February 6, 2015
35. J.R. Graham | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: Braves YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2012 A+ 17 17 2.63 102.2 88 6 68 17 AA 9 9 3.18 45.1 35 2 42 17 2013 AA 8 8 4.04 35.2 39 0 28 10 2014 AA 27 19 5.55 71.1 79 2 50 26
Selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 draft, J.R. Graham is a one-time top prospect whose career has been derailed by shoulder problems. Graham was the Braves' fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Santa Clara and moved quickly through their system, advancing to Double-A in his second pro season. He fared well there at age 22 and that offseason Baseball America ranked Graham as a top-100 prospect, praising his mid-90s fastball and ability to generate ground balls.
However, the diminutive right-hander broke down in 2013, making just eight starts, and last year Graham posted a 5.55 ERA while being limited to 71 innings back at Double-A due to more arm issues. Once on the fast track, Graham is now 25 years old and has yet to advance past Double-A, spending three years there with increasingly poor results. His fastball has dipped into the low-90s and the Braves thought so little of Graham's upside that they left him off the 40-man roster.
Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors for the entire season or be offered back to their original team. Graham has been a starter throughout his career, but shifted to the bullpen last year and could be stashed by the Twins in a middle relief role pretty easily. They did that with Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly in 2013, giving him 49 low-leverage appearances, and shifting to the bullpen full time could help Graham stay healthy too.
34. Ryan Eades | Starter | DOB: 12/91 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-2 YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2013 RK+ 10 0 4.60 15.2 13 0 13 12 2014 A- 26 25 5.14 133.0 147 11 98 50
Ryan Eades was the Twins' second-round draft pick in 2013, selected 43rd overall, and the right-hander from LSU signed for $1.3 million. Yet from the moment he was drafted no one seemed to think much of Eades as a prospect. Quotes about him from team employees were tepid, Baseball America didn't include him in their annual top-10 Twins prospects list which often includes top-50 picks from the previous year, and in general he seemed like an afterthought.
It was odd, because Eades was widely viewed as a top-50 talent within the 2013 draft class and while second-round picks are far from guaranteed to succeed teams don't generally throw them away on players they view as marginal prospects. But sure enough he struggled last year in his full-season pro debut, posting a 5.14 ERA in 133 innings as a 22-year-old at low Single-A facing younger, less experienced competition.
Eades struck out just 6.6 batters per nine innings with poor control and allowed opponents to hit .285 with an .800 OPS against him in a pitcher-friendly league where the average OPS was below .700. Less than two years ago Baseball America wrote that Eades "looked the part of a front-line starter" and the cost for the Twins to acquire him was a top-50 draft pick and $1.3 million, but 150 innings later he looks in danger of being a completely wasted selection.
33. Tanner English | Center Field | DOB: 3/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2014-11 YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2014 RK+ 141 .316 .439 .474 3 10 18 27
Tanner English didn't hit much in college, batting .289 with two homers in three years at South Carolina, but the Twins liked his defense, speed, and athleticism enough to draft him in the 11th round. And then he batted .316/.439/.474 in his pro debut at rookie-level Elizabethton, surpassing his 185-game college total with three homers in 32 games and also showing more plate discipline than he displayed against SEC pitching.
College players thriving in rookie-ball isn't really noteworthy, but in this case it stands out a little more than usual because English is good enough defensively in center field that he could make it to the big leagues without hitting much. In their pre-draft scouting report Baseball America called English "one of the better athletes in the college game" and noted that "some evaluators think he could handle center field in the big leagues right now."
English has elite center field range with a very strong arm, and between college and rookie-ball he stole 26 bases in 94 games while being caught just four times last season. If he hits even a little bit English will be a major leaguer, so rookie-ball or not his early showing was worth getting excited about. We should have a much better idea of his overall prospect status after he faces full-season competition for the first time at Single-A this year.
32. Sam Clay | Reliever | DOB: 7/93 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2014-4 YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2014 RK+ 19 0 5.59 29.0 35 0 44 17
As has become their custom of late the Twins went heavy on college relievers in last year's draft, including Georgia Tech sophomore Sam Clay in the fourth round. Clay had a sparkling 1.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57 innings as a college closer, but the lefty walked 4.6 per nine innings after being a mess as a freshman. He averaged nearly two innings per relief appearance and Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that he "could move into the rotation as a pro."
Clay stayed in the bullpen after signing with the Twins for $400,000 and was awful early on for rookie-level Elizabethton, but finished his pro debut with 16 straight scoreless innings. Even that great stretch lowered his overall ERA to a still-ugly 5.59 and Clay walked 17 batters and uncorked 10 wild pitches in 29 innings while allowing opponents to hit .285. College closers aren't supposed to pitch like that against rookie-ball hitters.
On the other hand, the 16-inning scoreless streak suggests the coaching staff got Clay to address some mechanical issues and within the overall problems he whiffed 44 of the 144 batters he faced for an average of 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Clay also allowed zero home runs, so he was hardly being knocked around. He works in the low-90s with his fastball and his curveball gets the most positive reviews. If they can get him to throw strikes the Twins might have something here.
31. Tyler Duffey | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-5 YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2012 RK+ 12 0 1.42 19.0 10 1 27 2 2013 A- 9 9 2.78 58.1 49 5 47 6 A+ 15 9 4.45 62.2 67 3 44 17 2014 A+ 4 4 2.82 22.1 22 0 13 5 AA 18 18 3.80 111.1 104 14 84 19 AAA 3 3 3.94 16.0 16 3 16 6
Rice University had co-closers in 2012 and the Twins drafted both of them, taking J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Chargois stayed in the bullpen and is currently making his way back from Tommy John elbow surgery, whereas Duffey shifted to the rotation and reached Triple-A last season at age 23. He pitched for Fort Myers, New Britain, and Rochester last year, making 25 total starts with a 13-3 record and 3.68 ERA.
Duffey has shown excellent control as a pro, walking just 1.7 batters per nine innings, but he's struggled to generate strikeouts. In fact, he barely has more strikeouts (196) in 259 innings as a pro starter than he had (189) in 153 innings as a college reliever. Duffey shut down right-handed hitters last season, but allowed an OPS that was 200 points higher versus lefties, suggesting that his off-speed stuff needs some work.
Duffey's low-90s fastball also limits his upside, but the Twins certainly value starters who pound the strike zone with mediocre raw stuff and occasionally those guys have decent runs of success. Going heavy on college relievers in the 2012 draft with plans to turn them into pro starters has been a bust for the Twins thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, but Duffey has stayed healthy and shown the potential to contribute in the back of a rotation.