February 19, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

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

20. 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
2015     A-     443     .265     .359     .406      5     35     48     87

Tanner English was drafted in the middle rounds for his speed and range in center field despite not doing much hitting in college at South Carolina, but he's shown a lot more offensive promise than expected as a pro. He hit .316/.439/.474 in 32 rookie-ball games after signing in 2014 and then bounced back from a poor start last year to hit .298/.369/.456 in 59 games at low Single-A after June 1.

Last season's overall numbers were nothing special for a 22-year-old in the Midwest League, but English drew lots of walks without striking out a ton, showed much more power than he ever did in college, and swiped 37 bases in 104 games at an 84 percent success rate while continuing to draw positive reviews defensively. None of which makes him a top prospect, but he's certainly an intriguing player just two years after being a 11th-round draft pick.

If things go well this season English should be able to advance to Double-A, where the question will be whether he can keep hitting enough to potentially be a starting center fielder rather than profiling more as a speedy, athletic backup. Because of his varied skill set English won't have to hit much to reach the majors and another good season at the plate could plant him firmly in the Twins' plans.

19. 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
2015     A-     11      6     4.08      35.1      33      2      37     18

Michael Cederoth was a standout closer for San Diego State in 2014, saving 20 games with a 2.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings while hitting triple-digits with his fastball. Many draft analysts felt he had a chance to move very quickly through the minors and perhaps make his MLB debut within a year, but the Twins picked him in the third round with the intention of making him a starter and he's yet to pitch beyond Single-A.

Cederoth had a strong rookie-ball debut after being drafted and moved up to low Single-A last year, but he struggled early on and was shifted to the bullpen in mid-May. He made five relief appearances and then was shut down with an undisclosed illness, missing the final three months of the season. He declined to give any details, saying only that it was "a personal illness I've had over the years" and "now it's completely taken care of."

Cederoth is 6-foot-6 with an equally big fastball, but through two pro seasons he's had a difficult time consistently throwing strikes and hasn't missed a ton of bats. Toss in the lost development time and this season looks to be pretty huge for his long-term outlook. If nothing else, the Twins should have a much clearer picture of whether he's better off continuing to develop as a starter or trying to get back on the bullpen fast track.

18. Engelb Vielma | Shortstop | DOB: 6/94 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK     152     .237     .320     .260      0      3     15     23
2014     A-     459     .266     .313     .323      1     18     28     71
2015     A+     501     .270     .321     .306      1     12     35     71

He makes Ben Revere look like a hulking slugger, but put Engelb Vielma at shortstop and eyes light up in a hurry. Widely regarded as one of baseball's best defensive minor leaguers regardless of position, Vielma is without question the premier defensive shortstop in the Twins' farm system despite not yet playing a game above Single-A. He draws rave reviews for his range, arm, and sure-handedness, making spectacular plays while also keeping his error count relatively low.

Vielma has also made strides offensively, although it's hard to imagine him ever developing into more than a bottom-of-the-order bat. His walk rate is low, but that has a lot to do with pitchers simply not fearing him and Vielma's strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests he's not undisciplined. Last season he hit .270 compared to the Florida State League average of .248 and in 2014 he hit .266 compared to the Midwest League average of .252. He also stole 35 bases in 120 games last year.

Make no mistake, Vielma's future depends on his defense. If he's a truly elite, Gold Glove-caliber shortstop then hitting .250 with zero power and a few walks would make him a viable starter. If instead his defense proves to be good rather than great or his bat fails to clear that very low bar then his future figures to be as a utility infielder. Whatever the case, in an organization that has struggled for decades to develop homegrown shortstops Vielma is already in the Twins' plans.

17. J.T. Chargois | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2015     A+     16      0     2.40      15.0      12      0      19      5
         AA     32      0     2.73      33.0      26      1      34     20

Rice University had co-closers in 2012 and the Twins drafted both of them, picking J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Duffey reached the majors last season as a starter and now looks likely to be in the Twins' long-term rotation plans, but Chargois spent the season coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery after missing all of 2013 and 2014. And it was a helluva comeback.

Chargois struggled with his control, which was an issue for him before blowing out his elbow and is a common post-surgery problem for pitchers in general, but his raw stuff was electric. Nearly every appearance at high Single-A and Double-A had reports of triple-digit fastballs and Chargois totaled 53 strikeouts in 48 innings while holding opponents to a .212 batting average and one homer. And he got stronger as the year went on, dominating in August and September.

Chargois is 25 years old and has just 64 career innings under his belt thanks to all the missed time, so expectations should be held somewhat in check. However, his fastball velocity is truly elite and putting together a month or two of good work in the minors to begin this season could thrust Chargois into the mix for a call-up to the Twins given that he's already been added to the 40-man roster.

16. Jermaine Palacios | Shortstop | DOB: 6/96 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2015     RK     106     .421     .472     .589      1     12      9     11
         RK+    145     .336     .345     .507      2     18      3     20

Jermaine Palacios signed with the Twins out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2013 and made his pro debut the next season, hitting .270/.404/.399 with 14 steals and nearly as many walks (35) as strikeouts (37) in 49 games in the Dominican summer league. That convinced the Twins he was ready for more at age 18, so he started last season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit .421 in 26 games to force a promotion.

Bumped up to the Twins' advanced rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League, he batted .336 with 18 extra-base hits in 31 games. Add it together and Palacios batted .370 with 30 extra-base hits in 57 games of rookie-ball competition as an 18-year-old shortstop. Baseball America rated him as the third-best prospect in the Appalachian League, praising his "plus bat speed and calm, controlled at-bats."

Reviews of his defense aren't as positive and he committed a bunch of errors last year, although there seems to be some hope that Palacios can play shortstop for at least a while. Most standout rookie-ball performances come and go without meaning a whole lot, but Palacios is a very young middle infielder with a .327/.401/.489 hitting line through 106 career games and the skill set is there to develop into a major leaguer.


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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.


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