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The Value of Prospects

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Can the Twins Become the New Astros? Part 2

After looking into the similarities in the use of analytics, technology, and communication in both the Twins and Astros organizations in Part 1 of this series, today we will turn our attention to both teams’ efforts to build their farm systems and create a group of young core players to build around.
Image courtesy of © Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Click here for Part 1 of this series.

Building the Farm

While Houston’s farm system isn’t as strong as it once was, Jeff Luhnow and company did a great job of using their high draft pics to add invaluable pieces like SS Carlos Correa and 3B Alex Bregman to rebuild the farm. While they added plenty of major league talent, rebuilding the farm also gave the Astros the prospect capital they needed to add key pieces such as Verlander in 2017, Gerrit Cole and Pressly last season, and Zack Greinke this year. Repeated success and the corresponding lower draft position along with several trades have weakened Houston’s farm, but they have been able to add high-end talent without giving up too much and the whole point of having a good farm system is to eventually have success at the highest level, a tradeoff I’m sure the Astros would take ad infinitum.

While the Twins struggles since 2010 were not as intentional as Houston’s, Minnesota received plenty of top 10 draft pics due to their struggles. Ryan and company’s results are a bit of a mixed bag up to this point. With the second pick in the 2012 draft, the Twins picked Byron Buxton immediately after the Astros selected Correa, and although he has suffered several injury setbacks and taken some time to establish himself in the big leagues, Minnesota did well with that pick (if you disagree, look at the pics who followed Buxton). They also selected Jose Berrios with a supplemental first-round pick in that draft, along with Tyler Duffey in the fifth round and Taylor Rogers in the 12th.

After the 2012 draft the results weren’t quite as sterling for the Twins. In 2013 they picked high school righty Kohl Stewart (SP), with the fourth overall pick, and although he has reached the majors his upside is extremely limited and he has to be considered a disappointment at this point. The verdict on 2014 fifth overall pick Nick Gordon is still out. He has yet to reach the majors, but had a good year in Triple A that was shortened due to injury, however questions about his ability to remain at shortstop remain. Hindsight is 20/20 but both Aaron Nola and Trey Turner were available.

With the sixth overall pick in 2015 Minnesota selected Tyler Jay, a college reliever that the Twins tried to turn into a starter and was a complete failure (he’s no longer in the organization), but 2016 first rounder, outfielder Alex Kirilloff (No. 15 overall), has become a top prospect who should join the Twins soon.

Of course, the Astros also wasted a top pick on pitcher Mark Appel who was a bust and the Twins did hit on some later round picks, but given the high draft position that Minnesota had from 2012-15, the results have been underwhelming. Falvey and Levine are too early in their tenure to put too much stock in their draft picks but they were gifted the number one overall pick in their first year. They selected shortstop Royce Lewis, who is very high on most national prospect lists despite a somewhat disappointing 2019, although he has been much younger than his competition and is off to a great start in the Arizona Fall League. Last year’s first-round pick, College World Series hero Trevor Larnach, has had a promising start to his career as well. The Twins went for a high-risk, high-reward high school prospect in this year’s draft, selecting SS/3B Keoni Cavaco who has a long road to travel before reaching Minnesota.

The FO has done a lot to bolster the farm through trades. They gained the most at the 2018 trade deadline due to being out of contention, unlike 2017 where they were surprise contenders, although they did pick up Zack Littell that year, picking up multiple prospects including pitchers Johan Duran, Jorge Alcala, and Dakota Chalmers and outfielders Gilberto Celestino, Gabriel Maciel, and Luke Raley. They gained several other smaller pieces as well, including Devin Smeltzer, and greatly improved the overall depth of the system.

Even while being obvious buyers at the deadline this season the FO was clearly hesitant to let go of top prospects like Lewis and Kirilloff to obtain a top-notch starter, though they even managed to add a pitching prospect, Chris Vallimont, in the Sergio Romo trade. They have built one of the best farm systems in baseball and seem keen to keep it that way. While teams like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox were willing to part with some of their best prospects, teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and to a lesser extent Houston, have been less willing to give away prized prospects. This has allowed the Dodgers to be good for a very long time, and both the Dodgers and the Astros seem to have new stars come out of their system almost every year. Falvey and Levine like to talk about the long-term future for the organization and seemed poised to follow a similar path.

The Young Core

Although Houston did a lot to improve their club through drafts and trades, a few key pieces of the future World Series champs were in the organization when Luhnow took over. One of the most important pieces of the Astros run of success has been Jose Altuve, an undersized player who puts up big numbers while playing second base. Along with Altuve, Houston had also drafted outfielder George Springer prior to the new FO and he has also been a huge cog in their always potent lineup, batting leadoff for the World Series run. But outside of Altuve and Springer, most of Houston’s players came from within the system after Luhnow took over or were acquired through trades and free agency.

Falvey and Levine were fortunate to inherit a pretty impressive young core to build around. A lot of the credit should actually go to former GM Bill Smith, who in his short tenure was able to sign Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, and Max Kepler in one international signing period. As previously noted, both Buxton and Berrios were drafted under Ryan, as were Mitch Garver and Eddie Rosario. The new FO does deserve credit for extending both Polanco and Kepler to team-friendly deals prior to their breakout seasons this year and it is possible that they will seek more extensions with some of the others this offseason.

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51 Comments

Thanks, Patrick.

 

Still wondering why Cavaco was the top pick last year.Guess we will know how good the pick was in another three or four years.

 

 

    • Twins33, Dman and Patrick Wozniak like this

Speaking of the Astros, last night Zack Greinke reminded me a lot of Kyle Gibson and was amazing in that Gibson has a lot more oomph on the fast ball. They have the same demeanor and appearance on the mound and Greinke relied almost totally on off speed nibbling around the edges. He did sneak a few low 90s fast balls by the Yankees when he had to while Gibson can go mid 90s. I think the only difference is command and the confidence that comes from winning nearly 250 games. Greinke was not afraid to keep those mid 80s (one pitch was clocked in high 60s) around the strike zone while Gibson seems to think all of his off speed stuff has to end up in the dirt. Again, I hope Gibson spends the off season at home working on command and mental approach instead of in Sano's home country. BTW, who relieved Greinke and struck out the side with the bases loaded? Ryan Pressly.

    • Huskertwin likes this

Wouldn't the big difference be that in 2016 Houston finished in 3rd place in their division and in 2017 at the trading deadline they traded 3 prospects (in their top 11) for Verlander won 101 games and went on to win the World Series, then after winning the world series traded 4 more prospects and picked up another ace in Gerrit Cole.

Where in 2017 the twins finished 2nd in the division, make some good to great Free agent pick ups following the season, those pick up resulted in a 100 win pace, didn't trade prospects for an ace, got swept in the first round of the playoffs and have to basically fill out a new rotation, not just add another ace?

    • Mike Sixel, Kelly Vance, Dman and 3 others like this

I'm not exactly sure where it should fit into this series, but I think the single most important event for this Astros dynasty was Brady Aiken's decision to not sign. If Aiken signs, they don't have the opportunity to draft Alex Bregman, and they likely are not able to draft Daz Cameron either as an extreme overslot pick later in the draft. Bregman has been a top-5 player in baseball the past three seasons. Without him, the Astros would still be a very good team, but I don't think they would be held up as the best franchise in baseball.

    • birdwatcher, Riverbrian, 70charger and 1 other like this

 

Speaking of the Astros, last night Zack Greinke reminded me a lot of Kyle Gibson and was amazing in that Gibson has a lot more oomph on the fast ball. They have the same demeanor and appearance on the mound and Greinke relied almost totally on off speed nibbling around the edges. He did sneak a few low 90s fast balls by the Yankees when he had to while Gibson can go mid 90s. I think the only difference is command and the confidence that comes from winning nearly 250 games. Greinke was not afraid to keep those mid 80s (one pitch was clocked in high 60s) around the strike zone while Gibson seems to think all of his off speed stuff has to end up in the dirt. Again, I hope Gibson spends the off season at home working on command and mental approach instead of in Sano's home country. BTW, who relieved Greinke and struck out the side with the bases loaded? Ryan Pressly.

*struck out 2 hitters (Torres, Encarnacion), after walking (former Twin) Aaron Hicks to load the bases.

    • adorduan likes this
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birdwatcher
Oct 18 2019 09:14 AM

Patrick, I think the facts you've cited illustrate that the GM has had very little at all to do with talent evaluation and even signing players. The Twins have five dozen people involved in various aspects of scouting, evaluation, and development. Many of the scouting personnel are holdovers from Ryan and even before. The amounts IFA agents agreed to on behalf of guys like Polanco were negotiated by scouts and then presented to GM's. I can guarantee you that Billy Smith couldn't tell a baseball talent from a street vendor and had no relationship established with agents for Polanco, Sano, and Kepler. He pretty much picked up a pen and signed contracts. He was one of a handful of participants who presented the case to sign Sano to Carl the Curmudgeon, and Jim Pohlad was one of them.

 

Billy Smith deserves credit, along with Andy MacPhail, Jim Pohlad, and others, for convincing Carl to let them spend to build the presence and the facilities in the DR.

 

Of the 250 players on postseason rosters, only one of them came out of the independent leagues: Dobnak. Like it or not, this independent league scouting is a legacy of Ryan.

 

It could be that Luhnow turned over the amateur and pro scouting ranks in such a draconian way as to allow us to make a much greater distinction between pre-Luhnow days and now. That's not the case in Minnesota.

 

When it comes to the Rule 4 draft, I agree with you that the two teams are on a "similar path". I'd suggest that they have comparable capability regarding amateur scouting and all that supports it. The Twins probably have an edge when it comes to the IFA market. While the league has diminished that edge via the bonus pool system, it's still a relationship-driven game and the Twins have as strong a presence as anybody, as evidenced by the fact that no other team in the postseason came close to having as many home-grown IFA players as the Twins.

    • Tomj14 likes this
I was going to post this a while back but Souhan beat me to it. I find it interesting that the current FO and Ryan are pretty similar in their core values of highly valuing prospects and avoiding costly free agents. Of course they are very different in how they arrive at their decisions
    • birdwatcher likes this
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Kelly Vance
Oct 18 2019 10:30 AM

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. 

 

The Astros aren't afraid to go all in and a World Series appearance means you have to give up a lot to get a Verlander or Cole.The Twins aren't wrong to want a sustaining minor league system, but at some point you gotta make your move.Ask the prettiest girl at the party to dance.If you don't, she is going to end up being someone else's main squeeze and not yours. 

 

 

    • h2oface and Battle ur tail off like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 18 2019 10:36 AM

 

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. 

 

The Astros aren't afraid to go all in and a World Series appearance means you have to give up a lot to get a Verlander or Cole.The Twins aren't wrong to want a sustaining minor league system, but at some point you gotta make your move.Ask the prettiest girl at the party to dance.If you don't, she is going to end up being someone else's main squeeze and not yours. 

 

 

But the thing is, Houston did not have to give up "a lot" to get a Verlander or a Cole. None of the prospects they gave up was anywhere near as good as Lewis or Kirrilloff. They hung on to their versions of those guys. Guys like Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker.

    • Twins33, Dman, Battle ur tail off and 1 other like this

But the thing is, Houston did not have to give up "a lot" to get a Verlander or a Cole. None of the prospects they gave up was anywhere near as good as Lewis or Kirrilloff. They hung on to their versions of those guys. Guys like Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker.


But they did it. They traded multiple prospects at the deadline for Verlander, and multiple for Cole. And for Pressley. And others. The twins did not really go for it this break. Hopefully that changes now.
    • Minny505 likes this

 

But the thing is, Houston did not have to give up "a lot" to get a Verlander or a Cole. None of the prospects they gave up was anywhere near as good as Lewis or Kirrilloff. They hung on to their versions of those guys. Guys like Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker.

I'd chalk that up to Houston's superior prospect evaluation. The teams they traded with thought they were getting enough for Verlander and Cole.

 

Alternatively, I'd chalk it up to my own bias: Virtually ALL prospects are wildly overvalued. In the Twins case, I'd hope they deal Lewis for MLB help immediately, before his value craters.

    • Mike Sixel, Vanimal46, Battle ur tail off and 1 other like this

 

I'd chalk that up to Houston's superior prospect evaluation. The teams they traded with thought they were getting enough for Verlander and Cole.

 

Alternatively, I'd chalk it up to my own bias: Virtually ALL prospects are wildly overvalued. In the Twins case, I'd hope they deal Lewis for MLB help immediately, before his value craters.

I'd chalk it up to Houston's superior PITCHER evaluation. Detroit and Pittsburgh didn't get elite prospects because no one was expecting Verlander or Cole to be top-5 pitchers in baseball over the new two seasons. If Verlander and Cole were 4 ERA, 3 WAR pitchers the past two seasons, would anyone be complaining that the Tigers or Pittsburgh didn't get enough?

 

    • birdwatcher, nicksaviking, Dman and 3 others like this

 

I'd chalk it up to Houston's superior PITCHER evaluation. Detroit and Pittsburgh didn't get elite prospects because no one was expecting Verlander or Cole to be top-5 pitchers in baseball over the new two seasons. If Verlander and Cole were 4 ERA, 3 WAR pitchers the past two seasons, would anyone be complaining that the Tigers or Pittsburgh didn't get enough?

I'll give you Cole, there. Not Verlander. His mid-career (injury-related) two-year lull was well over. He had posted over 7 WAR the year before he was traded...then 6.4 the year Houston acquired him....which is pretty much exactly what Houston has got from him since. While it would have been reasonable to expect some drop-off...everyone knew Houston was getting a top-end pitcher when that deal was made.

    • USAFChief, birdwatcher, Twins33 and 2 others like this

 

I'll give you Cole, there. Not Verlander. His mid-career (injury-related) two-year lull was well over. He had posted over 7 WAR the year before he was traded...then 6.4 the year Houston acquired him....which is pretty much exactly what Houston has got from him since. While it would have been reasonable to expect some drop-off...everyone knew Houston was getting a top-end pitcher when that deal was made.

concur. 

 

Few viewed Verlander as anything but an ace. One of the aces of the aces, in fact.

Look at Zac Gallen, for example.....he cost the 59th (give or take) rated prospect....a price many here were glad MN did not pay. He's a legit 3, maybe 2, with years of control left, and people would rather have a prospect (who would have 1-2 more years of playing time......). 

    • Twins33, Tomj14 and Battle ur tail off like this

Twins also did not beat the price for Stroman, even though it was two not highly rated players (though both were likely under rated due to their short time in the minors so far).

    • Battle ur tail off likes this

Greinke cost Houston their 3, 4, and 5th rated prospects....so, maybe it would be the Twins 7-9th? We haven't seen that either.....

 

Of course, 3-5 has more value to Houston than 7-9 for MN...because MN has more highly rated prospects right now.

    • Vanimal46, Tomj14 and Battle ur tail off like this

In the drafts from 2011-2015, Houston out-drafted the Twins by about 50 WAR. 50. In that stretch the Twins have about 30 WAR...all wrapped up in Buxton, Berrios, Rogers (all from 2012)...and Garver. Meanwhile, Houston drafted Springer, Correa, McCullers, Bregman, and guys like Ramon Laureano, who was about a 4-WAR player with the A's this year. Many of those years...especially 13-15...the Twins had very early picks and have nothing to show for it...with time running out. (If you go back another year, the Twins have Rosario to show...but the Astros out-drafted them in that draft as well, getting good players they traded for WS pieces like Evan Gattis and Ken Giles.) And regarding international signings...in the 12+ combined seasons of Sano, Polanco, and Kepler so far, they have a total of about 29 WAR. Just Altuve has about 39 WAR in his 8+ seasons.

 

With every game one actually watches the Astros play, it's more and more obvious how far the Twins are from that organization. Basically, the Twins need to get more aggressive with trades...they have to get more aggressive with payroll....AND they have to have the prospects they keep hit, and hit BIG. That's basically what we're watching with Houston...still, they found a way to lose a playoff series last year, which is probably the good news.

    • Riverbrian, Vanimal46 and Minny505 like this
Talent evaluation, whether in the draft, trades or FA, is always at the heart of a successful team. You can't win without talent.

Part of the criticism for Ryan was his drafting strategy. Guy like Gibson, Swarzak, Blackburn were the rule. Shoot, even Berrios was controversial (but turned out well). It is hard to identify Ace talent.

We were led to believe that Stewart was that guy, and Jay could be that guy. Both were immediately exposed in the minor leagues. Now we have Romero and Graterol.... I'm not holding my breath on drafting an Ace pitcher anytime soon. Predicting one seems to be the most difficult talent evaluation in all of professional sports (maybe QB a close second, but think that has to do more with drafting techniques and front office decisions).
    • Dman likes this
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Freddie Knuckles
Oct 18 2019 02:55 PM

To the Twins' credit, and one more parallel to the Astros, they were the first to draft George Springer when they drafted him out of high school in 2008. 

    • birdwatcher and JDubs like this

 

In the drafts from 2011-2015, Houston out-drafted the Twins by about 50 WAR. 50. In that stretch the Twins have about 30 WAR...all wrapped up in Buxton, Berrios, Rogers (all from 2012)...and Garver. Meanwhile, Houston drafted Springer, Correa, McCullers, Bregman, and guys like Ramon Laureano, who was about a 4-WAR player with the A's this year. Many of those years...especially 13-15...the Twins had very early picks and have nothing to show for it...with time running out. (If you go back another year, the Twins have Rosario to show...but the Astros out-drafted them in that draft as well, getting good players they traded for WS pieces like Evan Gattis and Ken Giles.) And regarding international signings...in the 12+ combined seasons of Sano, Polanco, and Kepler so far, they have a total of about 29 WAR. Just Altuve has about 39 WAR in his 8+ seasons.

 

With every game one actually watches the Astros play, it's more and more obvious how far the Twins are from that organization. Basically, the Twins need to get more aggressive with trades...they have to get more aggressive with payroll....AND they have to have the prospects they keep hit, and hit BIG. That's basically what we're watching with Houston...still, they found a way to lose a playoff series last year, which is probably the good news.

 

Spot on

 

There is way too much focus on the trades part of the equation. 

 

If you want to guarantee that you will win the majority of the trades you make. Find the flaws of the players you acquire and fix them. If you want to guarantee that you will come out on the losing end of the deals you make. Let the chips fall where they may.  

 

If you want to give the impression that you are drafting well... Develop them. If you want to give the impression that you haven't drafted well. Fail in development. 

 

This is how Houston is winning. This is why the Twins are behind the Astros. 

 

 

 

    • Twins33 likes this
Brian, I don't fully agree. Baseball is fickle. All teams try to fix flaws and develop talent. Some are better than others. The crucial component is identifying IF you can fix a guy and IF someone has the talent to be a big league player. That is why the decision makers get paid big money.

Houston looks to compete for next two years but then huge number of their core players are coming to the end of their contracts. Then the question comes what they have in their farm system or is where they trade away core players on contract and start all over again. I guess if they win this year world series another one in next two years it will have been determined successful run. I also think the next union contract is going to be not automatica renewal like it has been. I think there is going to be discussion on tanking and teams will need to spend minimum amount to compete. These new general managers are improving bottom lines on short term but is costing baseball on the long term.The fans of today are not invested in game like in the past it social event with high lite plays they come to watch. If they are done eating or drinking and game has not shown highligth plays there gone to local bar or home. These fans will come and go but if its not in their social pattern there not really invested in the team or the players. The fans of old were there to see good baseball played and were invested in the players and teams long term and today that is going by wayside. We will see how this all plays out long term for baseball.

    • Platoon and JDubs like this
I would love a successful boom and bust strategy. Sign me up to win a few world series every 10 years.
    • Mike Sixel, Dman, Tomj14 and 1 other like this

The Twins are not like the Astros.

- They didn't deliberately tank any season's.

- They haven't wasted prospects on Verlander type pitchers.

-They didn't "cheat" like Houston did against the Cardinals.

 

The Twins shouldn't be like the Astros.

-They should continue to develop from within.

-They shouldn't pay for overpriced Free Agents.

-They SHOULD continue to develop from within.

-They SHOULD use the winning atmosphere of the current TWINS to attract Free Agents to the Twins.

-They SHOULD draw on the strengths of the Twin Cities lifestyle to attract players to playing for the Twins.

    • Dman likes this

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