March 8, 2016
Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: There’s Sano more Miguel in the system, but it still has a top five that competes with anyone, with quality and quantity in the back half.
The Top Ten
1. Byron Buxton, OF
Mike Trout in 2011: .220/.281/.390 with 30 strikeouts in 40 games. Yes, he was two years younger than Buxton was last year, so I’m not saying. I’m just saying.
Buxton wasn’t very good at the big league level, but there is zero reason for panic. This is still an elite offensive player. His hand-eye coordination rivals anyone’s. His fast hands and above-average bat speed give him the potential for at least a plus hit tool, maybe more. He’s willing to use the whole field, but he got pull-happy upon his promotion, and he also struggled to recognize quality off-speed stuff. Call it a case of trying to do too much rather than a sign of things to come. He’s as fast as fast gets, and if he’s an everyday player, he’s going to be among the league leaders in steals.
Buxton was called up because the Twins needed quality defense in center field, which is the bare minimum of what he provides. He gets to everything and makes it look easy because of that speed. You dare not run on his plus-plus arm, unless you’re tired and don’t feel like staying on base.
Even with the struggles, Buxton is still one of the two best prospects in baseball. The ceiling is MVP candidate, and because the defense is so good, the floor is starting center fielder who hits near the bottom of the order. He’s that good.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: There’s more fantasy upside within reach in Buxton as with any other prospect in baseball. It’s a five-category profile even if things don’t all click, and if it does, he’s a perennial first round pick and dynasty monster. That ceiling could be a .300 hitter with 20 homers and 40-plus steals, but you already knew that.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
2. Jose Berrios, RHP
Byron Buxton in round one, Jose Berrios in round two. That’s a decent start to a draft, in my obvious opinion. Berrios’ arsenal is as complete as it gets, with three plus pitches at his disposal. It starts with his fastball, a pitch that can get up to 97 but typically sits 92-94 with good life. He’ll add and take away velocity from his curveball; at times it’s a legit power offering and at times a softer 12-6. They’re both quality pitches, and both can be located at the bottom of the strike zone. The change is the least consistent of the three and he’ll occasionally lose the arm speed, but there’s enough “ha ha fooled you” to call it at least an above-average offering at present, and he gains feel for it every year. As if the arsenal wasn’t enough, he also repeats his delivery and arm action, and pounds the strike zone with all three pitches.
There are two concerns with Berrios: Durability, and another word for durability. It isn’t an issue now, but because Berrios is on the smaller size and without much meat on the bones, there are some who wonder how he’ll hold up over the course of a full season. Because of how good the delivery is and how efficient he’s been, I don’t share those concerns. He should be a part of the Twins rotation at some point in 2016, and he shouldn’t leave that rotation until the Twins claim some small market crap in 2023.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Berrios may be a better real-life pitching prospect than fantasy one, but what he doesn’t bring in strikeouts (only comparatively, he can still punch out 175 hitters a year), he can bring in ratios. If it works, the statistical profile could be similar to fellow diminutive right-hander Sonny Gray.
Major League ETA: 2016
3. Max Kepler, OF/1B
Well, this sure escalated quickly. Kepler has gone from “interesting story” to “oh I like this” in a relatively short amount of time. His swing has some length, but because he recognizes pitches so well and has an advanced approach, he can make hard contact to every part of the field while drawing walks and limiting strikeouts. He’s still tapping into his power, and those 45 doubles + triples should become homers as he becomes more comfortable turning on the baseball. Despite having only a tick above-average speed, he’s a legit threat to steal double-digit bases because he reads pitchers well and gets a great first step.
Where Kepler is going to play is still in flux, and we may not get the answer for a while. He’s a good enough athlete with strong enough instincts to play the corner outfield, but his arm is below average, and because he’s had issues with injuries, it might make more sense to move him to first to protect him. Obviously he’s more valuable in the outfield, but even if he is forced to move to first, above-average offensive tools give him a chance to be a very valuable regular.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: With the potential to hit near .300 with 20-plus homers and double-digit steals (potentially more at first), it’s easy to see why Kepler is an asset dynasty league owners are yearning for. However, with the likelihood of first base eligibility down the road, if he falls short of that ceiling, he just isn’t particularly interesting.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
4. Nick Gordon, SS
Gordon got off to an atrocious start in 2015 (.230/.305/.281) but his BABIP was a paltry .289 during that time, and his .304/.355/.406 line from June on is a more accurate representation of his talent. The son of former All-Star closer/starter Tom and brother of All-Star second baseman Dee, Gordon gets unsurprising raves for his feel for the game, and it shows at the plate. He works counts, he fouls off quality pitches, and his line-drive stroke with above-average bat speed gives him a chance for a plus hit tool. He’ll need something close to a plus hit tool, as there’s very little power here due to a linear swing, with scant leverage in the lower half. His plus speed helps make up for the lack of pop, and he could easily be a 30-40 stolen base guy as a regular.
And a regular he shall likely be, as Gordon can really pick it at shortstop. He makes the plays in front of him, and he also has well above-average range. Add in a strong, accurate throwing arm, and you get a guy who turns hits into outs on a routine basis.
Several scouts compared Gordon to Francisco Lindor, and while he doesn’t have quite that type of upside to me, it’s a pretty nice comp that gives you an idea why so many—including me—believe he’ll be a first-division shortstop.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: In the realm of dynasty league shortstops, Gordon appears to have been forgotten (or at least temporarily overlooked). This would be a mistake, as he has just as much fantasy upside as fellow younger brother Orlando Arcia—a potential .290 hitter with 25-30 steals and just enough pop to get to double-digits in homers.
Major League ETA: 2018
5. Tyler Jay, LHP
Jay started just two games last year for Illinois, but he ranked as the best left-handed starter in the class on the boards of several scouting directors I spoke with. There are two pitches that flash double-plus, starting with a fastball that has touched the high 90s in short spurts and sits 93-95 when he starts. His slider is his out pitch, and while he has a tendency to overthrow it, the hard tilt and depth make it a devastating offer to lefties and a pretty darn good one to righties. He’ll also mix in an average curveball with decent shape and spin, and a change that flashes in the 50 range as well. He repeats his delivery with minimal effort, and throwing strikes was not an issue in college, although it was a slight one in his (extremely) limited sample as a pro.
The question marks regarding Jay don’t regard stuff or command, but whether or not he’s going to be able to do it over 100-pitch outings. He doesn’t have ideal size, and the fact he pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen in college means there’s not much track record here. Is there a chance he ends up pitching out of the bullpen? Absolutely, but Jay has the stuff to pitch in the middle of a rotation—and maybe higher.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Given his pedigree and draft position, Jay is likely to be one of the most overdrafted players in dynasty leagues this year, unless your league mates have caught on. The fantasy upside if he sticks in the rotation is that of an SP3, and he has a much greater chance of ending up in the bullpen than a top-10 pick should. He’s not a first rounder, or a top-20 pick, in dynasty drafts this year.
Major League ETA: 2017
6. Jorge Polanco, SS
Of all the quality prospects here, you could argue that Polanco is the most ready to contribute at the big-league level. He has an advanced feel for hitting from both sides of the plate, and while he won’t be the type of guy who draws a boatload of walks, he will work counts with little swing-and-miss. The swing is geared for contact, so despite above-average bat speed you shouldn’t expect much more than a couple of handfuls of homers. He’s an above-average runner, but he doesn’t get great jumps, and he gets thrown out too often to be considered a true stolen base “threat.”
Defensively, Polanco is ready to play shortstop, and it’s not out of the question that it’s his long-term landing spot. He has enough range to handle the position and has shown the ability to make the spectacular routine. Unfortunately, he also has the habit of just not making the routine, and there are mental and physical gaffes that have plagued him. If he was to move to second base he could be plus there, and his ability to hit and (potentially) steal bases would make him an above-average regular. No one should blame the Twins for giving him every chance to be a shortstop, as he’s a potential 55 player if he can stick at the premium position.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: A better fit in deeper leagues, Polanco could develop into an Erick Aybar type at peak, with a .280 average and 25 steals (but rarely anything else). The Twins could certainly use him in the short-term, as neither Danny Santana nor Eduardo Escobar should really be a starting shortstop for a team with plans on contention, making him an interesting AL-only reserve play this season.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2014
7. Kohl Stewart, RHP
Stewart’s 2015 season was, in a word, weird. Instead of the big-time strikeout stuff he showed as a prep, Stewart has become somewhat of a contact-oriented pitcher, as you can see from the stats above. He relies heavily on his 90-92 mph two-seam fastball; a pitch that has good sink and he keeps below the knees, for the most part. He can still reach back for 96 here and there, but it’s really about that sinker. He shows two quality breaking-balls, but the out pitch is the slider, which is another grounder-inducing pitch with hard, late bite. The curveball shows 12-6 break, and though he struggles to locate it, its hard spin makes this likely to be his most consistent swing-and-miss offering. There’s also a developmental change, and this is a pitch he’s going to have to throw more, particularly to left-handers. He does a good job of repeating an athletic delivery, and the command should catch up to his average control in time.
It’s tough to be too hard on Stewart for his lack of strikeouts, as he was 20 years old for all of the season, and he did generate nearly a 60 percent groundball rate. Still, until he shows more ability to miss bats, it’s tough to call him more than a mid-rotation starter. A strong 2017 season will go a longs way to disproving that theory.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: If you want to terrify a dynasty league owner, tell them that one of their top pitching prospects just posted a 12.8 percent strikeout rate in A-ball. If you really want to terrify them, tell them that abysmal whiff-rate came on the heels of a shoulder impingement. In reality, Stewart’s outlook is not as horrifying as it seems on paper, but a questionable SP4 future isn’t what those who drafted him early in dynasty drafts two years ago had in mind.
Major League ETA: 2017
8. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
Gonsalves put up stupid numbers at Cedar Rapids (1.15 ERA, 77-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 innings), and then showed it wasn’t small sample sized luck upon his promotion to Ft. Myers (2.61 ERA, 38 BB, 55 K’s in 79 innings). Those stats don’t mean as much to us since we’re scouting the player, not the numbers, but they’re nice to see. Gonsalves gets his fastball up to 95 mph with run, and he sits comfortably 90-92 with his four-seamer. Spike curveballs are not this prospect writer’s cup of tea, but Gonsalves has a usable one, with good spin and enough depth to make it effective. Like most spike curves, it’s almost never a strike, so it’s strictly an ahead-in-the-count offering. His best pitch is a change that has splitter action, and he has improved his feel for it every year. He can sometimes tire deep into games, and he doesn’t do a great job of repeating his delivery or arm action from start to start.
Is Gonsalves as good as the numbers he put up in 2015? Probably not, but with a solid three-pitch mix and improving feel for pitching, he has a chance to pitch in the back of a rotation.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: The ERA is shiny, but Gonsalvez is unlikely to peak as more than an SP4 with comparatively poor strikeout numbers. You know the throwaway line about not scouting the stat line, but left-handed starters with a decent change and some idea of where their throwing the ball tend have inflated stats until they hit Double A. Just ask Edwar Cabrera.
Major League ETA: 2017
9. Nick Burdi, RHP
Filthy, nasty, sick. Whatever you wanna use to describe Burdi’s fastball/slider combination, it all leads to hitters having a bad time. He touches triple digits on a routine basis, and sits 96-98 with ease. He also showed a two-seamer in the AFL, capable of generating ground balls. The slider is death to right-handers with loads of tilt, and it’s certainly good enough to get lefties out too. There’s a change here as well, but it’s really a show-me pitch and nothing more.
Burdi certainly has the stuff to close, but he has the command to make the ninth inning a miserable experience. He’s toned down the delivery, but it still has some effort, and when his arm drags behind he misses up in the zone or out of it. He was dominant in Arizona this fall, and if he shows the same kind of stuff/command this spring, he’ll be pitching in Minnesota this summer.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: As great as Burdi could be as a reliever, he’s a reliever. Invest at your own risk.
Major League ETA: 2016
10. Trey Cabbage, 3B
The Twins gave Cabbage a quarter million dollars more than slot to get him into their system, and they just might have acquired their third baseman of the future by doing so. His swing is aesthetically pleasing, showing balance and staying in the zone with above-average bat speed. Like many young hitters, he can get pull-happy, but all the elements are here for an above-average hit tool. There’s a natural loft to the swing, and his ability to create leverage and strong wrists make above-average power a real possibility, maybe even plus if everything goes right.
Defensively, Cabbage isn’t exactly polished, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be his long-term position. He has soft hands, quick reaction time, and his above-average arm will suit him well at third base. He’s years away from contributing at the big-league level, but this is that rare prep player with a high ceiling and floor, and he should be a contributor at the big league level in some capacity.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: There’s some offensive ceiling in Cabbage, but not enough to make him a target in dynasty drafts this offseason. And yes, it is a testament to the depth of this dynasty draft class that a prep hitter who could be a .270 hitter with 20 homers gets relegated to early-season scout team status.
Major League ETA: 2019
Alex Meyer, RHP – Saying that Meyer had a disappointing 2015 is the understatement of this article. He’s always struggled to repeat his delivery and throw strikes, but last year it came to a head, and it looks like the bullpen is going to be his landing spot. The good news is Meyer has a chance to be a darn fine part of the bullpen. He touches the high 90s from power forward height (6-foot-9) and when he doesn’t get under his slider, it’s a plus-plus pitch with silly amounts of tilt. There’s also an average change, but if he’s in the bullpen, he won’t need to use it often. Is it disappointing that what looked like one of the top-10 right-handed starters is going to pitch in the bullpen? You bet. Does he still have a chance to be a very valuable member of a staff? Absolutely.
Engelb Vielma, SS– First of all: Engelb. Second, third, and fourth of all: Plus speed, a plus arm, and a real chance to be a plus-plus shortstop. Everything you’re looking for from a shortstop defensively, you get. There’s no power here, and he generates a ton of weak contact from a choppy swing at both sides of the plate. Still, when you can run and pick it like this, you have a chance to play everyday.
Adam Brett Walker II, OF– When Adam Brett Walker II makes contact with the baseball, it doesn’t jump off the bat, it caprioles. There’s plus-plus power potential in his right-handed bat, and he can take the ball out to any part of the field. Notice that I say when, because Adam Brett Walker II swings and misses. A lot. And by a lot, I mean 195 times in 131 games last year. He’s also a power defender in the outfield, and his arm limits him to left field. Even so, when you’re capable of hitting tape-measure dingers like Walker II is, you have to make the interesting section. It’s law.
Taylor Rogers, LHP – If you like your left-handers to throw strikes from a deceptive delivery, you have good taste and you should be commended for that. Rogers has those qualities, which is good, because his average fastball and solid-average slider aren’t good enough to get hitters out on their own. He also mixes in a fringe-average change, and all three of these pitches are located where Rogers wants to put them. There’s not much upside here, but he has as high of floor as any pitcher in the system not listed in the top 10.
Jake Reed, RHP – Reed was atrocious statistically in Double-A (6.32 ERA in 47 innings), but it does not tell the story of just how good of reliever he could be. His fastball has explosive life, and it’s a plus-plus pitch when you add that to its 93-96 mph velocity. He mixes in a solid-average slider, and his deceptive arm slot makes that pitch a real bee in the bonnet of right-handed hitters. Strike throwing is a problem, but if the command can even get to fringe-average, he has the stuff to pitch in high-leverage situations. Side note: the potential of a Reed, Meyer and Burdi bullpen should give AL Central hitters nightmares.
At the Futures Game a couple years ago I was milling around the cage catching up with some people as the World team started to taking batting practice. At some point some of the coaches noticed the Miguel Sano was still schmoozing with some reporters over by the little media dais they had set up down the third base line. He was supposed to be in the first group so they all started to try and get his attention to wave him back. He finally jogged on over after missing the first round. He jumped back in for the second round and squared to take his perfunctory bunt. He completely whiffed. There were some chuckles around the cage from the assembled scouts and baseball dignitaries, a couple peals of laughter. The next pitch went into the second tank at Citi Field. It got very quiet after that.
Later that Summer I was in New Britain. It was the second game of a three-game set. Sano had hit a rocket out of the park the previous night. He got ahead in the count against Erik Goeddel, and the right-hander tried to sneak a fastball by him. I have never seen a ball hit that far live in my life. I looked over to the scouts sitting next to me, and we all just started laughing, a crazy, insane laughter. So what I am saying it Miguel Sano has Lovecraftian power. Now if you are reading this you probably already know about his 80 raw. He isn't a mere one-tool masher though, he is a better athlete than he gets credit for, and has more feel at the plate than you'd think. It's easy to look at last season's 119 strikeouts in 335 PA, and the .396 BABIP and portend regression toward some ugly mean. Yes, there are adjustments to be made, but the power on contact already matches up with the best in the game, and this is potentially a special, special talent. The outfield experiment will definitely test the athleticism and the feel though.
I could easily fill another few paragraphs with Miguel Sano anecdotes (at least the ones that are printable), but there is more young Minnesota talent to discuss. Eddie Rosario is a former Top 101 prospect himself, but his major-league debut was a mixed bag. The good outweighed the bad, as Rosario knocked 15 triples and 13 home runs and played good defense in both corners. However the plate approach would make Tony Armas look up and say “Hey, that's a bit aggressive, buddy.” Rosario posted a 118:15 K:BB ratio. That is a better K-rate than Sano, but PECOTA sees his offense collapsing in 2016 due to the plate discipline issues. The power and defense combo is intriguing, but things could go south in a hurry.
Kennys Vargas handled the jump from the Eastern League to the majors in 2014, but struggled in the first half of 2015 and found himself back in the bus leagues. He hit well in both Chattanooga and Rochester and has little left to prove in the minors. He may not have a role in Minnesota as first base and designated hitter are occupied by Joe Mauer and Byung-Ho Park for the foreseeable future. Vargas would be best served as a DH, and has potential there as a switch hitter with pop from both sides. He may have to leave Minnesota for major-league playing time. On an unrelated note, Boston will have an opening at DH very soon. -Jeffrey Paternostro
Ryan has been with the Twins in some sort of role since 1994, and when you consider the budget constraints he’s worked with, what he’s done in his time in the Twin Cities is pretty darn impressive. They’re the type of club that will never be able to spend the funds to get a big time free-agent—unless you count Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana (you shouldn’t)—so using the farm system to fill needs is crucial for any type of long-term success. We’ve said that for a few clubs in this section, but outside of Tampa Bay, it’s tough to imagine a club that it’s truer for than Minnesota.
Johnson has been the Scouting Director in Minnesota for nearly a decade, and it’s interesting to see just how much better the classes have been in the last few years compared to when he took over. Does some of that have to do with where the Twins have drafted? Of course, but the process has been much better,as we’ve seen more Buxton/Berrios and less Carlos Gutierrez/Shooter Hunt. There have been a few misses in the past few years like Levi Michael and (more than likely) Travis Harrison, but the overall hit rate is pretty solid, if unspectacular.
What the Twins have not done a great job with, however, is developing starting pitching within the organization. Berrios appears to be a “can’t-miss” arm and Stewart has shown flashes of brilliance, but we’ve seen players like Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Alex Wimmers and more all stagnate in their development at some point. Double-A pitching coach Stu Cliborn gets positive reviews for his ability to teach, so perhaps he and the rest of the player-development staff can help an organization loaded with pitching talent help live up to their potential.