Which Twins Prospect Is The Most Indispensable?
Image courtesy of © John David Mercer-USA TODAY SportsThe argument for which Twins prospect is the best is a concise and frankly pretty boring one. The majority consensus has Royce Lewis as the Twins’ best prospect with Alex Kirilloff being the second best. Keith Law was one of the few writers to go against the grain as he placed Kirilloff much higher than Lewis in his most recent top 100 ranking. Even in cases like this, the list of prospects who are often considered to be the best is almost never longer than two names. But what if there was another way to look at the system?
Lists like the common top 100 variant are created with no thought in mind besides the merit of the players being ranked. That’s the entire purpose of the list. But the importance of a prospect in context is more nuanced than how good he is or how good people perceive him to be. Their status rests on the value they bring to their specific organization in context with what that organization already has at that position.
For example, if there was some ridiculous team out there that had a starting rotation of Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Shane Bieber all under contract for the next five years, then having top pitching prospects would be pretty pointless. A prospect like Nate Pearson isn’t going to crack that starting rotation unless he steals one of their jerseys and wears a mask. This is where prospects become more useful in regard to their trade value in order to shore up a weakness elsewhere on the team.
Now, no team out there will ever find itself in the same situation as the hypothetical one mentioned above (the Indians sure did try but cheapness can only take you so far). So figuring out which prospects are the most indispensable takes more thought and comes down to personal taste.
While the Twins aren’t in the equivalent situation as the team with the incredible starting rotation, they do find themselves in a similar conundrum with Royce Lewis. Lewis’ position through the vast majority of his time in the minors has been shortstop. But the Twins already have a 26-year-old All-Star at the same position. Sure, Jorge Polanco has his issues defensively, but finishing 13th in MVP voting is nothing to scoff at. Third base would be the next logical move if the Twins hadn’t just handed their biggest free agent contract ever to a third baseman. Josh Donaldson remains an elite player on both sides of the ball despite his age but could relinquish the position if that age catches up soon. Even then, Lewis is even more of an unknown at third base and penciling him in there long term would be foolish.
The last position that remains is center field. Some scouts have banished him there due to his incredible athleticism and his current defensive shortcomings at shortstop. He has all of eight minor league innings at the position so placing him here also would fall under “unwise acts”. Oh, and the other top two position-playing prospects for the Twins (the aforementioned Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach) also play in the outfield. Maybe you’ve heard this, but the Twins already have a pretty solid outfield at the major league level. Likely their worst starter, Eddie Rosario, was projected to be around a 2 fWAR player in 2020. Again, that’s their worst starter.
So if all of their top three position playing prospects are all blocked to varying degrees, one of Jordan Balazovic or Jhoan Duran likely is the Twins’ most indispensable prospect. The value of starting pitching around the league is already quite high as quality starting pitching becomes more expensive each year. When combined with the fact that Jake Odorizzi will likely leave next season, it becomes crucial for someone to step up and take over in the rotation. The Twins do already have some interesting names in Lewis Thorpe, Randy Dobnak, and Devin Smeltzer, but both Balazovic and Duran currently possess more upside. Whether they achieve that upside is another issue, but the talent right now is undeniable.
Given that he has a relatively straightforward path to the majors and has yet to struggle mightily at any level, Balazovic may very well be the most indispensable prospect in the Twins’ system. Pitching prospects especially are not a given (Martín Pérez was once a top prospect), but Balazovic’s raw stuff combined with the Twins’ newfound ability to develop pitching gives him a great shot at being successful at the major league level. In the meantime, the Twins can deal their other top prospects with a relatively safe peace of mind.
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