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.

March 19, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

25. Stuart Turner | Catcher | DOB: 12/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK+    142     .264     .340     .380      3      8     12     22

In the third round of last year's draft the Twins selected University of Mississippi catcher Stuart Turner, who had a reputation for being a good defender with an iffy bat despite hitting .374/.444/.518 in 62 games. Turner played just one season against top-flight competition, transferring to Ole Miss from a junior college, and Baseball America noted that "scouts don't like his swing and question his ability to sting the ball consistently."

There were no such questions behind the plate, as BA called Turner the best defensive catcher in the class who "combines strength at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds with flexibility, agile feet, and excellent arm strength." ESPN offered similar praise, calling Turner the draft's "best catch-and-throw guy" with "outstanding hands and a plus arm." All of which suggests that he'd project as a backup if the scouts are right to doubt his bat and a good all-around starter if the numbers prove them wrong.

The early returns weren't encouraging, as Turner began his pro career as a 21-year-old playing against rookie-ball competition in the Appalachian League and still hit just .260 with three homers in 34 games. That's a very small sample size, so it may not mean much of anything, but the lack of walks and relatively high strikeout total certainly aren't positive signs. He'll move up to full-season ball this year and has the potential to go through the system quickly if he hits.

24. Aaron Slegers | Starter | DOB: 9/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     9      0     0.47      19.0      16      0      18      2

Because of injuries Aaron Slegers barely pitched as a high school senior in 2010 or for Indiana University in 2011 and 2012, but the 6-foot-10 right-hander got healthy last season and started a team-high 18 games for a dominant Hoosiers squad. He was fantastic, going 9-2 with a 2.04 ERA, but still fell to the Twins in the fifth round of the draft and signed for a relatively modest $380,000 bonus as a draft-eligible sophomore.

In addition to his draft stock being lessened by a wide variety of injuries related to both his size and his arm, Slegers also missed surprisingly few bats in college. Despite being able to reach as high as the mid-90s with his fastball and posting a pretty ERA he managed just 59 strikeouts in 106 innings for Indiana and allowed opponents to hit .260. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report suggested that he got tired as the season wore on and struggled to maintain peak velocity.

However, he had no trouble beating up on rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut, throwing 19 innings with a 0.47 ERA and 18/2 K/BB ratio for Elizabethton. Between college and rookie-ball Slegers served up just one homer in 128 innings and he issued a total of 19 walks, showing excellent control for a pitcher with his size and lack of experience. There's a lot to like here if Slegers can stay healthy and start generating a decent number of strikeouts.

23. Kennys Vargas | First Base | DOB: 8/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Puerto Rico

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    191     .322     .377     .489      6     17     15     50
2012     A-     186     .318     .419     .610     11     22     28     41
2013     A+     520     .267     .344     .468     19     53     50    105

Kennys Vargas predictably wasn't able to duplicate the huge numbers he posted at low Single-A in 2012, but his move up to high Single-A last season was actually encouraging. For one thing he played 125 games and logged 520 plate appearances after totaling 159 games and 667 plate appearances through his first four seasons. Beyond that he continued to show very good power with 19 homers and 53 extra-base hits, and Vargas cut down on his strikeout rate too.

Vargas is 6-foot-5 and huge, so like with most defensively challenged, low-minors sluggers the questions are whether he'll make consistent enough contact versus more advanced pitching to cancel out a total lack of fielding value. Vargas seems destined to wind up as a designated hitter or a poor defensive first baseman, and in order to be an impact player under those circumstances his bat would have to truly be special.

His power potential certainly has a chance to fall into that category, but it's difficult to gauge that with any sort of accuracy until he moves up another rung or two on the minor-league ladder and the rest of Vargas' offensive game is somewhat lacking for his player type. Still, a hulking switch-hitter with 30 homers and 43 doubles in 166 combined Single-A games through age 22 is certainly not someone to write off.

22. Felix Jorge | Starter | DOB: 1/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-    12      7     2.34      34.2      30      0      37     12
2013     RK+    12     12     2.95      61.0      56      2      72     18

Felix Jorge signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic for $250,000 in 2011, made his American debut in 2012, and established himself as someone to watch at rookie-level Elizabethton last season. Pitching the entire season at age 19, he started 12 games with a 2.95 ERA and 72/18 K/BB ratio in 61 innings, posting the second-best strikeout rate in the Appalachian League among all pitchers to start at least 10 games.

Jorge already reaches 92-94 miles per hour with his fastball despite being very skinny and there's plenty of room for projection in his 6-foot-3 frame. In ranking Jorge as one of the Appalachian League's best pitching prospects last season Baseball America noted that his "breaking ball can flash plus with slurvy action and his changeup is developing." If the off-speed stuff doesn't improve he could always wind up in the bullpen, but that's far into the future either way.

I tend to be extremely conservative ranking rookie-ball standouts and particularly rookie-ball pitchers, in part because they're so far away from potentially reaching the majors and in part because so many of them ultimately flame out after posting great numbers as teenagers, but Jorge certainly is very intriguing. He'll make the jump to full-season competition in 2014, which should tell us a lot.

21. Zack Jones | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       2      0       9      4
         A-     12      0     3.21      14.0       9      1      25      7
2013     A+     39      0     1.85      48.2      28      2      70     28

Believing that his mid-90s fastball was more telling than his mostly mediocre results in three years at San Jose State the Twins used their 2012 fourth-round pick on Zack Jones. And boy have they been right so far. Jones shifted to the bullpen full time as a pro, added a few miles per hour to his already overpowering heat, and has been almost unhittable with a 1.97 ERA and .165 opponents' batting average, striking out 104 batters in 69 innings.

His control has been terrible with 39 walks and seven wild pitches in 69 frames and despite his overall dominance the Twins had Jones spend all of last season at high Single-A as a 22-year-old, so he hasn't been placed on the fast track to the majors yet. Still, when a young pitcher reaches triple-digits with his fastball and whiffs 38 percent of the batters he's faced through two seasons as a pro that's someone to keep a very close eye on.

The development of his slider figures to be key long term, but Jones and fellow prospect Michael Tonkin give the Twins a pair of high-upside right-handers to potentially fill late-inning setup roles in front of left-hander Glen Perkins. Unfortunately he missed the end of the Arizona Fall League after experiencing numbness in his fingers and then underwent surgery last week for an aneurysm in his upper arm, putting his status for this season in question.

March 12, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 31-35, 36-40.

30. D.J. Baxendale | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       7.2       1      0      16      1
         A-     11      0     1.64      11.0      12      0      15      1
2013     A+      9      9     1.10      57.1      34      2      48     11
         AA     16     16     5.63      92.2     110     13      64     22

D.J. Baxendale had a dominant 19-inning pro debut after going to the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arkansas and began his first full season by jumping all the way to high Single-A, where he went 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in nine starts. That earned Baxendale a lot of attention and a quick promotion to Double-A, but he allowed as many earned runs in his first start there as he did combined in nine starts for Fort Myers.

Overall in New Britain he got knocked around for a 5.63 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average in 16 starts to provide a reminder that college pitchers thriving at rookie-ball and Single-A tends not to mean much of anything. Baxendale throws strikes and works mostly in the high-80s with his fastball, so it's not surprising that he ran into a wall against more experienced Double-A hitters after carving up the low minors.

Another worry is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and that became an issue for the first time in New Britain, where he allowed 13 homers in 93 innings. Fly balls and high-80s fastballs are a bad combination, although it's worth noting that Baxendale reached Double-A very quickly at age 22. His raw stuff seems unlikely to ever translate into many missed bats, so Baxendale's control may determine his big-league chances. So far he's walked just 35 batters in 169 pro innings.

29. Lewin Diaz | First Base | DOB: 9/96 | Bats: Left | Sign: Dominican

Last year the Twins' biggest international splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically."

Having an Ortiz build unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reported that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also noted at the time of the signing that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.

28. Miguel Sulbaran | Starter | DOB: 3/94 | Throws: Left | Trade: Dodgers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    11     11     2.51      57.1      57      2      62      9
2013     A-     27     20     2.96     112.2     110      3     101     32

When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers in July for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that the return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League last season Sulbaran had a 2.96 ERA and 101/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings. For comparison, top-10 prospect Jose Berrios had a 3.99 ERA and 100/40 K/BB ratio in 104 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Two years ago the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd overall pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera was shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but before the trade Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Any deal for Butera would have gotten the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but Sulbaran was a nice haul.

27. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Amaurys Minier when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, with some people even making stretched comparisons to Miguel Sano, but last season he showed the folly of hyping every big-money teenage signing. Minier began his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .214 with 29 strikeouts in 31 games.

The good news is that he did manage six homers in 112 at-bats, which is impressive in a league where two entire teams managed only five total homers in the 60-game schedule and the overall slugging percentage was .338. The better news is that Minier turned 18 years old in January and what he did in a 31-game debut doesn't mean much in terms of his long-term potential. Not all teenage prospects come out of the gates slugging like Sano, which is what makes Sano so special.

Minier was technically signed as a shortstop, but he'll never play there and spent last season at third base. There's no real sense in trying to analyze Minier's performance so far and his place on this list is based mostly on the money the Twins paid to sign him and the fact that just about everyone seems to agree he has the potential to be a very good hitter. It may take another year or two before there's much beyond that to analyze.

26. Fernando Romero | Starter | DOB: 12/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      6     1.60      45.0      32      0      47     13

Fernando Romero signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, getting $260,000 as a 16-year-old. After throwing 31 mediocre Dominican Summer League innings in 2012 he moved up to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year for his American debut and dominated similarly inexperienced hitters with a 1.60 ERA and 47/13 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. He held opponents to a .196 batting average, including zero homers in 181 plate appearances.

Of course, Gulf Coast League numbers are rarely accurate predictors of success, particularly when the sample size is 181 plate appearances. At the time of the signing Romero reportedly threw in the high-80s and low-90s, and he's added some velocity since then while filling out his six-foot frame a bit. Like most teenagers his fastball is ahead of his off-speed stuff and Romero hasn't shown whether he can hold up under a starter's workload yet.

In terms of long-term upside he's one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins' farm system, but my general approach to this list is to be conservative with teenagers until there's some sort of track record versus decent competition. Romero won't turn 20 years old until after this season and figures to spend the whole year pitching for rookie-level Elizabethton, putting him several seasons away from even entering into the Twins' plans.

March 7, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 36-40.

35. Brian Gilbert | Reliever | DOB: 8/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-7

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       7      1
         A-     13      0     1.06      17.0      12      0       7      0

Brian Gilbert split the 2011 and 2012 seasons between Seton Hall University's rotation and bullpen with mediocre results, but switched to relief work full time in 2013 and thrived in the closer role with a 2.40 ERA, .198 opponents' batting average, and 49 strikeouts in 49 innings. Drafted by the Twins in the seventh round, he signed for $120,000 and predictably dominated inexperienced hitters in the low minors during his pro debut.

He made six rookie-ball appearances and 13 more at low Single-A, posting a 0.78 ERA and 14/1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings while allowing zero homers after serving up just one long ball last year at Seton Hall. Gilbert issued 22 walks and uncorked six wild pitches in 49 college innings, so his control in the low minors was a surprise. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report pegged his fastball at 92-95 miles per hour, but noted that his off-speed pitches need improvement.

College relievers tend to move quickly through a farm system if they perform well, so hopefully the Twins test Gilbert against some more experienced hitters and see if his raw stuff translates into missed bats higher up the organizational ladder. They also drafted his Seton Hall teammate, outfielder Zack Granite, in the 14th round and he hit .285/.362/.343 with 14 steals in 61 games at rookie-ball.

34. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5
2012     A-     47      0     3.47      62.1      55      5      68     33
2013     A+     35      0     5.16      45.1      44      7      43     23

Corey Williams took a step backward last season, but it wasn't as big as his ERA jumping from 3.47 to 5.16 would suggest. Most of his secondary numbers remained similar, but the problem is that he spent a full season being sub par at high Single-A as a 22-year-old in his third pro season and hasn't improved upon his poor control since being drafted in the third round by the Twins out of Vanderbilt University in 2011.

Williams has totaled 125 strikeouts in 121 pro innings, which is good but not great for someone the Twins hoped would develop into a mid-90s throwing, late-inning reliever. More troubling are his 63 walks in 121 innings, along with a relatively high 12 homers allowed and struggles versus right-handed hitters. Last season righties had an .823 OPS against Williams and he also failed to shut down lefties after holding them to a .179 batting average in 2012.

This is a key season for Williams, who once signed for $575,000 but now appears to be on the verge of falling into the potential middle reliever or situational left-hander pile, which isn't home to many actual prospects. He throws hard, induces plenty of ground balls, and misses a fair number of bats, but his actual results have been underwhelming dating back to college and there is no shortage of intriguing relief prospects throughout the Twins' farm system.

33. Taylor Rogers | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      6     1.80      30.0      20      2      39      5
         A-      9      4     2.70      33.1      33      5      35     12
2013     A-      3      3     7.20      10.0      14      1      10      4
         A+     22     21     2.55     130.2     119      5      83     32

University of Kentucky pitchers have been popular Twins targets in recent drafts and that includes selecting left-hander Taylor Rogers in the 11th round two years ago. Rogers' college numbers were actually very ugly, as he went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA while posting an ERA above 4.50 in all three seasons, but he's nearly halved that with a 2.69 ERA in two years as a pro. However, he's done that against Single-A hitters and with a high-80s fastball his prospect status is questionable.

Rogers' strikeout rate was very good at rookie-ball and low Single-A, but he's managed just 83 strikeouts in 131 innings at high Single-A and it's tough to take seriously a pitching prospect who can't crack six strikeouts per nine innings in the Florida State League. His control also hasn't been especially good, with 2.2 walks per nine innings at high Single-A, but Rogers did induce lots of ground balls while serving up a total of just five homers in 528 plate appearances there.

There are certainly plenty of soft-tossing lefties with poor strikeout rates who do just fine the big leagues, but for the most part they tended to have decent strikeout rates in the minors. Rogers shouldn't be written off as a total non-prospect and can do away with a lot of skepticism if he thrives at Double-A this season as a 23-year-old, but the odds are stacked against him and he lacks upside.

32. 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

Two years ago the Twins drafted Rice University co-closers J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Chargois' career has been derailed by elbow surgery, but Duffey transitioned from reliever to starter at low Single-A last season with a lot of success, starting nine games with a 2.78 ERA and 47/6 K/BB ratio. Unfortunately he was considerably less impressive after being promoted to high Single-A and finished the year in the bullpen.

As a reliever at Rice and in his rookie-ball debut Duffey racked up tons of strikeouts, but last year as a starter he missed fewer bats and instead relied on very good control with an 83/20 K/BB ratio in 111 total innings. Those numbers match his raw stuff, which includes a low-90s fastball and slider/changeup off-speed repertoire, so it'll be interesting to see how long the Twins stick with Duffey as a starter.

Selecting college relievers and trying to turn them into professional starters was the focus of the Twins' draft in 2012 (well, that and picking some guy named Byron Buxton), but so far none of them have emerged as a standout starter prospect. Duffey and third-rounder Mason Melotakis look like the best bets right now, while Chargois and supplemental first-rounder Luke Bard have barely gotten out of the gates due to injuries.

31. Brett Lee | Starter | DOB: 9/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    16      4     2.68      43.2      39      3      48     12
2013     A-     23     19     2.95     116.0     117      7      89     26

Brett Lee was drafted in the late rounds by the Pirates in 2009 and the Dodgers in 2010 before signing with the Twins for $150,000 as a 10th-round pick out of St. Petersburg College in 2011. He had an excellent pro debut at rookie-ball in 2012 and then moved up to full-season competition last year, thriving at low Single-A with a 2.95 ERA and 89/26 K/BB ratio in 116 innings for Cedar Rapids.

Lee had the sixth-best walk rate in the Midwest League among all pitchers with at least 15 starts, but his strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings was actually below the league average of 7.6. Those numbers suggest that Lee is just another soft-tosser, of which the Twins never have a shortage, but he's actually a 6-foot-4 left-hander with decent velocity. Whether or not that ever translates into more missed bats is a key question for Lee's development.

Another reason to possibly be more excited about Lee's season than his overall numbers show is that he put together a fantastic second half with a 1.41 ERA and 45/8 K/BB ratio in 57 innings while holding opponents to a .204 batting average and one homer. Still not as many missed bats as you'd like to see, but eight walks and one homer in 57 innings is some awfully good pitching to contact and his ground-ball rate was strong as well.

March 5, 2014

Miguel Sano, Tommy John surgery, and the problem with dreaming

miguel sano

Dang.

Maybe there just aren't that many players who have problem-free careers without bumps and detours and bad news. Maybe there just aren't that many players who avoid injuries and live up to their full potential to the point that when they're all finished and headed to Cooperstown fans who've watched them for two decades can say: "Well, that was exactly what we all were hoping for."

But after watching Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel all get derailed by injuries recently--and after watching Kirby Puckett's career get cut short during my childhood--I'd sure like to see it happen soon. Sadly it won't be with Miguel Sano, as the best power-hitting prospect in baseball--and one of the truly elite prospects in Twins history--will now be forced to come back from a major injury before even reaching the majors.

Tommy John elbow surgery is less awful for hitters than pitchers, but in Sano's case whatever chance he had of sticking at third base long term relied heavily on his arm strength and that's now going to need some good rehab and good fortune to return intact. Beyond that his range, footwork, instincts, and athleticism--all things that caused people to doubt his ability to stay at the position--will be put on hold right in the middle of the prime developmental time at age 21.

It's a damn shame, not only because Sano seems like a decent person who deserves better and not only because it hurts the Twins' chances of reestablishing themselves as consistent contenders, but also because it robs Twins fans--and baseball fans in general--of their chance to see what Sano was fully capable of. Hopefully he'll recover well from the early injury and go on to have a great career. Mauer did that following rookie knee surgery, after all.

But even if that happens there will always be the lingering feeling that we'll never quite know what Sano could have been capable of without any bumps in the road. Without the time off and the surgery and the lost development and the year spent doing something other than fielding ground balls and smacking fastballs. And if healthy Sano almost surely would have seen action for the Twins this season, perhaps as soon as May or June.

Instead now the best-case scenario likely involves seeing some late-season action in the minors as a designated hitter only and then continuing to hit while avoiding throwing in the Arizona Fall League or winter ball. And then, if everything goes well there, it's possible that Sano could show up to Twins camp next spring training with essentially the same status he showed up to Twins camp this spring training: Ready to claim a full-time gig in the majors.

Whether that'll be at third base is somewhat irrelevant since the odds were stacked against him sticking there anyway and he was unlikely to ever be a huge asset defensively. Sano's value is going to come from his bat. That was true the moment the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million as a 16-year-old and it'll be true when he's ready to put on a uniform again late this season or early next.

Instead of being a big bat with a mediocre glove at third base he may have to settle for simply being a big bat--at first base or designated hitter or maybe an outfield corner--but the goal is still the same: Get him in the middle of the Twins' lineup, slamming homers, drawing walks, and driving in Mauer and Byron Buxton. And if Sano can still hack it at third base after the surgery--for one year or his whole career--then that's just a bonus.

If there's one positive to be taken from Sano's injury it's his absence from the 40-man roster. Mauer, Liriano, and Kubel were already in the majors at the time of their major early career injuries and because of that they burned through MLB service time while on the disabled list recovering. That meant essentially wasting team-controlled seasons, pushing them closer to big paydays and free agency without the Twins actually getting value.

However, because Sano hasn't been added to the 40-man roster yet and hasn't debuted in the majors yet he'll be doing his DL stint in the minors and his service time clock won't start ticking. If he makes a full comeback and turns into a middle-of-the-order monster, the Twins will have him under their control for six full seasons instead of five seasons and a year wasted on the disabled list.

It's rare for one team to have two truly elite prospects like Buxton and Sano in their farm system at the same time and last year when I looked into the history of teammates being top-five Baseball America prospects I was surprised to see that the duos usually failed to produce a pair of stars. In fact, based on my admittedly subjective definition of "stars" it has happened exactly once in 25 years.

Two good players? Definitely. One star and one good player? Sure. But two no-doubt-about-it stars? Once since 1990. Obviously the Twins are hoping that Buxton and Sano can break that trend and it's absolutely still possible, but Sano's injury is an example of why dreaming about prospects can be so damn frustrating and why ... well, shit happens. And maybe--just maybe--Buxton can still have that elusive problem-free career.

For a lot more about Sano needing Tommy John surgery and what it means for his future, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

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