In each of the past two seasons, Twins pitchers have ranked dead last in the majors in strikeouts. They're on track to do so again this year.
It's no coincidence that they've been extremely bad at preventing runs during that time. In today's MLB environment, where strikeouts are rapidly climbing league-wide, a "pitch-to-contact" staff profile doesn't fly.
To their credit, the Twins seem to recognize this, and have recently made concerted efforts to add more power arms to the organization. In next Thursday's draft, they might have a chance to bring in the best high school power arm... ever?
Who is this guy?
Earlier this month, Baseball America's John Manuel put Tyler Kolek's triple-digit fastball in perspective
: "According to scouts we talked to, he is the hardest-throwing high schooler of the draft era."
The right-hander generally works in the upper-90s with a heavy heater that touches 100 MPH "with regularity" and has been clocked as high as 102. That's pretty much unheard of for an 18-year-old kid, but Kolek hardly looks his age. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is absolutely massive and is often described as country strong, owing to the fact that he grew up working on his family's cattle ranch.
The numbers that Kolek put up against prep competition as a senior this year at Shepherd High School in Texas are downright silly. In 60 1/3 innings across 10 starts, the fireballer yielded three earned runs (0.35 ERA). He faced a total of 219 batters, allowing only 23 hits and eight walks while striking out 126.
Kolek figures to become the second high school hurler from Texas to be drafted among the top five in as many years, joining Kohl Stewart who of course went to the Twins at No. 4 in 2013.
Why the Twins will pick him
As mentioned before, the Twins have developed a clear focus on adding power arms to the system and you could hardly ask for a more powerful arm than this one. Kolek is considered by many scouts to be a better prospect than Stewart was a year ago, so if he falls to No. 5, the Twins are going to need to look very hard at him.
Several teams reportedly have Kolek pegged as the best pitcher in this draft, and he's in the discussion to go first overall. It's awfully tough to pass on the upside of a potential ace who is already throwing this hard as a teenager.
In addition to buzzing in at an insane speed, his fastball has pretty good sink so there's a belief that he should be able to pile up ground balls along with strikeouts in the pros. If he can stay in the zone, that would basically make him the ideal starter, and his big frame will hopefully equate to greater durability since he needn't rely as much on his arm to generate velocity.
Why the Twins will not pick him
Kolek's upside is as immense as his build, but there are plenty of concerns.
First of all, the fact that he's throwing 100 MPH at this age raises questions about his long-term outlook. Generally speaking, pitchers have a limited velocity peak, and very few are able to maintain a high-90s heater over a period of 10 years or more, especially as a starter.
If Kolek is using up all the gas in his arm at such a young age, it's possible his velocity could already start declining by the time he's ready for the majors in (hopefully) three or four years. That would be a bummer.
It'd be easier to stomach if the righty had stand-out secondary pitches to fall back on, but those are all considered works in progress. His curveball and slider have been inconsistent and he has basically never needed to throw a changeup while blowing away high school hitters.
An unpolished arsenal is hardly rare for a prep pitcher, but it leads to more uncertainty, and the Twins already took on their fair share of that last year when they selected Stewart. This time around, they might be more apt to go in on a college pitcher like Aaron Nola
, who would be slated for a much quicker rise to the majors.
Speaking of college, Kolek has a commitment to Texas Christian University. He likely expects to go in the Top 3, so if he drops to No. 5, the Twins might have a tough time enticing him to sign. There's no way they're using this pick on him unless they're absolutely certain they can bring him aboard.
At the end of the day, Kolek's huge potential and historical rarity may overcome any such cautionary signs should he drop all the way to five. However, that scenario seems unlikely anyway, as all four teams in front of Minnesota have shown interest.