February 10, 2017
Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: : Graduations have taken their toll on the system over the last few years, and their highly-drafted arms haven’t quite worked out as well—or at least as quickly—as they hoped.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: And you may ask yourself…How do I work this?
At first glance, the 2016 Minnesota Twins certainly did not appear to be a team on the downturn. An 83-79 record the year prior only had them 3 games back of the second wild card position. Their Pythagorean W-L record didn’t suggest they were awfully lucky either, as it predicted an 81-81 record. Sure, some players played over their heads (Eddie Rosario, Tyler Duffey, Tommy Milone) and crashed back down. But this was a team on the verge of contention. The talent on the team was homegrown, a farm system we ranked seventh going into the season, Byron Buxton, the number two prospect in baseball was going to play the full season in the bigs. Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Byung-Ho Park were going to be contributors to the team that season.
But, unfortunately it all came crashing down with a major-league worst 59-103 record, which was the worst in Minnesota Twins history (based on W-L%). Matthew Trueblood opined on the factors that could go wrong heading into 2016.
“The twins penchant for pitching to contact is one of the most consistent organizational philosophies in baseball. For the last five years, the Twins have had the lowest team strikeout rate in the American League, every year.”
As discussed there, the organization was beginning to make strides towards improving that through trades and in the draft. They acquired young, power arms in the draft (Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, and Tyler Jay) and had some successful bullpen arms (Michael Tonkin and Trevor May) but it wasn’t enough. Only four qualified Twins relievers had strikeout rates higher than the league average (8.7) in 2016. Exactly zero qualified Twins starters had a strikeout rate higher than the league average (7.8). So this team would have to put the ball in play and hope their defense helps them out in order to have success heading into 2016. But, every pitcher who started a game (not named Ervin Santana) averaged over a hit per inning, well above the 8.8 average in 2016.
In that piece, Matthew boldly predicted…
“When you look up the AL’s team strikeout rates at the end of the season, there’s a decent chance the Twins will have escaped the cellar.”
Matthew was correct…they finished 28th. Matthew, again:
“We had better talk about another thing that has sunk the Twins’ efforts to prevent runs over the past handful of seasons—their crummy defense.”
The defense was not looking rosy heading into 2016. Yes, Buxton was going to man center field full-time and, in a short 2015 sample, was worth 6.5 FRAA. He and Eddie Rosario would be nice, but the Twins decided to have Miguel Sano play right field, who was worth -2.3 FRAA in 2016. Combine that with an infield defense that produced below average fielding marks across the board, and you get a team that finished third to last in BABIP, third to last in PADE, and last in H/9 (allowed). Add all that to the pitching staff’s inability to miss bats and you get a team that allowed the second most runs in baseball (Arizona gave up one more).
You might have noticed that I quoted Talking Heads one-hit wonder “Once in a Lifetime” from the beginning, and to continue quoting them, “And you may ask yourself, where does that highway go?”
The new administration is in a tough position. The most tradeable asset, Brian Dozier, is still a Twin after negotiations with the Dodgers stalled and they shopped elsewhere. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Glen Perkins are all on the wrong side of 30 and contracts all guaranteed through 2018.
Signing Jason Castro, and his exceptional framing ability are major upgrades over prior catchers Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto, and Juan Centeno. I still believe in Jose Berrios as a potential middle-of-the-rotation-to-better arm. I still believe in all the tools coming together for Byron Buxton. Miguel Sano will play third now, where he could be an average defender. The Twins will have the first pick in the draft, and the largest pool to go with it. Perhaps they can get a bigger return on Dozier mid-season when there are more (or at least more motivated) shoppers than what they could have gotten in the winter. The division outside of Cleveland isn’t very competitive. We haven’t seen the new regime as active as some others have been, but a new direction is what is needed in Minnesota. —Steve Givarz
1. Nick Gordon, SS
The Good: A quality athlete, Gordon has the natural instincts and reactions one likes to see at shortstop. Being a plus runner gives Gordon plus range in the field. Mix in steady hands, a plus arm, and quick transfers, and Gordon projects to be at least an above-average defender at short. At the plate he combines above-average bat speed with a short stroke, quick hands, and and an ability to use the whole field.
The Bad: There isn’t much game power to speak of. While he has average raw power with some loft, his swing generates a lot of ground balls and low line drives, playing below-average at present. A plus runner, his base-running skills are quite raw and he gets poor jumps which led to a high amount of caught stealings (13). He has a tendency to chase and while he can make contact with most pitches, it is of the weaker variety.
The Irrelevant: You might have heard of his brother Dee and his father Tom.
OFP 60—Quality everyday shortstop
The Risks: His speed doesn’t help him on the basepaths, mitigating some stolen base value. His power plays further down against major-league arms, leading to some weak overall contact. He starts to expand the zone more and chase for weak contact rather than working overall counts.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You’ve had ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread that were more exciting than Gordon, but hey, ham and cheese sandwiches get the job done when you’re hungry. Gordon is the type of prospect who’ll probably never earn a top-10 spot at his position, but who’ll probably be a top-20 or top-25 option for a decade. The big drawback here is that a ton of his fantasy value will be derived from his average. In years in which he hits .300, you’ll want to own him. If he hits .270? Not so much, at least not unless he ups his baserunning acumen.
2. Tyler Jay, LHP
The Good: Jay has two plus offerings in his fastball and the slider, and both will flash 70-grade at their best. The fastball features natural cut from Jay’s three-quarters slot, and can get up into the mid 90s from the left side. The slider shows hard, late run in the upper 80s, although it can lack two-plane break at times. Jay already has advanced command of the offering.
The Bad: Amateur scouts weren’t thrilled that Illinois made Jay the closer in 2015, limiting their looks at him. However, Dan Hartleb might have been onto something. Jay is slightly-framed—the uniform literally hangs off of him—and he didn’t consistently have the same mid-90s velo as a starter that he showed in short bursts. The changeup is a barrier to starting as well. It shows short, arm-side run, but Jay has trouble getting it over the plate or down in the zone. Crossfire delivery and slingy arm action may limit any further command gains
The Irrelevant: The Chattanooga Lookouts were named for Lookout Mountain, from where you can allegedly see seven different states fromt the same spot.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter or poor man’s Andrew Miller
The Risks: He’s a skinny lefty with questions about his ability to start. There’s command/change concerns. Oh, and he’s a pitcher
Major league ETA: Late 2017 as a reliever, 2018 as a starter
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Jay might be a reliever, but if he’s a starter he should miss bats. Remember how you viewed (or how you should have viewed, at least) Sean Newcomb at this time last year? That’s about how you should view Jay now, just with the ceiling dialed down about 20 percent.
3. Fernando Romero, RHP
The Good: With a large, broad-shouldered frame, Romero has the build to take the ball every fifth day. His double-plus fastball is explosive life in the zone with arm-side run, making it a difficult pitch to square up. He pairs this with a hard (87-90) power slider with late tilt, and can bury it against right-handers. His changeup isn’t far behind, showing quality arm speed and late tumbling action.
The Bad: Romero has missed a lot of time with injuries, including Tommy John in 2014 which wiped out his 2014 and 2015 season. The slider flashes plus, but is inconsistent at present as he is still regaining feel for the offering. His change is mainly projection, flashing average but still sparsely used in games.
The Irrelevant: Fort Myers is named for Confederate Colonel Abraham Myers, who served as quartermaster general during the Civil War.
OFP 55—No. 3 starter
The Risks: Romero doesn’t have many innings under his belt as he’s missed time with injuries. He could be a really good bullpen arm if the change doesn’t develop. Body has potential to add bad weight. He’s a pitcher with a Tommy John on his resume.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: As impressive as his 2016 stats are, Romero scares the crap out of me. I’d wait until he has a big league job to gamble; he’s not necessarily the type of player you need to buy now or you’ll miss out on. I’m tired of just saying “add him to your watch list,” but...
4. Alex Kirilloff, OF
The Good: Kirilloff is a strong kid who already shows power to all fields in games. It’s mostly doubles right now, but there is the potential for plus over-the-fence power as he physically matures. There’s going to be swing-and-miss here, but he has decent barrel control and should get most of his raw power into games. It’s not just a boom-or-bust offensive profile. He’s an above-average runner at present, although he will likely slow down in his twenties.
The Bad: Kirilloff is playing all over the grass at present, but will likely settle into right field as he matures, putting additional pressure on the offensive tools. He has some northeast amateur rawness to his game generally, and the power in the swing at present comes from length. There’s going to be questions about the ultimate hit tool ceiling until we see him at higher levels.
The Irrelevant: The color plum’s hex triplet is #8E4585. The fruit plum was first called such by Pliny the Elder, who you may only know from the beer but was also a Roman naturalist. “Plum” was a nickname for British writer P.G. Wodehouse.
OFP 60—Above-average corner outfielder
The Risks: He’s a cold weather prep bat with a rookie-ball resume and questions about the hit tool. There’s a lot of risk here.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Kirilloff is the second-best fantasy prospect in this system and is already flirting with top-101 status. He’s got the potential hit tool/power combo we want to see from an outfielder, and while the Northeast stuff means he might take awhile to get going, his ultimate upside is as an OF3.
5. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
The Good: Built with a frame to eat innings, Gonsalves still has some wiry-ness and physical projection remaining in his body. He employs a low-effort delivery with a three-quarters slot, and a long arm stroke, so the ball jumps on hitters as they struggle to see it out of hand, helping it play up from his average velocity. His changeup is a plus offering with split-like action thrown with arm speed, and its velo difference (76-78) makes it a swing-and-miss offering. His curve shows average potential with fair depth and action.
The Bad: While his delivery is low-effort, it features moving pieces and the long arm stroke could cause some release point issues. His lack of a quality breaking ball could make it tough to reliably get out lefties at the highest level. While he has average-to-better control of his arsenal, his command is behind as he can get loose in the zone with his change.
The Irrelevant: Is it too late to mention that there hasn’t been another Gonsalves to make the majors?
OFP 55—No. 3 starter
The Risks: His lack of a quality breaking ball could be an issue as he turns over lineups as a starter. While he has run somewhat high ground-ball percentages in his career, his BABIP this past year was .251 which could mean he’s due for regression.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The MiLB strikeout numbers are pretty, but Gonsalves doesn’t profile to miss as many bats in the majors. That places him among the massive glut of back-end fantasy starters who are about a season away, though I admit I like him more than many others in that group. He’s probably a top-200 guy.
6. Wander Javier, SS
The Good: Javier is a potential five-tool shortstop. He has the arm and athleticism to stay on the left side of the infield even if he grows off the 6, and the power potential here would play at either spot on the left side as well.
The Bad: The summer when I was seventeen I worked a crappy job at a now-defunct Northeast retail chain. After a closing shift I would decamp with my high school friends to the local 24-hour-diner where we would discuss our future wildly successful lives outside of our sleepy Connecticut suburb. I would always have a basket of mozzarella sticks, still a comfort food for me to this day, cholesterol be damned. My prospects—heh—laid in writing I was sure. A novelist combining the vaguely autobiographical psychoanalysis of Roth with the quirky postmodernism of Heller. I was writing a novella at the time that was unceremoniously rejected by publishers my Freshman year of college.
This is all to say that certainly, without a doubt, Wander Javier is closer to helping a major league baseball team at seventeen than I was. But the distance from the majors becomes best expressed on a logarithmic scale the further away you get. And in that case, he isn’t that much closer.
The Irrelevant: When Javier was born, Garth Brooks Double Live was atop the Billboard charts for the fourth straight week, having unseated Alanis Morissette’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie earlier that month.
OFP 60—First-division shortstop or infielder of some sort, I mean he was seventeen
The Risks: The tools here are very exciting, but he’s a teenager with nine professional games, soooooooooooooo (also he isn’t a lock to stick at shortstop which would put more pressure on the bat which is already all projection at this point).
Major league ETA: 2022
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Tools you can dream on with an ETA you should dread. Whether you should bother with Javier at this point in his career depends more on your league setup and where you are in your contention cycle than it does Javier himself, because it’s clear he’s a lottery ticket. If you have deep MiLB rosters, go for it. If not, I’d suggest gambling on someone closer to the majors. Keep an eye on him, though.
7. Kohl Stewart, RHP
The Good: It just so happened that the Twins list shook out so Stewart ended up seventh again, but his season was more of the same in 2016. The stuff is still quite good. His four-seamer can get up to 95 and has some cut, his low-90s sinker has wicked late movement arm-side and down, there’s feel for two breaking balls, a hard slider, and a 12-6 curve. There’s also a developing changeup. The delivery is pretty easy and he has the body to start.
The Bad: It just so happened that the Twins list shook out so Stewart ended up seventh again, but his season was more of the same in 2016. He still doesn’t miss at many bats as you’d think he would given the arsenal. The two-seamer has so much run at times he has trouble commanding it, or even getting it into the zone. The curve can get a little lazy and loose, the change still needs more development. The profile is in danger of becoming a Twins pitcher. I mean, he’s already a Twins pitcher, but he’s in danger of becoming a “Twins pitcher.”
The Irrelevant: Stewart was also recruited as a football player at Texas A&M, where he may have taken over at QB for Johnny Manziel
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: He’s a pitcher without an out pitch at the moment. He’s also a pitcher (with a shoulder issue in his recent past).
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Stewart still has some fantasy upside thanks to swing-and-miss stuff, but his walk issues and injury history detract some of his value. He could be a high-strikeout, high-WHIP SP5/6, but the odds of him reaching that modest but useful ceiling don’t seem great. He’d probably fall somewhere in the 150-175 range among dynasty prospects.
8. Adalberto Mejia, LHP
The Good: He may have just become a Twin this summer, but Adalberto Mejia has been a Twins Pitcher in spirit for some time now. You know the drill: low-90s with the one, good fastball command, a couple usable offspeed pitches, decent durability and MILB performance. He’s close to ready to being able to get MLB hitters out, if not already there. That’s a pretty good get for Eduardo Nunez.
The Bad: The downside of the Twins Pitcher profile is lack of obvious upside. The fastball’s fine, but there’s no real out pitch in the profile, with neither the slider nor the change firmly establishing themselves as a consistently above-average offering. There are a few concerns off the mound as well; Mejia missed the early part of 2015 serving a suspension for a banned stimulant, and it’s been quite a few years since he’s seen anything remotely close to his listed weight.
The Irrelevant: Mejia is from Bonao in the Dominican Republic, which was originally established as a Spanish colonial fort by Christopher Columbus in 1495.
OFP 50—4th starter
The Risks: Mejia looks pretty well developed, so there’s less positive or negative risk than with most pitchers. Sometimes Twins Pitcher types can lose it at the MLB level and sometimes a secondary pitch develops late, but he probably is what he is. But, he is a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016 —Jarrett Seidler
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I forgot Adalberto Mejia was a thing. For dynasty purposes, it doesn’t really matter that I now remember. Mejia is a fine fantasy spot starter, but that’s about the extend of his utility.
Major League ETA: 2017
9. Ben Rortvedt, C
The Good: Rortvedt’s a catcher with a potential plus power tool. That’ll get you on a top ten list. He has a strong arm. He is young enough there is still plenty of time for him to develop his skills behind the plate.
The Bad: And he’ll need to because the “catch” part of “catch-and-throw” is rough at present. His receiving skills are raw, and he can be a bit stiff in general. The length in his swing portends a below-average hit tool.
The Irrelevant: Rortvedt is the highest draft pick the Twins have used on a catcher since Joe Mauer.
OFP 50—Average catcher whose pop carries the profile
The Risks: He’s a prep catcher. Catchers are weird, prep catchers often aren’t catchers, and Rortvedt isn’t exactly starting out with a surefire backstop projection.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If I told you to get in on Tom Murphy four years ago and the only payoff was current-day Tom Murphy, you wouldn’t be very happy with me. Wait until Rortvedt is closer.
10. Zach Granite, CF
The Good: A double-plus run paired with a plus glove is a good place to start with any profile, especially in the middle of diamond. Granite can make contact, but it’s not as rock-solid (sorry) as you’d like it to be, though he does well to use the whole field in his approach. A top-end outcome could see him as a sparkplug type hitting atop the lineup. He can use his speed plenty well on the bases.
The Bad: There’s not much power to be had here, and there’s a good chance it limits the overall profile to a fourth outfielder role at best, despite the superlative defense. Even if there’s a chance for power in his build, his swing isn’t geared to take advantage of it, which imperils his hit tool.
The Irrelevant: Seton Hall's motto is Hazard Zet Forward, translated from Norman as "Despite Hazards, move forward."
OFP 50—Billy Burns/Sam Fuld’s good seasons
The Risks: Given the lack of power, pitchers at the upper levels are going to attack the zone and dare Granite to punish them. Until he proves he can, there’s a fair amount of volatility in the profile. If Billy Burns/Sam Fuld types get it done for you, this is the prospect for you.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Craig Goldstein
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Speed and proximity make Granite worthy of some fantasy attention, but the likelihood that he’s just a bench player means you can forget him unless you play in very deep AL-only formats. Sort of like if C.J. Cron was a speedy reserve outfielder.
Felix Jorge, RHP
Keeping it 💯
Nick Burdi, RHP
The factor on the farm
Daniel Palka, OF
Worthy of the hullabadoo (it’s my last list, you guys)
Akil Badoo, OF
Or he might be LaMonte Wade
LaMonte Wade, OF
Much like the awkward in-between state that 20th century American poet Britney Jean Spears spoke of in “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” from her classic Britney collection, the Twins’ best long-term building blocks are not prospects, but not yet established stars.
Minnesota’s farm system is mediocre at best. However, more than any other team, the Twins show the flaws in evaluating an organization’s young talent strictly by prospect-eligible players. Despite losing prospect eligibility Buxton, Berrios, and Polanco are still just 23, making them the same age or younger than one quarter of BP’s top 101 prospects. Even Sano and Kepler, at 24, are no older than a dozen top 101 prospects. Minnesota has tumbled down prospect rankings, but the overall collection of young talent remains among the best in baseball and that’s evident by the first five names on the 25-and-under list already graduating out of prospect-dom.
Buxton cracked BP’s top 10 prospects four times, including ranking first in both 2014 and 2015 before placing second to Corey Seager in 2016. He was rushed to the majors at 21 in a move ex-general manager Terry Ryan has said he regrets, and Buxton’s extreme struggles to make contact led to hideous early results followed by endless tinkering by coaches and several trips back to the minors. He never ceased crushing Double-A and Triple-A pitching, and in returning to Minnesota as a September call-up last year it finally clicked. Buxton hit .287/.357/.653 with nine homers, showing upper-deck thump to go with what has always been blazing speed.
Buxton is already a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, totaling 11.2 Fielding Runs Above Average in 138 games, and his limitless range combined with 20-homer power is enough to make him a very good regular (PECOTA projects him as a top-10 center fielder, with 3.2 WARP). Smoothing out his approach and simply putting bat to ball more often is a key to unlocking greatness. I was a believer before his monster September and I’m certainly a believer now, but Buxton has lots to prove. And he’s not alone, as Berrios looked lost in his debut and Sano followed up an excellent rookie year with a disappointing second season that cast some doubt on his being more than a Three True Outcomes designated hitter.
Kepler can be a very strong all-around player and Polanco has solid regular written all over him if the Twins find him a defensive home, but the Buxton/Sano/Berrios trio will tell the story of the rebuild. It’s been a long six years in Minnesota and it’s time for all of the expensive international signings and high draft picks the Twins have accumulated throughout the prolonged ineptitude to start paying dividends beyond lofty prospect rankings. —Aaron Gleeman