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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