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Seth's Spring Standouts

I spent eight full days in Ft. Myers, and for at least some of each day, I spent time down on the minor league side of things. When there was a big league game, I would maybe only spend a couple of hours watching practice. When the big league team was on the road, I would spend as much as seven hours watching practices and games. There is a lot of talent in the Twins minor league system. Today I wanted to highlight a handful of players who caught my eye, specifically with guys who are not often found on prospect sheets.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Ben Rodriguez)
I don’t know if you want to call them sleepers or just guys that stood out to one observer, me, but there were several players that I didn’t necessarily rank real high on Twins prospect lists. This isn’t an article to say that suddenly these guys will jump into my Top 10 or even my Top 30. But every year there are a couple of players that do good enough work throughout the time I’m there (admittedly a small sample) to get noticed.

At the same time, Royce Lewis is a standout. Brent Rooker's approach and swing at the plate are eye-popping. Akil Baddoo is impressive at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Alex Kirilloff’s swing is so smooth. Blayne Enlow appears to be as advertised. Brusdar Graterol throws gas and looks the part of a starter. Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves look close to big-league ready. We already know that. That’s why those guys are top ten types of prospects.

Today I want to highlight some guys that maybe you haven’t heard a lot about. Maybe some of them will end up being Top 20 guys by season’s end. Maybe some of them won’t be with the organization in September. I don’t know. But it’s fun to observe, and in some ways, play amateur scout.

While I was in Ft. Myers, I watch a lot. I love watching bullpens. I love watching infielders take group balls. I love pop up drills. I love watching guys take game at bats against live pitching because that is often different than batting practice swinging, which is also fun to watch. In my time down there, I had the chance to briefly talk to Mike Radcliff, and I met Deron Johnson for the first time. I only wish I had their abilities to scout and evaluate players not only for what they are today, but what they might be in three years, or five years. Scouting is a tough job. And maybe this little exercise will highlight that.

So let’s get to it. Here are five guys (non-Top 20 types) who stood out in my mind having watched them over the course of my eight days in Ft. Myers.

Ben Rodriguez

Ben Rodriguez was the Twins 38th-round pick last June out of Pepperdine where he had played for four years. Drafted as a catcher, Rodriguez stands 6-6 and about 230 pounds. After being drafted, he played 50 games in the GCL where he hit .290/.399/. 457 (.856) with 17 extra base hits. While I did see him working on a few drills with the catchers, Rodriguez spent the majority of his time at first base. What is noteworthy is that he spent most of spring training with the Ft. Myers group that is starting the season in Cedar Rapids. He essentially passed by the likes of Kolton Kendrick and JJ Robinson who played first base at Elizabethton last season. He’s had some swing-and-miss in his game, but as you would guess from his size, he has a ton of power and power potential. We’ll see if it comes to fruition, but in my mind, that was a great late-round pick. Rodriguez is very athletic, strong and has potential that makes him intriguing.


Andrew Vasquez

Vasquez is kind of a late bloomer on this list. The left-hander was the Twins 32nd- round pick in 2015 out of Westmont College in California. He’s been moved fairly slowly, but he ended 2017 strong. After starting in Cedar Rapids, he moved up to Ft. Myers. Combined, he posted a 1.55 ERA and struck out 85 batters in 58 innings of work. He ended the season with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League where he struck out 14 batters in 12.2 innings (1.42 ERA). I first noticed him in the spring of 2017 when I watched him throw a bullpen. Actually, I heard him throw a bullpen. Just warming up, the ball could be heard as it went by. While his velocity wasn’t too high, it was a heavy fastball. This year, I watched him pitch in a couple of spring games. As I was taking in pitches from the side, and seeing hitters’ knees buckle, I decided to go stand behind home plate and watch. I’d obviously heard about the slider of Vasquez, but to see it is something else. After watching a couple, I looked at Twins assistant minor league pitching coordinator JP Martinez and he just shook his head at me and said, “I wish I could take credit for that.” We watched a couple more of his sliders dart into the strike zone, and it made his fastball appear even faster than its low-90s velocity was. He’s a two-pitch pitcher, and both pitches are really good.


Tanner English

2017 was a forgettable year for Tanner English. He began the season by spending about a month in Chattanooga, but he just couldn’t get his bat going. He moved back to Ft. Myers and continued to struggle with the bat. He will begin 2018 with the Lookouts again, looking to take his career to the next level. You may recall the big league spring training game that English played hero in just over a week ago. He entered the game in the 8th inning as a pinch runner and then hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 9th inning to tie the game. While he’s not a big guy, English has good tools. The first one you notice is his speed. He’s a good base runner and base stealer. He really shines in center field. English can cover a lot of ground, and he possesses a very strong arm. While he hasn’t hit for average, English puts together really good at-bats. He knows the strike zone and he understands the value of getting on base. And again, despite the lack of size, English has a bit of pop in his bat. The spring training big league home run landed near the top of the berm in left center field at Hammond Stadium. 2018 is a big year for him, and a solid offensive year, with his defense, could make him a candidate for a fourth or fifth outfielder job.


Taylor Grzelakowski

Grzelakowski went undrafted last year after his four years at Madonna University in Michigan. After the draft, “Gelly” was set to play in the United Shores Professional Baseball League, but after playing in 29 games, the Twins signed him. He went to the GCL where he played in 12 games. He spent this offseason continuing to work on his body. He noted that he lost 20 pounds since the end of last season, and he has now lost 62 pounds since entering college. All that is a nice back story, but Grzelakowski was impressive this spring. Though he played in the GCL last year, he has made the Ft. Myers Opening Day roster because he had such a strong camp. He’s got a smooth, but strong, left-handed swing. He knows the strike zone. Defensively, he’s got work to do behind the plate, but his improved physique has made him much more agile on balls in the dirt. His footwork has improved a lot. And, he’s always had a strong arm. With Mitchell Kranson and Caleb Hamilton also in Ft. Myers, it will be interesting to see how playing time is allocated. Kranson and Hamilton both have the ability to play multiple positions.


Landon Leach

Leach was ranked in the 20s among Twins prospects by most ranking sources. That was probably too low if only based on him being a second-round pick. Leach will begin the season in extended spring training, but he does have a lot of potential. People are excited about the Twins 2017 draft, but generally the focus is turned to Royce Lewis, Brent Rooker and Blayne Enlow. Leach isn’t talked about as often. However, after seeing him work in the bullpen and in games, I’m convinced he will be very good too. Drafted out of high school in Canada, the term “helium” was appropriate as the draft approached. He may be a bit more raw than some, in part due to cooler climate, but he also has only been pitching for a couple of years after being a catcher before that. Leach is a big, tall kid with a strong frame. He was clocked at 96 in a game, but he sat 94. He’ll have to continue to work to improve his secondary pitches, but he’s got a huge arm and will continue to grow. Like Brusdar Graterol, Leach could be a guy who gets to Cedar Rapids before the short season leagues start.



Just a few more…
  • Shortstop depth is good. Even after trading Jermaine Palacios, the Twins have Nick Gordon, Royce Lewis and Wander Javier at the position. And Sean Miller was named the Twins organization’s best minor league infielder for 2017. At Extended Spring Training, the Twins will have 2017 draft pick Ricky De La Torre and international signings Victor Tademo and Yunior Severino. All three were impressive with the glove and the bat.
  • Centerfield defense is also an important trait, it seems, throughout the Twins system. Byron Buxton. Zack Granite. Tanner English. Aaron Whitefield. Akil Baddoo. Having watched 2017 draft pick TJ Dixon man centre field, they may have another. And Jacob Pearson can also play center field, though he played mostly right field.
  • While watching the Astros/Orioles game last night, the announcer pointed out that Carlos Correa was clocked at 97 mph from the hole at shortstop to first base. That’s pretty impressive. Twins fifth-round pick in 2017, Andrew Bechtold, told me that before he came to spring training, he was clocked at 101 mph on a throw across the infield. While he has a good approach at the plate and some power potential, his defense is a big positive in his game.
  • Along with all of the new coordinators and other positions in the minor leagues, the Twins have also added a fourth coach at each of the minor league levels. In the past, each affiliate would have a manager, a hitting coach and a pitching coach. One more coach can only be a positive.
  • A little over a week ago in a minor league spring training game, Felix Jorge took a laser liner to the knee. While it is not believed to be serious, it is the reason he’s starting the season on the Disabled List.
  • While the Twins added minor leaguer pitcher Adam Bray and first baseman Robbie Rinn in trades, the Twins also traded catcher Rainis Silva to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for cash.
  • Losing weight was an important offseason activity for several Twins minor leaguers besides Taylor Grzelakowski. RHP Tyler Wells lost nearly 30 pounds over the winter. After losing about 25 pounds last offseason, catcher Mitchell Kranson said he lost about 10 more this offseason. And outfielder Shane Carrier, who had a fantastic second half in 2017, lost about 20 pounds as well. And he did so without losing any power as he launched a couple of the longest home runs I've seen.
Roster Previews

Kernels Class of 2018 “Should Be Pretty Entertaining” - Steve Buhr
Ft. Myers Miracle Preview - Tuesday Night
Chattanooga Lookouts Preview - Wednesday Night
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34 Comments

Great article. 

    • dbminn and sloopjont like this
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clutterheart
Apr 03 2018 06:35 AM

Wander Javier is starting in EST this year?  

 

Also - Did you or anyone else at Spring Training - get to see Michael Montero?He shredded the DSL as a 17 year old, and I was hoping we would start hearing reports on him this spring.It would be great if he was in the GCL. 

    • caninatl04 likes this

Nice to hear good things about Landon Leach.I had a hard time understanding that pick when they made it.There were a lot of good players on the board at that spot.

 

I love hearing good things about the guys outside the top 20 or 30.This feels like it should be another good year for our affiliates.Hears to hoping new gems are created.

    • gunnarthor likes this

Silva for cash?  Interesting.  I know one poster who won't be happy about that.  Those kind of backroom machinations fascinate me.  Why do a thing like that?  Has he got a character issue?  Is it just too many catchers?  

 

Anyway, great report.  

Thanks Seth.

 

Was great hearing about Leach.Also saw that the Bray and Rinn came over in trades.Haven't seen anything on what the Twins gave up to get them?

 

Wander Javier is starting in EST this year?  

 

Also - Did you or anyone else at Spring Training - get to see Michael Montero?He shredded the DSL as a 17 year old, and I was hoping we would start hearing reports on him this spring.It would be great if he was in the GCL. 

 

Wander Javier had a sore left shoulder. It's something he fought last year too, so they didn't have him hitting while I was there. He looked alright, so once he starts hitting and gets some live at bats, I'm sure he'll get up to Cedar Rapids soon enough.

 

Michael Montero was not at spring training in Ft. Myers. My guess is that he'll come to Ft. Myers for Extended Spring Training and be ready to pitch in the GCL this year. 

 

Silva for cash?  Interesting.  I know one poster who won't be happy about that.  Those kind of backroom machinations fascinate me.  Why do a thing like that?  Has he got a character issue?  Is it just too many catchers?  

 

Anyway, great report.  

 

Yeah, I don't really understand that one either. Then again, he would have gone to Cedar Rapids, and the Twins have Rortvedt and Banuelos there. At Ft. Myers, you've got Hamilton and Kranson and "Gelly", so there just wasn't a roster spot for him, and spending another year in EST just doesn't make sense. He should play.I don't think there are any character issues in that one. 

 

Thanks Seth.

 

Was great hearing about Leach.Also saw that the Bray and Rinn came over in trades.Haven't seen anything on what the Twins gave up to get them?

 

Not players. I assume some sort of cash considerations. 

 

Yeah, I don't really understand that one either. Then again, he would have gone to Cedar Rapids, and the Twins have Rortvedt and Banuelos there. At Ft. Myers, you've got Hamilton and Kranson and "Gelly", so there just wasn't a roster spot for him, and spending another year in EST just doesn't make sense. He should play.I don't think there are any character issues in that one. 

 

I was surprised about Silva as well.He had a nice offensive year last year and his defense is solid.He is fairly young as well.I don't understand why they would give up on a player like that?I thought Rortvedt would start in Fort Meyers as he caught for most of the pitchers that are there last year and his bat came along.They could have moved Kranson to AA his bat would play there just fine IMO.So they could have made room if they wanted to. I don't know who this Gelly guy is but they must like him more than Silva.I hope they are right because I think Silva has good chance to make it.Or is this move just some sort of payback to the Mariners for poaching Banuelos a way of evening out that trade for international money?

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Tom Froemming
Apr 03 2018 08:14 AM

Thanks to Seth's handy-dandy The 2018 Sixth-Year Minor Leaguers article, we know Rainis Silva is going to be a free agent at the end of this season unless he's added to the 40-man roster. He hadn't even made it to Fort Myers yet, so that seemed like a long shot. I'm sure that had a lot to do with why they were willing to part with him.

    • Seth Stohs, Han Joelo, gunnarthor and 10 others like this
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Halsey Hall
Apr 03 2018 08:29 AM

Wander Javier came off the DL, but is back on it now. 

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diehardtwinsfan
Apr 03 2018 09:09 AM

 

Nice to hear good things about Landon Leach.I had a hard time understanding that pick when they made it.There were a lot of good players on the board at that spot.

 

I love hearing good things about the guys outside the top 20 or 30.This feels like it should be another good year for our affiliates.Hears to hoping new gems are created.

 

I think one of the things the new FO is doing is concentrating more on HS pitching prospects... just my thought. I don't think it's an accident that they went after Enlow and Leach.Wouldn't be surprised if you see an HS pitcher taken in rounds 2-4 this year too.

    • Dman likes this

If they gave out paper championships, Cedar Rapids looks to be first in line.  

 

SS Lewis

2B Miranda

RF Kirilloff

1B Rodriguez

CF Baddoo

3B Bechtold

C Rortvedt

LF Carrier

DH Cabbage

 

SP Wells (surprised he wasn't promoted)

 

Seems like a good list of opening day starters .... I just made the lineup on the fly, so feel free to correct it.

 

If they gave out paper championships, Cedar Rapids looks to be first in line.  

 

SS Lewis

2B Miranda

RF Kirilloff

1B Rodriguez

CF Baddoo

3B Bechtold

C Rortvedt

LF Carrier

DH Cabbage

 

SP Wells (surprised he wasn't promoted)

 

Seems like a good list of opening day starters .... I just made the lineup on the fly, so feel free to correct it.

 

Tyler Wells was promoted, to Ft. Myers. 

 

I think Baddoo is an ideal leadoff man. I'd go:

 

Baddoo CF

Lewis SS

Kirilloff RF

Carrier LF/DH

Miranda 2B

Bechtold 3B

Cabbage DH/LF

Rodriguez 1B

Rortvedt C

 

    • slash129 likes this

I'll play along, but I'm cheating just a little bit because I made a note of what Toby Gardenhire was doing for batting orders in some of the spring training games with largely this same group of players. :)

 

Baddoo CF

Lewis SS

Kirilloff RF

Rodriguez 1B

Miranda 2B

Carrier DH

Bechtold 3B

Cabbage LF

Rortvedt/Banuelos C

    • ashburyjohn, slash129 and caninatl04 like this
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ashburyjohn
Apr 03 2018 09:54 AM

Since Catcher is still a bit of a question mark in this farm system, I do find it interesting that apparently the Twins can't find a place for a guy like Silva, to let him continue to develop, and yet he's good enough that another team is willing to pay cash as opposed to just waiting to see him get released. Bit of a paradox, even with Seth's explanation about 40-man rules and whatnot.

I know he's still not even close to being "old" yet, but I'm just struggling a little to see the big deal about losing Silva.

 

I did kind of expect him to be in Cedar Rapids to start the season because the Twins have almost always sent three catchers to CR and Silva would have been an obvious third, to go with Rortvedt and Banuelos. But none of those three guys really have played a position other than catcher, so carrying 3 guys you can't plug in at 1B/OF was probably a luxury Gardenhire couldn't afford and Silva, to me, was obviously the 3rd prospect of that group.

 

My judgement is admittedly biased because we saw Silva in Cedar Rapids for part of 2015 and most, if not all, of 2016 and I just don't recall being all that impressed. Yes, he was 19-20 years old, but doesn't it say something about him that he spent his entire age-21 season in Rookie ball again?

 

Yes, he had a great season at E-town in 2017, but when I look at how he's likely to stack up in the catching ranks vs Rortvedt and Banuelos, it's hard to imagine he'd be flying up the list. Just observing some ST games, it looked like maybe Kerby Camacho, Andrew Cosgrove, and Colton Waltner were getting more playing time than Silva was.

    • Seth Stohs, birdwatcher, Carpetboy and 4 others like this
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birdwatcher
Apr 03 2018 10:49 AM

Silva may have simply fizzled out. Hardly a hand-wringer.

 

I suppose the other possibility is that the Seattle trade for Banuelos included a condition that they be sent Silva for a buck at a later date should they lose out on Ohtani.

 

Silva may have simply fizzled out. Hardly a hand-wringer.

 

I suppose the other possibility is that the Seattle trade for Banuelos included a condition that they be sent Silva for a buck at a later date should they lose out on Ohtani.

 

It would certainly be interesting if some of that was in the discussion.

 

Thanks to Seth's handy-dandy The 2018 Sixth-Year Minor Leaguers article, we know Rainis Silva is going to be a free agent at the end of this season unless he's added to the 40-man roster. He hadn't even made it to Fort Myers yet, so that seemed like a long shot. I'm sure that had a lot to do with why they were willing to part with him.

 

 

Really great point.Thanks for that!There is no way they could afford to carry him on the 40 man next year.There are going to be enough tough decisions there as it is.  

 

He just finally looked like he was figuring things out with the bat and if he was solid there seemed like he had a good shot.Not a sure thing but since he was young if not younger than some of the competition he seemed like a good bet to me.Being on the 40 next year is a killer though.No sense taking up a spot when you have some decent guys that won't need a spot right away.  

 

In that light it makes a lot of sense.It is best for everyone that he try and catch on somewhere else.Twins can invest development time in other players at that position then.

I second that opinion on Ben Rodriguez based on what I saw this Spring.Big guy who plays much smaller as fast as speed and plate coverage goes.He will hit with power, he does have the frame, but seems like he has the ability to avoid bad swings, which goes very far.There is no way he is a catcher at 6'6" and his glove and footwork havea bit to go at first base, esp going after lower balls, but I think that it is a matter of reps. Really impressive for a 38th round pick.

    • gagu and caninatl04 like this

 

If they gave out paper championships, Cedar Rapids looks to be first in line.  

 

SS Lewis

2B Miranda

RF Kirilloff

1B Rodriguez

CF Baddoo

3B Bechtold

C Rortvedt

LF Carrier

DH Cabbage

 

SP Wells (surprised he wasn't promoted)

 

Seems like a good list of opening day starters .... I just made the lineup on the fly, so feel free to correct it.

 

CR lineup is stacked, yes.If they lose even one game, fire Gardy (Toby, that is)!Ha!

Seth, get a chance to see any of Tyler Benninghoff when you were there?Probably a little EST and then E-Town would be my guess.

 

Also, two of my favs to follow...TJ White and Cody Stashak...how are they looking?

 

Seth, get a chance to see any of Tyler Benninghoff when you were there?Probably a little EST and then E-Town would be my guess.

 

Also, two of my favs to follow...TJ White and Cody Stashak...how are they looking?

 

I'm obviously not Seth and I didn't see as much of these guys as he did while he was there, but I can tell you that I saw White absolutely CRUSH a long HR well past the CF wall in a RedWings/Lookouts intrasquad game about midway through camp. 

 

I'm obviously not Seth and I didn't see as much of these guys as he did while he was there, but I can tell you that I saw White absolutely CRUSH a long HR well past the CF wall in a RedWings/Lookouts intrasquad game about midway through camp. 

 

Good to hear on TJ !  

He's kind of a "scrapper" type ballplayer (in a good way).Seems to a be a fan favorite at all his stops from what I can gather,


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