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.

June 9, 2015

Twins draft Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay with No. 6 pick

Tyler Jay Illinois

In selecting University of Illinois reliever Tyler Jay with the No. 6 pick the Twins made it clear they think he can develop into a starter and according to Baseball America that's an opinion shared by some, but not all, teams. Jay saved 14 games with a 0.60 ERA and 70/7 K/BB ratio in 60 innings for Illinois during the regular season and actually started a College World Series game against Vanderbilt hours before the draft, allowing a homer to No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson.

Jay is a left-hander with good control who throws in the mid-90s as a reliever, but the question is whether his secondary pitches and durability will hold up as a starter and how much of his electric raw stuff will be lost when trying to throw six or seven innings instead of one or two innings. Very few teams invest top-10 picks in college relievers and when they have done so the results are a mixed bag at best, suggesting the "sure thing" aspect is somewhat misleading.

Here's a list of every college reliever drafted with a top-10 pick in the past 20 years:

RELIEVER         PICK     YEAR
TYLER JAY          #6     2015
Drew Storen       #10     2009
Daniel Moskos      #4     2007
Casey Weathers     #8     2007
Matt Anderson      #1     1997
Braden Looper      #3     1997

Prior to Jay there had been just five college relievers drafted with top-10 picks since 1995 and of those five only Drew Storen, the 10th pick in 2009, panned out as hoped. Braden Looper, the third pick in 1997, had a solid career as a setup man and sometimes closer, but finished with a 4.15 ERA. And the other three were busts. That has little to do with Jay, specifically, but it does show that using a top-10 pick on a college reliever has been anything but a sure thing.

In recent years the Twins have used several high-round picks on college relievers with plans to turn them into pro starters and it hasn't worked out well at all, with a combination of injuries and poor performances derailing most of them long before the majors were in sight. Mediocre, injured, and/or failed starters become great relievers far more often than great relievers become even mediocre starters, which is why teams almost always go for more upside with top-10 picks.

Baseball America ranked Jay as the 13th-best prospect in the draft, noting that he "was trending toward the top half of the first round and could be the first player from the draft class to reach the majors if he stays in a relief role." However, their pre-draft scouting report also noted that "scouts were mixed on whether or not Jay could start" and despite a mid-90s fastball and "wipeout" slider. Terry Ryan indicated that Jay will continue to be used as a reliever for the rest of 2015.

MLB.com ranked Jay as the ninth-best prospect in the draft, noting that he's "not very physical at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds" but "generates that heat with athleticism and a quick arm rather than an excessive amount of effort in his delivery." Their pre-draft scouting report also noted that Jay "has a deeper repertoire than most relievers" and "has enough pitches and control to lead a pro team to consider trying him as a starter."

Jay is the Twins' fourth consecutive top-10 pick, following high school outfielder Byron Buxton at No. 2 in 2012, high school pitcher Kohl Stewart at No. 4 in 2013, and high school shortstop Nick Gordon at No. 5 in 2014. And he'll be the Twins' only draft pick in the top 70 this year, because they forfeited their second-round pick for the right to sign the since-suspended Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million contract this offseason.


For more draft talk, plus a discussion of the Twins demoting Danny Santana and promoting Kennys Vargas, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.