All Eyes on Fort Myers
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayBy wrapping up the first half with a 9-2 home stand, Minnesota undid the damage of a disastrous 1-8 road trip, but this only returned them to their lackluster watermark: six games below .500 and trailing Cleveland by more than a touchdown in the standings.
While this recent run has done enough to give the front office pause about unloading everything at the deadline, hope remains a tough sell in the Twin Cities.
Less so in Southwest Florida. The Miracle roster currently boasts the top three Twins prospects: teenage phenom Royce Lewis, jaw-dropping hitter Alex Kirilloff, and flamethrowing righty Brusdar Graterol.
In the newly updated Baseball America Top 100 rankings, those three rank 10th, 37th, and 61st respectively.
It's worth scrolling straight to the "Miracle Matters" section of our minor-league reports each day just to see how this trio performed, and they rarely seem to disappoint. On Wednesday night Kirilloff notched four hits, lifting his average to .323. He has 75 RBIs in 89 games this year between two levels. Lewis, the second-youngest hitter to take an at-bat in the Florida State League, is batting .400 through five games there.
And while Graterol hasn't fared well in his first three starts with the Miracle, he is one of only three teenage pitchers in the FSL. His ability is obvious to anyone in range. Baseball America exclaims that he "has the highest ceiling of any Twins pitching prospect, projecting rotation-topping potential."
These three players equip Minnesota with a more promising future pipeline than almost any other team can tout, but that "future" part is the sticking point. Twins fans have been looking ahead for eight years. Lewis, Kirilloff and Graterol are all extremely young by Single-A standards, which says a lot about realistic MLB timelines.
All of which brings us to this point: the most important player in Fort Myers, at present, is not either of those three. It's the 25-year-old Miguel Sano – almost exactly one year removed from an All-Star appearance – who commands our attention most.
If the Twins are going to pull off a highly improbable return to contention in the final stretch of the season, it stands to reason they're going to need Sano, back in star form and powering their lineup. But even beyond that, we all need this.
Before fans at large will buy into this next wave of shiny prospects, and the hope they represent, they're gonna need to see what a finished product looks like, rather than another what-if story. Sano ranked as a top 15 prospect in the game three straight years (per BA) before graduating in 2015. He was the epitome of a franchise cornerstone before veering toward the path of a cautionary tale.
The good news is he's still young, and under team control for several years. The book is not closed on Sano and the Twins by any means. But it is anyone's guess where the story goes from here. We're all watching it play out, from afar, as he taxis on the Single-A runway and watches the organization's top prospects take off.
Hopefully, soon, Sano will give us one less reason to pay careful attention to Fort Myers, FL. He's hitting .328/.442/.453 in 19 games, albeit against vastly inferior competition. If Sano doesn't get bumped up soon, with a quick adaptation to the next level, then Twins fans might need to reset expectations in line with the ETAs of those emerging top prospects.
I can't blame you if it's a struggle. Fort Myers is so far away, in every sense.
- Cory Engelhardt, gagu, nclahammer and 1 other like this