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Twins Throw Curveball With Draft Strategy

At the end of the MLB Draft's first day, most Minnesota Twins fans found themselves in a state of confusion.

The team surprisingly chose Royce Lewis first overall, seemingly with the intention of saving bonus money for a later splash, but neither of their next two picks qualified as such. Brent Rooker and Landon Leach, selected at 35 and 37, did not stand out as the kinds of players requiring an aggressive over-slot bid to sign.

As it turns out, the true key to their strategy wouldn't become apparent until the first pick of day two. With their top selection in the third round, 76th overall, the Twins selected Blayne Enlow, a prep righty from Louisiana.
Image courtesy of The Prospect Pipeline
The interest in Enlow does not come as a surprise, at least not for those who've been following our coverage. In his 10-round Twins mock, Jeremy Nygaard had Minnesota taking the prep right-hander with their second pick at No. 35. They ended up taking him 41 spots later, and then immediately agreed to terms on a bonus of $2 million. That's a bit higher than the slot value at 35 and 37, and nearly three times the set figure at 76 ($755K).

The Twins paid Enlow like a first-round talent, and they're hardly the only ones who viewed him as one. The righty had been ranked as the 29th-best player in the draft by MLB, and 33rd by Baseball America. Either because he slid on other boards, or because he already had a deal in place with the Twins, Enlow went undrafted through the first 75 picks, allowing Minnesota to land him after already adding three other prospects they coveted.

Putting all the pieces together, it looks like Enlow was the key target for Derek Falvey's front office all along. And when we take a closer look at the pitcher's defining traits, there's really only one way to spin this story.

The Unteachable Skill

Last week, Parker Hageman wrote here about one of the main hold-ups with Hunter Greene: his trouble with the curve. In short, while the fireballing phenom makes headlines for his hellacious heater, his breaking balls are lagging behind due to insufficient spin.

There is a growing body of evidence that a great curveball cannot really be taught. After a certain age, a fairly early one, your ability to spin the ball kind of is what it is. You either have it, or you don't. The subject gained national steam when spotlighted by Tom Verducci in a recent feature for Sports Illustrated:

So inscrutable is the magic of a curveball that it is accepted wisdom in the game that, while pitchers can learn to sink a baseball (with a two-seamer) and cut it (with a cutter or slider), they generally cannot learn how to throw a great curve. It is not a projectable pitch. Organizations have learned that if someone does not show an aptitude to spin the baseball as an amateur, it’s foolish to expect him to acquire the skill.


As it happens, this is Enlow's speciality. Twins scouting director Sean Johnson told reporters after the draft, "He may have I think the best curveball in the high school group ... He can spin the ball, which is hard to teach."



The Twins aren't alone in that assessment. MLB.com draft guru Jim Callis had named Enlow's as the best curveball in this class, describing it as "a 12-to-6 hammer in the low 80s." We see him break off quite a few here, and here:



In the recipe for a big-league starter, Enlow might already bring the most important ingredient.

Following the Leaders

I wrote earlier this week that Minnesota took a page out of the Houston Astros playbook from 2012 with their approach at No. 1 overall this year. But not until I looked closer did I realize the nearly identical blueprints.

Five years ago, Houston passed on a high school star widely heralded as a generational talent, favoring a prep shortstop with a lesser profile. They used the savings from that under-slot signing to lure a an underdrafted teenage pitcher away from his college commitment.

That pitcher? Lance McCullers. And wouldn't you know, he also happens to be known for his curve. In fact, he was one of the focal points of Verducci's aforementioned SI piece, which included this nugget from the Houston righty:

“I don’t view my curveball as complementary stuff. Whereas old school was more like, ‘No, establish the fastball, pound the heater and wait until they prove they can hit it.’ Well, what if I have two guys on and I’m trying to establish my heater, and he hits it out of the ballpark? You saw it in the postseason: Now it’s about pitchers challenging guys with their best pitch, and that means a lot of curveballs.”


By going against convention, the Astros ended up with one of the most successful draft outcomes in recent memory, reeling in McCullers and Carlos Correa who are now both key contributors for the best team in baseball.

The Big Picture

In essence, it looks like the pitching-needy Twins decided to bet on Enlow's curveball rather than Greene's fastball. As you might expect with this analytical new front office leadership, there is plenty of data to back up that mindset. Evidence tells us an 18-year-old kid like Enlow can add velocity and learn sink after joining the pro ranks, but Greene may struggle to round out his repertoire. There's also a case to be made that the latter carries more injury risk.

By making Enlow rather than Greene the featured prep arm in their draft class, the Twins also managed to net a potential star in Lewis with their top pick. It's a bold strategy, to be sure, and one that will open this organization up to a great deal of hindsight criticism if it flounders.

Then again, if the Astros worried about such things a half-decade ago, they might still be spinning their wheels instead of dominating the league.

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56 Comments

Seeing how the draft ultimately unfolded, I can't say I dislike it. I'm still torn on the money saving theory to spend money later on for a "steal", when you may have bypassed the best/better player early on.

However, if you truly don't feel there is that definitive #1 guy, then you are smart to draft the way the Twins did. (BTW, this is not an indictment of Lewis or his potential).

I really hope we can sign all 10 rounds. And it would be awesome if we could sneak a couple guys from day 3 that aren't college seniors. Looks like a couple risky picks there, (unsignable), that could be steals if we had a little left over cash available.

Still wondering if Leach doesn't ultimately make or break this draft.
    • Mike Sixel, mikelink45 and KirbyDome89 like this

I'm more and move convinced that Royce Lewis was truly #1 on their board in terms of talent alone... 

    • Mike Sixel, Loosey, Tibs and 4 others like this
Seen it mentioned on the boards before, but just to reiterate:



Eric A Longenhagen: Blayne Enlow, RHP, St. Amat HS (LA)
1:09
Eric A Longenhagen: #33 overall on my board, chance for plus fastball and curveball, had one of the better max curveball spin rates measured on the showcase circuit (2700+ rpm)
    • HitInAPinch, howieramone2 and d-mac like this

Draft to me is based on 2 people.Whether Lewis will hit enough to fulfil his potential and whether Enlow can become a #1 or #2 starting pitcher.If these happen, Leach would only have to be a #3 to make this a really great draft.  

Enlow could reach here in 2019 - 2020 time frame and that would be a big plus(I believe Blylevan got here at 19).Rest of top side of draft could take longer to develop, but it will take 3-4 years to totally evaluate this draft.And I believe best case is Rooker could be here end of 2018 or even in midseason.We shall all see.

    • mikelink45 and howieramone2 like this

Just to be clear.... the strategy "allowed" the Twins to obtain Leach. If they played it "straight" at #35 and #37, they could have had Enlow and Rooker anyway.

 

They cut a deal with Enlow and/or realized that no one between the 30-70s could pay over slot......

 

They did this so they could take Leach as well....presumably before someone else took him before the 70s and he signed with another team for the slot money there.

 

So.....really, it is Leach that will determine how fancy the FO was with this draft.

 

And it will really be Wright to watch and not Greene to determine if they misjudged....We currently have 1 ultra reliable starter and the next 100s of millions of $$$ ACE that the twins sign in FA will be the first one!!!! .... all the while....the window for a potentially lethal line up may be opening up in very soon.

    • ashburyjohn, Mike Sixel, DJSim22 and 6 others like this
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twinsfanstreif
Jun 14 2017 09:54 PM
Go back and look at the twins drafts for the past decade. Even in the years where we had several early picks we still didn't draft a ton of overall talent, it was usually one or two guys with a bunch of "safe" guys or relievers sprinkled in (i.e. Eades, Boer, Berdi, Cederoth, Bard, Bashore, Cody, etc). This year we have 6 guys who made at least one publication's top 100 list (Lewis, Rooker, Leach, Enlow, Bechtold, and De La Torres) and one who was dang close in Barnes. I can't remember the last year we brought in that much talent with upside
    • Tibs, Dman, BenB and 2 others like this

 

Go back and look at the twins drafts for the past decade. Even in the years where we had several early picks we still didn't draft a ton of overall talent, it was usually one or two guys with a bunch of "safe" guys or relievers sprinkled in (i.e. Eades, Boer, Berdi, Cederoth, Bard, Bashore, Cody, etc). This year we have 6 guys who made at least one publication's top 100 list (Lewis, Rooker, Leach, Enlow, Bechtold, and De La Torres) and one who was dang close in Barnes. I can't remember the last year we brought in that much talent with upside

 

We were drafting at the top of each round and had a compensatory A pick.  That sort of helps.  If you are drafting first overall, your 5th round pick is going to be pick 136 in this draft so getting 6 top 100 ranked players isn't that astounding.

 

 

    • Mike Sixel, ThejacKmp, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

I think $2 million was a good bargain for Enlow.  I thought he was going to be in the $3 million range.  My guess is that the savings that people thought Lewis, Rooker, and Leach were getting arent as big as we first thought and the JUCO guys selected in the 5th and 7th might get a bit above slot.

    • markos likes this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jun 14 2017 10:50 PM

 

Just to be clear.... the strategy "allowed" the Twins to obtain Leach. If they played it "straight" at #35 and #37, they could have had Enlow and Rooker anyway.

 

As the poster above hinted at, do you think if Enlow had been selected earlier (35 or 37), do you think he could have then set his bargaining price higher due to the slot? 

    • TRex likes this
Don't forget, the Twins can start 700k over slot and not violate the 5% rule.
    • Dman and d-mac like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jun 14 2017 10:58 PM

Cody Allen is another interesting piece of this puzzle. He throws a curveball, was a later round pick, and flew through the minors. 

So what do the Twins do with this extra saved bonus money if some other teams drafts Enlow before 35?? How could the Twins be sure that he'd still be available at 35 or later??

You'd gotta think that Enlow immediately cracks the Twins top 10 prospects.  A 1-5 group of Lewis, Gordon, Romero, Gonsalves, Kiriloff (not necessarily in that order) followed by 6-10 of Enlow, Jay, Díaz, Mejía, and your favorite of of Stewart/Blankenhorn/Wade (again not in that order) really improves this top 10.  

 

I'd also think Rooker would fit in the 10-15 range (something like Palka's floor, more ceiling).  De La Torre, Bechtold, and Barnes are probably in the 20-35 range, too. 

 

That sounds like a good strategy to me! 

    • birdwatcher and BenB like this
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ToddlerHarmon
Jun 15 2017 06:52 AM
So if an unteachably great curveball was worth 2 days of draft jujitsu, why is Tyler Duffey not getting a shot at the rotation?

- Duffey's agent
    • jorgenswest, Mike Sixel, Monkeypaws and 4 others like this
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Original Whizzinator
Jun 15 2017 07:21 AM

Draft to me is based on 2 people. Whether Lewis will hit enough to fulfil his potential and whether Enlow can become a #1 or #2 starting pitcher. If these happen, Leach would only have to be a #3 to make this a really great draft.
Enlow could reach here in 2019 - 2020 time frame and that would be a big plus(I believe Blylevan got here at 19). Rest of top side of draft could take longer to develop, but it will take 3-4 years to totally evaluate this draft. And I believe best case is Rooker could be here end of 2018 or even in midseason. We shall all see.

If Lewis hits his potential, Enlow becomes a #1 or #2 and Leach becomes a #3 we will all be residing in never never land baby! To me this is the kind of unrealistic thinking that causes all the consternation we had yesterday. IMO if one of these things happen that could be considered a good outcome with the success of a lessor pick succeeding sprinkled in.
    • Mike Sixel, beckmt, d-mac and 1 other like this

 

So if an unteachably great curveball was worth 2 days of draft jujitsu, why is Tyler Duffey not getting a shot at the rotation?

- Duffey's agent

He might want to ask politely, because a response is pretty easy to come by:

 

Year ERA G GS  IP   H  R  ER BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
2016 6.43 26 26 133 167 103 95 32 114 66 4.73 1.496

 

    • mikelink45 and ToddlerHarmon like this

You can see some run on his fastball in those videos as well. He's got an idea of the "sinker" type 2-seamer already, too.

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clutterheart
Jun 15 2017 08:26 AM

 

I'm more and move convinced that Royce Lewis was truly #1 on their board in terms of talent alone... 

 

That means you are buying the post draft stories Front office types always spin.  Lewis is a good prospect I'm looking forward to watching how he fits with the next wave of prospects like Wander Javier, Graterol and others.  I think he is a good additional to the org and I like how they handled the draft.

 

But I don't think he was #1 on any boards.   

    • mikelink45, laloesch and rghrbek like this

 

If Lewis hits his potential, Enlow becomes a #1 or #2 and Leach becomes a #3 we will all be residing in never never land baby! To me this is the kind of unrealistic thinking that causes all the consternation we had yesterday. IMO if one of these things happen that could be considered a good outcome with the success of a lessor pick succeeding sprinkled in.

 

Correct... that is the nature of the draft. The reality is that we just don't know, so all we can do is 'judge' the strategy. 

 

If they get one star out of a draft class, that's tremendous. If they can get a star, a solid regular (mid-rotation starter, lineup contributor for 3-4 years), and a couple of part-time guys (utility, bullpen, spot starter) in a draft, that's hugely successful.

 

Like I've said in other threads... I think that it was a very sound strategy and they ended up with the best high school player in the draft, the best college hitter in 2017, and two high-ceiling starting pitchers from the high school ranks. Well done, I'd say, and now we'll find out in 5-10 years how it all panned out. 

    • Mike Sixel, BenB, PDX Twin and 3 others like this

 

So if an unteachably great curveball was worth 2 days of draft jujitsu, why is Tyler Duffey not getting a shot at the rotation?

- Duffey's agent

You took my response - good for you - we have a curve ball terror in Duffey.  Everything says curve balls are the most important pitch in this era and the draft confirmed that.  So why is Duffey in the pen and not in the rotation?  Why aren't we continuing to develop him as a starter.  It can't be because Gibson, Mejia, and Santiago are all sensational.

    • jorgenswest likes this

I have a hard time with the draft because MLB has such a long delay before the satisfaction of seeing a person in MLB keeps us from really judging a draft for three years.  So I wanted to see what to use for judging the draft and found this slightly old article   http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1219356-examining-the-percentage-of-mlb-draft-picks-that-reach-the-major-leagues and it was constructive.  The first 5 rounds give us a 33% and more chance of success in the majors.  The last half of the draft is a collective 7% which means that those picks fill the minor league rosters and you hope for a surprise. 

 

So we ended up with SS, 3B, OF and three pichers in the high end of the draft.  Now I will follow Seth's reports and hope for the best. 

    • Mike Sixel and beckmt like this

 

You took my response - good for you - we have a curve ball terror in Duffey.  Everything says curve balls are the most important pitch in this era and the draft confirmed that.  So why is Duffey in the pen and not in the rotation?  Why aren't we continuing to develop him as a starter.  It can't be because Gibson, Mejia, and Santiago are all sensational.

 

I feel like you "curveball terrorists" are jsut being obtuse.

 

Having a curveball doesn't make you good. Not having a curveball by the time you get drafted probably means you'll never develop it. 

    • beckmt likes this
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Richard Karn's Beard
Jun 15 2017 08:57 AM

I've been reading on this site for years and this is one of the better articles I've read.  It was so good I had to create an account.  Thanks to everyone who contributes and makes my work days more bearable.  

    • Brock Beauchamp, Carole Keller, ashburyjohn and 14 others like this
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howieramone2
Jun 15 2017 09:07 AM

 

Just to be clear.... the strategy "allowed" the Twins to obtain Leach. If they played it "straight" at #35 and #37, they could have had Enlow and Rooker anyway.

 

They cut a deal with Enlow and/or realized that no one between the 30-70s could pay over slot......

 

They did this so they could take Leach as well....presumably before someone else took him before the 70s and he signed with another team for the slot money there.

 

So.....really, it is Leach that will determine how fancy the FO was with this draft.

 

And it will really be Wright to watch and not Greene to determine if they misjudged....We currently have 1 ultra reliable starter and the next 100s of millions of $$$ ACE that the twins sign in FA will be the first one!!!! .... all the while....the window for a potentially lethal line up may be opening up in very soon.

We have 2 ultra reliable starters. Foolish to spent 100-150M on an ace. Time to start thinking about signing Sano, Buxton, etc. to long term contracts. 

 

If Lewis hits his potential, Enlow becomes a #1 or #2 and Leach becomes a #3 we will all be residing in never never land baby! To me this is the kind of unrealistic thinking that causes all the consternation we had yesterday. IMO if one of these things happen that could be considered a good outcome with the success of a lessor pick succeeding sprinkled in.

We have high standards here at TD, and quick pitchforks and tar.

    • birdwatcher, gunnarthor, IndyTwinsFan and 2 others like this