Best-Case Scenarios for New Twins 40-Man Additions
By nature, entering the 40-man roster puts prospects in position for a somewhat imminent arrival in the big leagues. Once added, a player can only be optioned in three different seasons before the club is essentially forced to keep him in the majors or lose him.
So the clock is now ticking for Jhoan Duran, Dakota Chalmers, Luke Raley, Gilberto Celestino, and Travis Blankenhorn. Technically, the Twins could keep all five in the minors through 2023 without risk of losing them, but recent history tells us they'll be arriving much sooner.
Last year, Minnesota's 40-man additions ahead of the Rule 5 protection deadline were Luis Arraez, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Nick Gordon. Two of those guys reached the majors in 2019, with one breaking out as a rookie, and Gordon is poised to do so in early 2020. The prior year's wave of additions – Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, and Lewis Thorpe – all received call-ups within two years of being selected.
As I look at the pivotal impacts made by Arraez and Littell this year, I can't help but ponder how soon, and to what extent, this new class might begin to factor in. None are premier, nationally touted prospects at this point, but then, neither were the aforementioned duo.
Peering through an optimistic lens, here's a look at what these five new 40-man roster additions could potentially bring to the table:
Jhoan Duran, RHP
2019 Stats (A+/AA): 115 IP, 3.76 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP
There was a lot of buzz around Duran and his standout changeup in spring training. He lived up to the hype during his first full season in the Twins system, piling up strikeouts with an overpowering arsenal and finishing the year in Double-A as a 21-year-old. Like Brusdar Graterol, the right-hander can touch triple digits, and he has developed his "splinker" into a weapon along with the quality change-piece.
The depth of his arsenal and relatively advanced workload build (he's thrown 100+ innings in each of the past two years without showing obvious wear) keep him on a starter's track. In that capacity, he truly does have front-of-rotation potential – and if he reaches it, oh MAN what a get for renting Eduardo Escobar to the D-backs last year – but he might take a bit longer to enter the MLB mix. If the Twins elect to slide him into a bullpen role, temporarily or permanently, his arrival could come early in the 2020 campaign. Dominant back-end reliever looks like his floor right now.
Dakota Chalmers, RHP
2019 Stats (A+/Rk): 34.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 12.5 K/9, 6.0 BB/9, 1.24 WHIP
Dominant back-end reliever is more realistically the ceiling for Chalmers, but it's an achievable one in the short term. This hard-throwing right-hander was even more of a coup than Duran, having been acquired in August of 2018 for aging Fernando Rodney. It was a little surprising to see the A's give up on Chalmers, who they went significantly overslot to sign out of high school as a third-round draft pick in 2015, but not that much. He hasn't been too effective in the minors, besieged by injuries and erratic control, and the latter has definitely been present since he switched organizations.
Still, the Twins felt compelled to protect him because the potency of his arm is easy to see. Clearly they felt another team might be inclined to give him a shot in their bullpen straightaway. It only stands to reason that Minnesota might take a look soon, should Chalmers come out firing at Double-A next year.
Thus far he's worked exclusively as a starter in the Twins system, but that feels like a fanciful plan for a guy who has worked 35+ IP once in five seasons since being drafted, and never anywhere close to 100. If he switches to relieving, he could be on the fast-track, with closer potential if he can stay healthy and rein in his command.
Luke Raley, OF
2019 Stats (AAA/Rk): 158 PA, .310/.361/.517, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 29 R
Raley isn't a guy that screams "upside" but he exudes plenty of "useful" vibes. Acquired alongside Devin Smeltzer at the 2018 deadline for Brian Dozier, Raley has been a steady offensive force since the trade. There's nothing flashy about his skill set – a decent corner outfielder who can hit for average with a bit of pop from the left side – but he's polished and basically MLB-ready. In fact, he likely would've already debuted in 2019, had he not suffered an ankle injury requiring surgery in May.
Raley is a seemingly redundant presence on the roster, stuck behind two lefty-swinging corner outfielders (Wade and Jake Cave) who are stuck behind two lefty-swinging corner outfielders (Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario). But the Twins saw fit to add him anyway, which says something. Of note: Raley has considerable experience at first base, which could quickly come into play should the Twins bring back C.J. Cron, who put up a .685 OPS against right-handed pitchers this year. With benches getting deeper in 2020, it's not hard to envision Raley making a fast impact in a platoon role.
Gilberto Celestino, OF
2019 Stats (A/A+): 536 PA, .315/.385/.491, 8 HR, 54 RBI, 58 R
Perhaps the most surprising and intriguing addition of this batch, given that Celestino is 20 and has played only eight games above the Low-A level. In a sense it's hard to imagine any MLB club rostering such a young and raw player, but then again maybe not: Celestino is a toolsy center fielder with good speed who flashed his offensive upside during a spectacular second half at Cedar Rapids. Hitting just .219/.299/.290 at the end of May, he upgraded to .315/.385/.491 over the next 69 games before earning a late-season promotion to High-A.
Although Minnesota justifiably felt the need to shield Celestino from a bottom-rung team that might've tried to Rule 5 him and stash him, he's the only one on this list that doesn't realistically have a shot at figuring into the semi-immediate picture. His potential down the line, however, is enormous. Around the same time Oakland invested heavily in Chalmers out of high school, the Astros spent $2.5 million to sign a teenaged Celestino out of the Dominican Republic. His tools and athleticism have long been lauded and they all came together last summer at Cedar Rapids.
Travis Blankenhorn, IF
2019 Stats (A+/AA): 471 PA, .277/.321/.466, 19 HR, 54 RBI, 56 R
Among the five players on this list, Blankenhorn is the only one who wasn't brought in by the new front office – in fact, he's the only one who wasn't added around the deadline last year. He's an increasingly rare remnant of the previous regime, but one that could stick for some time.
Drafted in the third round out of a Pennsylvania high school in 2015, Blankenhorn didn't storm the minors, following a more traditional progressive curve. His production has consistently been solid, outside of a rough 2018 in the pitcher-friendly FSL, but never outstanding enough to merit top prospect status; in our latest midseason rankings at Twins Daily, we had him at No. 20, and he peaked on our list at No. 9 in 2017.
But that doesn't mean much. Arraez never gained much traction on top prospect lists either, up until he burst onto the scene as a Rookie of the Year contender for the Twins this season. Blankenhorn's circumstances are somewhat similar to those of Arraez a year ago: somewhat fringey prospect still learning the ropes in Double-A. Blankenhorn hasn't posted an .800 OPS anywhere north of rookie ball.
But the decision to protect him, amidst a slew of their own guys, tells us not only that this front office is high on the blatantly athletic 23-year-old, but that they suspect others are too. His innate strength has always been evident – Blanknhorn won the FSL Home Run Derby in 2018, amidst a season where he struggled to a .686 OPS – and is now starting to transfer into games. He launched 18 homers in 93 games at Double-A this year, while bouncing capably between second base and left field. The defensive versatility, and blossoming power, set him up to provide value in the near future.
He's a very different player than Arraez, but it's not implausible Blankenhorn could be a functionally similar rookie asset – left-handed bat that you want in the lineup, capable of being used at second, third, or left – as soon as 2020.
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