Happy MLB Draft Day!! (It must be Jeremy Nygaard’s favorite day, or three days, of the year!) As I’ve mentioned the last couple of days, each year I like to update my Top Prospect rankings right before the draft. My most recent rankings were done for the 2016 Prospect Handbook, so last December. (I posted them here in March)
Yesterday, I posted my choices for prospects 11-20, and the day before you read my picks for Twins Prospects 21-40. Today, I’ll be sharing my choices for the Top Ten Twins Prospects. The Twins have five of the top 93 picks in the draft tonight, so it will be interesting to see where they would end up on this list. I hope you enjoy these lists and getting to know the players more.
These prospect rankings are fun. They’re not scientific. They involve many factors including, but not limited to, age, performance, level of competition, reports from players, coaches, front office types, as well as my eye test from spring training, a trip to Cedar Rapids and watching several games on milb.tv.
There are several purposes for writing these. First, it gives you some names to consider as you are reading our minor league reports. Second, these players (and really all of the minor leaguers, but I’m not going to rank 150 players!) deserve to be recognized for their hard work and dedication to their profession. Third, it’s always fun to discuss these lists and the players involved.I’m pretty certain that not 100% of you will agree with 100% of my rankings. In fact, I’m certain no one would share the exact same Top 40, so feel free to discuss in the forum. I enjoy answering any questions you may have. With that, let’s get started.
#10 - RHP Felix Jorge - 22 - Ft. Myers Miracle
After a rough start as a 20-year-old in Cedar Rapids in 2014, Jorge has been one of the best, most productive starters in the Twins minor league system. He went back to Elizabethton and was named the Appy League Pitcher of the Year. Last year in Cedar Rapids he post a 2.79 ERA in 142 innings for the Kernels. He completed six innings in 20 of his 22 starts (and completed five innings in all 22 appearances). This year, he is 4-3 with a 1.83 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He has completed six innings in eight of his nine stars. Jorge pumps in a lot of strikes with a low-to-mid-90s fastball. He has a good breaking ball and changeup. While he doesn’t strike out a ton 7.2 per nine), he walks almost no one (1.4 per nine). Jorge is 6-2 and just 170 pounds. He is a tremendous athlete who could continue to gain some strength and velocity. The Twins were able to sneak him past the Rule 5 draft after last season. My sense is they aren’t going to be able to get away with that again after this year.
#9 - RHP Kohl Stewart - 21 - Chattanooga Lookouts
The fourth overall pick in 2013, Stewart was known more for his prowess on the football field. He has made the transition to full-time baseball well and yet not without some struggles. Earlier in his career, he fought some shoulder issues. He was healthy in 2015 and posted a 3.20 ERA in 129.1 innings with the Miracle. However, all anyone wants to look at was his 4.9 K/9 rate. The Twins had him return to the Miracle to start the season and he came out with a lot of Ks early in the year. He was promoted to AA last week with a 3.31 ERA and 7.7 K/9 in 10 starts with the Miracle. His first AA start didn’t go real well. He gave up four earned runs in just 1.2 innings. Of course, the game had a delayed start. There was a rain delay after the first inning, and the second inning had a lightning delay. He’ll make his second start for the Miracle today. He does appear to have cleaned up some mechanics and is much more consistent. That’s helped his fastball be more consistently in the 94 to 95 mph range. He’s got a good breaking ball and changeup. At 6-3 and about 200 pounds, he is a tremendous athlete who works very hard and is a very competitive individual. I’d expect some struggles early for him at AA, but he’s got really good stuff and should keep progressing.
#8 - RHP JT Chargois - 25 - Rochester Red Wings
“Shaggy” has been one of the more intriguing prospects since he returned to Fall Instructional League following the 2014 season. The Twins 2nd-round pick in 2012 out of Rice University (where, you might have heard, he was co-closer with Tyler Duffey). However, elbow issues forced him to miss the 2013 and 2014 seasons. People started talking when he was hitting 99 mph that fall. He came back last year, splitting the season between Ft. Myers and Chattanooga and hitting triple-digits with his fastball frequently. He was the closer for the Lookouts at the end of last year, a role he certainly has the mentality for. He started this season with a month in AA before being promoted to AAA. In 11 appearances at AA, he went 11.2 innings and posted a 1.54 ERA. He walked 3.9 per nine and struck out a very strong 10.8 per nine innings. In 11 appearances and 12.1 innings with Rochester, he has a 0.73 ERA, a 2.9 BB/9 and a 14.6 K/9. He’s ready, and the Twins bullpen needs help. It’s really only a matter of time before the Louisiana native gets called by Mike Quade and told he’s bound for Minnesota.
#7 - RHP Fernando Romero - 21 - Cedar Rapids Kernels
Like Chargois, Romero went two years without pitching in a game. At 19, he was promoted to Cedar Rapids in 2014. He threw really hard and appeared ready for time in Iowa. However, after just three starts for the Kernels, he had a lot of elbow pain. He was shut down and had Tommy John. Unfortunately, last year while rehabbing the elbow, he also had major knee surgery. Reports from Ft. Myer at the end of last year had Romero hitting 97 and 98 mph. Same thing this spring. He returned to Cedar Rapids and has made four starts. In his first he threw five no-hit innings. In total he is 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA. In 23 innings, he has given up 10 hits, walked three and struck out 21 batters. His fastball is sitting between 94-96 and had hit 98 on several occasions. He also has a good breaking ball, though that is the pitch he will have to improve as he moves up the ladder. He’s been through a lot the last two years, but he’s still just 21 and has so much potential. He jumped up this list, but he could continue to rise.
#6 Jorge Polanco - IF Jorge Polanco - 23 - Rochester Red Wings
Jorge Polanco is just 22 years old and has already spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues. Small parts, generally two or three days the last couple of years. He spent a little more time this year, though he played very little. Those cups of coffee in 2014 and 2015 were solely 40-man roster decisions. In 2016, it is now clear that Polanco is very close to big league ready, at least with the bat. Polanco signed as a 155 pound kid at age 16, but over the years, he has grown and now is north of 200 pounds. He is quick, and has a terrific approach at the plate. He is a line drive hitter who will surprise some with some extra base, and even home run, pop. Defense is where the questions are. The Twins tried to play him at shortstop the last few years, hoping he might be able to improve there, but that just didn’t happen. In fact, this year, he has played just one game at shortstop, and that was with the Twins. He has primarily played second base with some time at third base as well. It will be interesting to see how the Twins do it, but at some point yet this year, they will make room for him to play every day with the Twins. He is out of options following the 2016 season.
#5 - LHP Stephen Gonsalves- 21 - Ft. Myers Miracle
After going 7-2 with a 2.61 ERA last year in 15 starts in the second half of the Miracle, Gonsalves returned to Ft. Myers to start this season. In ten starts this year, he is now 5-2 with a 1.93 ERA. His K-Rate in the FSL last year was just 6.2, and this year it is at 8.6 (three more strikeouts in about 19 less innings). Why is he not already pitching in AA? I’m not certain, though it is likely he will start the Florida State League All-Star Game at Hammond Stadium in two weeks. My other hope is that by putting up these tremendous numbers, he will be named to the Futures Game where he would be able to pitch in front of family and friends in his hometown of San Diego. Gonsalves is a pitcher. He fully understands the art of pitching and getting hitters out. At 6-5 and lanky, he looks the part. His fastball has typically been in the low-90s, touching 94 (though last outing, Miracle voice Brice Zimmerman posted that he hit 97 with a pitch). He has a good curveball and a changeup, and this past offseason, he worked to develop a slider/cutter which has helped against lefties and righties. He works out with the likes of James Shields and Stephen Strasburg in the offseason and soaks up any additional information on pitching he can. I feel like I have him ranked too low on this list, even at Number 5.
#4 - SS Nick Gordon - 20 - Ft. Myers Miracle
Over his last 15 games, Nick Gordon is hitting just .164. The slump has dropped his season batting average from .331 to 280. He has shown good pop in his bat this year after adding about 15 pounds in the offseason. Gordon has a textbook, left-handed swing and really drives the ball well to the opposite field. However, he also has the ability to pull the ball and hit it a long ways. Gordon was the Twins first-round pick (5th overall) in 2014 out of high school in Orlando. Yes, he has good genes, but he also works very hard and has made himself into a great prospect for reasons beyond his family name. At 6-0 and 180 pounds, Gordon looks the part of a big league shortstop. While he has committed more errors this year than you would like to see, reports on his defense have always been positive; good hands and a very strong arm. He is blessed with good (though not burner) speed and can steal some bases. But, it is his swing that most excites baseball people. Still just 20 years old, he is one of the youngest players in the Florida State League and he is certainly holding his own. How will the heat and humidity affect his play through the grueling summer in Ft. Myers? The Florida native has been playing in this weather his whole life. Gordon is very smart and he has a strong knowledge of the game. Though he has never really dominated at any level, there is no question in my mind that he can be a very solid MLB starting shortstop for years.
#3 - Tyler Jay - 22 - Ft. Myers Miracle
The Twins first-round pick just one year ago (6th overall), Jay has been very good in his first full season. He had one bad game in late April for the Miracle, and he struggled in the first inning a couple of starts before that, but he was incredible in May. He was chosen our starting pitcher of the month. Last month, he threw six more shutout innings, despite not having his best stuff, to push his scoreless innings streak to 15. The left-hander has an impressive pitch mix. His fastball has been sitting 93-95 through much of the season, though in shorter stints - like in the bullpen last year - he was often hitting 97. It will be interesting to see how his velocity holds up over the year. As we know, he pitched out of the bullpen - for some reason - at Illinois so how will he hold up period over the next several months is a big question as well. Others note that his power slider is arguably his best pitch and can be devastating, especially to left-handed bats. He still has plenty to work on, and it will be interesting to see how the Twins use him in the second half. He is at 57.2 innings already this season. I’m sure they have a number in mind in terms of innings for the season, so it’s possible (meaning, very likely) that he ends the season in the bullpen, possibly in Chattanooga.
#2 - RHP Jose Berrios - 22 - Rochester Red Wings
You might be surprised that I have Berrios still at #2 on this list. Trust me, it says a lot more about the new #1 than it does about Berrios. Sure, he struggled mightily in his four-start stint with the Twins, but that doesn’t worry me at all. He has fought command issues all year at Rochester, but that’s never been an issue for him in his career, so he’ll make that adjustment and be fine. Berrios is going to be a very good major league starting pitcher for a long time, and that will happen soon, likely later this season.
My eye test for his big league starts gave me reason for a lot of optimism. He throws hard and he misses bats. Even with his struggles, he was able to get strikeouts. Simply, his control was off. He was getting a ton of movement on his two-seam fastball and unable to really control where it was going. At 94-95, however, that pitch could be devastating on big league hitters. His curveball was inconsistent, but you could see that at times it was knee-buckling. And while he didn’t throw it too often, he also has a good changeup. A four-pitch mix where all four pitches are above average is encouraging.
Also, Berrios has all the intangibles that you’re looking for. He is very strong mentally and will overcome struggles. No one questions his effort and work ethic. His eight-inning outing this week in Rochester, which included just one walk, was very encouraging and hopefully a sign that he’s turned the corner. Berrios is going to be a very special pitcher in the big leagues. Hopefully he can be a top of the rotation type of pitcher for the Twins for years to come.
#1 - OF Max Kepler - 23 - Minnesota Twins
The question had to be, who would take over the Twins #1 prospect status now that Byron Buxton has graduated from the ranks of “prospect?” It was a two-man choice at this point, though prospects 3-5 certainly can make a case as well. I went with Kepler, though I wouldn’t put up much of a fight if you said Berrios should be #1. In fact, I’d probably just say, “OK.”
Kepler signed with the Twins on the same day as Jorge Polanco as a 16-year-old in 2009. His road to the big leagues has been long, with many stops, injuries and obstacles. Last year, he broke out in AA Chattanooga and was named the Southern League MVP. He hit .322/.416/.531 (.947) with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine home runs, He stole 18 bases in 22 attempts. One of the biggest reasons for optimism is that he walked more than he struck out (67:63). Sure, he’s hitting just .170 right now with the Twins, but you can see his talent on the field. Off the field, Kepler tends to be pretty quiet and cerebral. He’s very smart and is able to speak five languages. On the field, he has five-plus tools, a rarity. Hopefully most (or all) of them will translate to the big leagues.
Kepler can hit, and should hit for good average in time in the big leagues. I think he can be a .280+ hitter. His approach at the plate leans toward him also being able to draw walks and put together a strong on-base percentage, maybe .350+. Though he hasn’t hit a ton of home runs, Kepler is very strong and has a ton of power potential still. That started to show, especially late last year and in the Southern League championship series when he hit three more homers. He can drive the ball to all fields and should hit a lot of doubles. I can see him being a 35-40 doubles guy with 20-25 home run potential. And while he is tall and lanky (And 220 pounds), he can run very well. He’s good on the base paths and can steal a base, but he still leads the Twins system in triples this year because he drives the ball and has incredible speed. It also will help him on defense. He’s been playing right field with Miguel Sano out. We know he can play centerfield as well, but when Byron Buxton is out there, we don’t really have to worry about that. He admits that his best position is probably left field, and that might bode well in spacious Target Field. He doesn’t have a real strong arm, and he has had some shoulder issues in the past.
Don’t worry about his early struggles. Notice things like his approach at the plate, and notice that when he barrels the ball up, he hits the ball really hard. Notice his tools and that athleticism. Kepler is a guy that, like Sano and Buxton, you build an organization around.
So there they are, my choices for the Top Ten Twins Prospects. What are your thoughts these ten guys? Discuss them below in the comments or feel free to ask any questions you may have. As the Twins make their five Top 100 Picks in the draft tonight, consider where each might slot in to my Top 40. As always, I welcome any questions and comments that you might have.
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