March 7, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 36-40.

35. Brian Gilbert | Reliever | DOB: 8/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-7

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       7      1
         A-     13      0     1.06      17.0      12      0       7      0

Brian Gilbert split the 2011 and 2012 seasons between Seton Hall University's rotation and bullpen with mediocre results, but switched to relief work full time in 2013 and thrived in the closer role with a 2.40 ERA, .198 opponents' batting average, and 49 strikeouts in 49 innings. Drafted by the Twins in the seventh round, he signed for $120,000 and predictably dominated inexperienced hitters in the low minors during his pro debut.

He made six rookie-ball appearances and 13 more at low Single-A, posting a 0.78 ERA and 14/1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings while allowing zero homers after serving up just one long ball last year at Seton Hall. Gilbert issued 22 walks and uncorked six wild pitches in 49 college innings, so his control in the low minors was a surprise. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report pegged his fastball at 92-95 miles per hour, but noted that his off-speed pitches need improvement.

College relievers tend to move quickly through a farm system if they perform well, so hopefully the Twins test Gilbert against some more experienced hitters and see if his raw stuff translates into missed bats higher up the organizational ladder. They also drafted his Seton Hall teammate, outfielder Zack Granite, in the 14th round and he hit .285/.362/.343 with 14 steals in 61 games at rookie-ball.

34. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5
2012     A-     47      0     3.47      62.1      55      5      68     33
2013     A+     35      0     5.16      45.1      44      7      43     23

Corey Williams took a step backward last season, but it wasn't as big as his ERA jumping from 3.47 to 5.16 would suggest. Most of his secondary numbers remained similar, but the problem is that he spent a full season being sub par at high Single-A as a 22-year-old in his third pro season and hasn't improved upon his poor control since being drafted in the third round by the Twins out of Vanderbilt University in 2011.

Williams has totaled 125 strikeouts in 121 pro innings, which is good but not great for someone the Twins hoped would develop into a mid-90s throwing, late-inning reliever. More troubling are his 63 walks in 121 innings, along with a relatively high 12 homers allowed and struggles versus right-handed hitters. Last season righties had an .823 OPS against Williams and he also failed to shut down lefties after holding them to a .179 batting average in 2012.

This is a key season for Williams, who once signed for $575,000 but now appears to be on the verge of falling into the potential middle reliever or situational left-hander pile, which isn't home to many actual prospects. He throws hard, induces plenty of ground balls, and misses a fair number of bats, but his actual results have been underwhelming dating back to college and there is no shortage of intriguing relief prospects throughout the Twins' farm system.

33. 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

University of Kentucky pitchers have been popular Twins targets in recent drafts and that includes selecting left-hander Taylor Rogers in the 11th round two years ago. Rogers' college numbers were actually very ugly, as he went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA while posting an ERA above 4.50 in all three seasons, but he's nearly halved that with a 2.69 ERA in two years as a pro. However, he's done that against Single-A hitters and with a high-80s fastball his prospect status is questionable.

Rogers' strikeout rate was very good at rookie-ball and low Single-A, but he's managed just 83 strikeouts in 131 innings at high Single-A and it's tough to take seriously a pitching prospect who can't crack six strikeouts per nine innings in the Florida State League. His control also hasn't been especially good, with 2.2 walks per nine innings at high Single-A, but Rogers did induce lots of ground balls while serving up a total of just five homers in 528 plate appearances there.

There are certainly plenty of soft-tossing lefties with poor strikeout rates who do just fine the big leagues, but for the most part they tended to have decent strikeout rates in the minors. Rogers shouldn't be written off as a total non-prospect and can do away with a lot of skepticism if he thrives at Double-A this season as a 23-year-old, but the odds are stacked against him and he lacks upside.

32. 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

Two years ago the Twins drafted Rice University co-closers J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Chargois' career has been derailed by elbow surgery, but Duffey transitioned from reliever to starter at low Single-A last season with a lot of success, starting nine games with a 2.78 ERA and 47/6 K/BB ratio. Unfortunately he was considerably less impressive after being promoted to high Single-A and finished the year in the bullpen.

As a reliever at Rice and in his rookie-ball debut Duffey racked up tons of strikeouts, but last year as a starter he missed fewer bats and instead relied on very good control with an 83/20 K/BB ratio in 111 total innings. Those numbers match his raw stuff, which includes a low-90s fastball and slider/changeup off-speed repertoire, so it'll be interesting to see how long the Twins stick with Duffey as a starter.

Selecting college relievers and trying to turn them into professional starters was the focus of the Twins' draft in 2012 (well, that and picking some guy named Byron Buxton), but so far none of them have emerged as a standout starter prospect. Duffey and third-rounder Mason Melotakis look like the best bets right now, while Chargois and supplemental first-rounder Luke Bard have barely gotten out of the gates due to injuries.

31. Brett Lee | Starter | DOB: 9/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    16      4     2.68      43.2      39      3      48     12
2013     A-     23     19     2.95     116.0     117      7      89     26

Brett Lee was drafted in the late rounds by the Pirates in 2009 and the Dodgers in 2010 before signing with the Twins for $150,000 as a 10th-round pick out of St. Petersburg College in 2011. He had an excellent pro debut at rookie-ball in 2012 and then moved up to full-season competition last year, thriving at low Single-A with a 2.95 ERA and 89/26 K/BB ratio in 116 innings for Cedar Rapids.

Lee had the sixth-best walk rate in the Midwest League among all pitchers with at least 15 starts, but his strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings was actually below the league average of 7.6. Those numbers suggest that Lee is just another soft-tosser, of which the Twins never have a shortage, but he's actually a 6-foot-4 left-hander with decent velocity. Whether or not that ever translates into more missed bats is a key question for Lee's development.

Another reason to possibly be more excited about Lee's season than his overall numbers show is that he put together a fantastic second half with a 1.41 ERA and 45/8 K/BB ratio in 57 innings while holding opponents to a .204 batting average and one homer. Still not as many missed bats as you'd like to see, but eight walks and one homer in 57 innings is some awfully good pitching to contact and his ground-ball rate was strong as well.

February 13, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

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

30. Kennys Vargas | First Base | DOB: 8/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Puerto Rico

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    160     .324     .388     .507      3     19     13     40
2011     RK+    191     .322     .377     .489      6     17     15     50
2012     A-     186     .318     .419     .610     11     22     28     41

Miguel Sano was the big draw in Beloit last season but Kennys Vargas actually had the highest OPS on the team by more than 100 points, hitting .318/.419/.610 with 11 homers and 10 doubles in 41 games. He also put up big numbers in rookie-ball during the previous three seasons and the 6-foot-5, switch-hitting first baseman has a .309/.390/.509 career line with 68 extra-base hits and 73 walks in 159 games through age 21. That's the good news.

The bad news is that he's played just 159 career games thanks to serving a 50-game suspension after being busted in 2011 for a weight loss drug used to speed metabolism. And as you might expect from a 6-foot-5 slugger who struggles to control his weight Vargas isn't much of a defender at first base and has struck out 173 times in 667 plate appearances. He's big and slow and swings through a lot of pitches, but Vargas' power potential is very intriguing.

Of course, he was also somewhat old for the level of competition in the Midwest League and as far as player types go low-minors sluggers with high strikeout rates who're destined to wind up at designated hitter don't have a particularly good track record of long-term success. This year should tell a lot about Vargas as he moves up to high Single-A and hopefully puts in a full season for the first time at age 22.

29. B.J. Hermsen | Starter | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+     8      6     3.32      38.0      39      2      39      4
         A-     12     12     5.00      72.0      85      6      46     15
2011     A-     21     20     3.10     124.2     131     10      81     31
         A+      5      5     4.39      26.2      34      1      20      6
2012     A+      4      4     0.78      23.0      16      1      12      5
         AA     22     22     3.22     139.2     145     12      75     25

B.J. Hermsen has nice-looking ERAs and win-loss records at every stop since the Twins grabbed him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of an Iowa high school, but his secondary numbers have consistently been underwhelming. Last season he went 12-6 with a 2.88 ERA between high Single-A and Double-A on the way to being named Twins minor league pitcher of the year, but managed just 87 strikeouts in 163 innings and has a career rate of 5.9 per nine innings.

Also worrisome is that after being touted as a hard-thrower coming out of high school the 6-foot-5 right-hander has typically worked in the high-80s with his fastball as a pro. He has excellent control and the ability to pump strikes at inexperienced hitters has no doubt played a big part in his low-minors success, but when a pitcher can't crack five strikeouts per nine innings versus Single-A and Double-A hitters it's tough to take him seriously as a prospect.

There are certainly pitchers who find some big-league success with miniscule strikeout rates, but most of them missed a fair number of bats in the minors and also induce lots of ground balls. Hermsen does neither of things and never has. Throwing strikes and knowing how to pitch have gotten him this far, but it's hard to see Hermsen developing into more than a back-of-the-rotation starter unless something changes.

28. Tyler Duffey | Reliever | 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

Drafted in the fifth round as part of the team's focus on college relievers, Tyler Duffey and Twins second-round pick J.T. Chargois were co-closers for Rice University. Duffey can't match Chargois' dominant raw stuff, but prior to the draft Baseball America's scouting report had him throwing in the low-90s with a good slider and his 2012 numbers were even better than Chargois' with a 1.93 ERA and 68-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 innings.

Duffey also had a 2.52 ERA and 76-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings for Rice in 2011 and struck out a total of 189 batters in 153 college innings. And unlike Chargois there's apparently some hope that Duffey's changeup is good enough to make it as a starter. However, for his debut Duffey was assigned to rookie-level Elizabethton and worked out of the bullpen, throwing 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA and 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Those numbers are obviously incredible, but a 21-year-old college reliever thriving against rookie-ball hitters doesn't prove much of anything. Assuming the Twins eventually decide to actually test Duffey a little bit he could move pretty quickly up the organizational ladder as a reliever, but if they're serious about giving him an opportunity to start that whole process would probably take significantly longer.

27. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5
2012     A-     47      0     3.47      62.1      55      5      68     33

Before binging on hard-throwing college relievers in last year's draft the Twins used their 2011 third-round pick on Vanderbilt left-hander Corey Williams, whose 4.49 ERA didn't match his impressive velocity out of the bullpen. As a draft-eligible sophomore he was a tough sign and the Twins had to spend $575,000 to lure Williams into pro ball, doubling the recommended slot bonus amount.

Williams had a solid seven-appearance debut at rookie-ball after signing and then moved up to low Single-A last season, throwing 62 innings with a 3.47 ERA and 68-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He overpowered left-handed hitters, holding them to a .179 batting average and 24 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances, but had much less success versus right-handed hitters and struggled to consistently throw strikes overall.

Williams had 54 strikeouts in 55 innings for Vanderbilt and has whiffed 79 in 74 innings as a pro, which are far from exceptional strikeout rates for a reliever with a mid-90s fastball facing SEC and Midwest League hitters. On the other hand he's still just 22 years old and induces lots of ground balls to go with the good but not great number of missed bats, so Williams certainly has considerable upside as a potential late-inning reliever.

26. Adam Walker | Right Field | DOB: 10/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    254     .250     .310     .496     14     25     19     76

Adam Walker's professional debut looked exactly like his college numbers suggested it would, as the third-round pick from Jacksonville University filled the stat sheet for rookie-level Elizabethton with extra-base hits and strikeouts. Rarely do the Twins draft college hitters in the early rounds, especially college hitters with big strikeout totals, so they clearly saw something they really liked in Walker's power potential.

And there's no doubting his ability to hit the ball a long way. Walker blasted 41 homers and 51 doubles in 168 college games and went deep 14 times in 58 games in Elizabethton, posting a .246 Isolated Power that was second-best in the entire Appalachian League. Unfortunately all that pop came with extreme contact issues, as he whiffed 184 times in 168 college games despite facing less than elite competition and struck out 76 times in 58 rookie-ball games at age 20.

Those are alarming strikeout totals and become an even bigger red flag when combined with just 19 walks in 254 plate appearances for Elizabethton. Over the years the Twins' farm system has been short on power-hitting corner outfielders and homers can certainly make up for a lot of other flaws, but until Walker cuts down on the strikeouts and posts a decent batting average there will be plenty of reason for skepticism that he can clobber more advanced pitching.


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June 6, 2012

Twins follow Byron Buxton pick by loading up on hard-throwing pitchers

Using their highest pick since 2001 to choose Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton over Stanford right-hander Mark Appel will understandably be the focus of the Twins' draft, but along with the No. 2 pick they also had five other top-100 selections in one of the most stacked collections of early picks in draft history. That included No. 32 and No. 42, which are essentially first-rounders and not far off from where they've usually made their first picks.

For instance, last year their top choice was No. 30 and from 2002-2011 they chose higher than No. 20 just once. This year, thanks to a combination of last season's 63-99 record and losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to free agency, they had picks at 2, 32, 42, 63, 72, and 97. That provided a unique and much-needed opportunity to restock the farm system and after taking the best player available in Buxton the Twins loaded up on high-velocity pitchers.

Buxton being the focus of everything means No. 32 pick Jose Berrios will get considerably less attention than No. 30 pick Levi Michael received last year, but in a draft where Carlos Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be the top pick Berrios also became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher of all time. Berrios threw a no-hitter against Correa's team in April and the Twins snagged the high school right-hander sooner than most draft analysts expected.

Baseball America ranked Berrios as the 49th-best player, including 25th among pitchers, while ESPN.com ranked him 73rd overall and 27th among pitchers. That suggests the Twins may have reached a bit for him, although that's much more common in MLB than the NFL or NBA and the scouting reports on Berrios are encouraging. Baseball America noted that he added significant muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame and "his fastball now sits in the 93-95 mph range."

ESPN had a similar review of his raw stuff, noting that "he'll touch 96 and works at 92-94 with a hard downward-breaking curveball at 80-82 and a straight changeup in the same range." While watching the first round of the draft unfold Monday night it became apparent that there weren't many top-ranked college pitchers left on the board for the Twins at No. 32 and that may have played a part in choosing Berrios, but he certainly sounds like a high-upside arm.

Ten picks later the Twins took Georgia Tech reliever Luke Bard, who'll be given a chance to start. His brother, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard, emerged as a top setup man for the Red Sox before struggling in a move to the rotation. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's overpowering raw stuff, but in ranking him as the 93rd-best player Baseball America noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Bard's college numbers were fantastic, with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings to go along with zero homers allowed, but he missed much of the season with an injured lat muscle that ESPN.com speculated may have kept him out of the first round. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called the injury "a low to moderate risk" and expressed optimism that Bard can develop his changeup enough to be an effective starter.

Berrios was compensation for losing Cuddyer and Bard was compensation for losing Kubel, so with their own second-rounder the Twins took Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis with the 63rd pick. ESPN actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63 while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88 following a junior season in which he threw 62 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Melotakis made the occasional start in college, but Baseball America calls him "a true power relief arm" with "short arm action" who works in the mid-90s and has an inconsistent but potentially solid slider. ESPN calls him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft" and offers more praise for "a hammer curveball" while suggesting that he might have a future as a starter, so like with Bard the Twins may let him try it in the low minors.

With their second compensatory pick for losing Cuddyer the Twins selected yet another college reliever in Rice right-hander J.T. Chargois, whom Baseball America rated 77th and ESPN rated 64th. As a junior Chargois threw 38 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and according to ESPN he has the mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider, and high-effort delivery "that virtually demands he get to the majors as quickly as possible."

Chargois also played first base for Rice and hit .323 with a .411 on-base percentage, but he failed to homer in 51 games and his future is on the mound. Unlike with Bard and Melotakis there's no chance of Chargois starting and concerns about his mechanics appear in every scouting report, but ESPN says he's "someone to sign and send right out to Double-A" and praises his slider for being "almost comical in how quickly it appears to dive down out of sight."

After selecting three consecutive college pitchers the Twins used their third-round pick on a college hitter, taking Jacksonville first baseman Adam Walker with the 97th pick. Rarely have the Twins used high picks on college sluggers, but the Wisconsin native whose father was a replacement player for the Vikings in 1987 apparently caught their eye by hitting .343 with 12 homers, 14 doubles, and a .581 slugging percentage in 56 games as a junior.

And he was even better as a sophomore in 2011, hitting .409 with a .682 slugging percentage in 61 games. Unfortunately all that power came with 110 strikeouts in 117 games, which along with far fewer walks than strikeouts is often a red flag for a college bat. Sure enough, Baseball America notes that Walker "struggles to lay off breaking pitches or fastballs up and out of the zone." Despite that they rated him as the 58th-best player in the class.

After snagging a potential power bat in Walker the Twins went back to the well for more college relievers, using their fourth-rounder on San Jose State right-hander Zack Jones and their fifth-rounder on Rice right-hander Tyler Duffey. Jones started occasionally, but Baseball America says "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacks a quality third pitch to go with a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. As a junior he threw 54 innings with a 60/17 K/BB ratio.

Twins scouts apparently saw a lot of Rice games, because Chargois and Duffey were the Owls' co-closers and now they have both of them. Duffey can't match Chargois' dominant raw stuff, but Baseball America says he throws in the low-90s with a good slider and his numbers were even better with a 1.93 ERA and 68/21 K/BB ratio in 51 innings. And unlike Chargois there's apparently some hope that Duffey's changeup is good enough to make it as a starter.

Stepping away from the college ranks the Twins took Florida high school left-hander Andre Martinez and Puerto Rico high school catcher Jorge Fernandez in the sixth and seventh rounds, but then went to college with their next eight picks. That included big, hard-throwing College of Charleston right-hander Christian Powell and good-hitting, iffy-fielding Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, whose father Lee Mazzilli played 14 seasons in the majors.

They went high school heavy at the top, putting their faith in Buxton over Appel and using the No. 32 pick on Berrios, but the Twins took college players with 14 of their next 16 picks. And within all those college players the theme is clear: After years of hoarding low-velocity strike-throwers the Twins have finally focused on adding more big-time velocity and bat-missing ability. Powers arms is what the fan base has wanted and powers arms is what they got.

Unfortunately this wasn't a deep draft for high-end college starters and by the time the Twins were ready to start picking again after Buxton the cupboard was pretty bare, so they went heavy on college relievers. Normally that's not a great investment in the top 100, but the lack of highly touted college starters available beyond the first round forced their hand and they seem confident that at least some of those college relievers can develop into starters as pros.

This group isn't the amazing collection of high-upside talent you'd like to see come from such a stockpile of early picks, but that has more to do with the weak draft class than any decisions the Twins made. They deserve credit for addressing the organization-wide pitching issues, albeit several years later than they should have and with relievers instead of starters. It'll be years before we can properly pass judgment on this draft, but the approach was a good one.

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