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Front Page: Twins AFL Report - Week 4: Lewis Named Fall S...

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Arizona Fall League Preview: Royce Lewis Headlines Twins Prospects

As of your reading of this article, the Arizona Fall League season has gotten underway for the 2019 season. If you’re thinking that seems a bit early, you are not mistaken as the schedule has been changed to closer align with the end of the minor league seasons and major league playoff schedules in October. They’ve also added a wrinkle where the AFL teams will face off against Mexican League teams from September 24th through October 5th.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Arizona Fall League is a short-season circuit where every team in major league baseball sends some of their prospects in October. It is often used as a proving ground for players looking to take the final steps to their MLB dreams. Many of the top prospects in baseball play here every season looking to make a final impression for a call-up next year, but there are also many experienced minor leaguers at the upper levels that are evaluated for protection on the 40-man roster, and those trying to make up some development time after an injury. These minor league games in October can determine a lot going into the next MLB season for these players and MLB rosters, and that’s why I love following the league so closely.
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:- MLB.com also released their end of year Top 100 prospect list. Twins included are Royce Lewis (#9), Alex Kirilloff (#16), Brusdar Graterol (#54), Jordan Balazovic (#77), and Trevor Larnach (#78).

-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

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27 Comments

Outstanding preview. You don't find this anywhere else. Thanks

    • Steve Lein, glunn, wavedog and 6 others like this

"They will join prospects from the rosters of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, and Tampa Bay Rays."

 

Question -- how is it decided which teams send players to a particular AFL team?

 

Thanks for the excellent article.

    • Steve Lein and AceWrigley like this

 

"They will join prospects from the rosters of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, and Tampa Bay Rays."

 

Question -- how is it decided which teams send players to a particular AFL team?

 

Thanks for the excellent article.

 

There's probably a method, but I couldn't tell you what it is. Since I've been doing these the Twins have been on the Rafters (this is second year in a row), Scottsdale Scorpions, and Surprise Saguaros.

 

The only team different from this year making up the Rafters roster is a swap of the Washington Nationals for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    • glunn likes this

You missed Trevor Larnach at #78.

    • Steve Lein likes this

Thanks for an excellent write up, Steve.

 

This will be a huge opportunity for Raley and Rortvedt.After missing so much of the season at AAA, will give Raley a real chance to show his stuff.Will be showing his stuff to both the Twins and other scouts.With the 40-man crunch coming, I could see Raley being a valuable part of a big trade betore Thanksgiving.

 

Did a double take when you reminded me how young Rortvedt is.It's a bit hard to believe how well he did this season as a catcher who was only 21.Like Raley, he missed the last part of his season with an injury.Does anyone know if he was battling an injury the last weeks he played prior to going on the IL?If so, that could be part of the reason his offensive performance was down.

 

Thanks again, Steve.

    • SQUIRREL, Steve Lein, glunn and 3 others like this

 

You missed Trevor Larnach at #78.

 

Gee dangit! Thanks for pointing that out. So many other stories linked about him I totally glossed over that!

Thanks for the analysis. I look forward to your weekly updates. The AFL attracts my interest each fall. Maybe that’s because the Twins season is done, but not this year. So I’ll get my fill of more baseball this fall.
    • Steve Lein likes this

I am excited about Rortvedt and am looking forward to seeing how he does this Fall. Maybe by the end of the Fall League I'll actually be able to spell his name without looking it up! How well he does could affect how the Twins proceed on their catcher decisions in the off-season?

    • Steve Lein, glunn, MN_ExPat and 1 other like this

I may have missed this, I thought Kirilloff was playing in the fall league?Is he dealing with an injury?

    • Steve Lein likes this

 

I am excited about Rortvedt and am looking forward to seeing how he does this Fall. Maybe by the end of the Fall League I'll actually be able to spell his name without looking it up! How well he does could affect how the Twins proceed on their catcher decisions in the off-season?

 

I don't think it would be the sole reason for anything the Twins do or don't with Jason Castro, but for next year they have Garver, Willians AStudillo, and then...Rortvedt or Ryan Jeffers.

 

You would want the strong defender in that situation and I don't consider any of the catchers that finished at triple-A this year as options you would want to rely on.

    • glunn, MN_ExPat and rdehring like this

 

I don't think it would be the sole reason for anything the Twins do or don't with Jason Castro, but for next year they have Garver, Willians AStudillo, and then...Rortvedt or Ryan Jeffers.

 

You would want the strong defender in that situation and I don't consider any of the catchers that finished at triple-A this year as options you would want to rely on.

Oh, I forgot about Jeffers. I'm not a fan of Astudillo behind the plate ... he's okay in a limited role there. It's nice to know we have some strong possibilities in Rortvedt and Jeffers.

    • Steve Lein, MN_ExPat and rdehring like this

Playing the Mexican League is a fun twist.

    • SQUIRREL and Steve Lein like this
Think I have my eye on Raley more than anyone else. He had a nice 2018 and was off to a great start this season in Rochester before his injury. Had he not gotten hurt, I think he may have been up with the Twins the year over Cave.
    • Steve Lein, glunn, Dman and 3 others like this

 

I don't think it would be the sole reason for anything the Twins do or don't with Jason Castro, but for next year they have Garver, Willians AStudillo, and then...Rortvedt or Ryan Jeffers.

 

You would want the strong defender in that situation and I don't consider any of the catchers that finished at triple-A this year as options you would want to rely on.

The catcher situation will be one of the few, if not the only, position player that will need to be addressed this winter.Are the Twins comfortable with Astudillo as the primary backup, say playing 40% of the games?Or is he better suited to the 13th man, third catcher, playing all over the place with the option of going down to Rochester for awhile, if necessary?

 

In either case, they will need to go out and get a catcher this winter.But he could be a solid backup, preferable batting from the left side...of which Castro would be an option.Or he could be a player with some major league experience who is signed to a minor league contract...also preferably swinging from the left side.This would be the cheaper, both $$$ and 40-man spot, option.But to go the cheaper option, the Twins will need to be comfortable with Astudillo behind the plate.And yes, they may be more comfortable with that option than some of us...not necessarily me.

 

In either case, I don't see Rortvedt or Jeffers being an option to break camp with the Twins.Either has a chance to fill out that #2 or #3 slot by late summer with it likely one of them will be ready.

    • SQUIRREL, Steve Lein, Dman and 2 others like this

 

In either case, I don't see Rortvedt or Jeffers being an option to break camp with the Twins.Either has a chance to fill out that #2 or #3 slot by late summer with it likely one of them will be ready.

 

I agree here.Maybe by late summer.It'll be nice to get a catcher or two that we've drafted to be at the AAA level instead of minor league signings.

 

I was a bit surprised that Jeffers wasn't included on the roster.Just a showing of how much the organization appreciates Rortvedt's defense.Although, Jeffers has proved to be a catcher who strives to get better.I love Ben's defense, and I love Jeffers' bat.

    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher and Dman like this

 

I agree here.Maybe by late summer.It'll be nice to get a catcher or two that we've drafted to be at the AAA level instead of minor league signings.

 

I was a bit surprised that Jeffers wasn't included on the roster.Just a showing of how much the organization appreciates Rortvedt's defense.Although, Jeffers has proved to be a catcher who strives to get better.I love Ben's defense, and I love Jeffers' bat.

Didn't check, but didn't Jeffers play the entire season?Rortvedt missed most of the last two months, in which case this will make up some of those at bats.Same situation for Raley.This is something they often do and it would be unlikely any of the six teams would send more than one catcher.With at least three catchers on each team they won't get all that many at bats as is.

    • Steve Lein and jokin like this
Chalmers is the one I'm most interested in....
    • Steve Lein, jokin, DocBauer and 1 other like this

If any plans on attending any AFL games, let me know and I'll see if I can drive up and join you.

 

 

    • Steve Lein and jokin like this

Great article! Thanks for sharing all this info - one of the reasons this site is so fantastic.

    • Steve Lein likes this

Chalmers is the one I'm most interested in....


#2 on my list.

He has a long way to go, but looks like the pure stuff is there to be a major steal.

Better control, fresh and healthy 2020, he finishes at AA???
    • Steve Lein likes this

 

I may have missed this, I thought Kirilloff was playing in the fall league?Is he dealing with an injury?

 

He was on the initial roster, but then removed for unspecified reasons. Probably giving him a rest as he dealt with ailments almost all year.

 

I had a hope for a second that meant the Twins were going to call him up, but alas...

Royce Lewis plays the first two games at 3rd and then center field, and crashes hard into the wall in center making a great catch, and homers the next at bat. So he didn't get hurt, it seems. But he crashed into the wall hard. That's all we need...... Lewis to get hurt playing outfield. SMH. 

 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Royce Lewis of the <a href="https://twitter.com/...f_src=twsrc^tfw">@Twins</a> showing what he can do in CF! <a href="https://t.co/iQomzQp69q">pic.twitter.com/iQomzQp69q</a></p>&mdash; MLB&#39;s Arizona Fall League (@MLBazFallLeague) <a href="https://twitter.com/MLBazFallLeague/status/1174879424702926849?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 20, 2019</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twi....com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

 

Sorry. I guess I don't know how to get the video here. Looks like the embed in website option isn't gonna work. It's on the MLB Twins site, though.

 

https://www.mlb.com/...mer-great-catch

 

    • jokin likes this
Love that he is playing some CF. With analytics helping to better place infielders to where the ball is likely to go (the shift) it feels like CF may be over-taking SS as the most important defensive position. Plus with Buxton’s injury history and potential remaining bad blood due to service time manipulation he may not be long-term at CF for the Twins. From what I’ve seen written he has a chance to be an excellent CF.
    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, jokin and 1 other like this
Rortvedt has only played 2 innings behind plate in game 1 but Ben threw out a guy who had 33 stolen bases during the regular season. He has a cannon of an arm, and is an excellent reciever. He's starting tonight.
    • SQUIRREL, Steve Lein, birdwatcher and 1 other like this
Photo
SpicyGarvSauce
Sep 20 2019 09:42 AM

So Lewis has yet to start a game in the AFL at SS....hmmm.....


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