Especially amazing when researching this, was the lineup of the 2017 Southern League Co-Champion Chattanooga Lookouts. Names from their roster litter the Southern League leader board for just about every offensive category.
But when it came down to it, there was one guy who stood out on almost everyone’s ballot, and he’s no stranger to this award having won it once already in his MiLB career.Seven Twins Daily Minor League writers were asked to vote for the various awards. For the hitter of the year, we each voted for eight players. The player who was voted as #1 received eight points, #2 received seven points and so on with the #8 vote receiving one point. Results were tabulated and can be found below.
Short profiles of our top nine are to follow, but first, some players worthy of honorable mention. These players also received votes.
- Wander Javier – Elizabethton Twins – 41 games, 47-157 – .299/.383/.471 (.855) – 13 2B’s, 3B, 4 HRs, 34 R’s, 22 RBI, 4 SB. Was #4 in our Short Season Hitter of the Year rankings and displayed the plethora of tools that made him an attractive big money international signing in his first year in the states.
- Max Murphy – Fort Myers Miracle/Chattanooga Lookouts – 130 games, 144-506 – .285/.361/.401, (.762) – 29 2B’s, 6 3B’s, 6 HRs, 80 R’s, 62 RBI, 9 SB. Played 78 games with the Miracle to start his season, slashing .307/.390/.430 before being promoted to Chattanooga for his final 52 games.
- Daniel Palka – Rochester Red Wings – 84 games, 96-350 – .274/.329/.431 (.759) – 13 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 11 HR, 47 R’s, 42 RBI. Also played in six games with the GCL Twins while rehabbing, and had another home run in those 20 plate appearances. Missed time with an injury, otherwise he might have earned a spot on the Twins September roster.
- Nick Gordon – Chattanooga Lookouts – 122 games, 140-519 – .270/.341/.408 (.749) – 29 2B’s, 8 3B’s, 9 HRs, 80 R’s, 66 RBI, 13 SB. Was a tale of two seasons for Gordon, as he was scorching hot in the first half of the season (.880 OPS), but wasn’t able to keep that up in the second half (.609 OPS). Despite all that, he ranked third in the Southern League in hits and runs scored, fourth in total bases, and led the circuit in triples.
- Chris Paul – Fort Myers Miracle – 61 games, 80-238 – .328/.380/.471 (.851) – 18 2B’s, 2 3B’s, 4 HR, 35 R’s, 32 RBI. Missed the months of June and July and the first week of August with a broken hamate bone. In the month of May before that injury, he slashed an impressive .383/.459/.585 (1.044) in 26 games.
Minor League Hitter of the Year
Here are the top nine vote getters for Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year.
9. Travis Blankenhorn – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 118 games, 110-438 – .251/.343/.441 (.784) – 22 2B’s, 11 3B’s, 13 HRs, 68 R’s, 69 RBI, 13 SBs.
Blankenhorn spent the entirety of the 2017 season in Cedar Rapids after amassing a .774 OPS in 25 games with the team in 2016 as a 19 year old. He largely repeated that performance with a .784 mark this season, but got there a different way. His average fell by .035 points, but he increased his slugging percentage by .023 because he racked up 46 extra-base hits to lead the Kernels (tied with Lewin Diaz). That total included double digits in every category (22 2Bs, 11 3Bs, 13 HRs) which is very hard to do. He also led the team with 69 RBI. If you’re into advanced hitting statistics, his weighted runs created (wRC) mark of 72 ranked eighth in the Midwest League on the season and he created 21% more runs than the league average hitter (wRC+, per Fangraphs). Just shy of 15% of his plate appearances in 2017 came against pitchers who were younger than he is and he was selected as a Midwest League All-Star.
8. Lewin Diaz – Cedar Rapids Kernels – 122 games, 136-466 – .292/.329/.444 (.773) – 33 2B’s, 1 3B, 12 HRs, 47 R’s, 68 RBI.
Diaz was 20 years old for the entirety of the 2017 season with the Kernels, and 90% of his plate appearances were against pitchers older than he is. What did he do against that competition? He led the Midwest League in doubles with 33. In 2016 he hit .310 with Elizabethton, and didn’t slow down much in Cedar Rapids with a mark of .292, placing him sixth in the circuit. He also led the Kernels with 207 total bases. While the batting average was great for Diaz and he struck out just 80 times in 122 games, he will continue to need to work on his patience as he drew just 25 walks as primarily the #3 hitter in the lineup. Diaz also represented Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
7. T.J. White – Chattanooga Lookouts – 96 games, 101-366 – .276/.358/.484 (.842) – 26 2B’s, 4 3B’s, 14 HR’s, 44 R’s, 65 RBI.
After missing the opening month of the season with an injury, White proved to be a steady presence in the Lookouts lineup from May 15th onward. His OPS was .912 in the month of June, and 1.010 in August. When patrolling Fangraphs, you’ll find that his wRC+ mark of 144 ranked fifth in the Southern League and trailed only another hitter on this list for the Lookouts team lead. If you’re looking for a “clutch” hitter, White also came through big in that category this year, as his .325/.429/.571 mark with two outs and runners in scoring position was stellar.
6. Brent Rooker – Elizabethton Twins/Fort Myers Miracle – 62 games, 64-228 – .281/.364/.566 (.930) – 11 2B’s, 18 HR’s, 42 R’s, 52 RBI.
On the surface Rooker’s numbers are especially eye-popping considering he was just drafted at #35 overall in the 2017 MLB draft on June 12th. In an organizational sense, his 18 HRs on the season ranked second in all of the minors for the Twins despite him playing in only half the games. When you have some #FunWithNumbers after he was promoted to Fort Myers, his 11 home runs in 40 games rivals the pace that Miguel Sano put up with the Miracle in 2013 before he was promoted to Chattanooga. There was some strikeout to his game in his first taste of the pros (26.5% of his plate appearances), but it wasn’t an egregious rate and he also showed an ability to draw a walk (11.3% mark). After being a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as best college player and his initial success as a pro, Rooker is an intriguing name for me to be added to the Twins stable of players being sent to the Arizona Fall League. The only question might be whether the Twins think he’s all ready played enough baseball this year.
5. Jermaine Palacios – Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle – 124 games, 149-504 – .296/.333/.454 (.788) – 21 2B’s, 10 3B’s, 13 HRs, 82 R’s, 67 RBI, 20 SBs.
Palacios spent all of his 2016 season with Cedar Rapids, and wasn’t able to match the immense potential he showed in his first season in the States, when he hit .370 in the rookie leagues. He made up for that in 2017 with the Kernels by batting .320/.362/.544 before being promoted to Fort Myers. Like Blankenhorn, he also racked up double-digits in all extra-base hit categories on the season. He wasn’t as successful in the Florida State League (.662 OPS vs .907 OPS), but it’s hard to ignore season-long totals like his as a middle-infield prospect. For his output in the MWL before being promoted, he too, was selected as an All-Star for the Kernels.
4. LaMonte Wade – Chattanooga Lookouts – 117 games, 124-424 – .292/.397/.408 (.805) – 22 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 7 HRs, 74 R’s, 67 RBI, 9 SBs.
All Wade has done since becoming a professional is get on base. In fact, he’s walked more than he has struck out in his career (177 vs. 151) and in each of his first three seasons. 2017 was no different, as his .397 on-base percentage and 76 walks ranked third in the Southern League. He also ranked seventh in RBI with 67 on the year alongside a host of other Lookouts players. He also set a career high in extra-base hits with 32 on the season. Wade spent a majority of the season batting #3 in the lineup of the best offense in the Southern League and was especially deadly with runners in scoring position (.955 OPS) and late in close games (1.092 OPS). For his efforts in 2017, Wade was selected as a Southern League All-Star at the midseason break.
3. Zack Granite – Rochester Red Wings – 76 games, 103-303 – .340/.394/.479 (.872) – 17 2B’s, 5 3B’s, 5 HR’s, 48 R’s, 30 RBI, 18 SB’s.
Granite followed a breakout 2016 season in which he hit .295/.347/.382 for Chattanooga with an even better 2017 that led to his promotion to the Twins in early July. After having his average fall to .237 on May 31st, Granite went on one of the hottest streaks you will ever see in the month of June. He slashed an otherworldly .470/.527/.667 and raised his average on the season to a high of .371 on June 27th before his promotion. Another impressive stat is he struck out just 36 times in 76 games, a rate of only 11.8% of his plate appearances. His 144 wRC+ ranked sixth in the International League (44% more runs created than average hitter) and he found himself on the ballots of both the midseason and postseason All-Star teams. In his time with the Twins, he’s also shown fans what he is capable of as an outfielder, displaying range more than adequate to back up Byron Buxton in center field.
2. Jonathan Rodriguez – Chattanooga Lookouts – 124 games, 137-452 – .303/.408/.518 (.926) – 31 2B’s, 22 HR’s, 89 R’s, 78 RBI.
The 28-year-old first baseman came to the Twins organization in 2017 after spending the first eight years of his career in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He was quite the addition to an already potent Chattanooga Lookouts lineup. He took home the Lookouts Triple Crown as well as leading them in doubles, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In the Southern League, he tied for the league lead in average (.309), led in on-base percentage (.414), slugging (.525), and OPS (.939). His 21 home runs ranked second and his 31 doubles ranked third. You really don’t have to go far down the list in many categories to find his name. Although he did not play in the Southern League All-Star Game at midseason after getting off to a slow start in April, he was named as the postseason All-Star at DH. Rodriguez always seemed to come up in the minor league reports as the season wore on, and it was because he kept delivering big time hits. In the second half of the Southern League season he crushed to the tune of a .346/.449/.632 slash line, good for a 1.081 OPS. He was the most valuable hitter in the International League by the measures of wRC, wRC+, weighted runs above average (wRAA), and weighted on-base average (wOBA) per Fangraphs. His wRC+ mark of 173 meant he created an astonishing 73% more runs than the average hitter on the season.
In many years it would be hard for anyone to best what Rodriguez accomplished this year, but that just makes this awards winner even more impressive.
Hitter of the Year
Mitch Garver – Rochester Red Wings – 88 games, 93-320 – .291/.387/.541 (.928) – 29 2B’s, 17 HRs, 56 R’s, 45 RBI.
The 2017 award marks the second time Garver has taken home Twins Daily’s metaphorical hardware, as he also won the voting in 2014 while playing for Cedar Rapids.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2013 draft as a fourth-year senior, Garver’s age (26) may be a barrier for some in considering him as a prospect, but it’s hard to argue with the development path he undertook in making his MLB debut on August 19th. He was on the raw side of the catcher position when he was drafted, but has developed those skills along with his bat as he’s moved up the ladder.
He spent all of his time in the minors this year with the Rochester Red Wings, playing primarily catcher but also got time in left field (14 games) and at first base (five games) as the organization made it a priority to add versatility to his game. The reason being, they’re going to have to find a place for his bat.
In that sense, Garver was as consistent as you could possibly be, amassing a .928 OPS in the first half of the International League season, then a .927 mark afterward before his call-up to the Twins. For his exploits on the season, Garver was named the IL’s postseason All-Star at catcher. His on-base percentage (.387) and slugging percentage (.541) marks ranked second in the league, while he also shows up on the leader board for doubles and home runs despite having about 100+ fewer at-bats than those around him. His .291 batting average also ranked in the top five among his peers.
Also impressive for Garver when you dig into his numbers, were his lack of platoon splits as he hit .304/.427/.557 against lefties and .286/.373/.535 against right-handers. With two outs his OPS was over 1.000. When you venture over to Fangraphs his 166 wRC+ ranked third in the International League, behind only the league MVP Rhys Hoskins (who if you haven’t noticed, has 17 HRs in just 33 MLB games thus far to start his career) and Yandy Diaz, who both also made their MLB debuts this season.
It’s quite easy to see how exceptional Garver was during the 2017 season at the highest rung of the minor league ladder, and it made him an almost unanimous selection in the award’s voting. But perhaps the greatest reward of all for him after his stellar season is that now all he has left to look forward to is making his impact in the major leagues instead of the minors.
In an attempt to be transparent, here are the votes from our Twins Daily minor league writers:
- Seth Stohs – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Jonathan Rodriguez, 3) Zack Granite, 4) LaMonte Wade, 5) Jermaine Palacios, 6) T.J. White, 7) Travis Blankenhorn, 8) Lewin Diaz
- Jeremy Nygaard – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) LaMonte Wade, 3) Jonathan Rodriguez, 4) Brent Rooker, 5) Jermaine Palacios, 6) Zack Granite, 7) Travis Blankenhorn, 8) Lewin Diaz
- Cody Christie – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Jonathan Rodriguez, 3) Zack Granite, 4) Brent Rooker, 5) Jermaine Palacios, 6) Chris Paul, 7) T.J. White, 8) Max Murphy
- Tom Froemming – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Brent Rooker, 3) Zack Granite, 4) Jonathan Rodriguez, 5) LaMonte Wade, 6) T.J. White, 7) Jermaine Palacios, 8) Travis Blankenhorn
- Steve Lein – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Zack Granite, 3) Jermaine Palacios, 4) LaMonte Wade, 5) T.J. White, 6) Nick Gordon, 7) Brent Rooker, 8) Jonathan Rodriguez
- Eric Pleiss – 1) Jonathan Rodriguez, 2) Mitch Garver, 3) T.J. White, 4) Lewin Diaz, 5) Jermaine Palacios, 6) LaMonte Wade, 7) Zack Granite, 8) Wander Javier
- Ted Schwerzler – 1) Mitch Garver, 2) Zack Granite, 3) Jonathan Rodriguez, 4) Travis Blankenhorn, 5) Lewin Diaz, 6) LaMonte Wade, 7) Daniel Palka, 8) Jermaine Palacios
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