Twins Prospect Spotlight Series: Zander Wiel
Image courtesy of Photo by Seth Stohs, Twins DailyRanking prospects is a difficult task and everyone has a bit of a different methodology. This series isn’t meant to be critical of any of the other lists out there, it’s all about presenting a positive case for the featured player. We’re starting at the bottom of my list and working up. Here’s a look at what’s on deck:
Range 41-50 spotlight: Zander Wiel, No. 48
Range 31-40 spotlight: Coming Nov. 28
Range 21-30 spotlight: Coming Dec. 5
Range 11-20 spotlight: Coming Dec. 12
Range 1-10 spotlight: Coming Dec. 19
Zander Wiel has put up strong numbers in each of his first two full seasons in the Twins system, so what’s keeping him off of most prospect lists? Well, he’s just not a guy you can pin super lofty dreams on. Drafted in the 12th round out of Vanderbilt in 2015, Wiel has been old for his level at each stop of his minor league career thus far. The fact that he’s also a first baseman certainly doesn’t help his prospect stock, either.
Wiel remained in Fort Myers for the entire 2017 season, and will enter this coming year as a 25-year-old with no experience above High-A. But, that exact same thing could’ve been said about Mitch Garver as he entered the 2016 season. While you can’t simply compare two guys and assume similar progressions, it is pretty interesting to look at Wiel’s 2017 results versus Garver’s 2015 numbers.
Wiel 2017 (528 PAs with Fort Myers)
.250/.344/.429 (.773 OPS)
13 HR, 11.8 BB%, 19.9 K%
Garver 2015 (520 PAs with Fort Myers)
.245/.356/.333 (.668 OPS)
4 HR, 13.3 BB%, 15.8 K%
Garver’s sterling walk-to-strikeout rate stands out, but Wiel’s power numbers are far superior. Obviously, Garver played the much more demanding defensive position, but I still see reasons to be intrigued by Wiel. While 13 home runs may not seem like a ton on the surface, Wiel was tied for third in the Florida State League with that mark and only six other players in the Twins minor league system went deep more often in 2017. It was also the first time a Miracle hitter cracked double-digit homers since Adam Brett Walker slugged 25 in 2014.
Wiel was tied for third in the FSL with 62 walks, which was also the third-highest total in the system, trailing only Jonathan Rodriguez (81) and LaMonte Wade (76). Who doesn’t love a guy who can hit for power and draw walks? The .250 batting average looks like a red flag, but that was due in large part to a .293 BABIP, the fifth-lowest in the FSL among 47 qualified hitters in the league.
You may be thinking “yeah, but he was just beating up on a bunch of kids.” There may be some truth to that, but a deeper dive suggests to me that he won’t crumble against more advanced pitching. Yes, Wiel faced younger pitchers 78.8 percent of the time, but he thrived against competition more up to par with his level of experience. He was actually much better against older pitchers, hitting .266/.366/.468 (.834 OPS) in 112 plate appearances, posting nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (17). He also had strong numbers against some of the best pitchers in the FSL. Against the top five qualified pitchers in the league per FIP, Wiel hit .375/.474/.750 (1.224 OPS) over 19 plate appearances. Tiny sample size, I know, but it’s another shred of positive evidence in Wiel’s favor.
Wiel also finished the year strong, hitting .291/.383/.488 (.871 OPS) over his final 36 games, showing he was prepared to take the next step. It’s too bad he didn’t get a shot in Double-A, but it’s not his fault Rodriguez was putting together an MVP-like campaign for the Lookouts.
A big guy at 6-3 and 232 lbs, Wiel is more well-built than beefy. His athleticism shows up on the field, as he’s legged out 14 triples the past two seasons and is 15-for-18 in stolen base attempts (83.3 percent success rate) in his career. He even got some work in the outfield for the first time as a pro last year, logging 17 games in left field for the Miracle.
Sometimes prospect rankings can be harsh on guys drafted out of college. I completely understand why, but players like Garver and Zack Granite are perfect examples of how prospect rankings, or perceived ceilings, only matter to a certain point. Potential only gets you so far and most players never reach their perceived ceilings. At the end of the day, it’s all about performance and continued improvement.
So is Zander Wiel the heir apparent to Joe Mauer at first base? No, probably not. If you’ve made it this far, you can probably tell I have a bit of a thing for this guy, but he’s still down at No. 48 even on my list. We’re going to learn a lot about Wiel in 2018, however, and a big year against stiffer competition could really catapult his status.
Wiel still has a long road ahead, but at the very least he’s a player worth familiarizing yourself with as he prepares to step up to the high minors in 2018. For more on Wiel and about 170 other Twins minor leaguers, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2018 Twins Prospect Handbook, which will be available later this winter.
- Cory Engelhardt likes this