February 17, 2016

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2016: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

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

25. Trevor Hildenberger | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-22

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK     23      0     2.57      28.0      27      1      30      5
2015     A-     28      0     0.80      45.0      24      0      59      5
         A+     13      0     3.32      19.0      15      0      21      2

After a strong senior season at the University of California in 2014 the Twins drafted right-hander Trevor Hildenberger in the 22nd round. He had a great debut in rookie-ball, but that's the case with most experienced college pitchers and his low draft position led to little attention going his way. That changed last season, as Hildenberger moved up to full-season competition and pitched so well that Midwest League managers and coaches named him the league's best reliever.

Serving as the closer at low Single-A, he saved 14 games with a 0.80 ERA and 59/5 K/BB ratio in 45 innings before a midseason promotion to high Single-A, where Hildenberger posted a 3.32 ERA and 21/2 K/BB ratio in 19 innings. Combined between the two levels he tossed 64 innings with a 1.55 ERA and 80/7 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .176 batting average and zero home runs. And then he went to the Arizona Fall League, throwing 13 innings with a 12/0 K/BB ratio.

It's tough to pitch any better than Hildenberger did at three different stops in 2015, although it's worth noting that he was a 24-year-old facing Single-A hitters. There should be a healthy amount of skepticism attached to Hildenberger's performance, but 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings paired with 1.0 walks per nine innings and zero home runs are video game-type numbers. He'll get a chance to prove himself against more advanced competition this year.

24. Jake Reed | Reliever | DOB: 9/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+     4      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       8      0
         A-     16      0     0.36      25.0      10      0      31      3
2015     A+      9      0     0.00      12.1       8      0       7      1
         AA     35      0     6.32      47.0      55      3      39     21

Jake Reed is one of many hard-throwing college relievers drafted by the Twins in recent years who was supposed to move quickly through the minors and then didn't. Reed had an incredible pro debut after signing in 2014, predictably dominating rookie-ball and low Single-A hitters as a fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Oregon. That convinced the Twins to have him skip high Single-A and begin last season at Double-A, where he got knocked around.

Reed posted a 6.32 ERA in 35 appearances at Double-A, striking out just 39 batters and issuing 21 walks in 47 innings. He was demoted to high Single-A late in the season and allowed zero earned runs in 12 innings to end on a high note, although his strikeout rate remained sub par. Through two seasons Reed's rookie-ball and Single-A numbers are absurd, with a grand total of one earned run allowed in 43 innings. But he's 23 years old and has yet to succeed above Single-A.

With a mid-90s fastball Reed certainly has the raw stuff to succeed in the majors, but his slider and changeup aren't polished enough to keep left-handed hitters in check. Lefties hit .292 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts against Reed in 2015. Turning velocity into strikeouts and hard-throwers into quality major leaguers has been a long-term struggle for the Twins and Reed is a prime example of a prospect whose future depends on good development.

23. Travis Blankenhorn | Third Base | DOB: 8/96 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2015-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2015     RK      58     .245     .362     .408      0      6      7     11
         RK+    158     .243     .306     .326      3      6     11     32

In recent years the Twins have frequently drafted University of Kentucky players and last year they used a third-round pick on Kentucky recruit Travis Blankenhorn, luring the Pennsylvania high school hitter away from college with a $650,000 signing bonus. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report described Blankenhorn as having "a pretty left-handed swing" and "good feel for hitting." He played shortstop in high school, but moved to third base for his pro debut.

Blankenhorn played 53 games between two levels of rookie ball, hitting .244/.321/.347 with three homers and a 43/18 K/BB ratio overall. Modest production, but the Twins knew he'd be a project when they drafted him and Blankenhorn certainly held his own well enough for an 18-year-old. In fact, Baseball America noted that rookie-ball scouts were impressed by Blankenhorn's debut and felt he "flashed above-average raw power" despite just three home runs.

If things go well for Blankenhorn he could develop into an above-average third baseman with a solid glove and good bat, but he's a long way from that point and may not rise above Single-A for a couple more seasons. At the time of the draft Twins scouting director Deron Johnson described Blankenhorn as "a strong, powerful kid" and said "we really like his swing and think he has chance for power."

22. Taylor Rogers | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     A-      3      3     7.20      10.0      14      1      10      4
         A+     22     21     2.55     130.2     119      5      83     32
2014     AA     24     24     3.29     145.0     150      4     113     37
2015     AAA    28     27     3.98     174.0     190      9     126     44

Taylor Rogers has moved slowly but surely through the Twins' farm system since being an 11th-round draft pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2012, but now at age 25 he faces a potential career crossroads. He's had some decent success in the minors, including logging 174 innings with a 3.98 ERA at Triple-A last season, but he's never been able to generate many strikeouts and has always struggled against right-handed hitters.

Last year he totaled just 126 strikeouts in 174 innings, which along with a low-90s fastball is enough to cast doubt on his ability to be a viable starter. He also allowed right-handed hitters to bat .326/.374/.457 off him, which suggests he'd have a rough time maneuvering through MLB lineups stacked with righties. Rogers' splits weren't quite as extreme in 2013 or 2014, but he's basically never been very good at handling right-handed hitters.

The good news is that he's been great at shutting down lefties, holding them to batting averages of .214 in 2013, .217 in 2014, and .177 in 2015. During those three seasons he had a combined 127/17 K/BB ratio versus lefties, showing the potential to be a southpaw specialist if moved to the bullpen. For now he'll keep working to become a back-of-the-rotation starter, but Rogers' best chance to stick in the big leagues may be as a reliever.

21. 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
2014     A-     20     20     4.53     113.1     118      7      90     20
         A+      3      3     3.32      19.0      14      2      12      4
2015     A+     19     19     2.87     119.1     103      4      80     21
         AA      6      6     4.91      36.2      40      3      24     12

Aaron Slegers looks the part of an intimidating flame-thrower at 6-foot-10, but the former fifth-round draft pick from Indiana University is actually a control pitcher with a low-90s fastball. After being sidelined by multiple injuries in high school and college Slegers has stayed healthy as a pro, reaching Double-A in his second full season at age 22 and logging the fourth-most innings of any Twins minor leaguer in 2015.

Slegers made 19 starts at high Single-A and had the fifth-lowest walk rate in the Florida State League at 1.6 per nine innings, which matches his career mark of 1.7 per nine innings. For some context, Brad Radke issued 1.6 walks per nine innings for his Twins career. Slegers also induces lots of ground balls and has allowed just 16 home runs in 307 total innings as a pro. Last season he had fairly even platoon splits, handling both righties and lefties well.

However, unless Slegers can up his strikeout rate his upside likely tops out at back-of-the-rotation starter. He's averaged just 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings for his pro career, including 6.0 at high Single-A and 5.9 in a brief Double-A stint. Given his size there's perhaps more room for projection than with most pitchers who share Slegers' skill set and track record, but either way he's a decent prospect within range of the majors.

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February 13, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

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

25. 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
2014     A-     20     20     4.53     113.1     118      7      90     20
         A+      3      3     3.32      19.0      14      2      12      4

Aaron Slegers battled multiple injuries in high school and early in his college career at Indiana, but the 6-foot-10 right-hander got healthy in 2013 and was drafted by the Twins in the fifth round after a strong sophomore year. He signed for $380,000 and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton by allowing just one run in 19 innings with an 18/2 K/BB ratio, looking good following concerns about his tiring down the stretch for the Hoosiers amid a career-high workload.

Slegers moved up to low Single-A last year and posted a poor 4.53 ERA in 20 starts, but his 90/20 K/BB ratio in 113 innings was solid and he allowed just seven homers. He missed very few bats in college, so even a modest strikeout rate of 7.2 per nine innings was a step in the right direction. Slegers then finished the year with a three-start promotion to high Single-A, faring well there at age 21.

Slegers' velocity doesn't match his intimating 6-foot-10 frame, but he throws in the low-90s and induces lots of ground balls. For a pitcher that size avoiding nagging injuries and maintaining consistent mechanics are always question marks, but Slegers seems to have gotten past his previous health issues and his control has been fantastic with just 1.5 walks per nine innings. He's not going to be the next Randy Johnson, but Slegers is an intriguing prospect.

24. Mitch Garver | Catcher | DOB: 1/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-9

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK+    225     .243     .313     .366      2     19     19     31
2014     A-     504     .298     .399     .481     16     46     61     65

Mitch Garver put up huge college numbers in a very hitter-friendly environment at New Mexico, batting .383 with 72 extra-base hits in 120 games during his junior and senior years. Considered by many to be a low-upside "senior sign" in the 2013 draft, he fell to the Twins in the ninth round and agreed to a $40,000 signing bonus well below slot value. And then Garver struggled in his pro debut at rookie-ball, hitting just .243/.313/.366 with two homers in 56 games.

Tossed onto the non-prospect pile, Garver bounced back in a big way last season at low Single-A, batting .298/.399/.481 with 16 homers, 46 total extra-base hits, and nearly as many walks (61) as strikeouts (65) in 120 games. Among all Midwest League hitters he ranked fourth in batting average, third in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, and third in OPS, producing an .880 mark that was 27 percent better than the league average.

Reviews of his defense behind the plate are mixed and Garver saw about half of his 2014 action at designated hitter, but he threw out a respectable 32 percent of steal attempts. At age 23 he was old for the Midwest League, so it's possible Garver was just beating up on inexperienced pitching after playing four seasons of college ball. Either way, when a catcher puts up big numbers in the minors after putting up big numbers in college he's worth keeping an eye on.

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
2013     A+     39      0     1.85      48.2      28      2      70     28
2014     RK-     6      1     3.38       5.1       3      0       9      4
         A+      5      0     0.00       5.0       3      0       5      2

After middling results as a college starter Zack Jones shifted to the bullpen full time when the Twins took him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and posted video game-like numbers through two pro seasons with a 1.97 ERA, .165 opponents' batting average, and 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings. And he had the raw stuff to match, consistently working in the mid-90s with his fastball and topping out in the triple digits.

While pitching in the Arizona Fall League he experienced finger numbness and was shut down, eventually undergoing surgery for an aneurysm in his shoulder. Jones missed the entire first half of last season before rehabbing in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and then rejoined the high Single-A bullpen to make a handful of appearances down the stretch. And to tie a nice bow on his comeback, he returned to the Arizona Fall League and allowed zero runs in 11 games.

Reports on Jones' velocity were more or less in line with his outstanding pre-surgery heat, but including the AFL he walked 18 batters in 21 innings to show that he may not have cleared every hurdle yet. His control has always been a red flag, with more than 5.0 walks per nine innings in each of his three pro campaigns. Before the career-threatening injury Jones was on the fast track and he's capable of reaching the majors in 2015, but he needs to stay healthy and throw strikes.

22. Travis Harrison | Left Field | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51
2013     A-     537     .253     .366     .416     15     43     68    125
2014     A+     537     .269     .361     .365      3     37     64     86

When the Twins made Travis Harrison the 50th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of a California high school he was billed as one of the best power-hitting prospects in the class, but that has not translated to the pros yet. Harrison hit 20 homers in 189 games through his first two seasons and then his power disappeared in 2014, as he went deep just three times in 129 games and slugged .365 at high Single-A.

Three homers in 537 plate appearances is hard to ignore, but it's worth noting the Florida State League is a tough place to hit for power and Harrison was among the youngest regulars at 21. He also ranked second in the league with 33 doubles, suggesting he was making hard contact even if it didn't result in fly balls going over fences, and Harrison cut way down on his strikeouts while maintaining a strong walk rate on the way to a nice 86/64 K/BB ratio.

There's some stuff to like within Harrison's offensive skill set, but the lack of power is troubling and doubly so because he's already shifted from third base to left field defensively. Any further moves down the defensive spectrum would leave Harrison with zero defensive value and at that point he'd need to develop into a slugger to work his way into the Twins' plans. Even getting back to 15 homers while keeping his strikeouts down would make 2015 a success for Harrison.

21. Jake Reed | Reliever | DOB: 9/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+     4      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       8      0
         A-     16      0     0.36      25.0      10      0      31      3

After two mediocre seasons in Oregon's rotation Jake Reed shifted to the bullpen last year and went 4-1 with 13 saves and a 1.95 ERA in 31 appearances. His secondary numbers weren't as impressive, with 34 strikeouts versus 15 walks in 37 innings, but Reed had no such issues with secondary numbers in his pro debut. Drafted in the fifth round, he signed for $350,000 and made quick work of rookie-ball before a promotion to low Single-A.

Between the two levels Reed allowed one run in 20 appearances, racking up a 39/3 K/BB ratio in 31 innings while limiting opponents to a .105 batting average and zero homers. It'd be tough to dominate any more than that, even accounting for the fact that college pitchers are supposed to dominate low-minors hitters. Twins pitching draftees often beat up on inexperienced competition, but Reed actually has the impressive raw stuff to match his numbers.

He works in the mid-90s with his fastball and his slider also gets positive reviews, leading to ground balls in bunches. Righties hit .085 with 12 strikeouts per walk and lefties hit .130 with 15 strikeouts per walk. Assuming that the Twins don't try to move him back in the rotation Reed has a chance to move quickly through the system and could join fellow hard-throwing 2014 draftee Nick Burdi in the big-league bullpen by 2016.

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