February 6, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

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

35. J.R. Graham | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A+     17     17     2.63     102.2      88      6      68     17
         AA      9      9     3.18      45.1      35      2      42     17
2013     AA      8      8     4.04      35.2      39      0      28     10
2014     AA     27     19     5.55      71.1      79      2      50     26

Selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft, J.R. Graham is a one-time top prospect whose career has been derailed by shoulder problems. Graham was the Braves' fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Santa Clara and moved quickly through their system, advancing to Double-A in his second pro season. He fared well there at age 22 and that offseason Baseball America ranked Graham as a top-100 prospect, praising his mid-90s fastball and ability to generate ground balls.

However, the diminutive right-hander broke down in 2013, making just eight starts, and last year Graham posted a 5.55 ERA while being limited to 71 innings back at Double-A due to more arm issues. Once on the fast track, Graham is now 25 years old and has yet to advance past Double-A, spending three years there with increasingly poor results. His fastball has dipped into the low-90s and the Braves thought so little of Graham's upside that they left him off the 40-man roster.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors for the entire season or be offered back to their original team. Graham has been a starter throughout his career, but shifted to the bullpen last year and could be stashed by the Twins in a middle relief role pretty easily. They did that with Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly in 2013, giving him 49 low-leverage appearances, and shifting to the bullpen full time could help Graham stay healthy too.

34. 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
2014     A-     26     25     5.14     133.0     147     11      98     50

Ryan Eades was the Twins' second-round draft pick in 2013, selected 43rd overall, and the right-hander from LSU signed for $1.3 million. Yet from the moment he was drafted no one seemed to think much of Eades as a prospect. Quotes about him from team employees were tepid, Baseball America didn't include him in their annual top-10 Twins prospects list which often includes top-50 picks from the previous year, and in general he seemed like an afterthought.

It was odd, because Eades was widely viewed as a top-50 talent within the 2013 draft class and while second-round picks are far from guaranteed to succeed teams don't generally throw them away on players they view as marginal prospects. But sure enough he struggled last year in his full-season pro debut, posting a 5.14 ERA in 133 innings as a 22-year-old at low Single-A facing younger, less experienced competition.

Eades struck out just 6.6 batters per nine innings with poor control and allowed opponents to hit .285 with an .800 OPS against him in a pitcher-friendly league where the average OPS was below .700. Less than two years ago Baseball America wrote that Eades "looked the part of a front-line starter" and the cost for the Twins to acquire him was a top-50 draft pick and $1.3 million, but 150 innings later he looks in danger of being a completely wasted selection.

33. Tanner English | Center Field | DOB: 3/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2014-11

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     RK+    141     .316     .439     .474      3     10     18     27

Tanner English didn't hit much in college, batting .289 with two homers in three years at South Carolina, but the Twins liked his defense, speed, and athleticism enough to draft him in the 11th round. And then he batted .316/.439/.474 in his pro debut at rookie-level Elizabethton, surpassing his 185-game college total with three homers in 32 games and also showing more plate discipline than he displayed against SEC pitching.

College players thriving in rookie-ball isn't really noteworthy, but in this case it stands out a little more than usual because English is good enough defensively in center field that he could make it to the big leagues without hitting much. In their pre-draft scouting report Baseball America called English "one of the better athletes in the college game" and noted that "some evaluators think he could handle center field in the big leagues right now."

English has elite center field range with a very strong arm, and between college and rookie-ball he stole 26 bases in 94 games while being caught just four times last season. If he hits even a little bit English will be a major leaguer, so rookie-ball or not his early showing was worth getting excited about. We should have a much better idea of his overall prospect status after he faces full-season competition for the first time at Single-A this year.

32. Sam Clay | Reliever | DOB: 7/93 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2014-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+    19      0     5.59      29.0      35      0      44     17

As has become their custom of late the Twins went heavy on college relievers in last year's draft, including Georgia Tech sophomore Sam Clay in the fourth round. Clay had a sparkling 1.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57 innings as a college closer, but the lefty walked 4.6 per nine innings after being a mess as a freshman. He averaged nearly two innings per relief appearance and Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that he "could move into the rotation as a pro."

Clay stayed in the bullpen after signing with the Twins for $400,000 and was awful early on for rookie-level Elizabethton, but finished his pro debut with 16 straight scoreless innings. Even that great stretch lowered his overall ERA to a still-ugly 5.59 and Clay walked 17 batters and uncorked 10 wild pitches in 29 innings while allowing opponents to hit .285. College closers aren't supposed to pitch like that against rookie-ball hitters.

On the other hand, the 16-inning scoreless streak suggests the coaching staff got Clay to address some mechanical issues and within the overall problems he whiffed 44 of the 144 batters he faced for an average of 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Clay also allowed zero home runs, so he was hardly being knocked around. He works in the low-90s with his fastball and his curveball gets the most positive reviews. If they can get him to throw strikes the Twins might have something here.

31. Tyler Duffey | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    12      0     1.42      19.0      10      1      27      2
2013     A-      9      9     2.78      58.1      49      5      47      6
         A+     15      9     4.45      62.2      67      3      44     17
2014     A+      4      4     2.82      22.1      22      0      13      5
         AA     18     18     3.80     111.1     104     14      84     19
         AAA     3      3     3.94      16.0      16      3      16      6

Rice University had co-closers in 2012 and the Twins drafted both of them, taking J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Chargois stayed in the bullpen and is currently making his way back from Tommy John elbow surgery, whereas Duffey shifted to the rotation and reached Triple-A last season at age 23. He pitched for Fort Myers, New Britain, and Rochester last year, making 25 total starts with a 13-3 record and 3.68 ERA.

Duffey has shown excellent control as a pro, walking just 1.7 batters per nine innings, but he's struggled to generate strikeouts. In fact, he barely has more strikeouts (196) in 259 innings as a pro starter than he had (189) in 153 innings as a college reliever. Duffey shut down right-handed hitters last season, but allowed an OPS that was 200 points higher versus lefties, suggesting that his off-speed stuff needs some work.

Duffey's low-90s fastball also limits his upside, but the Twins certainly value starters who pound the strike zone with mediocre raw stuff and occasionally those guys have decent runs of success. Going heavy on college relievers in the 2012 draft with plans to turn them into pro starters has been a bust for the Twins thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, but Duffey has stayed healthy and shown the potential to contribute in the back of a rotation.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

February 4, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

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

40. A.J. Achter | Reliever | DOB: 8/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-46

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18      1     2.48      40.0      33      5      49     12
         A+     19      0     0.79      34.1      21      0      37      3
2013     AA     25      0     2.21      36.2      28      3      36     19
         AAA    16      0     3.04      23.2      17      4      20     14
2014     AAA    40      0     2.38      72.0      44      4      69     24

A.J. Achter was a 46th-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2010 and posted a 4.52 ERA in 2011 as a starter at low Single-A, but he shifted to the bullpen in 2012 and has a combined 2.10 ERA in 213 innings as a reliever since then. That includes a 2.17 ERA and 80/25 K/BB ratio in 79 innings last season, mostly at Triple-A, which was enough to get him added to the 40-man roster as a September call-up.

However, his shiny ERAs come with good but not exceptional strikeout rates and Achter's control is mediocre. He's done an amazing job limiting hits, including a .173 opponents' batting average last season, but that was driven by an unsustainably great .228 batting average on balls in play. Toss in underwhelming velocity and his odds of sticking in the big leagues don't seem particularly good, but at age 26 he warrants a "why not?" look.

Achter got into seven games for the Twins as a reliever and posted another nice-looking 3.27 ERA, but he managed just five strikeouts in 11 innings, opponents hit .304/.347/.522 off him, and his average fastball clocked in at 90.2 miles per hour. Middle relief is Achter's upside and the Twins' bullpen depth chart is pretty crowded, but the fact that they kept him on the 40-man roster all offseason suggests they're interested in giving him another shot at some point.

39. Logan Darnell | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     28     28     5.08     156.0     193     22      98     47
2013     AA     15     15     2.61      96.2      96      4      77     23
        AAA     12     11     4.26      57.0      63      5      43     22
2014    AAA     23     19     3.60     115.0     108     16      90     49
        MLB      7      4     7.13      24.0      31      5      22      8

A solid 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A got Logan Darnell added to the 40-man roster, but the 2010 sixth-round pick spent most of last year back at Triple-A and managed just 90 strikeouts in 115 innings while walking 3.8 batters per nine frames. That poor strikeout rate matches his high-80s fastball velocity and Darnell has an underwhelming 3.81 ERA and 133/71 K/BB ratio in 172 career innings at Triple-A.

He also got knocked around in his first taste of the majors, allowing 20 runs in 24 innings for the Twins at age 25. Given his sub par velocity, mediocre control, and inability to hold right-handed hitters in check it's hard to imagine Darnell having sustained success as a starter in the majors, but the left-hander could find a home in the bullpen as a southpaw specialist. Of course, that role is such that the same can be said for nearly every decent lefty in the minors.

In the minors during the past two seasons Darnell held lefties to a combined .228 batting average and 74/18 K/BB ratio, whereas righties batted .285 off him over that same span. Regardless of the role Darnell is behind a lot of names on the Twins' pitching depth chart heading into 2015 and seems like a candidate to be removed from the 40-man roster if space is needed early, but if given a chance he could carve out a useful niche in middle relief.

38. Levi Michael | Second Base | DOB: 2/91 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     A+     512     .246     .339     .311      2     20     56     82
2013     A+     375     .229     .331     .340      4     23     49     67
2014     A+     201     .305     .375     .395      1     12     19     25
         AA      63     .340     .444     .358      0      1      7     11

Levi Michael was billed as being close to MLB-ready when the Twins drafted the North Carolina shortstop in the first round in 2011 and the pick made sense for a team that had long struggled to develop capable middle infielders. They showed their faith in his readiness by sending him directly to high Single-A, but three years later Michael was still stuck there. Nagging injuries repeatedly derailed Michael's development and the solid power he showed in college disappeared.

Last season, in his third go-around at Fort Myers, he finally showed some promise by hitting .305 in 45 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he hit .340 in 15 games. Those lofty batting averages are misleading because he managed just one home run, but Michael controlled the strike zone well. Even within the overall struggles Michael always made plenty of contact and drew some walks, suggesting the switch-hitter could have value even if the power is gone for good.

Unfortunately he's no longer a shortstop. Dating back to college there were questions about his ability to stick at shortstop long term and last season Michael played almost exclusively second base at both levels. Not only does that raise the bar for his offensive production, it makes it much harder for Michael to potentially stick in the majors as a utility infielder. At age 24 and with just 15 career games above Single-A it's time for Michael to sink or swim.

37. Stephen Pryor | Reliever | DOB: 7/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mariners

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     11      0     1.12      16.0       7      0      24      5
         AAA    16      0     0.00      20.0      11      0      20     11
         MLB    26      0     3.91      23.0      22      5      27     13
2013
2014     AAA    38      0     3.16      51.1      32      6      49     34

Acquired from the Mariners on July 24 as the Twins' return in the Kendrys Morales salary dump, Stephen Pryor was one of the few players on the 40-man roster not to get a September call-up to Minnesota. However, he remained on the 40-man roster all offseason and presumably the front office has enough patience in the 25-year-old right-hander to see if he can get healthy and regain his old velocity after missing most of 2013 and part of 2014 following shoulder surgery.

Before the injury Pryor looked destined for a late-inning bullpen role in Seattle. As a 22-year-old in 2012 he blitzed through the minors, going from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A before debuting with the Mariners in June. Overall that season Pryor posted a 0.93 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 39 innings as a minor leaguer and then racked up 27 strikeouts in 23 innings for the Mariners while averaging 96.3 miles per hour with his fastball.

His arm gave out in 2013 and while Pryor returned last season to log 55 innings in the minors and make two appearances for the Mariners he was a shell of his former self, throwing in the low-90s with less than one strikeout per inning. Pryor has always struggled to consistently throw strikes and control problems that can be overlooked when attached to a high-90s fastball may be tough to overcome if that velocity is gone for good.

36. Lester Oliveros | Reliever | DOB: 5/88 | Throws: Right | Trade: Tigers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     13      0     1.42      19.0      10      0      16      7
         AAA    19      0     3.07      29.1      24      2      35      8
2013
2014     AA     26      0     0.89      30.1      17      0      36     14
         AAA    24      0     2.29      35.1      27      0      52     13

Lester Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the 2011 trade for Delmon Young and missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He returned last year and was better than ever between Double-A and Triple-A with a 1.64 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 66 innings while holding opponents to a .187 opponents' batting average with zero home runs. And then naturally Oliveros served up a homer to the first batter he faced as a September call-up.

Oliveras has always had a big fastball, averaging 94 miles per hour as a big leaguer before and after elbow surgery. He's also always had iffy control, with nearly four walks per nine innings in the minors. He made some minor strides with his control last season when a lot of pitchers see their walk rate rise after surgery, but there's still plenty of work to be done in terms of harnessing his raw stuff.

As a 27-year-old reliever Oliveros is stretching the definition of "prospect" and expectations should certainly be modest, but when someone with a mid-90s fastball averages more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings at Double-A and Triple-A he's generally worth an extended look. Unfortunately for Oliveros, because the Twins decided against overhauling their bullpen this offseason he faces an uphill battle for an Opening Day roster spot.


For a lengthy discussion about projecting the Opening Day roster, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

January 21, 2015

ZiPS: When bad projections for the Twins aren’t so bad for the Twins

Sano and Buxton

Dan Szymborski of ESPN and FanGraphs has a projection system called ZiPS that is consistently among the best and most detailed around. As discussed on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode, he published the Twins' projections for 2015 and ... well, it ain't pretty. I'm sure most fans will focus on that, because the thing about projections is that every year every team's fan base thinks they're too low. Doubly so in this case, since ZiPS thinks very little of the Twins.

But here's the thing: Who really cares about the 2015 projections? Certainly everyone wants to see the Twins show significant improvement on the way to hopefully avoiding a fifth consecutive 90-loss season and maybe even approaching a .500 record. But in the grand scheme of things it matters little whether the Twins win 72 games or 78 games in 2015. They're unlikely to be a very good team, may continue to be a very bad team, and remain focused on rebuilding.

It'd be nice if ZiPS (or other projection systems) pegged Brian Dozier for an .800 OPS instead of a .720 OPS or had more faith in Ervin Santana being worth a $55 million investment or thought Torii Hunter was worth any kind of investment, but the numbers are the numbers and even an optimistic set of 2015 projections would probably have the Twins looking like at best an 80-win team. And deep down most fans presumably knew that, with or without the projections.

What matters more in the big picture is how their young talent develops and within the ugly 2015 projections there are actually positive signs. For instance, even after missing all of last season following elbow surgery Miguel Sano is projected to hit .218/.288/.441 if he reaches the majors. Obviously the batting average and on-base percentage stink, but a .441 slugging percentage and .223 isolated power for a 22-year-old prospect coming off a lost season is extremely promising.

Here's a list of every 22-year-old to surpass a .425 slugging percentage and .200 isolated power since 2010: Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward. That's it. That's the entire list. Sano has played a grand total of 67 games above Single-A and played zero games last season, yet ZiPS still thinks he has that kind of elite power potential at a time when power is down across baseball.

ZiPS projects Byron Buxton to hit .251/.315/.386 if he reaches the majors in 2015. Those aren't eye-popping numbers until you consider he's a 21-year-old center fielder with exactly one career game above Single-A and, like Sano, injuries wrecked his 2014. Or, put another way, if Buxton is called up to the Twins this season and hits .251/.315/.386 everyone should be thrilled because 21-year-old center fielders who hit .251/.315/.386 usually become stars.

According to ZiPS' projections for the overall offensive levels in MLB for 2015 a .251/.315/.386 line translates to an adjusted OPS+ of 95. Here's a list of every 21-year-old center fielder to top an adjusted OPS+ of 90 since 1980: Mike Trout, Rocco Baldelli, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds. So that's two inner-circle Hall of Famers, one near Hall of Famer, the current best player in the world, and a good player whose career was derailed by health problems.

Sano and Buxton need to get healthy, stay healthy, and pick up developmentally where things left off for any of it to matter, but if their big-league careers start the way ZiPS projects the Twins will have accomplished something in 2015 no matter the standings. Quibbling with projections is fine and comes with the territory of being a fan, but the numbers simply represent the team's current lack of high-end talent. And those same projections suggest that's about to change soon.


For a lengthy, player-by-player discussion of this year's ZiPS projections for the Twins, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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.

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