Twins Daily 2020 Top Prospects: #9 Brent Rooker
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs (Graphic by Brock Beauchamp)Position: LF
Age: 25 (DOB: 11/1/1995)
2019 Stats (AAA): 274 PA, .281/.398/.535, 14 HR, 47 RBI
2019 Ranking: 6
National Top 100 Rankings
BA: NA | MLB: NA | ATH: NA | BP: NA
What's To Like
Power-hitting has been commoditized to a large degree in the modern MLB environment. Players who can straight-up mash, but don't excel in any defensive capacity, are not the coveted assets they once were. But that's not to say they aren't valued: Just take a look at Miguel Sano and his freshly minted $30 million contract extension.
And what Rooker can do is MASH. The Mississippi State product was widely considered one of the best hitters in the country when taken 35th overall by Minnesota in the 2017 draft, becoming the second player drafted under the Falvine Regime after they went with Royce Lewis No. 1 overall.
Rooker has backed up his prestigious offensive rep since entering pro ball, slashing .267/.357/.505 with 54 home runs through 259 total games. In 2019 he put up a .928 OPS at Triple-A, with a jaw-dropping .319/.463/.572 line in 41 games after June 1st. Sounds like a guy who's about major-league ready. In fact, he might've gotten there last summer if a groin injury hadn't derailed him in mid-July.
When he was on-stage as a guest at the recent Twins Daily Winter Meltdown, Kent Hrbek made an interesting a comment about the ferocity of uppercut swings that are now commonplace: "There's a lot of [retired] guys that talk about that nowadays, that there could've been a lot more home runs hit if you just sit and try to launch all day long. I mean you take a swing like they take swings off of guys now, you'd get the ball on the side of the head the next time up."
Rooker pretty much epitomizes what Hrbek was describing. He swings very hard and aims to put it in the air. His immense power is legitimately eye-catching; the ball just rockets off his bat, and tends to go very far, very fast.
While the continuance of his slugging success was a positive last year, the most promising development was his sharpening patience at the plate. Rooker walked 12.8% of the time, enabling him to reach base at a nearly .400 clip in Triple-A. He made enormous improvements with his discipline over the course of the year.
What's Left To Work On
The tough thing with Rooker's profile is that it leaves so little margin for error. He needs to maintain as an offensive force at the highest level to be a long-term regular in the majors. Defensively he's rather limited, whether in left field or at first base, and his best future fit seems to be as a designated hitter.
That's all well and good if he keeps on producing like he has, since Minnesota's DH spot is presently unspoken for after this year, but there is reason to wonder if he can translate his dominance to the highest level.
Namely, it's the strikeouts.
As a result of his relentlessly aggressive cuts, Rooker whiffs quite a bit. His 34.7% K-rate last year was ninth-highest in the International League (min. 200 PA), and would've been seventh-highest in the majors (two spots behind the previously mentioned Sano, another notorious hard-swinger). Rooker's .281 batting average for the Red Wings in 2019 was buoyed by a blatantly unsustainable .417 BABIP.
The lack of contact, if it continues, could make it tough for Rooker to find stable footing in the big leagues. Sano is one of the few productive hitters in that realm, though Joey Gallo is another notable example.
But, again, Rooker's studious nature and proven adaptiveness offer valid reason to hope he can cut down the strikeouts. He did lower his K-rate to 29% in his final 25 games for Rochester last year, after posting an egregious 38% rate his first 40.
The Twins have been very successful – so far – with their top draft picks in recent years. Rooker is sort of a victim to this success. He's basically been the player they hoped he would be, but Minnesota also looks to have struck gold on fellow first-rounders and corner guys Alex Kirilloff (2016) and Trevor Larnach (2018), who project as more well-rounded big-leaguers and have fewer question marks.
Rooker is a step ahead of the others in development, having conquered Triple-A, but that doesn't help him much now, with nothing currently resembling a short-term opening on the MLB radar. That can of course change in a hurry when the current DH occupant is a 39-year-old with a balky wrist, and indeed, a Nelson Cruz absence is probably the most likely avenue for Rooker to reach the majors in short order. An injury to Sano or Eddie Rosario could also create an opening, to the extent the Twins are willing to tolerate Rooker's defense.
Until such an opportunity presents itself, Rooker will head back to Triple-A, where he will likely keep on mashing.
Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects
20. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B
19. Cole Sands, RHP
18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/LF
17. Misael Urbina, OF
16. Edwar Colina, RP
15. Matt Canterino, RHP
14. Matt Wallner, OF
13. Wander Javier, SS
12. Gilberto Celestino, OF
11. Lewis Thorpe, LHP
10. Blayne Enlow, RHP
9. Brent Rooker, OF
Stop by Monday for prospect #8!
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