TD 2018 Minnesota Twins Top Prospects Recap
When recapping last year's list, I had to point out that we'd all been very spoiled by the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios anchoring the front of Minnesota's prospect rankings.
With all these heralded young studs graduating to the majors, the system didn't offer quite the same palpable excitement. This was reflected in national rankings: Baseball America's organizational talent rankings dropped the Twins from second in 2015 to 10th in 2016 to 22nd in 2017. Baseball Prospectus also had them 22nd last year, a freefall from seventh in '16.
Well, I think we can safely say that after some positive developments, including an excellent draft aided by the pole position in each round, Minnesota's pipeline is full of intrigue, and perhaps ready to spoil us once again.
BA now has the Twins back up to 12th in its rankings. BP bumped them up from 22nd to 10th. ESPN's Keith Law never soured as much as others, ranking them 11th last year, but he too views theirs as a Top 10 system in the game.
We have a consensus: the collective minor-league talent in this organization is solidly above average. And given that there's so much youth and upside permeating the list, an ascent to the highest tier could be in the offing.
Let's unpack what this group tells us about the franchise's future. First, here's a recap of our Top 20 Twins prospect rankings, with links and synopses:
20. Felix Jorge, RHP: Polished and near-ready, but ceiling is 4th/5th starter in MLB
19. Tyler Jay, LHP: Shook off grave health concerns in AFL, but needs to keep it going
18. Yunior Severino, 2B: Switch-hitting teenage infielder offers long-term promise with bat
17. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/3B: Stock down a bit, but big year would put him back on map
16. Ben Rortvedt, C: Quality receiver will jump into Top 10 if he can find it at the plate
15. Mitch Garver, C: Accomplished minor-leaguer must now prove bat and glove are legit
14. LaMonte Wade, OF: OBP machine must add pop to project as more than 4th OF
13. Lewin Diaz, 1B: Power potential is evident, but yet to manifest and clock's ticking
12. Lewis Thorpe, LHP: Returned strong from 2-year absence; would move fast as RP
11. Zack Littell, RHP: Lacks dominant stuff, but floor is backend SP or swingman in MLB
10. Akil Baddoo, OF: Muscle-bound teen will be a beast if he keeps developing hit tool
9. Brusdar Graterol, RHP: Blew away hitters in rookie ball last year, touching triple digits
8. Blayne Enlow, RHP: Premier curveball and projectible frame point to ace upside
7. Brent Rooker, OF: Studious batsman has makings of a middle-of-lineup thumper
6. Wander Javier, SS: Possesses tools to become a two-way star at short if it all gels
5. Alex Kirilloff, OF: Ready to remind us of his offensive capabilities after a year off
4. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP: We'll learn soon if lefty's brilliance in minors can translate
3. Nick Gordon, SS: Floor is a solid big-league regular at 2B, but ceiling in question
2. Fernando Romero, RHP: Only pitcher over 20 in MN's system with legit ace potential
1. Royce Lewis, SS: At 18, phenom offers rare combo of elite athleticism, skills, makeup
RH Pitchers: 5
LH Pitchers: 3
Although the overall group has changed quite a bit since a year ago, the positional composition hasn't much. Out: shortstop Engelb Vielma. In: another one in Lewis. Out: right-handers Justin Haley, Nick Burdi, J.T. Chargois and Kohl Stewart. In: three more in Littell, Enlow and Graterol.
There's a good sustaining balance in this system, but the notable area of concern is catcher. Garver will lose his prospect status with 48 more PAs in the majors. Rortvedt is 20 and raw. It would be helpful if David Banuelos, acquired from the Mariners for unneeded international cap money in a savvy December trade, could work his way onto next year's list.
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
One of the best parts about this collection of players is that you can really dream on it. Such youth and promise. But that's also the sticking point; so many of these kids haven't truly been challenged yet at the higher levels.
Six players in this year's Top 20 are in their teens. The No. 1 pitching prospect (Romero) has thrown only 300 professional innings, while Nos. 3, 4 and 6 (Enlow, Graterol, Thorpe) have thrown fewer than that combined.
Lots of young players look good in rookie ball and Single-A, only to fizzle on the advanced proving grounds thereafter. So, burnout risk weighs heavier than usual here. But when you see what guys like Lewis and Javier and Enlow are doing, at such early stages of development, it's impossible not to dream big.
INJURY BUG REMOVAL?
Injuries are a reality of the game. No organization avoids their pernicious sting. However, it sure feels like the Twins have been dealt an especially bad hand.
Romero and Thorpe have both lost two full consecutive seasons. Kirilloff became the second Twins position player and Top-5 prospect to require Tommy John surgery within a span of three years. As recently as late last summer, it was looking like Jay – two years removed from being drafted sixth overall – might be ruined by shoulder issues.
This system is about due for some good fortune with health, and not just because of a karmic swing.
Pitchers don't often need TJ surgery twice, so one would hope Romero, Thorpe and Graterol are in the clear with their reconstructed elbows. (No assurances, of course.) Perennial DL denizens Burdi and Chargois (?) have moved on from the organization.
Pretty much everyone on this list is presently trending in a good direction physically, and while that can change in a hurry, it's a nice feeling.
Why have the Twins been so reluctant to sign a free agent pitcher to a long-term deal? It might have something to do with the waves of young arms slated to come ashore over the next few several years. Here's when the eight pitchers on this list are expected to reach the majors, per our ETAs:
2018: Romero, Gonsalves, Littell, Jay, Jorge
2021: Enlow, Graterol
Five of Minnesota's top eight pitching prospects have realistic shots at pitching in the majors this year (Jorge already has), and even Thorpe isn't out of the question. Enlow and Graterol form a high-upside duo for the future and will surely be joined by other rising hurlers.
No, these guys won't all be good right away – maybe none of them will – but they need innings to develop in the majors and that must be accounted for.
Not long ago, the Twins had the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. It would be no surprise to anyone paying attention if Lewis soon joined Buxton (and Mauer before them) in earning that distinction. Some would say it's hard to miss with the first or second pick in the entire draft, but plenty of teams have managed.
Frankly I'd be satisfied solely with the exhilaration of getting to watch Lewis unleashed in his first full pro season, but this system offers so many more enthralling storylines.
Are Romero and Gonsalves about ready to provide the internal boost this rotation badly needs? Will Kirilloff and Javier go from sleepers to sensations as they bring their vaunted games to Single-A? What might we see from the lefty arms of Thorpe and Jay if they can stay healthy for a full summer? Could Rooker make it to Minnesota this year?
I can't wait to follow this group into 2018 and beyond. High-risk/high-reward would be a fair assessment, but at this time of year it's only natural to focus on the latter.
- Oldgoat_MN, Danchat, mikelink45 and 5 others like this