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.

February 14, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

25. Nate Roberts | Left Field | DOB: 2/89 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    153     .336     .444     .547      5     16     21     29
2011     A-     283     .302     .443     .446      4     20     28     48
2012     A-     352     .299     .433     .427      4     25     44     37

Nate Roberts has moved very slowly through the system since being drafted in the fifth round out of High Point University in 2010, in part because the Twins have refused to promote him and in part because he's rarely stayed healthy. He'll turn 24 years old before playing a game above low Single-A and spent back-to-back seasons in Beloit despite hitting .302/.443/.446 there as a 22-year-old the first time around.

That might suggest the Twins don't think much of Roberts' potential, but they gave him a spot in the Arizona Fall League and he hit .446/.565/.662 in 19 games. He led the country in on-base percentage as a college junior and has gotten on base at a .439 clip in the minors, combining patience and strike zone control with an amazing ability to get hit by pitches. Dating back to his final college season Roberts has been plunked 81 times in 235 games.

Along with being an on-base machine Roberts also has 41 steals in 179 games as a pro, but his power has been limited with just 13 homers and he's strictly a corner outfielder defensively. It's tough to get too excited about Roberts' future until he stays healthy and faces more advanced competition, but hopefully the dominant AFL stint convinces the Twins to at least push him aggressively at age 24.

24. Daniel Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    144     .264     .285     .421      4     13      3     30
         A-     144     .238     .289     .315      0      7      7     40
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77

Daniel Santana all but fell off the prospect map following a 2011 season in which he hit just .247/.298/.373 and moved around the diamond defensively at low Single-A, but the switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic stepped up to high Singe-A last year and showed enough promise to think he can have a big-league future. Santana batted .286 with 38 extra-base hits in 121 games, swiped 17 bases, and struck out in just 14 percent of his plate appearances.

With that said, his overall .286/.329/.410 line wasn't particularly impressive and he drew just 29 walks in 547 plate appearances while being thrown out on 11 of 28 steal attempts. In other words Santana is still pretty rough around the edges and there isn't much in his track record through age 22 to suggest he's capable of being more than a bottom-of-the-order bat. He's hit .266/.313/.398 for his career and hasn't cracked a .750 OPS since rookie-ball in 2008.

Defensively, however, Santana gets positive reviews as both a shortstop and second baseman. He alternated middle infield spots with 2011 first-round pick Levi Michael for much of last season, but Santana eventually emerged as Fort Myers' primary shortstop. If he can remain an asset at shortstop Santana could hit enough to be a decent starter there, but right now he seems to be on the utility infielder track.

23. 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

Zack Jones had mediocre results in three years at San Jose State, posting a 4.11 ERA in 138 innings spent mostly as a reliever, but his mid-90s fastball and high strikeout rate convinced the Twins to make him their fourth-round pick in June. Jones started eight games in his final college season, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacked a quality third pitch to go with a fastball and slider.

Jones debuted at rookie-level Elizabethon and then moved up to low Single-A Beloit, throwing 20 total innings while working exclusively out of the bullpen. He overpowered hitters, holding them to a .159 batting average and striking out 34 of the 81 batters he faced, but also walked 11. While the Twins are hoping some of the college relievers they drafted in June can become starters, it sounds like Jones and the organization both prefer him in the bullpen.

Even in short outings his control needs a lot of work. He limited walks in his final season at SJSU, but Jones' overall walk rate in college was 4.4 per nine innings and he issued 5.0 walks per nine innings in his admittedly brief pro debut. Still, as a hard-throwing reliever Jones potentially could move very quickly through the minors and has a decent chance to be the Twins' first 2012 draft pick to reach to the majors.

22. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

As part of MLB's new collective bargaining agreement the Twins were allowed to spend a total of $2.9 million on international prospects last year and they gave $1.4 million of that to 16-year-old Amaurys Minier, a switch-hitting infielder from the Dominican Republic. Ranked by Baseball America as the 12th-best international prospect in last year's signing class, Minier is currently a shortstop but is expected to move to third base once his 6-foot-2 frame fills out.

According to David Rawnsley of Perfect Game he "has immense power from both sides of the plate" but "doesn't have the athleticism" to stick at shortstop. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that Minier "has drawn attention for his bat speed and plus power from both sides of the plate" with "one of the sweeter swings in the Dominican." However, he added that "scouts have reservations about his ability to hit in games, so his pitch recognition skills will have to improve."

Three years ago the Twins signed Miguel Sano out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for $3.15 million, but making that type of investment is no longer feasible under the CBA and the $1.4 million they spent on Minier is more than all but three international prospects got in 2012. That doesn't mean he's destined for stardom, but Minier is definitely a high-upside prospect and it's always nice to see the Twins adding a potential impact bat to the system.

21. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+    10      0     1.08      25.0      18      1      26      4
         A-     13     12     4.29      65.0      76      7      40     18
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11

Michael Tonkin is a former 30th-round pick for whom "Jason Kubel's brother-in-law" was once his claim to fame, but he's thrived since moving to the bullpen full time in mid-2011 and last year dominated between two levels of Single-A to emerge as someone to watch. Tonkin racked up 90 strikeouts in 69 total innings while holding opponents to a .209 batting average and three homers, posting a 2.09 ERA at age 22.

Plenty of relievers put up great numbers in the low minors every season, but few are 6-foot-7 with mid-90s fastballs like Tonkin. He's moved methodically through the farm system, finally reaching high Single-A midway through his fifth pro season, but that was in part because Tonkin was trying to stick as a starter early on and now that he's in the bullpen to stay there's the potential to rise pretty quickly.

His time as a starter helped develop a three-pitch fastball/slider/changeup repertoire that misses lot of bats and induces a decent number of ground balls. And for a big guy with a big fastball his control isn't bad either, with 20 walks in 69 innings last season and 2.3 walks per nine innings for his career. It's usually silly to get excited about Single-A relievers, but Tonkin's combination of raw stuff, size, and performance since shifting to the bullpen is very encouraging.


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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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