February 5, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35.

40. Pat Dean | Starter | DOB: 5/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     AA     22     22     4.68     125.0     151     12      61     17
         AAA     6      6     2.02      40.0      38      0      22      5
2014     AA     26     26     4.81     144.0     192     20      83     31
2015     AAA    27     27     2.82     179.0     170     10      98     36

Pat Dean was the Twins' third-round draft pick in 2010 out of Boston College, but after posting a 4.30 ERA in 600 innings through his first five pro seasons he appeared to have little chance of reaching the big leagues. Dean changed that last season at Triple-A Rochester by throwing 179 innings with a 2.82 ERA, which convinced the Twins to add him to the 40-man roster for the first time at age 26.

Unfortunately a deeper look at Dean's performance shows that not much actually changed. He managed just 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings, which is an absurdly low total and worse than his career mark of 5.3. He allowed just 10 homers in 715 plate appearances, but that screams fluke given that Dean has always been a fly-ball pitcher. There's no doubting that he had a nice 2015 season, but there's also no real reason to be optimistic about his future.

He's a soft-tossing left-hander with good control and no ability to miss bats. For whatever reason that player type always seems to intrigue the Twins, but translating that skill set into getting MLB hitters out is a tall order to say the least. Dean has a decent chance of reaching the majors this season simply by virtue of being on the 40-man roster and readily available for a call-up, but he'll be 27 years old in May and profiles as a fifth starter or long reliever.

39. Chris Paul | Left Field | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2015-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2015     RK+     96     .302     .375     .488      3     10      4     15
         A-      47     .244     .277     .356      0      4      0     13

Picked in the sixth round of last year's draft out of the University of California as a "senior sign" who required a modest $50,000 bonus, Chris Paul debuted in rookie-ball and then moved up to low Single-A to finish the year. He hit .282/.343/.443 with three homers in 33 games overall, but that came with an ugly 28/4 K/BB ratio that can often be a red flag for experienced college players facing low-minors competition.

Paul's college career was an odd one. He struggled for three seasons, failing to crack a .700 OPS in any year while playing sporadically, and then broke out as a senior by hitting .325/.404/.562 with nine home runs in 54 games. However, even his senior success included a 43/26 K/BB ratio that's poor by college star standards and in total he struck out 112 times compared to 46 walks in four years at California.

Being the best hitter on a good Pac-12 team is definitely nothing to sneeze at and Paul predictably knocked around rookie-ball pitchers, but it's hard to envision him continuing to fare well against more experienced competition without a dramatic change in approach. Double-A or Triple-A arms tend to slice up undisciplined hackers and as a left fielder/first baseman who's already 23 years old Paul will need to hit his way into the Twins' plans.

38. Ryan O'Rourke | Reliever | DOB: 4/88 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-13

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     A+     17      0     2.22      28.1      19      3      21      8
         AA     17      0     4.67      17.1      15      0      19      7
2014     AA     50      0     3.98      40.2      36      5      52     16
2015     AAA    20      0     5.93      13.2      13      1      22      7
         MLB    28      0     6.14      22.0      16      3      24     15

Ryan O'Rourke was a surprise call-up when the Twins promoted him from Triple-A in July. The former 13th-round draft pick had never appeared on any top prospect lists, went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft, and had a 4.70 career ERA at age 27, including a 5.93 ERA for Rochester at the time of his call-up. He got the unexpected chance because the Twins wanted a new left-handed option in the bullpen and O'Rourke has one truly standout skill: He's death on left-handed hitters.

O'Rourke moved to the bullpen full time in 2012 and from that point until his call-up to the Twins he struck out 47 percent of the left-handed hitters he faced while holding them to a .151 batting average and .199 slugging percentage. Last year at Triple-A he faced 36 lefties and struck out 20 of them while allowing five hits. Two years ago at Double-A he faced 74 lefties and struck out 42 of them while allowing eight hits. During that same two-year span righties hit .340 off O'Rourke.

He appeared in 28 games for the Twins and struggled overall, but when asked to simply face one or two left-handed hitters he thrived. O'Rourke struck out 19 of the 49 lefties he faced with the Twins, holding them to a .171 batting average and .268 slugging percentage. He can absolutely, without question shut down lefties in the majors, but it's unclear if he's capable of being usable versus righties and the Twins may not want to devote a spot to a pure southpaw specialist.

37. Daniel Palka | Right Field | DOB: 10/91 | Bats: Left | Trade: Diamondbacks

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK     241     .302     .386     .502      7     27     29     45
         A-      55     .340     .418     .574      2      5      7     16
2014     A-     521     .248     .332     .466     22     50     56    129
2015     A+     576     .280     .352     .532     29     68     56    164

Chris Herrmann is a 28-year-old catcher with a poor defensive reputation and a .181 batting average as a major leaguer, so sending him to the Diamondbacks in November was one of those "good trade, who'd we get?" type of deals. For the Twins to get a player with some semblance of upside in return is a minor miracle and 24-year-old former third-round draft pick Daniel Palka certainly qualifies.

Palka put up big power numbers in college at Georgia Tech and that's continued as a pro with 22 homers in 118 games at low Single-A and 29 homers in 129 games at high Single-A. He was old for the level of competition and the environment was hitter-friendly, but last season Palka ranked fourth among California League hitters in homers and was the league's only 20-20 player while hitting .280 with an .885 OPS that was 150 points above average.

He also struck out 164 times in 129 games, which is a scary amount for a 23-year-old former college star facing Single-A pitching and suggests maintaining a decent batting average will be difficult. Palka has power and that typically goes hand-in-hand with strikeouts, but as a corner outfielder/first baseman without an outstanding walk rate he'll need to improve his contact skills to emerge as more than a quasi-prospect.

36. Lachlan Wells | Starter | DOB: 2/97 | Throws: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2015     RK     10      9     2.09      47.1      35      4      49     11

For the past decade the Twins have frequently signed teenage prospects from Australia, investing millions into a country they view as an underutilized source of talent. So far the payoff has been modest, with Grant Balfour, Liam Hendriks, and Luke Hughes qualifying as the best of the bunch to reach the majors as Twins. Lewis Thorpe has a chance to top that list if his return from elbow surgery goes well and Lachlan Wells is the latest Australian signee on the prospect radar.

Signed as a 17-year-old for $300,000 in 2014, the diminutive left-hander made his America pro debut last season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and impressed with a 2.09 ERA and 49/11 K/BB ratio in 47 innings. He's grown a lot physically and added some velocity since signing with the Twins, but Wells' fastball still tops out in the low-90s. His changeup is viewed as a plus pitch and at just 19 years old there's still plenty more room for projection.

Wells' twin bother, left-hander Alexander Wells, opted not to sign with the Twins last year and instead took the same $300,000 offer from the Orioles. He's yet to officially begin his American pro career. As for Lachlan Wells, he's likely several years from entering the Twins' plans even if everything goes well and may not even face full-season competition until 2017. So far so good, though, and as usual the Twins have intriguing Australian prospects in the farm system.


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October 9, 2015

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

Chris Herrmann Twins

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. Despite improving from one of MLB's worst teams to a Wild Card contender the Twins have no shortage of marginal big leaguers clinging to 40-man spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

(Note: Free agents Torii Hunter, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer, and Neal Cotts are automatically removed from the 40-man roster.)

A.J. Achter: Called up as a late-season bullpen reinforcement in each of the past two seasons, Achter has allowed 17 runs in 24 innings for the Twins. His numbers at Triple-A are much better, including a 2.57 ERA and 21 saves in 99 appearances, but there's nothing impressive about his 136/51 K/BB ratio in 144 innings there and Achter's fastball tops out in the low-90s. He could find a niche as a middle reliever, but at age 27 he doesn't possess much upside beyond that.

Logan Darnell: After making four starts and three relief appearances for the Twins last season Darnell didn't pitch in the majors this year, going on the disabled list with pneumonia following a September call-up. Darnell was used primarily as a reliever at Triple-A, posting a 66/25 K/BB ratio in 78 innings. He works in the high-80s with his fastball and combines mediocre strikeout rates with poor control, so it's tough to see the 26-year-old lefty as more than a middle reliever.

Casey Fien: Arbitration eligible and due a raise to around $2.5 million, Fien could be expendable if the Twins get serious about upgrading the bullpen. He has a lifetime 3.82 ERA, including a 3.55 ERA and 41/8 K/BB ratio in 63 innings this season, but Fien is a low-strikeout 32-year-old and fits best in middle relief. They have bigger issues to address and a $2.5 million price tag isn't much, but the Twins could use more youth, velocity, and upside in Fien's role.

Eric Fryer: Re-added to the 40-man roster on September 1 because the Twins wanted a third catcher around once rosters expanded, Fryer has passed through waivers unclaimed before and figures to do so again. At age 30 he's hit .243/.329/.336 in 65 games as a major leaguer and .237/.328/.328 in 271 games at Triple-A. Organizations need players like Fryer around because catching is difficult to acquire midseason, but there's no need to have him on the 40-man.

Chris Herrmann: For long stretches in each of the past three seasons the Twins have gone with Herrmann as their backup catcher and he's hit .181/.249/.280 in 142 games. Among all players with at least 300 plate appearances for the Twins since 1985 his .529 OPS ranks second-worst, ahead of only his backup-catching predecessor Drew Butera at .494. And he hasn't been much better in the minors, hitting .261/.336/.391 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Tommy Milone: In a season that included a month-long demotion to Triple-A and multiple arm injuries Milone still ranked among the Twins' better starters with a 3.92 ERA and 91/36 K/BB ratio in 129 innings. His track record as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter is well established by 619 innings of a 3.97 ERA, but the question is whether the Twins want to pay him around $5 million via arbitration for 2016 when they seemingly have too many mediocre veteran starters as is.

Ricky Nolasco: He's owed $25 million for the next two seasons and the Twins can't escape that commitment, but there are two ways in which they could remove Nolasco from the 40-man roster to make use of his spot. One is to simply get rid of him via trade or release, both of which would require eating the remaining contract. The other is to let him pass through waivers unclaimed and outright him to Triple-A sans 40-man spot. Unlikely, but an option if space gets tight.

Eduardo Nunez: After five seasons as a below-average hitter Nunez finally produced a little bit, hitting .282/.327/.431 in a bench role. In two years with the Twins he's started 45 and 48 games while getting 213 and 204 plate appearances. Keeping him around in a similar role makes sense, but with Nunez due for a raise to around $2 million via arbitration it's possible the Twins will want to fill that bench spot with either a more capable defensive shortstop or a more potent bat.

Ryan O'Rourke: Added to the 40-man roster and called up in July to fill a left-handed specialist role, O'Rourke fared well initially before going through a rough patch and then mostly collected dust down the stretch. He held lefties to a .171 batting average for the Twins after dominating them to an incredible degree in the minors, so there's little doubt O'Rourke can fill the specialist role, but control problems and struggles versus righties really limit his potential usage.

Josmil Pinto: Pinto once looked like a long-term building block as a catcher/designated hitter, but he struggled in 57 games for the Twins in 2014 and spent all of 2015 at Triple-A having his season wrecked by concussions. When healthy Pinto is a good right-handed hitter with power and plate discipline whose defensive chops behind the plate are iffy. He's still just 26 years old, but catching regularly may be out of the question and the Twins have no shortage of DH options.

Ryan Pressly: Sidelined for the final three months of the year by a lat muscle injury, Pressly's place in the Twins' plans depends on his health and a belief that his 3.46 career ERA tells a more accurate story than his 85/47 K/BB ratio in 133 innings. He's a perfectly solid middle reliever and throws harder than most of the Twins' incumbent options for that role, but the 27-year-old former Rule 5 pick hasn't found a way to generate strikeouts and has iffy control.

Shane Robinson: After nine years in the Cardinals organization Robinson signed with the Twins as a minor-league free agent, won a spot on the Opening Day roster, and received a career-high 48 starts and 198 plate appearances. He hit just .250/.299/.322, which is in line with his modest track record. Robinson is a good defender with plus speed, but he doesn't hit enough to be more than a fifth outfielder and "fifth outfielder" is no longer even a job on many teams.

Aaron Thompson: For six weeks or so Thompson emerged as Paul Molitor's go-to lefty setup man and got the Twins through a bunch of key innings unscathed, but his deal with the devil ran out and he was demoted to Triple-A in July. He was nothing special there and did not receive a September call-up, finishing the season with a 5.01 ERA and 17/11 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. At age 28 there's nothing in his track to suggest Thompson is more than a replacement-level arm.


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August 6, 2015

Twins Notes: Duffey, May, O’Rourke, Hicks, Sano, Mauer, and Hendriks

Tyler Duffey Twins

Tyler Duffey allowed a grand total of one homer in 540 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this season and then served up two homers in his Twins debut, including one to the second MLB hitter he faced. Based on the "game score" statistic Duffey had the seventh-worst debut start in Twins history. Who had the worst? LaTroy Hawkins in 1995. And then 21 years later Hawkins closed out the Blue Jays' win against the Twins in Duffey's debut.

Trevor May never deserved to be demoted from the rotation to the bullpen in the first place and hopefully the Twins remain committed to him as a long-term starter, but he's looked strong as a reliever. He's got a 3.18 ERA and 10/2 K/BB ratio in 11 innings along with increased velocity, which is probably enough to make him the Twins' best right-handed bullpen option over Blaine Boyer, Casey Fien, and trade deadline pickup Kevin Jepsen.

• Rookie reliever Ryan O'Rourke is living up to the hype of being death to left-handed hitters, who are 2-for-21 (.095) with 11 strikeouts against him since last month's call-up. Using him in a very limited role remains crucial, but the Twins may have found a long-term bullpen piece in the unheralded 27-year-old southpaw. With a strong finish he should be able to secure a spot in next year's Opening Day bullpen, which won't include Brian Duensing.

Aaron Hicks' improved overall performance is very encouraging from a one-time top prospect who's still just 25 years old, but not being able to hit right-handed pitching remains a big issue. This season he's hit .375/.429/.578 off lefties and .228/.291/.315 off righties. For his career he's hit .288/.374/.466 off lefties and .197/.277/.287 off righties. Hicks is a switch-hitter, but in both the minors and the majors he's shown little ability to be an asset from the left side of the plate.

Byron Buxton's long-awaited debut was cut short after 11 games by a thumb injury that he's still recovering from six weeks later, but fellow stud prospect Miguel Sano has immediately lived up to the hype. As expected he's struck out a ton and hit for a ton of power, but the 22-year-old has also shown incredible plate discipline with 21 walks in 27 games and an impressive ability to lay off borderline pitches. Twins fans should be thrilled with how he's looked so far.

• There have been occasional signs of life, but sadly Joe Mauer has continued to look like a shell of his former, pre-concussion self. He's hit just .275/.346/.398 in 47 games since I wrote a "What happened to Joe Mauer?" article that examined the numbers since his late-2012 concussion and expressed very little confidence in his getting back on track. Mauer is now in his second season of being a below-average first baseman after a decade of being a Hall of Fame-caliber catcher.

Danny Santana got a longer leash than most struggling Twins prospects, but he's finally back in the minors after hitting .218/.242/.298 with a ghastly 66/5 K/BB ratio in 74 games and playing mistake-filled defense at shortstop. His great rookie season screamed fluke, but no one could have expected Santana to be this awful as a sophomore. However, his career .272/.316/.392 line and poor strike zone control in the minors are reasons to be skeptical of a big turnaround.

Liam Hendriks was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, but he went 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 156 innings as a starter and they lost him on waivers for nothing. Still just 26 years old, he's found a home in Toronto's bullpen with a 2.47 ERA and 50/6 K/BB ratio in 47 innings. As a starter Hendriks always had modest raw stuff, topping out in the low 90s, but this season he's averaging 94.4 miles per hour with his fastball and topping out 97.


For a lot more about Jepsen's arrival, Duffey's upside, and Hicks' improvement check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode with a special guest co-host.

July 7, 2015

Who is Ryan O’Rourke and why is he replacing Aaron Thompson?

Ryan O'Rourke Twins

Aaron Thompson was among the Twins' final cuts in spring training, officially being optioned to Triple-A on March 31, but he was recalled and added to the bullpen four days later following Ervin Santana's suspension. Thompson almost immediately worked his way past Brian Duensing to become the primary left-handed setup man and manager Paul Molitor quickly began trusting the 28-year-old journeyman enough to get key late-inning outs against lefties and righties.

For a while it worked, as Molitor used Thompson in 17 of the first 34 games and he posted a 2.11 ERA while holding opponents to a .181 batting average. And then things began to unravel. He had a rough outing on May 17, at which point Molitor ceased relying on Thompson as a setup man and started using him as a situational left-hander. After facing an average of 4.8 batters in his first 18 appearances Thompson faced an average of 2.2 batters in his next 23 appearances.

Despite the altered usage designed to shield him from good right-handed hitters Thompson fell apart. Starting with that May 17 outing and ending with his demotion to Triple-A after Monday's game, he allowed 14 runs in 11 innings with more walks than strikeouts and a .388 opponents' batting average. Thompson heads to Rochester with a 5.01 ERA and 17/11 K/BB ratio in 32 innings, which is more or less what you'd expect based on his underwhelming track record.

However, it's worth noting that while Thompson was exposed in a prominent role and struggled overall he fared well against left-handed hitters by holding them to a .189 batting average, zero home runs, and a .526 OPS in 62 plate appearances. I'm not a big fan of using a roster spot on a situational left-hander unless they're absolutely unhittable in that role, but Thompson did just fine when asked to get lefties out.

In demoting Thompson back to Triple-A the Twins replaced him with Rochester left-hander Ryan O'Rourke, a 27-year-old former 13th-round draft pick with a 4.15 ERA in six seasons as a minor leaguer. O'Rourke has never appeared on my annual list of the Twins' top-40 prospects, went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft despite being left unprotected, hasn't logged 50 innings in a season since 2012, and brings with him an ugly 5.93 ERA in 20 appearances for Rochester.

So why is he now in the big leagues, replacing Thompson in the bullpen? Because the Twins are convinced that having a situational left-hander makes sense and O'Rourke is death to lefties. This year at Triple-A he faced 36 left-handed hitters and struck out 20 of them while allowing five hits. Last season at Double-A he faced 74 left-handed hitters and struck out 42 of them while allowing eight hits. And during that two-year span righties hit .340 off O'Rourke.

Thompson did a perfectly good job getting lefties out, but struggled so much when also asked to consistently get righties out that the team lost faith in him overall. O'Rourke will probably be even worse if asked to face righties on a regular basis given that he couldn't get them out at Double-A and Triple-A, but clearly Molitor has plans to use him in a strict situational left-hander role and if that happens he has a chance to thrive for one or two batters per appearance.

O'Rourke shifted to the bullpen full time in 2012 and since then he's faced left-handed hitters in 247 plate appearances spread across four levels of the minors. He's held them to a .151 batting average and .199 slugging percentage with 115 strikeouts and 19 walks. Or, to put those crazy numbers another way: O'Rourke's matchups with lefties from 2012-2015 resulted in a strikeout 47 percent of the time and a hitter reaching base safely 21 percent of the time.

This season Thompson has held lefties to .189/.262/.264, which is excellent and will be hard for O'Rourke to top. However, that came attached to an unimpressive 11/6 K/BB ratio versus lefties and clearly the Twins don't think Thompson's success will continue to the point that he'll be worth keeping on the roster in a very limited role. O'Rourke has the potential to thrive in that same role, but Molitor playing the correct matchups to put him in a position to succeed will be crucial.


For a lot more about the Twins' recent roster moves and call-ups, including Miguel Sano's arrival, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.