July 2, 2014

What does Jorge Polanco’s early Twins debut mean for his future?

Jorge Polanco Twins debut

Jorge Polanco's first stint in the big leagues was a brief one and came in something resembling an emergency situation, as the Twins needed infield help and decided to promote a 20-year-old from Single-A rather than make changes to the 40-man roster for a more experienced call-up. In getting five at-bats before a return to the low minors Polanco became just the second Twins player in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014 to make his MLB debut before age 21.

Joe Mauer is the youngest player to debut under Gardenhire at 20 years and 352 days when he was the Opening Day catcher in 2004, followed by Polanco at 20 years and 356 days last week. Francisco Liriano is the youngest pitcher to debut under Gardenhire at 21 years and 314 days when he appeared as a reliever in September of 2005. In all, 14 players have made their MLB debuts for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire. Here's the complete list:

                   YEAR     AGE
Joe Mauer          2004     20.352
Jorge Polanco      2014     20.356
Francisco Liriano  2005     21.314
Oswaldo Arcia      2013     21.341
Justin Morneau     2003     22.026
Alexi Casilla      2006     22.043
Jason Kubel        2004     22.098
Ben Revere         2010     22.127
Rob Bowen          2003     22.189
J.D. Durbin        2004     22.197
Liam Hendriks      2011     22.208
Alex Burnett       2010     22.256
Matt Garza         2006     22.258
Wilson Ramos       2010     22.265

Sort of a mixed bag. Mauer, Liriano, Oswaldo Arcia, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Matt Garza, and Wilson Ramos were all stud prospects on fairly natural, quick paths to the majors, but then there are non-prospects like Rob Bowen and marginal prospects like Alex Burnett who found themselves thrust into the majors to fill short-term roster needs. Polanco falls somewhere in between as a very good but not elite prospect promoted to the majors way ahead of schedule.

Much like Polanco, many of those 14 players listed above had short stints with the Twins as their MLB debuts and quickly headed back to the minors. In fact, even going beyond the debut-making Twins and looking instead at all Twins, the only players to receive regular playing time (more than 300 plate appearances) for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire are Mauer, Liriano, Arcia, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Luis Rivas.

So in 13 seasons under Gardenhire the Twins, who pride themselves on developing homegrown young talent, have given regular playing time to a grand total of six players before age 23. To put that in some context, consider that across baseball during that same period a total of 107 hitters and 130 pitchers logged at least 300 plate appearances before age 23, which works out to an average of 8.5 for each of the other 29 teams.

That shouldn't come as a shock, because the Twins are known for delaying the arrival of certain prospects and studies show that their overall promotion timetables are among baseball's slowest. Whether that's driven mostly by their chosen development philosophy or financial/service time considerations is up for debate--and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will hopefully put it to the test in 2015--but whatever the case they don't hand over the keys to many very young players.

All of which is why the decision to promote Polanco from Single-A to the majors for a days-long bench role at age 20 was uncharacteristic for the Twins and why he may not make it back to the big leagues as a regular for quite a while despite the rushed debut. He is, however, a very good prospect who ranked eighth on my annual list of Twins prospects coming into the season and whose stock has risen even further since then.

Polanco signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2010 and if not for being in the same international prospect class that saw the Twins snag Sano for $3.15 million his $775,000 bonus would have garnered a lot more attention. He didn't hit much in his first two seasons, but Polanco broke out as an 18-year-old at rookie-level Elizabethton in 2012 and has been putting up impressive numbers since.

Polanco lacks power, but he's not completely without pop and currently projects as a potential top-of-the-order hitter thanks to a high contact rate, good batting averages, and increasingly solid patience at the plate. Last season at low Single-A he batted .308 with 47 extra-base hits and 42 walks versus 59 strikeouts in 115 games, and this season at high Single-A he's batted .292 with 21 extra-base hits and 36 walks versus 42 strikeouts in 74 games.

Defensively he split last season between shortstop and second base, but this season Polanco has played exclusively shortstop. His error total there hasn't been pretty and his odds of sticking at shortstop long term seem low, but it's a relatively positive sign that the Twins haven't moved him to second base full time yet. Or at least it's a relatively strong indication that he has a chance to be a very good defensive second baseman if he does move eventually.

It's worth noting that the Twins already have a very good all-around second baseman in Brian Dozier. In fact, during the past calendar year Dozier has been one of the three or four best second baseman in all of baseball, combining good defense with 20-homer power and 20-steal speed. But come, say, 2017, when Dozier is 30 years old and Polanco is 23 years old, the Twins might be ready for a change at the position.


For a lot more about Polanco's debut and his long-term outlook, plus talk of which other Twins prospects could be called up soon, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

March 28, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

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

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1
2013     A-     19     19     3.99     103.2     105      6     100     40

Selected out of a Puerto Rico high school 30 picks after Byron Buxton in the 2012 draft, Jose Berrios had a great rookie-ball debut and then made the jump to full-season competition last year at low Single-A. While his 3.99 ERA and .265 opponents' batting average were unimpressive, Berrios struck out 100 batters in 104 innings and allowed just six homers while being one of only eight teenagers in the Midwest League to log at least 100 innings.

Obviously it would be ideal to see Berrios overpowering hitters in the low minors, but missing plenty of bats and holding his own overall as a teenager is a very good sign. Berrios throws hard and receives praise for his off-speed stuff, but like most 19-year-olds his control needs work and one potential red flag is that he's been a fly-ball pitcher. That tendency usually gets more extreme further up the organizational ladder, so it'll be something to keep an eye on.

Berrios is a slight 6-foot-1 and so far the Twins have been cautious with his workload by limiting his starts in-season and convincing him to skip winter ball, but he'll likely be given a longer leash this year at high Single-A. He tends to get lost in the shuffle of what has become a stacked deck of Twins prospects, but in some recent years Berrios would have been the team's top pitching prospect and his long-term upside is substantial.

4. Kohl Stewart | Starter | DOB: 10/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     6      3     1.69      16.0      12      0      16      3
         RK+     1      1     0.00       4.0       1      0       8      1

From 2005-2012 the Twins used a top-50 draft pick on seven college pitchers compared to just one high school pitcher, but they bucked that trend in a big way last year by picking 18-year-old Texas right-hander Kohl Stewart fourth overall. Considered the top high school talent in the draft class that saw college stars go 1-2-3, Stewart dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut with a 1.35 ERA and 24/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings.

Not only did Stewart have video game-like numbers as a senior with a 0.18 ERA in eight starts, he was a two-sport star and ESPN ranked him as the sixth-best prep quarterback in the country. He committed to play football at Texas A&M, but Stewart signed for $4.5 million instead of trying to replace Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. He throws a mid-90s fastball, but both ESPN and Baseball America peg Stewart's slider as his best pitch.

Across baseball during the past decade using top-five picks on high school pitchers has proven to be a terrible investment, but the Twins taking such an uncharacteristic gamble suggests they truly believe Stewart is a special prospect. On draft day scouting director Deron Johnson described Stewart's ceiling as "unlimited" and given their recent inability to develop front-line starters the high-risk, high-reward approach makes sense.

3. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11
2013     AA     13     13     3.21      70.0      60      3      84     29

Despite being 23 years old Alex Meyer had yet to pitch above Single-A when the Twins acquired him from the Nationals for Denard Span last offseason, but he made the jump to Double-A last season and posted a 3.21 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a .227 opponents' batting average. Unfortunately a shoulder injury limited Meyer to 13 starts and 70 innings, but he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and threw 28 strong innings.

Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Kentucky and the right-hander has the raw stuff to match his 6-foot-9 frame, throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and complementing it with a hard curveball and useful changeup. Last season among all Eastern League pitchers with at least a dozen starts Meyer ranked second in strikeout rate and sixth in ERA while actually faring better versus lefties than righties.

He induces a ton of ground balls and has allowed a grand total of just nine homers in 207 innings, but not surprisingly for a huge pitcher who throws extremely hard Meyer's control is pretty shaky. If things go well for Meyer this season he could be in Minnesota by the All-Star break and he has the potential to be the first top-of-the-rotation starter the Twins have had since Johan Santana, but first he'll need to stay healthy and shut down Triple-A hitters.

2. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144
2013     A+     243     .330     .424     .655     16     33     29     61
         AA     276     .236     .344     .571     19     37     36     81

Miguel Sano crushed high Single-A pitching to begin last season, hitting .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he continued to show huge power with 19 homers in 67 games but saw his batting average drop nearly 100 points. And yet even while hitting just .236 there only seven Eastern League hitters had a higher OPS than Sano and he was one of only four 20-and-under position players in the entire league.

Overall he hit .280/.382/.610 with 35 homers, 70 total extra-base hits, and 65 walks. He even swiped 11 bases to show that he's got some wheels at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. And then just as Sano was on the verge of the majors, perhaps even having a slight chance to win an Opening Day job, he had elbow problems while playing winter ball. Rest and rehab worked, but only briefly, and after a setback early in spring training he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery.

Even before the elbow injury Sano was questionable to stick at third base long term, but the vast majority of his value will come from his bat no matter where he is defensively. Missing a year of development at age 21 is unfortunate, especially since Sano's high strikeout rate is an area that could use improvement, but he may get some late-season at-bats as a designated hitter. His timetable has been delayed and his picture is a little blurrier, but Sano remains a stud.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15
2013     A-     321     .341     .431     .559      8     33     44     56
         A+     253     .326     .415     .472      4     16     32     49

Considered the highest-upside prospect in the 2012 draft class, Byron Buxton fell to the Twins with the No. 2 pick when the Astros chose high school shortstop Carlos Correa instead. At the time there were questions about whether Buxton was ready to thrive as a pro after facing sub par competition as a Georgia high schooler, but he made those disappear almost immediately and two years later he's the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

Buxton hit .341 in 68 games at low Single-A and batted .326 in 57 games following a promotion to high Single-A, where he was the only teenage hitter in the entire Florida State League. Overall as a 19-year-old in his first full season he batted .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits, 55 steals, and 76 walks in 125 games, which would be incredible for, say, a plodding first baseman. Buxton is a potential Gold Glove-caliber center fielder with truly elite speed and athleticism. He's a freak.

His high walk rate and reasonable strikeout rate were particularly encouraging to see, because it's tough to predict how well raw high school hitters will control the strike zone. Single-A is still just Single-A and he needs to prove himself against advanced competition, but Buxton's combination of age, tools, skill set, and production is nearly flawless to this point. As long as a spring training wrist injury proves relatively minor he has a shot to debut for the Twins before his 21st birthday.

March 27, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

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

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    10      0     4.60      15.2      13      0      13     12

As a college starter with three seasons of major conference experience LSU right-hander Ryan Eades was a prototypical Twins target in the second round of June's draft and he's the eighth college pitcher they've selected with a top-50 pick since 2005. Eades missed his senior season of high school following shoulder surgery, but was injury free at LSU and led the team in starts last season.

However, fading down the stretch in 2012 and 2013 put his durability in some question and Eades struggled in his pro debut with 12 walks in 16 innings at rookie-ball. Even after a late-season fade Eades finished with a 2.81 ERA for one of the country's best college teams, but a .269 opponents' batting average and 77 strikeouts in 96 innings were underwhelming. And that modest strikeout rate is actually an improvement over 2012, when Eades struck out just 63 in 94 innings.

Combined during his final two years Eades averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which paled in comparison to LSU's aces Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola. Eades obviously isn't on the same level as Gausman and Nola or he wouldn't have been available at No. 43, but the point is that his raw stuff has yet to turn into strikeouts. With that said, it's good raw stuff. Baseball America rated him 37th in the draft class, noting that Eades "looks the part of a frontline starter."

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A+     27     27     3.63     151.1     121      8     208     67
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67

Acquired from the Phillies last winter in the Ben Revere trade, Trevor May repeated Double-A as a 23-year-old and showed little improvement across the board. He posted a 4.51 ERA compared to the Eastern League average of 4.01, cut his walk rate only marginally to a still-awful 4.0 per nine innings, and induced fewer ground balls than his first go-around to signal that a dip in home runs allowed may not be as encouraging as it first appears.

The good news is that the 6-foot-5 right-hander still throws very hard and still misses plenty of bats, striking out 9.4 per nine innings after whiffing 9.1 per nine innings in 2012. Those strikeout rates are good rather than great and can't compare to May's eye-popping strikeout totals in the low minors, but clearly the former fourth-round pick still has some upside. However, he's no longer considered a high-end prospect after cracking Baseball America's top-100 list for 2012.

At the time of the trade there were rumblings about May being destined for relief work long term and the lack of progress he's made, particularly with his control, have raised the volume on those concerns. He likely needs to show considerable progress at Triple-A this year or risk being shifted to the bullpen, although certainly May could eventually still make a big impact as a late-inning reliever with a mid-90s fastball.

8. Jorge Polanco | Second Base | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26
2013     A-     523     .308     .362     .452      5     47     42     59

Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $775,000 as a 16-year-old the same year the Twins added Miguel Sano and Max Kepler as big-dollar international prospects, Jorge Polanco has likely outgrown shortstop and become a good defensive second baseman with a potentially very strong bat for the position. Polanco showed a ton of improvement at rookie-ball in 2012 and then transitioned to full-season competition last year by thriving at low Single-A as a 19-year-old.

Polanco hit .308 with just 59 strikeouts in 523 plate appearances, drew a decent number of walks, and smacked 47 extra-base hits, all while being one of only nine teenagers in the entire Midwest League to play at least 100 games. As a switch-hitter he fared equally well versus righties and lefties while posting an OPS above .765 in all five months of the season and managers voted him the best defensive second baseman in the league.

He'll likely play most and perhaps all of this season as a 20-year-old at high Single-A. To put that in some context, consider that no one under 21 logged 500 plate appearances in the Florida State League last season and only three logged more than 400. Simply holding his own in the FSL would be an accomplishment and if Polanco produces in 2014 like he did in 2013 he'll be near the top of this list next spring.

7. Josmil Pinto | Catcher | DOB: 3/89 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A+     236     .262     .305     .389      5     17     12     36
2012     A+     393     .295     .361     .473     12     36     39     63
         AA      52     .298     .365     .553      2      7      4     10
2013     AA     453     .308     .411     .482     14     38     64     71
        AAA      75     .314     .333     .486      1     10      2     12
        MLB      83     .342     .398     .566      4      9      6     22

Well, we know Josmil Pinto can hit. Last season he followed up a strong 2012 between high Single-A and Double-A by hitting .308/.411/.482 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in 107 games at Double-A, batting .314 with 10 extra-base hits in a 19-game Triple-A stint, and making his Twins debut by hitting .342/.398/.566 in 21 games as a September call-up. Add it all up and Pinto batted .314 with 19 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 147 games as a 24-year-old.

And yet there are questions about how he fits into the long-term plans because his defense behind the plate has always received mixed reviews and the Twins thought so little of his ability to catch in the majors this season that they signed Kurt Suzuki to be the starter despite his not cracking a .700 OPS since 2009. As a poor but passable catcher Pinto has enough bat to be an impact player, but as a designated hitter his bat would be nothing special unless he adds more power.

Last season MLB catchers hit .245/.310/.388 for a .688 OPS that was the second-worst from any position behind only shortstop. By comparison DHs posted a .725 OPS that was either ahead or within 10 points of every position except first base and right field. Beyond that, on the Twins his long-term path would be relatively clear at catcher, whereas there are always plenty of DH options and specifically Miguel Sano or Oswaldo Arcia may wind up as preferred choices there.

6. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60
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

Eddie Rosario had a very nice 2013, beginning the year by crushing high Single-A pitching and finishing it by holding his own at Double-A as a 21-year-old, but then he began 2014 by receiving a 50-game suspension for a "drug of abuse." Under the terms of the minor league drug agreement that means he previously tested positive without getting a suspension and then continued to use the drug, which is perhaps more troubling behavior than the drug use itself.

On the field Rosario did what he's done since the Twins made him their fourth-round draft pick out of Puerto Rico in 2010, hitting for a high batting average with gap power and poor plate discipline. He also spent the entire season at second base after beginning the transition from outfielder to infielder in 2012, but there are questions about his ability to be a serviceable defender there in the majors and his offensive skill set would look somewhat marginal for a corner outfielder.

Rosario is a career .307 hitter, including at least .290 in all four seasons, but he's totaled just 22 homers in 217 games above rookie-ball while walking just 69 times compared to 165 strikeouts. That includes a 67/21 K/BB ratio in 70 games at Double-A, although in fairness he was one of only nine 21-and-under hitters in the Eastern League. Still, it doesn't look like he'll produce a ton of homers or walks, which is a profile that typically doesn't equal a big impact in an outfield corner.

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.

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.

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