February 26, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Also in this series: 1-5, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

10. Wander Javier | Shortstop | DOB: 12/98 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

Wander Javier cracks the top 10 despite being a 17-year-old with zero professional experience because just six months ago the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $4 million, breaking the organization's previous record for an international prospect signing of $3.15 million for Miguel Sano in 2009. Javier is a long way from the majors, but based on publicly available scouting reports he's the type of player around which a farm system could be built.

Baseball America ranked Javier as the ninth-best international prospect eligible to sign last July, noting his "wide range of tools that are plus or project to be plus in the future." He's currently a six-foot, 175-pound shortstop with some chance to remain at the position long term. MLB.com ranked Javier as the eighth-best international prospect of 2015, noting his "potential to be the best all-around player in the class."

Of course, he's not without massive risk. For one thing projecting the future of a 17-year-old is incredibly difficult bordering on impossible (he was born in 1998!). Beyond that, Baseball America says there's a "widespread question" about Javier's offensive upside because his approach at the plate can be shaky. Similarly, according to MLB.com some scouts tracking Javier wanted "to see him display his talents more consistently." He's a $4 million mix of big-time upside and risk.

9. Nick Burdi | Reliever | DOB: 1/93 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     A-     13      0     4.15      13.0       8      0      26      8
         A+      7      0     0.00       7.1       5      0      12      2
2015     A+     13      0     2.25      20.0      12      1      29      3
         AA     30      0     4.53      43.2      40      3      54     32

Nick Burdi received a lot of hype heading into last year because he throws 100 miles per hour and seemed likely to make a midseason impact for the Twins within 12 months of being drafted in the second round out of Louisville. Instead he struggled at Double-A to begin the season, posting a 5.93 ERA with 22 walks in 30 innings, and was demoted back to Single-A in July. He failed to reach Minnesota and it took a great stretch at Single-A just to finish the year back at Double-A.

It was a disappointing first full season for the right-hander Baseball America called "the hardest thrower in college baseball" going into the 2014 draft, but Burdi still showed the high upside he displayed while posting a 0.62 ERA in college. From July 1 through the end of the season he had a 1.89 ERA and 50/13 K/BB ratio in 33 innings, holding opponents to a .174 batting average. If he'd pitched that way to begin the season he'd likely have been in the Twins' bullpen by June.

Burdi had 15.7 strikeouts per nine innings for Louisville in 2013-2014 and has 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro, including at least 11.0 per nine innings at all three levels. He looks the part of a flame-thrower at 6-foot-5 and has the triple-digit fastball and low-90s slider to match. If he can simply throw strikes on a somewhat consistent basis Burdi has a chance to be a late-inning stud and he heads into 2016 just as he headed into 2015: On the verge of the big leagues.

8. 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
2015     A-      9      9     1.15      55.0      29      2      77     15
         A+     15     15     2.61      79.1      66      2      55     38

Stephen Gonsalves fell to the Twins in the fourth round of the 2013 draft due to a high school suspension and has lived up to the billing of being a first-round talent. Signed for an above-slot bonus of $700,000, the 6-foot-5 left-hander has a 2.17 ERA in 228 innings as a pro but the Twins have been conservative with his promotion timetable. Gonsalves spent parts of three seasons in rookie-ball and began last year at low Single-A despite already thriving there to end 2014.

He made 17 total starts at low Single-A with a 1.96 ERA and 121/26 K/BB ratio in 92 innings. His numbers ceased being video game-like following a midseason promotion to high Single-A last year--his strikeouts dipped and his walks rose--but Gonsalves still managed to be very tough to hit with a 2.61 ERA and .225 opponents' batting average while allowing just two homers in 79 innings. He was one of six 20-year-olds to throw 75 or more innings in the Florida State League.

Gonsalves' control definitely needs plenty of work, but for all the talk about the effectiveness of his off-speed pitches lagging behind his low-90s fastball he's a rare lefty with consistently better numbers versus righties. It's possible that high Single-A and Double-A hitters could expose some of Gonsalves' flaws this season, but if not he has a chance to be a consensus top-100 prospect across MLB this time next year.

7. Tyler Jay | Reliever | DOB: 4/94 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2015-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2015     A+     19      0     3.93      18.1      18      0      22      8

College relievers drafted with top-10 picks have a very poor track record, but in taking University of Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay sixth overall the Twins made it clear they believe he can develop into a starter. Baseball America ranked Jay as the 13th-best prospect in the draft and suggested he could be the first from the class to reach the majors if used as a reliever, but instead the Twins sent him to high Single-A and left him there to make 19 appearances out of the bullpen.

Jay's college numbers were great with a 0.60 ERA and 70/7 K/BB ratio in 60 innings last season and after a rough first few outings he pitched well in his pro debut, showing the mid-90s fastball and power slider that dominated Big Ten hitters. In question is how much velocity he'll lose as a starter, how he'll hold up physically, and how effective his changeup can be. For the Twins turning college relievers into pro starters has mostly been a struggle, but it certainly can be done.

Most college stars who're top-10 picks move very quickly through the minors, but since the Twins are trying to teach Jay to do something he's basically never done it may take a while. "Late-inning reliever" is a nice fallback plan that can always be put in motion to get Jay back on the fast track, although the history of college relievers suggests that's also far from a sure thing. Either way, the Twins went out on a limb picking Jay and now they need to get value from player development.

6. Jorge Polanco | Shortstop | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     A-     523     .308     .362     .452      5     47     42     59
2014     A+     432     .291     .364     .415      6     29     46     60
         AA     157     .281     .323     .342      1      7      9     28
2015     AA     431     .289     .346     .393      6     26     35     63
         AAA     94     .284     .309     .352      0      6      4     10

Two years ago Jorge Polanco became the youngest position player to debut for the Twins since Joe Mauer in 2004 and last year he again received a brief call-up, but he spent most of 2015 at Double-A. He played well there, hitting .289/.346/.393 with modest power and a decent walk rate in 95 games. He also played 22 games at Triple-A, hitting .284 with less power and fewer walks. And given that Polanco did all of it at age 21 it was an impressive season.

Polanco played mostly shortstop for the second straight year after splitting time between second base and shortstop in the low minors, but reviews of his defense there are mixed. He's committed a lot of errors at shortstop in the minors and his arm strength appears somewhat lacking, but the Twins insist they think he can stick at the position. Given his offensive skill set that could be key, because as a passable defensive shortstop Polanco has a chance to be an impact player.

If instead Polanco winds up at second base his limited power and unspectacular plate discipline lower his upside considerably, not to mention the Twins have Brian Dozier signed through 2018. It's unclear where Polanco fits into the Twins' plans and because of that--plus his impending MLB readiness--the speedy switch-hitter is the top-10 prospect most likely to be trade bait. He's set to arrive at one of the few times in two decades the Twins may not need middle infield help.

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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