March 1, 2016
5. Nick Gordon | Shortstop | DOB: 10/95 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2014-1 YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2014 RK+ 255 .294 .333 .366 1 11 11 45 2015 A- 535 .277 .336 .360 1 31 39 88
Selected fifth overall in the 2014 draft out of a Florida high school and signed for $3.85 million, shortstop Nick Gordon followed up a solid pro debut at rookie-ball with an up-and-down first full season at low Single-A. Gordon got off to a rough start, hitting .230 in 45 games through the end of May. He played well from then on, hitting .304 in 75 games after June 1. His overall .696 OPS looks modest, but was actually above the Midwest League average of .682 as a 19-year-old.
Through two seasons Gordon has shown his natural ability with a .282 batting average, but has shown his inexperience with a 133/50 K/BB ratio and his iffy power potential with two homers in 177 games. Also of note is that Gordon grounded into 29 double plays--including a league-leading 20 last season--which is an incredibly high total for a speedy 19-year-old left-handed hitter who stole 36 bases during that same time. He's putting the ball on the ground a lot.
Simply holding his own offensively as a teenage shortstop at low Single-A is an accomplishment for Gordon, whose father Tom Gordon and brother Dee Gordon have both been All-Stars in the majors. He was named the best defensive shortstop by Midwest League managers, although some reviews wonder if he'll be able to handle the position long term or will need to shift to second base eventually like his brother did. He'll take on high Single-A this year.
4. Byung Ho Park | First Base | DOB: 7/86 | Bats: Right | Sign: Korea YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2013 KBO 556 .318 .437 .602 37 54 92 96 2014 KBO 571 .303 .433 .686 52 70 96 142 2015 KBO 622 .343 .436 .714 53 89 78 161
As a 29-year-old with two MVP awards and four home run titles in Korea he's far from a standard prospect, but Byung Ho Park is technically an MLB rookie and thus qualifies for this list. Signed to a four-year, $12 million contract after the Twins won the bidding for his exclusive negotiating rights for an additional $12.85 million, Park is slated to be the Opening Day designated hitter and occasional first baseman. And hopefully a middle-of-the-order bat.
Park's numbers in Korea were incredible, including hitting .343/.436/.714 with 53 homers in 140 games last season to top a 1.000 OPS for the third straight year. His power potential is massive and his spray chart suggests he's capable of going deep from foul pole to foul pole. Park also hit for big batting averages in Korea, but in doing so he struck out a ton and because of that it'd be tough to expect that to continue for the Twins without a change in approach.
Numbers-based projections for Park are highly encouraging, viewing him as a legit slugger who draws enough walks to offset a poor batting average, but because there are so few KBO-to-MLB or MLB-to-KBO data points on which to rely the confidence levels are low. Given the Twins' relatively modest investment Park simply being an average hitter would pay big dividends and the potential is there for him to be much more.
3. Max Kepler | Right Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2013 A- 263 .237 .312 .424 9 23 24 43 2014 A+ 407 .264 .333 .393 5 31 34 62 2015 AA 482 .322 .416 .531 9 54 67 63
Max Kepler's raw talent has rarely been in question since the Twins signed him out of Germany for $800,000 as a 16-year-old, but injuries and underwhelming on-field production kept him from emerging as a top prospect. That all changed in a huge way last year, as he hit .322/.416/.531 in 112 games at Double-A to lead the Southern League in OPS and be named MVP as a 22-year-old. He debuted with the Twins in late September, collecting his first career hit off Johnny Cueto.
Kepler's performance was nearly flawless. He hit .323 off righties and .318 off lefties, walked more than he struck out, went 18-of-22 stealing bases, and did all that while facing pitchers older than him 90 percent of the time. His homer total was modest, but Kepler smacked 54 extra-base hits in fewer than 500 at-bats and his solid 6-foot-4 frame should lead to more bombs. While they were Chattanooga teammates Kepler had a .947 OPS and Miguel Sano had a .918 OPS.
Kepler has been primarily a center fielder in the minors, which speaks to his athleticism, but long term he projects as a corner outfielder with plus range. If the power develops Kepler has a chance to be a star and even if he tops out at 10-15 homers per season his all-around skill set is enough to make him a very good everyday player. He'll begin this season at Triple-A and could force his way to Minnesota by the All-Star break. Kepler would be the No. 1 prospect for a lot of teams.
2. Jose Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1 YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2013 A- 19 19 3.99 103.2 105 6 100 40 2014 A+ 16 16 1.96 96.1 78 4 109 23 AA 8 8 3.54 40.2 33 2 28 12 2015 AA 15 15 3.08 90.2 77 6 92 24 AAA 12 12 2.62 75.2 59 6 83 14
Jose Berrios was selected by the Twins out of a Puerto Rico high school with the 30th pick in the 2012 draft--28 spots after they snagged Byron Buxton--and four years later he's on the verge of the majors. Actually, he seemed on the verge of the majors this time last year, but the Twins took an extremely conservative approach to handling Berrios by sending him back to Double-A for the first half and then citing workload limits for a lack of August or September call-up to Minnesota.
Instead of making his MLB debut Berrios logged 166 innings at Double-A and Triple-A with a 3.03 ERA and 175/38 K/BB ratio as a 21-year-old, leading all of minor-league baseball in strikeouts while facing hitters older than him in 655 of 667 plate appearances. Despite a slight frame Berrios has mid-90s velocity, plus a pair of quality off-speed pitches that allowed the right-hander to fare better versus lefties than righties in 2015.
Berrios has improved his strikeout rate, walk rate, and durability on an annual basis while moving up the organizational ladder and from both a statistical and raw stuff standpoint he shines as the best Twins pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006. Many teams would have called up Berrios last year, but the Twins will send him back to Triple-A for even more seasoning while delaying the start of his service time. If he's not one of the Twins' best starters by June something went wrong.
1. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1 YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2013 A- 321 .341 .431 .559 8 33 44 56 A+ 253 .326 .415 .472 4 16 32 49 2014 A+ 134 .240 .313 .405 4 10 10 33 2015 AA 268 .283 .351 .489 6 25 26 51 AAA 59 .400 .441 .545 1 5 4 12 MLB 138 .209 .250 .326 2 10 6 44
Because he struggled and got injured in his MLB debut a too-large segment of Twins fans soured on Byron Buxton, but soon enough he'll make those same people impossible to find. There's no disputing that Buxton had a rough first taste of the majors and has had trouble staying healthy, making him an imperfect prospect. However, hitting .305/.367/.500 at Double-A and Triple-A as a 21-year-old center fielder with jaw-dropping speed also solidified his status as a great prospect.
Buxton's inability to control the strike zone led to an ugly 44/6 K/BB ratio with the Twins, but his plate discipline wasn't awful so much as misguided. He actually showed decent patience, but too often laid off hittable pitches only to chase two-strike junk. It's a common problem for rookies and Buxton's track record shows he's anything but an undisciplined hacker. It may take a little more time, but if Buxton controls the strike zone the rest of his skill set screams superstar.
His range is spectacular, his arm is well above average, and he's one of MLB's fastest players. All of which means he doesn't need to be an impact bat to have huge value, but Buxton might be an impact bat too. In the minors he's hit .301 with a solid walk rate and once his lanky frame fills out 20 homers per year is doable along with tons of triples. Don't let a lack of current polish fool you into thinking Buxton is anything but an elite prospect with massive all-around upside.