TD 2017 Minnesota Twins Top Prospects Recap
We were spoiled.
For a run of several years, Minnesota was constantly gracing national top prospect lists with premier names. Byron Buxton has been near the top of every ranking since he became a pro, with kids like Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios and Max Kepler also scoring high placements. Now, each of those bright young talents has graduated to the majors, leaving this once-elite system looking rather ordinary.
At least, from an outside perspective.
It's been a long time since the Twins have been so sparsely represented on these national lists. But when you account for the high-caliber players who are no longer eligible, and the sneaky starpower this system offers, there's more here than meets the eye.
Here's a recap of our Top 20, with one-sentence synopses for each:
20. Justin Haley, RHP: Polished righty could make fast, albeit limited, impact.
19. Ben Rortvedt, C: Raw teenage catcher is a potential fast riser on the list.
18. Engelb Vielma, SS: Defensive whiz with minimal offensive punch.
17. Nick Burdi, RHP: Fireballing reliever must get healthy after lost year.
16. Zack Granite, OF: Speedster has makings of a versatile fourth outfielder.
15. LaMonte Wade, OF: Perhaps the system's most disciplined hitter.
14. Daniel Palka, OF: Enormous power hindered by severe contact issues.
13. JT Chargois, RHP: Closer potential if he commands ferocious stuff.
12. Felix Jorge, RHP: Exquisite control, but will pitches play at high levels?
11. Mitch Garver, C: Bolstered stock both at plate and behind it in 2016.
10. Lewin Diaz, 1B: Will slugger's huge raw power translate to games?
9. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B: Standout prep bat holding up well in pros.
8. Kohl Stewart, RHP: Scouts bullish despite lack of K's and iffy control.
7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP: Burly southpaw will go as far as improving slider.
6. Wander Javier, SS: 18-year-old infielder oozes upside as two-way asset.
5. Tyler Jay, LHP: FB/SL combo beyond legit, though SP transition in doubt.
4. Nick Gordon, SS: Well-rounded skill set with excellent pedigree and genes.
3. Alex Kirilloff, OF: Hitting tools are off the charts, but has a long way to go.
2. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP: Lanky southpaw has dominated everywhere.
1. Fernando Romero, RHP: Possesses body and repertoire of workhorse SP.
RH Pitchers: 6
LH Pitchers: 3
With nine pitchers and 11 position players, the Twins strike a good organizational balance. The one unrepresented spot is third base, but Blankenhorn could end up there and so could any of the three shortstops (though Vielma's bat seems unlikely to play). There is a dearth of 1B/DH types, which would seem to increase the need for Diaz to develop. But many suspect Kirilloff will end up at the position, and either way, sluggers who can stand at first are not in short supply these days.
Starters on Deck
There was quite a bit of consternation over the front office's lack of action during the offseason when it came to addressing the rotation, but the truth is that it makes little sense to crowd the unit with veterans right now. Starting pitchers comprised half of our Top 10. One finished the year at Triple-A and three at Double-A. The one who finished in Single-A, Romero, is catching up after missed time and could beat everyone else to the majors. The Twins need to maintain flexibility so that they can usher these arms into the big leagues as they become ready.
Ace in the Hole
I can see how Romero is not a particularly compelling No. 1 prospect in the context of his placements on national lists. But this is a byproduct of the lack of data on him; he has made only 31 starts in five years as a pro. The big right-hander finally got healthy and showed his stuff last year, and it appears likely his injury troubles are behind him (knocks furiously on wood). If that progression continues, I fully believe he will be viewed as a better asset than Jose De Leon – the coveted prospect Minnesota passed up in Brian Dozier trade talks – a year from now. Maybe even three months from now. That really changes the complexion of this system in a big way.
More Help on the Way
Beyond the potential for Romero and a few others to rise fast, the Twins are also set to add more top-tier prospect talent this summer. Obviously they have the top selection in June's draft. They'll also get a competitive balance pick (35) and the first pick in the second round (37), not to mention the first selection in every subsequent round. The recently restructured amateur scouting department could hardly ask to be dealt a more favorable first hand.
Based on the ETAs we laid out, here's a loose idea of when you can expect these 20 players to start contributing to the big-league club:
2017: Mejia, Garver, Chargois, Palka, Haley
2018: Romero, Gonsalves, Gordon, Jay, Stewart, Jorge, Granite, Burdi, Vielma
2019: Wade, Diaz
2020: Kirilloff, Blankenhorn
Again, this reinforces the mindset behind avoiding hard commitments in the rotation. Romero, Gonsalves, Jay, Mejia and Stewart all figure to arrive within the next two years, and all are Top 10 prospects with very legitimate shots at panning out in the majors. As a rebuilding club, the Twins are wise to avoid setting up additional roadblocks.
The Clearest Weakness
The evident strength of this system right now is pitching, and that's exactly how it should be. But suddenly there's not a whole lot of assurance on incoming bats. There is some significant upside with guys like Kirilloff, Diaz and Javier, but they are all several years away. With the closer players like Gordon, Garver, Granite and Vielma, it's not totally clear they'll hit enough to be impact big-leaguers. Quite the reversal from years past when names such as Sano, Buxton and Kepler led the way, but therein lies the relief: the projected Twins lineup features six regulars 26 and under.
I can honestly say that, in my view, this is the most exciting time for the Twins system since I've been closely following the team. Not just because of the players currently coming through the pipeline, but even more so because the prospects we've been following so obsessively over the past few years have arrived. Buxton, Sano, Kepler and Polanco will all probably be in the Opening Day lineup. Jose Berrios ought to be in the rotation. Each has taken some initial lumps in the majors. The heralded core looks ready to jell, and there is plenty of intriguing talent on the way, with a critical opportunity to reload coming up in June.
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