The Next Minnesota Twins - 2020
Image courtesy of Brent Rooker hits a double in Spring Training (photo: Steve Lein)For anyone new to this site, I have been helping to write our Minor League Reports since 2014 (man, I’m going to miss them this year…), and for years before that wrote about the Twins and their minor league system elsewhere. I’ve always been fascinated by the minor leagues as I went to many games as a kid when we visited family in Wisconsin, home to a few Midwest League teams. Back then we saw the Appleton Foxes, now known as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I don’t recall an exact number on how many future major leaguers I may have seen back then, but the one who stands out was Alex Rodriguez. He played for the Foxes as an 18-year-old the same year he made his MLB debut.
My favorite thing to look forward to in the baseball offseason is all the top 100 prospect and team lists that come out. While I certainly make my own such lists, there are so many websites and other publications dedicated solely to the minors these days (some of the best of those are right here at Twins Daily) that I like to put a slightly different spin on my own list going into a new season. It comes from those minor league games I watched as a kid where those prospects had the same dreams I did—to become a major leaguer.
During the 2019 season, 261 players across Major League Baseball fulfilled those dreams and made their debut. The Minnesota Twins accounted for 12 of those players which included pitchers Ryne Harper, Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol, Cody Stashak, Sean Poppen, Ryan Eades, and Jorge Alcala, along with position players Luis Arraez, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Ian Miller.
Quite frankly, that was a lot of debuts for a team that won 101 games and speaks to the amount of depth that has been developed and how willing the front office has been to utilize it. Of those 12, seven of them were players I identified in this column before the season. For the upcoming season we now know that Dobnak, Smeltzer, Thorpe, Arraez, and Wade have made the 30-man roster and Alcala finds himself on the taxi-squad. Another wrinkle for 2020 is that the Twins will not have the entirety of their system potentially available, relying instead on a limited 60-player pool from which they can draw. That makes this year’s list below a little easier to determine.
With the shortened season and the veteran and young depth this roster has, I would not expect major contributions from any of these guys outside of injuries, but it will be interesting to see what happens when a particular need does arise. So, who are the potential Next Minnesota Twins for the 2020 sprint of a season?
ON THE 30-MAN ACTIVE ROSTER:
Aaron Whitefield (23 years old on opening day) – OF
The first player on this list is also perhaps the biggest surprise for the opening day roster. Whitefield hasn’t hit much over the past two seasons with Fort Myers and Pensacola with an OPS well under .600, but that is not the reason he’s here. He has played primarily center field and possesses a good arm and speed, swiping 50 bases in those two seasons despite the hitting deficiencies. I envision this as Byron Buxton insurance for now and a pinch-running weapon late in games, a luxury afforded with the expanded rosters.
ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER:
Dakota Chalmers (23) – RHP
The right-hander was acquired in 2018 for Fernando Rodney while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Known for good velocity, Chalmers returned to action in July of last year and was impressive with Fort Myers before making an appearance in the playoffs with Pensacola. He then pitched as a starter in the Arizona Fall League and was tabbed for the championship game for the Salt River Rafters, which they went on to win. His repertoire includes mid 90’s heat he can reach back for a little more of, a good slider, and a developing changeup. As with many young pitchers, consistency is key for him moving forward, as he can get a bit wild. Here are some of his pitches courtesy of Parker Hageman:
Travis Blankenhorn (23) – IF (TD’s #18 Prospect)
Blankenhorn reclaimed a bit of his prospect luster during the 2019 season, as the former 3rd round pick OPS’d near .800 at Fort Myers and Pensacola, playing primarily 2B with some looks in left field. His 19 home runs on the season were a career high and he added in 22 doubles for good measure. He has also played a good amount of third base in his career thus far, so his versatility as a good athlete is something the Twins can take advantage of if needed.
Nick Gordon (24) – IF
To everyone who has forgotten about Nick Gordon—I think that’s a mistake. I would agree there’s not potential star power here anymore, but Gordon is going to have a long MLB career. He hits, can handle shortstop, and has sneaky speed that helped him collect 29 doubles and 14 stolen bases last year in just 70 games at triple-A. If he were not injured at the time, I do believe he would have been the name called up instead of Luis Arraez last season. We’re all glad it worked out like it did, but that statement speaks to what many are missing with Gordon. Don’t be surprised if and when he becomes a nice contributor to Minnesota’s lineup.
Gilberto Celestino (21) – OF (TD’s #12 Prospect)
Celestino is the first long shot on my list, as I don’t think it makes sense to call him up at any point in the 2020 season unless some things have gone seriously wrong with injuries to outfielders. Just 21-years-old and only eight games of experience above the Midwest League, he would likely be in over his head in the batter’s box. But one thing I do believe he could handle just fine in the majors at this point is playing defense at a high level in the outfield, center field included.
60-MAN PLAYER POOL DEPTH:
Sam Clay (27) – LHP
Clay has missed plenty of bats and kept the ball in the yard at an incredible rate (one home run allowed in last three seasons and 188+ innings pitched). He lowered his walk rate in 2019 but free passes are still something he is working on.
Edwar Colina (23) - RHP (TD’s #16 Prospect)
Colina is one of my personal favorites, and he has the potential to make fans forget about trading away a similar pitcher in Brusdar Graterol. Colina has made impressive strides since being in the system and can now consistently hit 100-mph when he wants to and pairs that heat with a good slider.
Drew Maggi (31) - IF
Maggi is by no means a prospect, but brings a lot of experience and is a solid type of backup option to have around that can play multiple positions, including shortstop in a pinch. Hit .258/.384/.405 with Rochester in 108 games last season.
Zander Wiel (27) – 1B/OF
Another one of my favorite guys to follow in the system, Wiel’s production is often overlooked when it shouldn’t be. He led the International League with 40 doubles last year and also clubbed 24 home runs. His 86 runs scored also led all Twins minor leaguers.
Brent Rooker (25) – 1B/DH/OF (TD’s #9 Prospect)
If the Twins are in need of a masher at designated hitter, first base, or a corner outfield spot at any point, Rooker is not a bad place to start. His power is for real, as he slugged .535 with 14 home runs in 67 games with Rochester last season. The caveat is that he strikes out a lot, but I have a hard time with that argument as a catch-all from people when his on-base percentage was also .399 on the year. Don’t let those strikeout numbers fool you—he’s a masher and on-base asset.
Ryan Jeffers (23) – C (TD’s #7 Prospect)
A good way to describe Jeffers for me is to look at the current starting catcher on the MLB team. Like Garver, Jeffers has been known more for his bat in the minors than his catching ability—but that appears to be much improved since he’s been in the system, to the point he may be a great asset there in the future. If the Twins catching depth is stressed beyond the top three at any point there’s a good chance the Twins could go to Jeffers, but I think he’s on the 60-man squad more to keep his momentum gained last season under the watchful eye of the Twins’ top brass.
That’s also true for the rest of the players below on this list. I think the Twins would be ecstatic to not have to reach down to them at any point, and simply continue their development in this short season.
Jhoan Duran (22) – RHP (TD’s #6 Prospect)
There aren’t many pitching prospects in the Twins system you can put the label “potential ace” on (or in any system, if we’re being honest), but Duran is one. He has the size and repertoire, able to reach back for 100-mph if he wants to, and a two-seam fastball that will remind you a lot of pitches you’ve seen from Jose Berrios and Brusdar Graterol. He continues to work on his off-speed pitches but gets plenty of swings and misses with a hard slider, and if he can find any more consistency with those secondary offerings you have the makings of a stud.
Trevor Larnach (23) – OF (TD’s #3 Prospect)
The first of two similar hitters the Twins continue to be impressed by is Larnach. He was the Twins and Twins Daily’s choice for Minor League hitter of the year during the 2019 season that saw him reach double-A for his final 43 games. He was consistent all season, posting an identical .842 OPS at both stops and a .380+ on-base percentage. Due to being a little older and his experience in college, I’d think the Twins may go to him first over the next guy if they have to reach down this far, but it’s a tough roster to crack right now for a corner outfielder.
Alex Kirilloff (22) – 1B/OF (TD’s #2 Prospect)
When returning from Tommy John surgery for the 2018 season, Kirilloff shot up prospect lists everywhere after hitting .348/.392/.578 at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. He spent the entirety of the 2019 season with Pensacola and didn’t replicate those numbers, but much of that can be attributed to wrist and other injuries he sustained before and during the season. When he finally got near 100%, the numbers followed as he hit .311 in the month of August and was a monster in the playoffs, hitting home runs in four straight games.
Royce Lewis (21) – SS/OF (TD’s #1 Prospect)
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about the Twins #1 prospect by this point, and perhaps about how he struggled some during the 2019 season. Well, any concerns you and I had about that should have been squashed by how he performed in the Arizona Fall League last year, where he took home the league MVP trophy. It’s a league I’ve paid close attention to for a long time, and it was without a doubt the best performance from a Twins prospect I have seen. Even more interesting about his time there was he was not given one of the coveted shortstop positions on the roster, instead spending most of his time at third base and some in center field, looking impressive at both spots. There’s also burgeoning power here, more than expected when drafted, so go ahead and be excited for Lewis’ future. If it wasn’t a short sprint, I’d rate his MLB debut potential quite highly, but believe it more likely 2021 at this point.
As far as the current 60-man player pool goes, these are all the players in the Minnesota Twins system that could make their ML debut this year. Who do you think will don the uniform for the first time in 2020, and who do you think could also be added at some point to do so?
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