Revisiting Some of the Greatest Minor League Rosters in Twins History
Image courtesy of Kelly McGlohonJust take a look at this lineup the Blue Wahoos rolled out for a playoff game in early September. Could the marquee names on this roster represent the next nucleus of homegrown Twins talent?
Jhoan Duran was also with the Blue Wahoos at the time, meaning all six of Twins Daily’s current top prospects in the system were on the same roster. FanGraphs listed five members of this group inside their top 75 prospects.
This team was stacked. If you’re interested in connecting the names to faces, check out this video I recently posted on the starting lineup being introduced at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
As a side note, I just want to point out what great company Ryan Costello was keeping in what turned out to be his final season. Costello, who passed away in November, ranked second in the entire system with 63 walks, posted an .826 OPS in 40 games with Pensacola and slugged a home run in this playoff game.
Anyway, as was also pointed out in that video, it wasn’t just the final roster in Pensacola that was impressive. Luis Arraez started his incredible 2019 season in Pensacola. Randy Dobnak made one of his many stops there. Several other players who made their MLB debuts in 2019 appeared for the Blue Wahoos, including Devin Smeltzer, Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol, Sean Poppen, Jorge Alcala and Jaylin Davis (who made his with the Giants).
Pensacola was spoiled in its first year as a Twins affiliate. The big clubealso sent some familiar names there to rehab from injuries, including Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver.
This got me thinking about another affiliate that was absolutely loaded with talent just four years earlier. Check out this Chattanooga Lookouts lineup from 2015:
Wow. That’s five of the top eight players on the 2019 Twins (in terms of fWAR) who were all at the same place at the same time in their development.
As Twins fans, we’ve been treated to some really rewarding experiences watching winning teams develop from within. Still, that ‘15 Lookouts roster is pretty incredible. Maybe the most talented group of prospects on any minor league team in franchise history.
Both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau played for the 2003 New Britain Rock Cats, but if I’m remembering correctly, not at the same time. Mauer started that season in Fort Myers and Morneau had moved up to Rochester by the time Joe arrived in Double A.
Looking back a bit further to the team who saved baseball (in Minnesota, at least), the 1998 New Britain Rock Cats really stand out. That Double-A squad featured Doug Mientkiewicz, Cristian Guzman, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter and A.J. Pierzynski, among others.
What about the World Series teams? Many of the homegrown players of that era spent very little time developing down on the farm. Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Frank Viola, in particular, made very short work of the minor leagues, so it’s tough to point to one standout minor league team of that era. Looking at the second World Series team, both Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Erickson were teammates on the Double-A Orlando Sun Rays in 1990. That’s impressive.
What about those great 1969 & ‘70 teams? Rod Carew started his minor league career the same season Tony Oliva was voted the American League’s Rookie of the Year, so no minor league overlap with those two. The 1965 American League champion team? Most of that club’s roots trace back to the Washington Senators days.
With that being said, I think it’s possible the group of prospects we saw go through Pensacola in 2019 will go down as one of the deepest pools of talent to ever appear together in Twins history. The big question is, considering how much of a winning core is already in place, how many of those players will end up making their mark with the Twins?
The three biggest trades the front office made in the past 12 months all included marquee members of the 2019 Blue Wahoos: Lewin Diaz, Jaylin Davis and Brusdar Graterol. With the Twins in a competitive window, how many more top prospects will be traded away?
Don’t get me wrong, this is a great problem to have. Both a competitive major league team and a healthy farm system is obviously ideal, I’m just saying it may impact how many of these highlight players from the 2019 Blue Wahoos end up in other organizations.
The potential that the 2020 season may be completely wiped out is a painful thing to reconcile with as a Twins fan. This was expected to be a great season, but try not to lose sight that the future also looks bright. Whenever baseball does return, a tremendously built Twins organization is coming back along with it.
I'm sure there was a great Twins minor league team I missed. If you dig one up, please share it in the comments.
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