Arizona Fall League Preview: Royce Lewis Headlines Twins Prospects
Image courtesy of Pensacola Blue Wahoos (photo of Royce Lewis)Each MLB team typically sends seven players to the AFL (there are exceptions), and they are split up amongst the six teams that make up the league. The Minnesota Twins prospects will again be on the roster of the Salt River Rafters, with pitchers Dakota Chalmers, Moises Gomez, Jovani Moran, and Zach Neff being joined by position players Royce Lewis, Ben Rortvedt, and Luke Raley. It will be Raley’s second time going to the AFL, though his season was cut short there in 2018. They will join prospects from the rosters of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, and Tampa Bay Rays.
Last season, the Twins were represented in the AFL by pitchers Adam Bray, Griffin Jax, Hector Lujan, and Devin Smeltzer with position players Travis Blankenhorn, Jaylin Davis, and Luke Raley joining them (Brent Rooker was supposed to be there but ended up being kept out due to injury). Devin Smeltzer and Jaylin Davis went on from the AFL to make their major league debut during the 2019 season, though in Davis’ case it was with the San Francisco Giants and not the Twins.
Each week I’ll be recapping the action for all the Twins representatives during their time in the desert of Arizona, so who are the players they sent? How have their careers gone thus far and what will I be looking for from each of them in the AFL as we head into October?
2019 Minnesota Twins Prospects in the AFL:
— Royce Lewis, IF (20 years old)
The number one overall selection from the 2017 draft began his professional career by excelling in his first two seasons all the way up to the high-A level and validating his status as an elite prospect. While he continued his ascent to Double-A during the 2019 season, it could be considered one where he endured his first real struggles. His OPS on the season was just .661 while he had gone .788 and .803 the years prior.
It hasn’t affected his stock too much among prospect evaluators, as he still remains a top-20 prospect on multiple lists and will show you flashes of all his tools when you watch him play, but it’s also typical for a top prospect to go through some growing pains when pushed until they’re challenged. Beginning the season as a 19-year old, Lewis was the second youngest player in the Florida State League, and he continued to be near the top of the Double-A list when he was promoted to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, resulting in him not taking an at-bat against a younger pitcher the entire season.
A large reason for the drop in overall numbers this year was his struggles against same-sided pitchers. While he crushed lefties to the tune of a .315/.351/.500 triple slash line, that dipped to .211/.271/.331 against right-handers. His only month of the season where his OPS was above .700 was July, where it was a solid .788.
The AFL will be a great environment for Lewis to finish his 2019 season, among his top prospect peers where he can continue to learn and be challenged. Despite him being a shortstop to this point in his career, what would not surprise me given how AFL rosters are put together and utilized, is if Lewis spends most of his time on the diamonds in Arizona elsewhere, whether at other infield spots or the outfield (as of publishing this article, Lewis is the starting third baseman in the season opener).
— Ben Rortvedt, C (21 - turns 22 on 9/25)
It took a few seasons for Rortvedt’s bat to start showing it’s potential to go along with his strong defense behind the plate, but that changed some during the 2018 season where he had an OPS of .710 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Fort Myers. He then came out hot to start the 2019 season with the Miracle and after just 24 games moved up to the Blue Wahoos.
He was a monster with his bat over the first two months of the season, hitting a combined .274/.377/.487 through 35 games, but cooled off as the season wore on by hitting just .213/.302/.300 after that. He did maintain a strong walk rate throughout the year however, as he drew a free pass in 11.9% of his plate appearances.
Before the year started, he also was somewhat of a poster-boy for the Minnesota Twins seemingly unorthodox catcher development program pointed out during spring training, and that’s because he was already a stellar defender employing some of those practices. He’s thrown out 43% of basestealers over his career but was even better than that in 2019 by catching 30 out of 58 attempts (52%). He gets rave reviews for his receiving and even if the bat never becomes more than average, that defense would make him a strong backup catching option for the Twins in the future.
Rortvedt is the exact type of player I think the AFL is perfect for. A prospect at the high-levels of the minors that can contribute soon, playing a demanding position with a bunch of his peers that he can talk shop with, and his parent MLB team perhaps needing another option in the near future. While he likely won’t alter any internal opinions unless he torches the league, Rortvedt can establish himself high on the depth chart in 2020 when a need behind the plate arises in the majors with a strong showing.
— Dakota Chalmers, RHP (22 - turns 23 on 10/8)
Chalmers came to the organization at the 2018 deadline when the Twins sent Fernando Rodney to the Oakland Athletics. He didn’t pitch for the Twins until late this year however as he had undergone Tommy John surgery before he was acquired. He can throw in the upper 90’s and has a swing-and-miss breaking ball that can give opposing hitters fits —when he throws them for strikes, which has been his battle as a prospect thus far. While he struck out 12.5/9IP in his 34 2/3 innings this season, he also walked 6.0/9IP and is likely his biggest emphasis in the AFL this fall.
There’re a couple of categories Chalmers falls into as a prospect heading to the AFL, those being he needs to throw some innings to make up development time, and also needs protecting on the 40-man roster if the Twins don’t want to risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft this December. He’s probably the only pitching prospect from the Twins that could make traditional starts for the Rafters this season, and will look to build upon the success he had with Fort Myers in his final three starts where he was 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA and .440 OPS against in 16 1/3 innings where he struck out 23 and walked seven.
— Moises Gomez, RHP (22)
Gomez came in a number three on Twins Daily’s Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year award balloting on the strength of a fantastic season spent between the Kernels and Miracle. In 32 appearances he pitched 52 2/3 innings, allowing just 28 hits and 21 base on balls while striking out 78 (13.3/9IP). He surrendered just a .155 batting average against and racked up 10 saves.
As an international signing during the 2014 season, Gomez will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason. While I don’t think he’s a large risk to lose as he’s only reached high-A to this point, the AFL will serve as a good barometer for if the Twins will push him to start the 2020 season. The Twins have seen plenty of relievers rise from Double-A (or even Fort Myers) to the majors the past two seasons, and Gomez could be one to watch for next year.
— Luke Raley, OF (25 as of 9/19)
It will be the second year in a row in the AFL for Raley, but hopefully this time he’ll be able to stick around a bit longer as his time there was finished after just four games in 2018. Raley was perhaps the prospect center piece (at the time) of the Twins trade of Brian Dozier to the Dodgers that also brought in Devin Smeltzer, and that was due to the breakout of his bat.
His 2019 season in Triple-A was cut very short thanks to an ankle injury that kept him out from May until August, when he returned only to play a rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League. He was a force in the middle of the Red Wings lineup at the beginning of the year, clubbing seven home runs in 33 games while batting above .300.
Despite being on the bigger side, Raley is able to sneak up on opponents with his overall athleticism and is a solid corner outfield defender with a strong arm. He’ll rack up a healthy amount of strikeouts with a big swing geared for power, but also shows a good approach at the plate and attacks pitches he can mash.
He’s another guy that is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December in an organization full of young outfielders, so if he’s going to earn a 40-man roster spot he likely needs to take advantage of his time in Arizona and work himself back into the grind of a season.
— Jovani Moran, LHP (22)
Moran is a bit of a personal favorite of mine, stemming back to his 2017 and 2018 seasons where he struck out every hitter he faced in the Applachian, Midwest, and Florida State Leagues. That’s a slight exaggeration, but for any pure reliever to strike out 16.4/9IP or over 100 hitters in the course of a season in the minors is impressive. He was the runner-up to Andrew Vasquez in our 2018 Relief Pitcher of the Year award, and while he wasn’t as impressive during 2019 at Double-A there was still a lot to like.
He struck out 50 in 34 1/3 innings (13.1/9IP) and after a rough May that resulted in a month-long trip to the injured list, he returned to his dominant ways. From his return on July 5th through the end of the season he posted a 2.78 ERA, .550 OPS against, and struck out 30 over 22 2/3 innings. He had reigned in his control with Fort Myers to end 2018 with a 2.3BB/9IP walk-rate in his time there, but it jumped to a career high 6.0BB/9IP in 2019.
He’ll need to work on getting that control back in the AFL, a league where that problem could be magnified by the skill level of his competition. He’s demonstrated he can miss bats with all of his pitches due to the movement he gets and may just need to learn that he can also get away with that inside the strike zone, as he’s allowed only six home runs in 158 career innings. Moran will also be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but as a pitcher who doesn’t bring elite velocity, I find it unlikely for him to be picked unless he blows hitters away in the AFL like he has in the past. But of course, if he does that it wouldn’t surprise me that he gets protected.
— Zach Neff, LHP (23)
Neff was drafted by the Twins in the 31st round of the 2018 draft out of Mississippi State after spending his first three seasons in college at Austin Peay and worked his way up to Fort Myers during the 2019 season. He also appeared at #5 in our Relief Pitcher of the Year voting for his efforts.
He’s not overpowering by any means with a fastball that flirts around 90MPH, but still managed to post a strong strikeout rate of 11.0/9IP on the year thanks to a solid three-pitch mix. As a left-handed pitcher you might expect him to rack up most of his numbers against same-sided hitters, but he actually fared better against righties with a .569 OPS allowed vs. .622 against lefties.
Neff is an intriguing choice to send to the AFL, as it will be by far the stiffest competition he has faced and is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft until the 2021 season, but as a 23-year old with four years of collegiate experience it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment. I’ll be watching to see if he can pitch himself to Double-A to start the 2020 season, or if he’ll end up back in Fort Myers to keep improving.
Good luck to all seven of the Minnesota Twins prospects participating in the AFL this year, and I’m looking forward to following along with everyone here at Twins Daily! Hopefully Lewis and company can push Salt River to the championship game again this season!
I’ll be doing a recap of everyone’s performance on a weekly basis, but if there is anything specific you would like to see included in these recaps, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to see if I can work them in. If you’d like to get an idea of what to expect, here is the final recap from the 2018 AFL season.
Other AFL and Minor League Links:
- With the MiLB seasons coming to a close in September, Baseball America released several postseason lists, including:
- Classification All-Stars (Jaylin Davis, Devin Smeltzer, Lewin Diaz, Trevor Larnach, and Cody Laweryson are included)
- Twins Minor League Player of the Year (Trevor Larnach)
- Overall MiLB All-Star Team (Trevor Larnach makes 2nd team)
-MLB Pipeline also put out a list of the top prospect each team has sent to the AFL, with Royce Lewis represented for the Twins and is one of two former #1 overall picks playing this season (Mickey Moniak)
-On 9/19 MLB/MiLB.com also put out a list of sleeper prospects for each team in the AFL, highlighting Ben Rortvedt for the Twins and his arm to throw out runners.
-Recap and interview with Royce Lewis after his big game on Thursday night that included:
Please feel free to ask any questions about the AFL or the players who are there!
- brvama, David HK, MN_ExPat and 2 others like this