February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Stephen Gonsalves | Starter | DOB: 7/94 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2013-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     5      2     0.63      14.1       8      0      18      7
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0      10      0      21      4
2014     RK+     6      6     2.79      29.0      23      1      26     10
         A-      8      8     3.19      36.2      31      1      44     11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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February 16, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     DSL    174     .257     .385     .451      5     18     26     24

Lewin Diaz was the Twins' biggest ticket item from 2013 international spending, signing for $1.4 million out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old. Baseball America referred to the 6-foot-4 first baseman's "big, lumbering body" and wrote that "his value is all in his bat." That player type normally doesn't interest the Twins, but Diaz made his pro debut last season in the Dominican Summer League and batted .257/.385/.451 with 18 extra-base hits and 26 walks in 43 games.

Rookie-ball numbers are to be taken with large grains of salt and the Dominican Summer League is even a step down from that in terms of competition, so Diaz's actual numbers there don't mean much. However, the fact that he hit a bunch of homers and doubles while walking more than he struck out is certainly a positive first impression by a 17-year-old. He was signed for his bat and so far his bat looks pretty good.

For some context his Isolated Power was 125 percent higher than the Dominican Summer League average and he drew 45 percent more walks than the DSL as a whole. When your body type is compared to guys like David Ortiz and Ryan Howard at age 16 you obviously need to hit a ton to make it to the big leagues, which Diaz will look to continue doing at rookie-ball in his American debut this year.

19. Chih-Wei Hu | Starter | DOB: 12/93 | Throws: Right | Sign: Taiwan

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      5     2.45      36.2      28      0      39      8
2014     RK+     3      3     1.69      16.0       7      0      16      2
         A-     10      9     2.29      55.0      40      0      48     13

Signed out of Taiwan for $220,000 in late 2012 as an 18-year-old, Chih-Wei Hu had a strong debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2013 with a 2.45 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio in 37 innings. He began last season one level higher at rookie-level Elizabethton, but after just three impressive starts there the Twins decided to promote him to low Single-A. Hu didn't miss a beat, holding Midwest League hitters to a .201 batting average and zero homers in 55 innings.

Hu draws the most praise for his mature approach, strike-throwing ability, and quality changeup, but the 6-foot-1 right-hander is hardly a soft-tosser and can reach the mid-90s with his fastball at times. He has a 103/23 K/BB ratio in 108 career innings through age 20 and has yet to allow a home run in 420 plate appearances despite facing older competition in the vast majority of those matchups.

It's important to keep expectations in check for low-minors pitchers and Hu still needs to show that he can handle a full-season workload as a starter, but he's someone to keep an eye on this season and could rank much higher on this list next year. He was highly thought of as a prospect before signing, has fared very well against older competition at three different levels, and backs up the numbers with quality raw stuff.

18. 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
2014     AA     24     24     3.29     145.0     150      4     113     37

Taylor Rogers went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA in three seasons at the University of Kentucky, but the Twins picked him in the 11th round of the 2012 draft and now he's 26-16 with a 2.94 ERA in three seasons as a pro. His success has come despite mediocre strikeout rates, but that inability to miss bats against Single-A and Double-A hitters--and the lack of upside that suggests--is what keeps him from being considered a top prospect.

Last year at Double-A he posted a 3.29 ERA in 24 starts, but managed just 113 strikeouts in 145 innings for a rate below the Eastern League average. It wasn't all smoke and mirrors, though. Rogers had a good walk rate, allowed just four homers in 606 plate appearances, and induced lots of ground balls. And while he was much more effective against lefties than righties, the 6-foot-3 southpaw still held righties to a .367 slugging percentage with a 73/29 K/BB ratio.

Rogers was relatively young for Double-A at age 23 and his velocity has improved to the point that he regularly works in the low-90s, so he's certainly not without potential. Right now he projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but an uptick in strikeouts or improved control to go along with the strong ground-ball rates would give him mid-rotation upside. Either way, he's a candidate to reach the majors in 2015 and the Twins' decision-makers generally speak highly of him.

17. 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
2014     A+     555     .246     .307     .436     25     45     44    156

Adam Walker's power potential is undeniable. He put up big college numbers at Jacksonville to get picked by the Twins in the third round of the 2012 draft, went deep 14 times in his 58-game debut at rookie-ball, and led his league in homers during each of his first two full seasons. Last year his 25 homers for Fort Myers led the Florida State League and no one else managed even 20 long balls. Walker can hit the ball over the fence.

Unfortunately his inability to control the strike zone stands out almost as much. He's struck out a lot and rarely walked dating back to college and as a pro he's whiffed 347 times in 319 games. That's a red flag, especially when he's already 23 years old and has yet to face competition above Single-A. Walker showed a bit more selectivity last year with 44 walks in 555 plate appearances, but that came with 156 strikeouts and led to a lowly .246 average and .307 on-base percentage.

Most high-strikeout sluggers in the majors didn't actually strike out a ton in the minors because striking out a ton in the minors usually leads to failing in the majors. Walker needs to cut down on his strikeouts or at least learn to draw walks at a much higher rate or his 30-homer power will be wasted. He's a good athlete with above-average speed for a corner outfielder and should be a plus defensively, so if the strike-zone control clicks at some point he has plenty of all-around upside.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
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
2014     AAA    39      0     2.80      45.0      41      2      46     12
         MLB    25      0     4.74      19.0      23      2      16      6

After beginning his pro career as a 30th-round draft pick and mediocre starter prospect Michael Tonkin shifted to the bullpen full time in 2011 and has looked like a late-inning reliever prospect ever since. He's split each of the past two years between Rochester and Minnesota, posting a 3.48 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 78 innings at Triple-A and a 3.26 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 30 innings in the majors. At age 25 he's deserving of extended chance in the Twins' bullpen for 2015.

Tonkin is a sturdy 6-foot-7 with the velocity to match his size, averaging 94 miles per hour with his fastball in the majors. He also throws a sharp, mid-80s slider that has already proven to be a plus pitch against big-league hitters by generating swinging strikes and ground balls. He's allowed a total of just 13 homers in 278 innings between the minors and majors over the past four years, including no more than four homers in a season.

Tonkin has top-notch raw stuff, misses plenty of bats with his fastball-slider combo, and unlike lots of hard-throwing reliever prospects he actually throws strikes too. His career walk rate is a very reasonable 2.5 per nine innings, including 2.3 at Triple-A and 2.7 in the majors. By this time next year there's a decent chance Tonkin will be entrenched as Glen Perkins' primary setup man and will have his own identity rather than being known as Jason Kubel's brother-in-law.


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February 13, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

25. 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
2014     A-     20     20     4.53     113.1     118      7      90     20
         A+      3      3     3.32      19.0      14      2      12      4

Aaron Slegers battled multiple injuries in high school and early in his college career at Indiana, but the 6-foot-10 right-hander got healthy in 2013 and was drafted by the Twins in the fifth round after a strong sophomore year. He signed for $380,000 and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton by allowing just one run in 19 innings with an 18/2 K/BB ratio, looking good following concerns about his tiring down the stretch for the Hoosiers amid a career-high workload.

Slegers moved up to low Single-A last year and posted a poor 4.53 ERA in 20 starts, but his 90/20 K/BB ratio in 113 innings was solid and he allowed just seven homers. He missed very few bats in college, so even a modest strikeout rate of 7.2 per nine innings was a step in the right direction. Slegers then finished the year with a three-start promotion to high Single-A, faring well there at age 21.

Slegers' velocity doesn't match his intimating 6-foot-10 frame, but he throws in the low-90s and induces lots of ground balls. For a pitcher that size avoiding nagging injuries and maintaining consistent mechanics are always question marks, but Slegers seems to have gotten past his previous health issues and his control has been fantastic with just 1.5 walks per nine innings. He's not going to be the next Randy Johnson, but Slegers is an intriguing prospect.

24. Mitch Garver | Catcher | DOB: 1/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-9

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK+    225     .243     .313     .366      2     19     19     31
2014     A-     504     .298     .399     .481     16     46     61     65

Mitch Garver put up huge college numbers in a very hitter-friendly environment at New Mexico, batting .383 with 72 extra-base hits in 120 games during his junior and senior years. Considered by many to be a low-upside "senior sign" in the 2013 draft, he fell to the Twins in the ninth round and agreed to a $40,000 signing bonus well below slot value. And then Garver struggled in his pro debut at rookie-ball, hitting just .243/.313/.366 with two homers in 56 games.

Tossed onto the non-prospect pile, Garver bounced back in a big way last season at low Single-A, batting .298/.399/.481 with 16 homers, 46 total extra-base hits, and nearly as many walks (61) as strikeouts (65) in 120 games. Among all Midwest League hitters he ranked fourth in batting average, third in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, and third in OPS, producing an .880 mark that was 27 percent better than the league average.

Reviews of his defense behind the plate are mixed and Garver saw about half of his 2014 action at designated hitter, but he threw out a respectable 32 percent of steal attempts. At age 23 he was old for the Midwest League, so it's possible Garver was just beating up on inexperienced pitching after playing four seasons of college ball. Either way, when a catcher puts up big numbers in the minors after putting up big numbers in college he's worth keeping an eye on.

23. 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
2014     RK-     6      1     3.38       5.1       3      0       9      4
         A+      5      0     0.00       5.0       3      0       5      2

After middling results as a college starter Zack Jones shifted to the bullpen full time when the Twins took him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and posted video game-like numbers through two pro seasons with a 1.97 ERA, .165 opponents' batting average, and 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings. And he had the raw stuff to match, consistently working in the mid-90s with his fastball and topping out in the triple digits.

While pitching in the Arizona Fall League he experienced finger numbness and was shut down, eventually undergoing surgery for an aneurysm in his shoulder. Jones missed the entire first half of last season before rehabbing in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and then rejoined the high Single-A bullpen to make a handful of appearances down the stretch. And to tie a nice bow on his comeback, he returned to the Arizona Fall League and allowed zero runs in 11 games.

Reports on Jones' velocity were more or less in line with his outstanding pre-surgery heat, but including the AFL he walked 18 batters in 21 innings to show that he may not have cleared every hurdle yet. His control has always been a red flag, with more than 5.0 walks per nine innings in each of his three pro campaigns. Before the career-threatening injury Jones was on the fast track and he's capable of reaching the majors in 2015, but he needs to stay healthy and throw strikes.

22. Travis Harrison | Left Field | 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
2014     A+     537     .269     .361     .365      3     37     64     86

When the Twins made Travis Harrison the 50th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of a California high school he was billed as one of the best power-hitting prospects in the class, but that has not translated to the pros yet. Harrison hit 20 homers in 189 games through his first two seasons and then his power disappeared in 2014, as he went deep just three times in 129 games and slugged .365 at high Single-A.

Three homers in 537 plate appearances is hard to ignore, but it's worth noting the Florida State League is a tough place to hit for power and Harrison was among the youngest regulars at 21. He also ranked second in the league with 33 doubles, suggesting he was making hard contact even if it didn't result in fly balls going over fences, and Harrison cut way down on his strikeouts while maintaining a strong walk rate on the way to a nice 86/64 K/BB ratio.

There's some stuff to like within Harrison's offensive skill set, but the lack of power is troubling and doubly so because he's already shifted from third base to left field defensively. Any further moves down the defensive spectrum would leave Harrison with zero defensive value and at that point he'd need to develop into a slugger to work his way into the Twins' plans. Even getting back to 15 homers while keeping his strikeouts down would make 2015 a success for Harrison.

21. Jake Reed | Reliever | DOB: 9/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+     4      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       8      0
         A-     16      0     0.36      25.0      10      0      31      3

After two mediocre seasons in Oregon's rotation Jake Reed shifted to the bullpen last year and went 4-1 with 13 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 31 appearances. His secondary numbers weren't as impressive, with 34 strikeouts versus 15 walks in 37 innings, but Reed had no such issues with secondary numbers in his pro debut. Drafted in the fifth round, he signed for $350,000 and made quick work of rookie-ball before a promotion to low Single-A.

Between the two levels Reed allowed one run in 20 appearances, racking up a 39/3 K/BB ratio in 31 innings while limiting opponents to a .105 batting average and zero homers. It'd be tough to dominate any more than that, even accounting for the fact that college pitchers are supposed to dominate low-minors hitters. Twins pitching draftees often beat up on inexperienced competition, but Reed actually has the impressive raw stuff to match his numbers.

He works in the mid-90s with his fastball and his slider also gets positive reviews, leading to ground balls in bunches. Righties hit .085 with 12 strikeouts per walk and lefties hit .130 with 15 strikeouts per walk. Assuming that the Twins don't try to move him back in the rotation Reed has a chance to move quickly through the system and could join fellow hard-throwing 2014 draftee Nick Burdi in the big-league bullpen by 2016.


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February 11, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 31-35, 36-40.

30. Jason Wheeler | Starter | DOB: 10/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-8

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     27     27     3.45     156.2     170     12     115     43
2013     A+     26     26     3.70     143.1     156     16      91     58
2014     A+     13     13     2.51      79.0      77      2      57     19
         AA     12     12     2.78      74.1      69      9      55     16

Jason Wheeler was the Twins' eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Loyola Marymount and skipped rookie-ball, debuting at low Single-A in 2012. He moved up to high Single-A in 2013 and returned to high Single-A to begin last year before moving up to Double-A around midseason. He's proven to be an innings eater, leading all Twins minor leaguers with 158 total innings last season after ranking fifth in 2013 and second in 2012.

Durability combined with a bulky 6-foot-6 frame and nice-looking 3.26 career ERA were enough to get Wheeler added to the 40-man roster in November, but dig a little deeper and the left-hander's numbers aren't as encouraging. He often works in the high-80s with his fastball and has managed just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing 477 hits in 458 frames. His control is improved but still mediocre and he doesn't induce many ground balls.

Wheeler also shows extreme platoon splits, frequently struggling with right-handed hitters, which would make it tough for him to be an innings-eater against big-league lineups. He shuts down lefties pretty well and could perhaps add some velocity in a bullpen role, but right now it's hard to project Wheeler as more than a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever. Yet by virtue of being on the 40-man roster his odds of reaching the majors in 2015 are relatively high.

29. 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
2014     A+     40      0     3.73      50.2      49      2      53     23

Tyler Jones was mediocre as a starter in college and in the pros after the Twins drafted him in the 11th round out of LSU in 2011, but he switched to the bullpen full time in 2013 and thrived with 66 strikeouts in 52 innings and a .196 opponents' batting average. He finished that season at high Single-A and that's where Jones spent all of last year as well, but the results weren't as impressive the second time around.

Jones' strikeout rate fell from 11.4 to 9.4 per nine innings and his already poor control took a step backward with 23 walks in 51 innings. He allowed just two homers after serving up zero long balls in 2013, but a 24-year-old reliever with a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider shouldn't be putting 73 runners on base in 51 innings against Single-A competition and lefties hit .301 off the 6-foot-4 right-hander.

He'll be 26 years old before the end of the season and has yet to throw a pitch above Single-A, so Jones' prospect status hinges on getting on the fast track as a potential late-inning reliever and he'll get a chance to do that at Double-A. He needs to either resume missing tons of bats or slash his walk rate dramatically after handing out 3.7 free passes per nine innings so far, but a mid-90s fastball buys a little more patience than usual.

28. 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
2014     A+     364     .249     .322     .375      7     25     31     61

Selected by the Twins in the third round of the 2013 draft, Stuart Turner was billed as a strong defensive catcher with an iffy bat despite hitting .374/.444/.518 during his lone season at the University of Mississippi. In fact, Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that "scouts don't like his swing and question his ability to sting the ball consistently." So far those questions about his offense have proven accurate.

Turner debuted for rookie-level Elizabethton after signing, hitting .264/.340/.380 in 34 games against younger competition, and continued to struggle last year when the Twins jumped him to high Single-A. He started 92 of the team's 139 games at catcher, but hit just .249/.322/.375 with seven homers and a 61/31 K/BB ratio. He threw out 32 percent of steal attempts, which failed to stand out in a league where the average throw-out rate was 32 percent.

Turner's defense received positive reviews, but at this point evaluating catcher defense is more and more about pitch-framing ability and it's nearly impossible to judge that reliably for minor leaguers. Assuming he's a good all-around defensive catcher rather than merely a good catch-and-throw guy Turner won't have to hit much to reach the majors, but that would still require stepping things up a bit.

27. Brandon Peterson | Reliever | DOB: 9/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-13

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    19      0     2.96      27.1      22      3      40      9
2014     A-      9      0     0.71      12.2       9      0      19      2
         A+     31      1     1.80      45.0      28      0      65     17

Selected by the Twins out Wichita State in the 13th round of the 2013 draft, Minnesota native Brandon Peterson had a strong rookie-ball debut after signing and then dominated two levels of Single-A last year in his first full season. Peterson began the season Cedar Rapids and was quickly promoted after allowing one run in 13 innings with a 19/2 K/BB ratio. He continued to thrive in Fort Myers, posting a 1.80 ERA with 65 strikeouts and zero homers in 45 innings.

Overall he has a 2.01 ERA and 124/28 K/BB ratio in 85 innings as a pro, striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings while holding opponents to a .195 batting average and three homers in 338 plate appearances. Peterson's raw stuff isn't quite as impressive as those incredible numbers suggest, but he tops out in the mid-90s with his fastball and has generated tons of swinging strikes and strikeouts with his slider.

Rarely are low-minors relievers viewed as promising prospects and Peterson has to prove himself against more experienced competition before potentially finding a place in the Twins' long-term plans, but what he's done so far shouldn't be ignored. Given how aggressively the Twins promoted Peterson in his first full season he has a chance to reach Triple-A and perhaps even the majors by the end of 2015.

26. Max Murphy | Center Field | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2014-9

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     RK+    151     .378     .483     .723     10     19     22     34
         A-     137     .242     .314     .395      4     11      8     40

Max Murphy had a big junior season at Bradley University, hitting .314/.414/.598 in 51 games while ranking second in the Missouri Valley Conference with 12 homers. Drafted by the Twins in the ninth round, Murphy had a monstrous pro debut, leading the rookie-level Appalachian League in batting average (.378), on-base percentage (.483), and slugging percentage (.723). Murphy had the league's highest OPS (1.206) by 300 points. Seriously.

In the past decade the only other Twins prospects to top a 1.000 OPS for Elizabethton are Rory Jimenez in 2012, Eddie Rosario in 2011, Oswaldo Arcia in 2010, and Angel Morales in 2008, so it's a mixed bag. Murphy also finished second in the league with 10 homers despite playing just 35 of a possible 68 games, because the Twins decided they'd seen enough dominance and sent the 21-year-old up to low Single-A for the final month of the season.

Once there he struggled, hitting .242/.314/.395 with a 40/8 K/BB ratio in 32 games to take some of the shine off his incredible rookie-ball showing. Murphy figures to begin this season back at low Single-A and will try to prove he can knock around similarly experienced competition. He played mostly center field last season, but long term projects as a corner outfielder with decent speed and a good arm.


For a discussion of which pitching prospects have a chance to crack the Twins' starting rotation at some point in 2015 check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

February 6, 2015

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

Also in this series: 1-5, 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."

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