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.

June 11, 2013

Twins follow Kohl Stewart pick by loading up on pitchers and catchers

ryan eades lsu draft

By choosing high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the fourth overall pick the Twins took a huge risk and veered away from their typical draft strategy, but they went back to normal in the second round. As a college starter with three seasons of major conference experience LSU right-hander Ryan Eades was a prototypical Twins target with the 43rd pick and in fact he's the eighth college pitcher selected by the Twins with a top-50 pick since 2005.

Eades missed his senior season of high school following shoulder surgery, but was injury free for three years at LSU and led the team in starts this season. However, fading down the stretch in both 2012 and 2013 puts his durability in some question and caused ESPN to rate Eades as the draft's No. 59 prospect despite noting that he "looked like a mid-first-rounder for the first seven weeks of the season."

Even after a late-season fade Eades finished with an 8-1 record and 2.81 ERA in 16 starts for one of the best teams in the country, but a .269 opponents' batting average and just 77 strikeouts in 96 innings are underwhelming. And that modest strikeout rate is actually an improvement over last season, when Eades managed just 63 strikeouts in 94 innings while allowing opponents to hit .296. Combined during his final two years Eades averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Eades' bat-missing ability paled in comparison to LSU's aces. Last year it was Kevin Gausman, who was drafted fourth overall by the Orioles, and averaged 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. This year it was Aaron Nola, who projects as a potential top-10 pick in 2014, and got 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Eades obviously isn't on the same level as Gausman and Nola or he wouldn't have been available at No. 43, but the point is that his raw stuff has yet to turn into strikeouts.

With that said, it's good raw stuff. Baseball America rated him 37th in the class, noting that Eades "looks the part of a frontline starter" with "an athletic 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame" and fastball that reaches the mid-90s. According to BA he's "honed his breaking ball into a power curveball" and also works with a two-seam fastball and a changeup, the latter of which may prove to be the key to Eades developing into a successful big-league starter.

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

There are no such questions behind the plate, as BA calls 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 offers 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.

In the fourth round the Twins took another high school pitcher in California left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, who actually rated three spots higher than Turner on BA's list. Their scouting report says 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." When he's going well Gonsalves throws in the low-90s and at 6-foot-5 "is intriguing because of his body and projection."

And he's tiny compared to fifth-round pick Aaron Slegers, a 6-foot-10 right-hander who starred for Indiana after barely pitching before this season due to injuries. Slegers walked just 15 batters in 16 starts and had a 2.16 ERA, but also managed just 54 strikeouts in 97 innings. BA notes that he's capable of reaching the mid-90s, but "got tired as he dealt with a regular workload for the first time" and lacks a consistently effective breaking ball.

In the eighth round the Twins took Slegers' teammate, third baseman Dustin DeMuth, who led Indiana with a .389 batting average but didn't draw many walks or hit for much power. According to BA scouts aren't sure if he'll stick at third base defensively and despite being 6-foot-3 his swing isn't really conducive to power development, but "he makes consistent contact ... with plus speed and arm strength."

Florida high school catcher Brian Navarreto was the sixth-round pick and the Twins took another catcher, New Mexico senior Mitchell Garver, in the ninth round. Based on skills alone Navarreto may have gone 2-3 rounds higher, but his involvement in an ugly on-field brawl likely dropped his stock. Garver had good numbers in a hitter-friendly environment and he's a typical "senior sign" who's already agreed to a below-slot deal that saves the Twins money to use on other picks.

In all the Twins had 10 of the first 300 picks in the draft and used all but one of them on pitchers or catchers, with DeMuth the only exception. Loading up on pitching certainly isn't surprising, but taking catchers in the third, sixth, and ninth rounds stands out as an unexpected strategy. Overall they went for long-term upside in Stewart and Gonsalves, did their standard thing with a bunch of college right-handers, and stocked up on backstops.

It'll be hard for the 2013 draft to look like a good one for the Twins unless Stewart pans out, but in general their approach seems fairly sound and based on pre-draft rankings from BA, ESPN, and MLB.com they didn't really step too far out on a limb with any selections. Last year it was tough not to love the Twins' draft haul because of Buxton at No. 2 and a bunch of extra early picks as compensation for losing free agents, but this year's group has a lot to like too.

For much more on the Twins' draft picks, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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