Twins AFL Report: Jay, Wade Lead Twins Contingent In Arizona
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Tyler Jay)For anyone who doesn’t know, the AFL is a short season league where every team in Major League Baseball sends some of their top prospects in October and is often used as a proving ground for these players who are looking to take the final steps to their MLB dreams. Many of the top prospects in baseball are sent here to make a case for an early call-up next year, but there are also many experienced MiLB-ers on the doorstep who are evaluated whether or not to be placed their team's 40-man roster. These minor league games in October can determine a lot going into the next MLB season for these players, and that’s why I love these games.
Each MLB team typically sends seven players to the AFL, and they are split up among six teams. This year the Twins are again represented on the Surprise Saguaros roster with pitchers Ryan Eades, Tyler Jay, Tom Hackimer and Andrew Vasquez and position players Sean Miller, Chris Paul and LaMonte Wade. They will join prospects from the rosters of the Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. It will be the first trip to the league for all of the Twins players, and each them will be looking to accomplish something different with their time there.
Of players sent to the AFL last fall for Minnesota, three made their MLB debut during the 2017 season. They were catcher Mitch Garver and pitchers Randy Rosario and John Curtiss. So as you can see, a lot of these guys have potential to impact the majors in the following season.
Each week I’ll be recapping the action for all of the Twins representatives during their time in the desert of Arizona, so who are these guys? What have they done and what will I be watching for in the AFL games this year? Let’s take a look!
2017 Minnesota Twins Prospects in the AFL:
— The most interesting name may be that of pitcher Tyler Jay. With high expectations coming into the 2016 season after being drafted number six overall the year before, Jay has had trouble staying healthy. That was the case again in 2017 as he pitched just 11.2 innings on the season, essentially losing an entire year of development. In thirteen starts with the Fort Myers Miracle in 2016, Jay did flash a lot of the stuff that made him an attractive pick at the top end of the first round. He went 5-5 with a 3.10 ERA and struck out 8.8/9IP with a 1.22 WHIP. He was even bumped up to the Chattanooga Lookouts roster early in July of that season, but he didn’t finish that month or his season due to a neck injury. Because he has missed so much time, many of the same questions I had when writing his draft preview two years ago remain. We also aren’t quite sure if the Twins new brass thinks he could still be a starting pitcher since before the 2017 season started they moved him into the bullpen with the Lookouts. The main thing I believe Jay will be doing in the AFL is getting some of those missed innings under his belt. It also will intrigue me to see if he makes any starts as typically each team sends at least one starter, but none of the others prospects sent quite fit that role. If Jay can show that his plus-stuff still plays up against the elite competition of the AFL after being out so long, I can envision a scenario where he starts in AAA next season, a phone call away from the majors.
— All LaMonte Wade has done since joining the Twins organization as a ninth-round draft pick in 2015, is get on base. Across four levels so far in his career, he has a .404 on-base percentage and has drawn more walks than strikeouts. Even more amazing from a comparison standpoint, is the number of walks he has drawn is significantly higher than Joe Mauer did in his MiLB career before debuting (177 in 273 games vs. 129 in 277 games). What Wade hasn’t done so far in his career, is hit for much power but there is some in there. He had 22 doubles, three triples, and seven home runs with Chattanooga this season, and his 67 RBI and .397 OBP ranked second on the team to only team MVP Jonathan Rodriguez. As the year progressed he went from hitting in the middle of the Lookouts lineup to batting in the top third, finishing the year as their number three hitter. He doesn’t have the “wow” tool or tools that many top prospects do, but can do a bit of everything and is not a slouch in any regard. He also doesn’t struggle against same-sided pitchers, as his career OPS vs. left-handers is actually higher than against righties. Wade gets high marks from scouts for his baseball acumen, work ethic, and makeup that they say allows him to outplay his scouting report. There is not much more development needed here as Wade has excelled at every stop, so the AFL will be a good point to judge just how big of an impact he might be able to make in the majors if needed next season. He remind sme a lot of Denard Span at the top of a lineup and we may get to see soon if that is indeed his ceiling.
— Infielder Chris Paul was a force in the Fort Myers Miracle lineup this year when he was on the field, where he slashed .328/.380/.471 in 61 games. His issue as he heads to the AFL is that it was just for 61 games as he dealt with a wrist injury. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 draft from California-Berkeley, Paul was a senior sign and will turn 25 on Thursday so he has been older than his competition to this point. He played primarily third base this year with Fort Myers, but has played in all the corner spots of the field in as he looks for the role best suited for him. In the AFL the Twins likely will want to see some power from him and perhaps a bit more clarity of what role he might be able to fill in the coming season. He will likely start the 2018 season in Chattanooga, with perhaps his position determined by his AFL performance.
— Reliever Andrew Vasquez goes to the AFL out of the single-A levels and spent most of his time at Low-A which makes his selection intriguing as he’s not as far along as most other prospects who go there. In Vasquez’s case, it is likely deserved as he flat out dominated the Midwest League in 2017. He checked in at number five on Twins Daily’s Relief Pitcher of the Year Award, due to his 1.55 ERA and 85 K’s in 58.0IP on the season. That mark was good for a 13.2K/9 rate, which is elite territory. At 6-foot-6 and left-handed, he looks intimidating, but it’s not a big fastball that he uses to dominate hitters, or anything with velocity for that matter. It’s his big curveball that should probably be classified as a “bugs bunny” type, as it is known to come in below 70MPH. Player’s know it’s coming, but they still can’t hit it and it allows his below 90’s fastball to play up while they sit on it. He is also nearly unhittable against same-sided hitters, as he didn’t allow a single extra-base-hit to them during the 2017 season. It will be really interesting to see how his curveball-centric approach plays against the elite competition of the AFL, and I’ll be watching to see if right-handers are able to figure him out enough to limit his upside.
— Pitcher Ryan Eades was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of LSU as a guy who held a lot of projection and showed elite “stuff” at times in his collegiate career. He always got mentions about how his stats didn’t live up to his arsenal. As a pro so far in his career, you might say the same thing has held true. He was used primarily as a starter in his first three seasons, spending an entire season at each rung of the ladder until he plateaued during the 2016 with Chattanooga. Late in the year they made the switch to the bullpen where he struggled to keep runs off the board, but he did boost his strikeout rate. In the 2017 season he started off in the bullpen, but whenever a need arose he stepped in as a starter was actually pretty effective at times. He even made a couple of appearances with Rochester in early June where he allowed just one run on six hits in eight innings, while striking out nine. When he was sent back to the Lookouts, he maintained around a mid-3.00’s ERA through the end of the season, finishing with a mark of 3.63 in AA. In front of Jay, Eades is the most likely nominee to get starts in the AFL from the Twins representatives, and the likely outcome from his performances is whether he gets another shot as a starter, or moves to the bullpen full time in 2018.
— The name Tom Hackimer probably isn’t a well-known one for Twins prospect followers quite yet, but that could be changing very soon. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of St. Johns, he is a pure reliever prospect who is performing at a level near the top amongst his peers. He began the 2017 season in Cedar Rapids, and was outstanding as evidenced by his 0.58 WHIP. He appeared in 16 games, pitching 24.0 innings with a 28/3 K/BB ratio and pick up the Save in 6 games. After his promotion to Fort Myers, he pitched another 37.1 innings with 43 K’s against 19 walks. He finished the season with a 1.76 ERA and 0.85 WHIP across the two levels. Like Trevor Hildenberger who made a big impact with the Twins this season, Hackimer is a sidewinder who comes at hitters from a drastically different angle. This also allows him to be deadly on right-handed hitters, who managed just a .352 OPS against him in 2017. Like with Vasquez in the AFL, I’m going to be watching if left-handed hitters can negate his effectiveness moving forward, but with a good showing he should be in Chattanooga to start the 2018 season.
— Infielder Sean Miller came to the Minnesota Twins organization out of the 2015 draft in the 10th round. He has been what you might call a utility player so far in his career, as he has played all over the infield and even got a few games in the outfield with Fort Myers in 2017. After being drafted, he spent a couple of weeks in Elizabethton before moving up to Cedar Rapids to finish the season. He hit .284 in 26 games with the Kernels that season and remained there for the first 90 games of 2016 before being bumped up to the Miracle to finish the year. He spent all of the 2017 campaign with Fort Myers, playing 122 games in the middle of the infield as a steady glove presence with some speed. He hit .262/.299/.322 on the year with 51 runs scored and 38 RBI. The AFL may be a big challenge for Miller but I’m sure that is appealing to him and guys like him are fun to root for and learn about on their journey to the majors.
Good luck to all of the players in the AFL for the Twins this season, and I’m looking forward to following along with everyone at Twins Daily!
Please feel free to ask any questions about the AFL and discuss this week’s performances!
- Tom Froemming and DelusionalTwinsFan like this