February 11, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

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

30. Jason Wheeler | Starter | DOB: 10/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-8

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     27     27     3.45     156.2     170     12     115     43
2013     A+     26     26     3.70     143.1     156     16      91     58
2014     A+     13     13     2.51      79.0      77      2      57     19
         AA     12     12     2.78      74.1      69      9      55     16

Jason Wheeler was the Twins' eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Loyola Marymount and skipped rookie-ball, debuting at low Single-A in 2012. He moved up to high Single-A in 2013 and returned to high Single-A to begin last year before moving up to Double-A around midseason. He's proven to be an innings eater, leading all Twins minor leaguers with 158 total innings last season after ranking fifth in 2013 and second in 2012.

Durability combined with a bulky 6-foot-6 frame and nice-looking 3.26 career ERA were enough to get Wheeler added to the 40-man roster in November, but dig a little deeper and the left-hander's numbers aren't as encouraging. He often works in the high-80s with his fastball and has managed just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing 477 hits in 458 frames. His control is improved but still mediocre and he doesn't induce many ground balls.

Wheeler also shows extreme platoon splits, frequently struggling with right-handed hitters, which would make it tough for him to be an innings-eater against big-league lineups. He shuts down lefties pretty well and could perhaps add some velocity in a bullpen role, but right now it's hard to project Wheeler as more than a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever. Yet by virtue of being on the 40-man roster his odds of reaching the majors in 2015 are relatively high.

29. Tyler Jones | Reliever | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     16     4.67      86.2      90      5     102     35
2013     A-     24      0     1.93      37.1      19      0      44     16
         A+     12      0     4.20      15.0      18      0      22      4
2014     A+     40      0     3.73      50.2      49      2      53     23

Tyler Jones was mediocre as a starter in college and in the pros after the Twins drafted him in the 11th round out of LSU in 2011, but he switched to the bullpen full time in 2013 and thrived with 66 strikeouts in 52 innings and a .196 opponents' batting average. He finished that season at high Single-A and that's where Jones spent all of last year as well, but the results weren't as impressive the second time around.

Jones' strikeout rate fell from 11.4 to 9.4 per nine innings and his already poor control took a step backward with 23 walks in 51 innings. He allowed just two homers after serving up zero long balls in 2013, but a 24-year-old reliever with a mid-90s fastball and sharp slider shouldn't be putting 73 runners on base in 51 innings against Single-A competition and lefties hit .301 off the 6-foot-4 right-hander.

He'll be 26 years old before the end of the season and has yet to throw a pitch above Single-A, so Jones' prospect status hinges on getting on the fast track as a potential late-inning reliever and he'll get a chance to do that at Double-A. He needs to either resume missing tons of bats or slash his walk rate dramatically after handing out 3.7 free passes per nine innings so far, but a mid-90s fastball buys a little more patience than usual.

28. 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
2014     A+     364     .249     .322     .375      7     25     31     61

Selected by the Twins in the third round of the 2013 draft, Stuart Turner was billed as a strong defensive catcher with an iffy bat despite hitting .374/.444/.518 during his lone season at the University of Mississippi. In fact, Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that "scouts don't like his swing and question his ability to sting the ball consistently." So far those questions about his offense have proven accurate.

Turner debuted for rookie-level Elizabethton after signing, hitting .264/.340/.380 in 34 games against younger competition, and continued to struggle last year when the Twins jumped him to high Single-A. He started 92 of the team's 139 games at catcher, but hit just .249/.322/.375 with seven homers and a 61/31 K/BB ratio. He threw out 32 percent of steal attempts, which failed to stand out in a league where the average throw-out rate was 32 percent.

Turner's defense received positive reviews, but at this point evaluating catcher defense is more and more about pitch-framing ability and it's nearly impossible to judge that reliably for minor leaguers. Assuming he's a good all-around defensive catcher rather than merely a good catch-and-throw guy Turner won't have to hit much to reach the majors, but that would still require stepping things up a bit.

27. Brandon Peterson | Reliever | DOB: 9/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-13

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+    19      0     2.96      27.1      22      3      40      9
2014     A-      9      0     0.71      12.2       9      0      19      2
         A+     31      1     1.80      45.0      28      0      65     17

Selected by the Twins out Wichita State in the 13th round of the 2013 draft, Minnesota native Brandon Peterson had a strong rookie-ball debut after signing and then dominated two levels of Single-A last year in his first full season. Peterson began the season Cedar Rapids and was quickly promoted after allowing one run in 13 innings with a 19/2 K/BB ratio. He continued to thrive in Fort Myers, posting a 1.80 ERA with 65 strikeouts and zero homers in 45 innings.

Overall he has a 2.01 ERA and 124/28 K/BB ratio in 85 innings as a pro, striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings while holding opponents to a .195 batting average and three homers in 338 plate appearances. Peterson's raw stuff isn't quite as impressive as those incredible numbers suggest, but he tops out in the mid-90s with his fastball and has generated tons of swinging strikes and strikeouts with his slider.

Rarely are low-minors relievers viewed as promising prospects and Peterson has to prove himself against more experienced competition before potentially finding a place in the Twins' long-term plans, but what he's done so far shouldn't be ignored. Given how aggressively the Twins promoted Peterson in his first full season he has a chance to reach Triple-A and perhaps even the majors by the end of 2015.

26. Max Murphy | Center Field | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2014-9

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     RK+    151     .378     .483     .723     10     19     22     34
         A-     137     .242     .314     .395      4     11      8     40

Max Murphy had a big junior season at Bradley University, hitting .314/.414/.598 in 51 games while ranking second in the Missouri Valley Conference with 12 homers. Drafted by the Twins in the ninth round, Murphy had a monstrous pro debut, leading the rookie-level Appalachian League in batting average (.378), on-base percentage (.483), and slugging percentage (.723). Murphy had the league's highest OPS (1.206) by 300 points. Seriously.

In the past decade the only other Twins prospects to top a 1.000 OPS for Elizabethton are Rory Jimenez in 2012, Eddie Rosario in 2011, Oswaldo Arcia in 2010, and Angel Morales in 2008, so it's a mixed bag. Murphy also finished second in the league with 10 homers despite playing just 35 of a possible 68 games, because the Twins decided they'd seen enough dominance and sent the 21-year-old up to low Single-A for the final month of the season.

Once there he struggled, hitting .242/.314/.395 with a 40/8 K/BB ratio in 32 games to take some of the shine off his incredible rookie-ball showing. Murphy figures to begin this season back at low Single-A and will try to prove he can knock around similarly experienced competition. He played mostly center field last season, but long term projects as a corner outfielder with decent speed and a good arm.

For a discussion of which pitching prospects have a chance to crack the Twins' starting rotation at some point in 2015 check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

March 21, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. 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

After selecting Kohl Stewart with the fifth overall pick in last year's draft the Twins used their fourth-round pick on another high school pitcher in California left-hander Stephen Gonsalves. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that 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."

Gonsalves signed for $700,000--which is $150,000 more than third-rounder Stuart Turner and $320,000 more than fifth-rounder Aaron Slegers--and had a very impressive pro debut, posting a 0.95 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28 innings split between two levels of rookie-ball. Gonsalves is 6-foot-5 with a low-90s fastball and developing curveball, which along with the strong debut suggests plenty of long-term upside.

He won't be 20 years old until July, so the Twins figure to take things very slow with Gonsalves and even if everything goes according to plan he likely won't enter into their big-league plans for another few years. He'll probably spend most of this season at low Single-A, perhaps with a workload limit, and one thing to watch is whether he can continue to miss a ton of bats while showing decent control.

19. Tyler Jones | Reliever | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     16     4.67      86.2      90      5     102     35
2013     A-     24      0     1.93      37.1      19      0      44     16
         A+     12      0     4.20      15.0      18      0      22      4

Tyler Jones wasn't particularly good as a starter at LSU, but the Twins liked his mid-90s fastball enough to take him in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. He had a rough pro debut at rookie-ball after signing for $105,000 and then posted a 4.67 ERA at low Single-A in 2012, which caused the Twins to move him from the rotation to the bullpen last year. Jones thrived as a reliever, striking out 66 batters in 52 innings while holding opponents to a .196 batting average and zero homers.

Jones is already 24 years old and has yet to pitch an inning above Single-A, but he should move fairly quickly now that he's a full-time reliever. And even while struggling overall as a starter in 2012 he missed a ton of bats, striking out 102 batters in 87 innings. He also has the raw stuff to match, complementing a mid-90s fastball with a hard slider and throwing it all from a 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame. In other words, he has late-inning potential.

For that to happen, however, Jones will need to improve his control. He issued 3.6 walks per nine innings as a starter in 2012 and 3.4 walks per nine innings as a reliever last season, although he did show some strides down the stretch at high Single-A. He throws hard and he generates tons of strikeouts while inducing lots of ground balls and very few homers. Jones, Michael Tonkin, and Zack Jones give the Twins a trio of high-upside reliever prospects.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    252     .250     .310     .496     14     25     19     76
2013     A-     553     .278     .319     .526     27     65     31    115

When the Twins drafted Adam Walker in the third round out of Jacksonville University in 2012 they touted his power potential and so far that skill has lived up to the hype. He has 41 homers in 187 career games, including 27 homers and 65 total extra-base hits in 129 games at low Single-A last season. Not only did he lead the entire Midwest League with 27 homers, no other hitter went deep even 20 times. He also led the league in total bases, slugging percentage, and RBIs.

So why isn't Walker much higher on this list? For one thing he posted those impressive power numbers as a 21-year-old with college experience spending a full season at low Single-A. That's not elderly, but age and level of competition are always important factors in evaluating prospects. Beyond that, Walker's plate discipline is terrible. He struck out 115 times compared to just 31 walks and his lack of strike-zone control has been a red flag dating back to college.

Elite power is a helluva skill to have and he's also a good athlete, but it's tough to get excited about a corner outfielder with a .316 on-base percentage and 191/50 K/BB ratio in the low minors. Walker had 184 strikeouts in 168 college games and 191 strikeouts through 187 games as a minor leaguer, and he's done all that whiffing with a swing-at-everything approach that hasn't led to a decent walk rate. He's intriguing, but a major adjustment will be needed at some point.

17. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    230     .275     .352     .382      2     15     21     56
2012     RK+    269     .242     .349     .419      4     24     38     56
2013     A-     455     .260     .364     .369      4     30     60    105

Niko Goodrum spent three seasons in rookie-ball after being the Twins' second-round draft pick out of a Georgia high school in 2010, finally moving up to full-season competition last year. He got off to a very nice start at low Single-A, hitting .270/.382/.388 with 31 walks in 48 games before a home plate collision on June 2 left him with a concussion. He returned two weeks later, but then went through an ugly 20-game stretch in which he hit .151 with 22 strikeouts.

Goodrum bounced back to hit .286/.379/.397 in his final 34 games and ended up ranking among the Midwest League's top 15 in walks and on-base percentage. That's impressive for a 21-year-old shortstop, but Goodrum's lack of power, relatively high strikeout rate, and career .246 batting average are all potential red flags for the switch-hitter offensively. And ultimately a huge portion of his long-term upside depends on whether he can remain at shortstop defensively.

He's big for a shortstop at 6-foot-4 and has made lots of errors so far, but that isn't necessarily indicative of anything negative and unlike several other one-time shortstop prospects the Twins haven't moved Goodrum off the position yet. He's also a good athlete, went 20-for-24 stealing bases last year, and has always gotten praise for a strong throwing arm. Goodrum's skill set is an interesting one with a lot to like, but the flaws are noticeable too.

16. Mason Melotakis | Starter | DOB: 6/91 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     7      0     1.35       6.2       2      0      10      2
         A-     13      0     2.08      17.1      15      3      24      4
2013     A-     24     18     3.16     111.0     106      6      84     39

Mason Melotakis starred as a reliever at Northwestern State, but like several of the other college relievers the Twins selected in the 2012 draft they gave him a chance to become a starter. So far it's gone fairly well for the second-round pick, as Melotakis transitioned to the rotation at low Single-A last season with a 3.16 ERA in 111 innings, allowing just six homers and actually faring slightly better versus righties than lefties despite being a southpaw.

However, his strikeout rate of 6.8 per nine innings wasn't impressive and even that was inflated by some late-season relief work. As a 22-year-old with college experience Melotakis was also old for the level of competition and after finishing the 2012 season in the Midwest League it's a little odd that the Twins let him spend all of 2013 there as well. His inexperience as a starter surely played a part in the lack of a rush to promote him, but now he's 23 heading to high Single-A.

This year should reveal a lot about whether Melotakis has a future as a starter and if he continues to fare well it'd be nice to see the Twins give him a midseason push up to Double-A. He works in the low-90s with his fastball and gets positive reviews on his slider, which is a combination that makes the bullpen a safe fallback option. Right now he looks like the best bet to ever be a full-time member of the Twins' rotation among all the college arms they drafted in 2012.