Seth's Spring Training Standouts: 2020 Edition
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Carlos Aguiar)I feel the need to say a few things before getting to the three players that most jumped out at me when watching them.
First, every single player in Twins minor league spring training is really, really good at baseball .They are all impressive.
There are top prospects that usually jump out even from just watching them practice, field, run or take batting practice. There is often a presence about them. I don’t include the top prospects in these just because I already know a lot about them. They get a lot of words written about them. Watching guys like Balazovic, Enlow, Canterino and Ober throw bullpens is impressive, but I knew that they probably would be. Seeing Keoni Cavaco and watching him take a couple of rounds of batting practice, it’s easy to see why he was drafted in the first half of the first round last June. Same with Matt Wallner, the Twins pick in the Competitive Balance A round, who showed good all-around hitting skill and the ability to hit the ball a long way. Those players will continue to have a ton of words written about them. But be honest, you like coming back to Twins Daily because we talk about all prospects, not just the top guys. That makes this article a fun one for me every year.
I do have to point out one other thing. We talk a lot about Small Sample Size. Hey, I could go to Cedar Rapids for a full week of games, and even then what I saw would be considered a Small Sample. So, seeing players for parts of five days of pre-official workouts has to fall into the VERY small sample size category. Of course, another part of that is that I didn’t see players in game situations. I didn’t see more than maybe 30 to 40 pitchers throw bullpens, when there are likely 80 to 100 pitchers in minor league spring training.
The players below are guys that were outside of my Top 50 prospects who, after watching them in an admittedly very, very small sample size that this year didn’t even include spring training games, had me intrigued. April 9th was supposed to be Opening Day in the minor leagues, but whenever the minor league season starts, these are players that I will be watching.
Who knows? Maybe it’s just a way for me to try to show off some amateur scouting skills. In previous years, I’ve been right a few times. In one case, I wrote about a player impressing me a lot during spring training, and he was released by June. Last year, one of the players that stood out to me was Willie Joe Garry, Jr., and he had a nice season of development. And I got to interview him for a story this spring.
OK, let’s get to it. He is my list of players who stood out in spring training this year.
3B Wander Valdez
When I landed in Florida, I quickly grabbed my bags, got my rental car and went straight to Hammond Stadium to see if there were any minor leaguers still practicing.The first field I walked up to had a group of seven or eight guys taking batting practice. The first hitter I saw was Wander Valdez, and he stood out. He is barely over 20, but he is big and strong. I know he ended the 2019 season at about 225-230 pounds. He looks like he may have gained even more strength this offseason. He is big and strong and quite impressive.
Throughout the week I was there, I saw him take some batting practice hacks at least three or four times. From that, he just looks like a solid all-around hitter, and he has a ton of power potential. He also looked fairly solid in fielding ground balls at third base. He had a real strong State-side debut in 2019 in the GCL. He hit .323/.382/.516 (898) with six doubles and four home runs which was good for #2 in the Twins Daily Short-Season Hitter of the Year voting.
OF Carlos Aguiar
Aguiar was signed to a seven-figure bonus in September 2017, less than a month after he turned 16. It made him one of the youngest players in that international class. After a year in the DSL, Aguiar spent the 2019 season as a 17-year-old in the GCL. It came with struggles and injuries. He had just one hit in 18 at-bats, and he struck out 11 times.
I got to spring training a week before minor league spring training officially opened. About 98% of the minor leaguers were already there. However, they were practicing in Twins workout gear, shorts and t-shirts. They weren’t wearing uniforms, so it wasn’t easy to identify players. Aguiar was a player who stood out instantly. He’s tall (about 6-3) and really strong. After he stood out to me for a couple of days, I finally asked a coach who he was. It was Aguiar… and now I fully understand why scouts would have been excited about him. He’s big. He’s strong. He has a ton of power potential. One of the days, I watched batting practice in which two pitching machines were used. One threw fastballs. The other threw breaking balls. The BP pitcher raised both arms and then dropped a ball into one of the two machines. The hitter had to quickly determine what pitch was coming and then try to hit it. It isn’t easy. The 17-year-old had some ups and downs, but I saw him hit some of the longest batting practice homers I’ve seen. He’s very young, and he’s very raw. He will likely go back to the GCL in 2020. And he may not even get to Cedar Rapids until 2022, but he is definitely one to watch.
RHP Jon Olsen
I fully admit that I didn’t watch a lot of bullpens. I saw a bunch of pitchers throw, but generally just saw one bullpen. As I mentioned above, I saw Balazovic and Enlow a couple of times. Canterino working in the bullpen is really impressive. Sawyer Gipson-Long was impressive working in the bullpen as well.
I saw Jon Olsen work a bullpen, and he looked really good. He will turn 23 in mid-May, and he is yet to throw his first pitching in a professional baseball game. After three seasons at UCLA, the Twins made him their 12th round pick in 2018. He had undergone Tommy John surgery earlier that year. He signed and immediately jumped into the Twins rehab program. He hoped to be ready sometime in 2019, but he had a setback.
With that, he threw pretty hard. He seemed to have good control and a good breaking ball. Obviously you can’t tell everything from a bullpen, but he looks healthy.k And, just from observing, he seems like the kind of pitcher and has the kind of stuff that could make him a guy who pitches at three levels in 2020, if healthy. Innings will certainly be kept monitored in 2020 after not pitching for two years, but he could move quickly.
Honorable Mention: SS Calten Daal
I normally don’t include minor league free agents in this category, but there was one that stood out to me. The Twins signed 26-year-old Calten Daal to a minor league deal. He didn’t get an invite to big league spring training, though he has played in four big league games. The Curacao native signed with the Reds in 2012 and remained in that organization through the end of 2019. He played 122 games at AA between 2016 and 2019. He hurt his shoulder in June 2016. After rehabbing, he tore a shoulder and missed all of 2017 and all but four games in 2018.
Way back in 2011, I went to see Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and AJ Petterson play for the Beloit Snappers. In one of the series, I watched them play against West Michigan, a team led by Nick Castellanos. He played third base. Dixon Machado played shortstop. To this date, I hadn’t seen another shortstop that I enjoyed watching play defense as much as I enjoyed watching Machado field the position in batting practice, infield practice and games. At least not until I saw Calten Daal take ground balls and infield practice. He looked smooth. He showed good range, soft hands. Again, it stood out enough that I had to ask who it was. Compared to others at the position, Daal is taller, and he’s got the long, lanky build that screams big league shortstop. I didn’t see him hit, and based on his track record, he probably won’t hit. Because of that, he may never get to the big leagues, but he can play shortstop any day, and that can help the Twins minor league pitchers and their development.
So there you have it, four Twins minor leaguers who stood out to me while watching minor league spring training for a week this spring. Take it for what it is. Maybe parts of five workouts. No game action.
Another observation… even with Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, Gilberto Celestino and Ryan Jeffers working in big-league spring training, it was still clear that the minor league fields were filled with talent too.
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