pitchers have a combined 3.90 ERA. Twins starters have the following ERAs:

3.70 - Phil Hughes
4.17 - Kyle Gibson
4.79 - Kevin Correia
4.98 - Yohan Pino
5.90 - Ricky Nolasco
6.52 - Sam Deduno
7.99 - Mike Pelfrey

As a group Twins starting pitchers rank 29th among MLB teams in ERA, ahead of only the Coors Field-inflated Rockies. Last season they ranked 30th in ERA and in 2012 they ranked 29th in ERA, also ahead of only Colorado.

Byron Buxton finally returned from a wrist injury after sitting out the first three-plus months of the season and despite all the missed time Baseball America's midseason update still ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. Miguel Sano also ranked No. 9 even though the Twins just announced that he'll miss the entire season following elbow surgery and pitchers Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer also cracked Baseball America's updated top 40.

• Meyer looks to be back on track at Triple-A after some struggles last month. He struck out 10 last night and has a 2.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over his last three starts.

• No. 5 overall draft pick Nick Gordon has hit .359/.408/.500 with five extra-base hits and four stolen bases through his first 15 pro games for rookie-level Elizabethon.

Chris Parmelee is 26 years old and has batted .235 with a .299 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage in 677 plate appearances since his big September debut, so it's probably time to stop getting excited whenever he has a decent week.

• His batting average isn't pretty, but Brian Dozier's current 112 adjusted OPS+ is the best by a Twins middle infielder since Todd Walker in 1998 and Chuck Knoblauch in 1994-1996.

• He's a deserving All-Star, but it's odd to hear Kurt Suzuki endlessly praised for "handling" a pitching staff that ranks 28th in ERA, especially when pitch-framing stats show him as poor.

• This offseason the Twins were believed to be deciding between Suzuki and John Buck as their veteran catcher addition. Buck hit .226/.293/.286 for the Mariners and just got released.

• I looked this up after watching him leg out a single Monday evening: Kendrys Morales has 48 career infield hits, including at least 10 in three different years. Imagine that.

Eduardo Escobar was hitting .314/.357/.473 on June 15. Since then he's 9-for-66 (.136) with 17 strikeouts and 2 walks. Track records: Trust 'em.

Hisashi Iwakuma owns the Twins, with a 5-0 record and 0.00 ERA in five starts against them.

Vance Worley has a 2.28 ERA and 18/5 K/BB ratio in four starts for the Pirates, who think they've fixed whatever ailed him with the Twins last season.

Pat Neshek, who has a 2.39 ERA since being waived by the Twins in 2011, made his first All-Star team at age 33.

Lew Ford, now 37 years old, is hitting .372 with a .445 on-base percentage and .568 slugging percentage in the independent Atlantic League. And he's the team's hitting coach too.

• One-time Twins minor leaguer Yangervis Solarte turned back into a pumpkin after a big April and May for the Yankees.


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