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Ranking the Rookies

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 24 September 2018 · 1,319 views

minnesota twins jake cave mitch garver willians astudillo
The Minnesota Twins are now in the final week of their 2018 Major League Baseball season. With a Postseason berth eliminated from reality, the final seven games will be of little significance. Given the opponents coming to Target Field include the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, opportunity to play spoiler isn't present either. That said, these contests remain a proving grounds for players looking to crack the 2019 Opening Day roster.

Right now, there's some intrigue as to whether or not we're witnessing the end of Joe Mauer's heralded career with the hometown team. These could be his final days in a major league uniform, and although I believe he'd be of service to the club in 2019, it appears that no decision has been reached at the present time.

For the guys that are significantly Mauer's junior, they are still looking to make a final imprint on the organization in hopes of vaulting themselves into a more secure position next spring. While the final week may be somewhat of a slog for the battle tested veterans, no opportunity can be taken for granted when looking to stay at the game's highest level.

This season, the Twins have trotted out more than a handful of rookies. Here's a look back at how they've all performed.

Mitch Garver - C

Somewhat unfortunately for the organization, Garver was turned loose relatively early this year. Instead of being able to serve as Jason Castro's understudy, he was pushed into a starting role after a knee injury ended Jason's season. While Mitch looked raw behind the plate early on, it's been more than apparent that he made strides as the season went on. Working with veterans like Bobby Wilson, and briefly Chris Gimenez, his glove work improved dramatically.

On the offensive side of this, his .734 OPS was more than welcomed behind the dish for Minnesota. He was easily the most productive offensive asset as a backstop, and there appears to be some legitimate pop in his stick. Over a full season, he's a likely double-digit longball guy, and he's pushed himself into the conversation for more work next season. It remains to be seen if Minnesota will make changes at catcher, but Garver didn't hurt his positioning at all.

Jake Cave - OF

Maybe one of the most shrewd moves in the early tenure of the Twins new front office, Jake Cave was acquired as outfield depth from a Yankees system that simply didn't have room for him. With Byron Buxton having a lost year, and Zack Granite falling out of the picture, Cave harnessed the opportunity presented to him.

Early on, Cave should've gotten more run than veteran retread Ryan LaMarre, but that didn't stop him from turning heads on a near daily basis. In 85 games this season Cave owns a .771 OPS and has ripped 12 homers. At 25 years old, he's somewhat of an elder rookie, but there's plenty of reason to believe that this is just scratching the surface. He's easily Minnesota's 4th outfielder to open up 2019, and it's been apparent than he can start for stretches when need be as well.

Willians Astudillo - UT

After over 630 minor league games, Astudillo finally graced Major League Baseball with his presence. The folk tale of a chubby catcher than picked off runners without looking and never struck out came to the big leagues and initially started as an outfielder, third basemen, and second basemen. Now settled into a utility role, and backup catcher, Astudillo has seen regular run down the stretch.

It's just a 23 game sample size, but the .877 OPS is certainly eye opening. It's hard to imagine Minnesota carrying three catches on Opening Day next season, but there's worse ways to use a 40 man roster spot early on in November. This could very well end up being the last we hear of Astudillo, or he could continue to be an out-of-nowhere spark for a Twins team eyeing the Postseason a year from now.

Fernando Romero - SP

First it was Jose Berrios, and then it was Fernando Romero. When it came to Twins starting pitching prospects, those were the cream of the crop. Romero's electric fastball has pushed him into the conversation of a true ace, and he looked the part in small bursts this season.

The numbers themselves are all unremarkable, and he didn't light Triple-A on fire after returning. That said, the 55.2 IP in the majors as a 23 year old should prove invaluable when setting him up for future success. I'd imagine the Twins front office will be looking to upgrade the rotation again this winter, and that likely keeps Fernando at Rochester on Opening Day, As a first man up however, that's a heck of an arm to turn to.

The Best of the Rest- Zack Littell, Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, and Adnrew Vasquez

None of these guys got much time to really cement any sort of significant expectations for the year ahead. Littell, Gonsalves, and Stewart should all open 2019 in the Triple-A rotation, and getting a look at big league talent could do wonders for their offseason preparation. While none of them have dominant stuff, honing in on command and pitchability should continue to remain a key focus for them. Again noting the Twins depth, there's at least one capable big league starter in this trio, and Minnesota having them to turn to next season isn't a bad thing at all.

Vasquez was the lone rookie to get a relief chance this season. Working just 2.0 IP despite entering six games, manager Paul Molitor obviously displayed a short leash. Over such a small sample size you can't draw any definitive conclusions, but it's more than apparent that the meteoric rise from High-A to start the year was impressive. At every level, Vasquez posted massive strikeout totals and tended to keep his walks in check. If he can replicate a portion of that for the Twins, they'll have developed a nice pen piece.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • mikelink45, DocBauer, nclahammer and 2 others like this

LA VIkes Fan
Sep 24 2018 05:08 PM

NIce write up overall, but I keep wondering why Cave is the "4th OF"?Who are the top 3? Clearly Rosario is number 1. Cave has hit better this year than Kepler, and I would argue the two are pretty much the same player in the field. Buxton has a ways to go before he's MLB quality at the plate, assuming he can stay healthy. There seems to be a bias on this board that Kepler has "earned" a starting OF position. Corner OFs that has a .735 OPS+ are not starting level with the bat, although he is a better than average fielder. 


It seems to me that based on performance Cave has "earned" the starting RF job, CF if Buxton has to go back to AAA yet again. Kepler ahs to fight it out with Buxton. Alternatively, Kepler is the 1B if Mauer retires in a 1B/DH time share with Austin. 

    • mikelink45 likes this

We might be forced to keep Cave AND Grossman as outfielders next season.


I expect Vasquez will do alright. Think Moya.


Lots of potential starters...and just never know. But looks like the Twins could stay homegrown for awhile.


Garver and Willians are good to have around...they might stick for 4-5 more years!


    • DocBauer and MN_ExPat like this
I could see the possibility of having Cave as a starting outfielder and Grossman on the roster next year. To see it all I need to do is look at this year. Ugh! Regardless whether Buxton is considered in the equation, Cave needs to be a 4th OF, and RG needs to be playing somewhere else. Or we will remain what we are, indefinitely. :(
    • David HK likes this


It seems to me that based on performance Cave has "earned" the starting RF job, CF if Buxton has to go back to AAA yet again. Kepler ahs to fight it out with Buxton. Alternatively, Kepler is the 1B if Mauer retires in a 1B/DH time share with Austin. 

If Kepler's 735 OPS isn't good enough for a right fielder, isn't it also not good enough for 1B?

    • Otwins and tarheeltwinsfan like this

We might be forced to keep Cave AND Grossman as outfielders next season.
I expect Vasquez will do alright. Think Moya.
Lots of potential starters...and just never know. But looks like the Twins could stay homegrown for awhile.
Garver and Willians are good to have around...they might stick for 4-5 more years!

I think Grossman is back for depth. If the OF is healthy and producing, his only having to play in the field here and there and be a bench bat isn't a bad thing, especially as a 5th OF.

Anyone know if he has an option left?
    • MN_ExPat likes this
Garver: Never expected him to be an All Star, but always felt he'd be a good bat with power and production who could hold his own behind the plate. I think we've seen enough of the bat to knkw the potential is real. I agree his defense got better as the season progressed. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see him overtake Castro in 2019 as the primary catcher at some point.

Cave: Smart or lucky by the FO, a great move. His power seems pretty legititimate and didn't start coming on until last season so they picked him up at just the right time. (And no room in NY). Not sure if his ceiling, but he hits, has power, runs decently, and has played good to excellent defense despite a few bad moments. Still only a rookie. Really like him as the 4th OF. (The "starting" still have the most overall potentialm IMO).

Astudillo: Love this guy! He's a great story and a bunch of fun to watch! But is he anything more? Baseball is littered with solid role players who never stick until they find the right team and right time. Astudillo could be one of those guys. I'm honestly starting to think he's more than just "the round guy who is fun to watch". Personally, I think he's looked OK behind the plate. How good is he as an OF, 3B, 1B, 2B? I don't have a clue! But even fill in servicable increases his value. SSS or not, should we really be surprised by his hitting performance? The guy doesn't walk or SO much, but is a career .306/ .345/ .409/ .754 milb hitter who's best power numbers have come this season with Rochester and the Twins.

Romero: He is, absolutely, a key to the Twins moving forward. Development, service time, or just careful handling, arguments can be easily made he wasn't given enough ML time this year. But the mere fact he was promoted so early in the season shows his potential and the belief the FO has in him. And we've seen flashes of what he can become. I have a huge believer in Berrios and his future. That being said, is it so hard to believe Romero could actually be the Twins best SP come end of 2019 or beginning of 2020?

Littell, Gonsalves, Stewart and Vasquez: Littell has not impressed me, despite some good milb numbers. I feel he was brought up too soon and put in an awkward position a couple times. Still, he's a wait and see. Seems Stewart has been around and debated forever, but he's still only 23, showing at least some hope/potential so we will see. Gonsalves is the guy I'm still high on. I have made claim more than once I expected him to struggle when first brought up. He simply doesn't have the big FB or whipeout breaking pitch to get by with. But he's long, has a decent FB, reportedly an excellent change, and a pair of breaking pitches still developing. What he has done is make adjustments at every level he's been at, and just get better and better before moving up again. I believe he will be a very solid ML SP with #3 potential. (I also believe Thorpe will surpass him at some point in 2019, but there is room for both).

Vasquez: LH, breathing, with an outstanding slider and huge milb SO totals. This is the kind of guy who carves out at least a decent career for himself. But is just a LOOGY? Or can he be effective against RH hitters? With Moya ahead of him, at least for now, and Mejia out of options and ticketed for the pen if he doesn't earn a rotation spot, Vasquez will begin 2019 in Rochester and we'll see what happens.

This is NOT a great rookie class. But we shouldn't have expected one either with still recent graduations and the realization the next wave of high end prospects were all in high A or below. But Garver has a real chance to be solid and more productive than the average catcher, Cave was a solid find. Romero should be a stud in short order. Astudillo could be a 13th player find and depth piece. If not traded, I still feel Gonsalves will be part of the rotation in the near future. (How about Berrios, Romero, Thorpe and Gonsalves as 4 of your 5 by as soon as late 2019 or 2020?).
    • Blackjack, mikelink45, tarheeltwinsfan and 1 other like this
LA VIkes Fan
Sep 28 2018 01:30 PM

The Cave vs. Kepler discussion seems to have moved to who has the most potential. That makes some sense, but again I wonder why do people think Kepler has more potential?He's had three years to start every day and has shown himself so far to be a .735 OPS, 95-96 OPS+ player.Cave has had a little over one half of a season (roughly 300 ABs) and has a .778 OPS 108 OPS+ line. IT seems like it would make the most sense to give Cave the chance to develop the same way we gave Kepler the chance to develop. Cave hits better now and could improve so we start higher. IF he falls, we still have Kepler on the team. 


I see 3 reasonably likely scenarios and we are really only talking about one. 1) Roster stays the same except Buxton plays CF everyday, then we do have to choose between Kepler and Cave - Cave gets the first shot based upon performance with Kepler playing 3-4 days a week in the OF and/or as DH, 2) Mauer retires and Kepler goes to 1B/DH with Austin- I think this is the most likely, 3) Mauer retires and w sign a free agent 1B or DH and we're back to scenario 1 with Kepler and Buxton fighting for time. In any scenario performance should rule and right now the evidence from 2018 is that Cave performed better than Kepler.  

I think Stewart has the best chance to be a starter. To me Gonsalves is a typical AAAA type and Littel needs more development.  

Still need the starting pitcher depth so my guess is that Gonsalves, Romero and Littel start in AAA (along with maybe Stewart depending if we sign or trade for a better starter). 

Cave will be either a starting outfielder or the 4th outfielder depending on Buxton's health and if he starts next year in Minnesota.Kepler will probably play multiple postitions depending on how Austin hits and if Mauer retires(which I suspect he will). 

Astudillo could well be here, unless they sign Escobar as the super utility player and bench bat.I like him as he seldom strikes out and maybe not walking is an issue, but Twins have too many players who strike out in key situation too often.Plus a third catcher could let Garver play 1B on some days, or maybe as a part time there if Austin does not pan out.