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Article: The Top 20 Minnesota Twins Assets of 2019: Part 4 (1-5)

brusdar graterol alex kirilloff byron buxton jose berrios royce lewis
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 08:01 PM

This is the last of a four-part series ranking the top 20 player assets in the Minnesota Twins organization. The idea is to think solely in terms of commodity valuation, factoring in things like age, cost, control, and risk management in answering the question: which players are most essential to this team's vision?

Previously we've looked at Nos. 20 through 16, Nos. 15 through 11 and Nos. 10 through 6. Today we bring it home with my picks for the Top 5.5. Brusdar Graterol, RHP (20)
2018 Ranking: N/A

By the time Graterol turned 20, on August 26th, he had already logged 50 innings in the Advanced-A Florida State League, striking out 46 and allowing zero home runs. As one of the youngest players to throw a pitch in the FSL, the hard-throwing righty was experiencing immediate success. This came as no surprise to those who'd watched him obliterate the Midwest League for two months.

Powered by a fastball that reaches triple digits and a plus slider, the stocky young right-hander has been climbing national prospect lists. There's a considerable amount of risk here given that he hasn't yet reached the high minors and lacks a bona fide third pitch, but the dazzling upside outweighs it all. This is the kind of prized arm any franchise covets.

4. Alex Kirilloff, OF (21)
2018 Ranking: 20

Kirilloff's 2018 was, simply put, one of the most impressive seasons we've ever seen from a Twins prospect. He led the Midwest League in OPS (.999) during his first half, then ranked third in the Florida State League (.943) after being promoted. The two players ahead of him in the FSL were three and four years older. Between the two levels of A-ball, Kirilloff batted .348 with 44 doubles, 20 homers and 101 RBIs.

"It didn’t take Kirilloff long to outgrow Max Kepler comparisons and head straight for Christian Yelich territory," wrote Baseball America in ranking him the organization's second-best prospect. Yelich was of course the 2018 NL MVP.

Kirilloff entered the year with only 55 games of pro experience. He ends it as one of the top hitting prospects in the minors, with a sweet lefty swing that generates power to all fields and rarely fails to connect. He projects as a middle-of-the-order bat and could arrive as soon as 2019.

3. Byron Buxton, OF (25)
2018 Ranking: 1

"Buxton impacts games in so many ways, bringing entirely new levels of entertainment and excitement for the viewer. He received MVP votes and a Gold Glove at in his age-23 season, and I'm guessing he'll be getting plenty more of both in the coming seasons. Humble, likable and hardworking, he's a perfect face for the franchise."

So I wrote one year ago in naming Buxton the organization's most valuable asset. All of those things are still true, at least in theory, though he needs to be on the field and getting on base in order to entertain and excite anyone. Those things didn't happen in 2018, when he played only 28 games for the Twins and posted a .183 OBP, plagued by injuries, misfortune, and perhaps some self-inflicted aggravation due to overcompensating.

It was a lost year, but the Twins didn't lose a year of control, thanks to their controversial decision to snub Buxton in September and delay his free agent eligibility until after 2022. He remains one of the most potentially impactful players in the game. We've already seen his offensive floor (basement, really) and there's nowhere to go but up. But without question, the center fielder needs to show he can stay healthy and sustain some kind of production at the dish. I anticipate a monster year.

2. Jose Berrios, RHP (24)
2018 Ranking: 3

In 1991, the Twins drafted a prep right-hander named Brad Radke. Three years later, a child by the name of Jose Berrios was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Berrios was one year old when Radke debuted in the majors, embarking on a career that would be criminally underappreciated due to coinciding with baseball's steroid-fueled offensive eruption.

I'm not here to debate whether Radke could accurately be described as a front-of-the-rotation starter. But I can say with confidence he's the closest the thing this franchise has been able to draft and develop in that mold in the last three decades. At least he was, up until Mr. Berrios arrived.

Berrios didn't win 20 games in his age 24 season, as Radke did, but he was an All-Star, backing up his outstanding 2017 with another stellar effort while extending to almost 200 innings. His ascent thus far has been unusually devoid of turbulence – few young pitchers perform as consistently well, and stay as reliably healthy – which seems to validate the hurler's legendary work ethic. He's still got more ceiling above him as he reaches his mid-20s, but already Berrios is a playoff-caliber starter, with four years of control remaining.

1. Royce Lewis, SS (19)
2018 Ranking: 2

Lewis was already challenging Buxton for the top spot on this list a year ago (an amazing feat, considering where Buck was at). Then he went and took Single-A by storm, posting an .803 OPS between Cedar Rapids and Ft. Myers while facing almost exclusively older competition. During his masterful 2018 campaign, Lewis importantly did two things that were by no means a given: he hit for power and he excelled at shortstop.

Many scouts assumed Lewis would develop some pop eventually as he filled out, but it was downright stunning to see the skinny teenager bust out for 29 doubles and 14 home runs in his first full season. When he was drafted, scouts also expressed skepticism about his long-term viability at shortstop (center field was viewed as a somewhat likely fallback) but that's fading. "Early returns on his glove suggest he can not only stick at the 6, but be above-average there," wrote Baseball Prospectus recently.

A big part of these rankings is factoring in risk, and obviously there is always inherent uncertainty when you're talking about a 19-year-old who hasn't reached the high minors yet. But, while I know it sounds utterly ridiculous to talk about "sure things" as we watch Buxton and Miguel Sano slide down this list... Lewis really does have that vibe. His athleticism is surpassed only by his aptitude, and I've honestly never heard better reviews of a player his age when it comes to makeup, poise and adaptability.

The Twins have a superstar-caliber talent in Lewis. They might have four or five of them listed in this article alone. If enough plays out as hoped with the top quintet, and a few things break right elsewhere in the Top 20, you've got a championship nucleus within five years.

RECAPPING THE RANKINGS:

20. Nick Gordon, SS
19. C.J. Cron, 1B
18. Adalberto Mejia, LHP
17. Jake Cave, OF
16. Wander Javier, SS
15. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
14. Miguel Sano, 3B
13. Kyle Gibson, RHP
12. Trevor May, RHP
11. Mitch Garver, C
10. Taylor Rogers, LHP
9. Max Kepler, OF
8. Eddie Rosario, OF
7. Jorge Polanco, SS
6. Fernando Romero, RHP
5. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
4. Alex Kirilloff, OF
3. Byron Buxton, OF
2. Jose Berrios, RHP
1. Royce Lewis, SS

A few parting thoughts as we reflect on the whole list...

Where are Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker?
I certainly think both these players can be important to the franchise's future, but from my view, the presence of both (and the similar functional profiles) makes each less vital at the moment... if that makes sense. Should Rooker fail to pan out, they have Larnach for essentially the same role, on a similar timeline. And vice versa. Since Rooker was good-not-great in Double-A, and Larnach hasn't played above Low-A, I don't feel we have enough solid data to solidly determine which is the safer bet to make an impact.

Toughest calls
One thing I like about this exercise is that it forces me to think about things in different ways. For instance, I've never really pondered whether Fernando Romero or Brusdar Graterol is more valuable to the Twins. Both have big upside but Graterol's currently looks quite a bit higher. Romero is already here but Graterol doesn't look that far off. I'm guessing (but not certain) Graterol would bring back more in a trade, though both have appeal. Another tough call was Eddie Rosario versus Max Kepler. Kepler has an extra year of control, and superior defense. Rosario is the more explosive hitter (and all-around player) with his value trending up. I gave Eddie the nod but could've easily gone the other way.

Poignant pushback
Based on feedback, the most controversial rankings seem to be C.J. Cron, Jake Cave and Mitch Garver (too high), and Miguel Sano and Nick Gordon (too low). Solid arguments were made and if I re-did these rankings I'd probably move several of those guys around a bit. In particular I was likely too hard on Sano, overemphasizing his stock-drop effect. He's an important player to this franchise, no question.

Placing Cruz
I put this list together a few days before the Twins agreed to terms with Nelson Cruz, which is why he's absent. Given his immense short-term impact and delightfully team-friendly contact, Cruz would certainly factor in somewhere despite his age. I'm thinking maybe around #15? Where would you slot him?

Feel free to air any final grievances and pick your bones with the Top 5 below. Thanks to all who read and commented.

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#2 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 08:52 PM

Nothing against Gonsalves, but I would’ve put Thorpe or Stewart in his spot.
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#3 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 09:01 PM

I love the aggressiveness of Lewis at #1.
I'm sure you'll get a lot of pushback on that, and we'll hear a lot about how often prospects bust. But, I really think, barring catastrophic injuries, this kid is practically can't miss. And I think he's got a good chance to be a superstar.
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#4 nater79a

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 09:35 PM

Take a look at this and tell me that's not a top-20 organizational asset...

 

willians astudillo 790x470

 

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#5 travkro

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 09:47 PM

 

Nothing against Gonsalves, but I would’ve put Thorpe or Stewart in his spot.

 

I agree with Thorpe in Gonsalves spot as well or in Meija's.Either way our list is deep and I'm excited about our the top. Both are arms and position players.

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#6 AlwaysinModeration

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 09:48 PM

Great list, Nick. I particularly like your notes at the end, Larnach, Rooker, Cruz, players you would move around, etc.

Just perusing some minor league numbers, and a I found these four seasons:

Player A Age 19 season A/A+
535PA .292/.352/.451/.803, 29 doubles, 3 triples, 14 HRs, 28 SB, 43/84 BB/K

Player B Age 19 season A/A+
574PA .334/.424/.520/.944, 19 doubles, 18 triples, 12 HRs, 55SB, 76/105 BB/K

Player C Age 20 season A+/AA
519PA .280/.382/.610/.992, 30 doubles, 5 triples, 35 HRs, 11SB, 65/142 BB/K

Player D Age 20 season A/A+
561PA .348/.392/.578/.970, 44 doubles, 7 triples, 20 HRs, 4SB, 38/86BB/K

A Royce
B Buxton
C Sano
D Kiriloff

I am looking forward to players B and C approximating those same batting lines again, hopefully as soon as this year. And I hope player D repeats that batting line again this year in AA. Player A has some catching up to do to match those other guys, it seems to me.
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#7 sweetmusicviola16

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 10:06 PM

In answer to your question on where I would place Cruz, I see him as somewhere around #8-10. His 2019 is quite vital to the success of this team imo.

 

Thanks for doing this list and articles.

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#8 AlwaysinModeration

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 10:17 PM

One more, a cautionary tale:

Player E Age 21 season, A+/AA
534PA .320/.388/.539/.928, 36 doubles, 8 triples, 17 HRs, 4SB, 51/107 BB/K

Any guesses?

He appears to currently be playing in Japan, last posting this line stateside in AAA in 2017:

.320/.404/.623/.1.028

Edited by AlwaysinModeration, 03 January 2019 - 10:22 PM.

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#9 D.C Twins

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 11:00 PM

Thanks for the list Nick

 

I gave you a hard time about your placement of Sano.

 

But for the record, it was you I followed to TD :)


#10 D.C Twins

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Posted 03 January 2019 - 11:06 PM

 

 

 

Take a look at this and tell me that's not a top-20 organizational asset...

 

willians astudillo 790x470

 

Every time I see a picture or video of him, my desire to have him on the MLB team next year increases exponentially....or....irrationally....or both

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#11 travkro

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 12:03 AM

 

One more, a cautionary tale:

Player E Age 21 season, A+/AA
534PA .320/.388/.539/.928, 36 doubles, 8 triples, 17 HRs, 4SB, 51/107 BB/K

Any guesses?

He appears to currently be playing in Japan, last posting this line stateside in AAA in 2017:

.320/.404/.623/.1.028

 

 

Oswaldo Arcia


#12 ND-Fan

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 12:12 AM

I guess i have problem with putting prospects into top of the value for baseball. This seems what wrong with baseball right now everyone values players who haven't even played inning in the majors yet. I could see where we are at now some these players are maybe in top 15 through 25 value but until they have reached majors in mind they are still crap shoot there are so many things that can happen. I look at present former top prospects of Buxton and Sano they were sure no failure prospects and now we have real doubts about these players. Year in year out performance at major league level is what cuts it. That is why big market clubs are always ahead of us they are filling there teams with proven talent and supplementing with there minor league system. Yankees are pondering this delema right now do they stick with there young kids see if they develop or should they be signing some big name free agents now to win immediately. This is one of the reasons fans have hard time to understand baseball because its not like basketball or football where usually the number one draft picks accelerates you in few short years to top the league. Baseball is full of failure picks and then signing lower pick that turn into next big star. I agree these top prospects look to be real players into the future but until they are here there just growing crop that has great potential but we don't know that we will get to see yields they may have because something can up damage them before they ever get here.

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#13 DocBauer

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 12:50 AM

Nick, I actually get what it is you are doing here. And I appreciate your efforts tremendously. And I have held off commenting until I saw your final results. The absolute best part was where and how you broke down all options and evaluations at the end.

Like any ranking, you can argue about a placement here or there and it doesn't really matter when you are talking about a spot or two. But a couple of qualms:

1] Sano should be ranked higher, or Buxton lower. The potential for these two is still tremendous! And each have issues and questions and each have issues and questions that are both similar and different.

2] Considering he was just drafted, I get leaving Larnach out of the equation. Not sure I'd leave Rooker out.

3] I have read and re-read your listings over and over again. Just to make sure i haven't missed anything. And nowhere is Lewis Thorpe mentioned. I think you are missing something there my friend.
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#14 h2oface

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 02:00 AM

What? No Tyler Jay?!?!

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#15 Tuba

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 04:21 AM

Fair enough points about Rooker / Larnach.

 

Cron was free though. So you wouldn't really be willing to trade either Rooker or Larnach for him; which in my mind makes them better "assets."

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#16 AlwaysinModeration

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 06:23 AM

Take a look at this and tell me that's not a top-20 organizational asset...


Reposting from dbminn over in the “national writers on the Twins’ thread”:

“Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs has written an ode to Willians Astudillo (https://www.fangraph...-mvp-candidate/) now that he's a nominee for LVBP (Venezuela Winter League) MVP.”
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#17 AlwaysinModeration

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 06:26 AM

Oswaldo Arcia


Ding ding. Looking back at the stats that Buxton/Sano/Arcia posted at 19/20/21/A+/AA, serves as a reminder. Kiriloff and Lewis look phenomenal. But there isn’t a guarantee that they are destined for superstardom.
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#18 dbminn

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 08:17 AM

Thanks Nick. You put some work into this series and it's appreciated.

 

If you're looking at the next three years, a player like Graterol may not have top ten impact (other than trade value). The same can be said for Lewis and even Kirilloff in the top 5 - at least until the third year. Maybe you're being optimistic? If so, I hope your prediction is true and these prospects are rocking the big leagues by 2020.

 

I had put together a list. I held off with my responses after 16-20 because I'm probably coming from a different angle. To me, the most important assets are already on the roster. Otherwise, the Twins will be rebuilding to 2022. My top ten:

 

1. Berrios - SP looks thin with sure bets. 4 yrs control.

2. Buxton - Still a ton of upside and I'm optimistic he'll become an average bat.

3. Polanco - Can hit and will find a spot in the IF for the next 4 yrs.

4. Kepler - Improved BB/K rate last year. He will get better, with 4 yrs control.

5. Kirilloff - I'm optimistic he'll be with the Twins to stay mid-2020.

6. Rosario - 3 yrs control, might not get better (that's ok). Important if Kirilloff needs more time.

7. Romero - Wasn't quite ready last year. Needs to become Berrios' wingman

8. Sano - Who knows? Might be irrelevant, might be top 3. 

9. Lewis - Outside chance he's ready in 2020. Twins really need a true SS.

10. Rogers - 4 yrs of a quality RP, which are in short supply right now.

 

I'd put Gibson with Rogers if they extend him. 

 

 

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#19 Nick Nelson

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 09:27 AM

 

Thanks Nick. You put some work into this series and it's appreciated.

 

If you're looking at the next three years, a player like Graterol may not have top ten impact (other than trade value). The same can be said for Lewis and even Kirilloff in the top 5 - at least until the third year. Maybe you're being optimistic? If so, I hope your prediction is true and these prospects are rocking the big leagues by 2020.

Here's the way I was looking at it, when thinking about prospects compared to presently established big-leaguers:

 

Is this prospect good enough that I could trade them right now and get a majorly impactful player that would considerably alter my short-term fortunes? With Lewis, Kirilloff, and Graterol, I think the answer is yes. With anyone else (at least on their own), I'm not so sure. That's why the true top-tier prospects are separated from the rest in this equation. 

 

Nick Gordon would probably bring back more in a trade than, say, C.J. Cron. But you're not getting any huge difference-maker for him. More than likely you're getting an okay MLB asset or a similar minor-league lotto ticket. Also, there's no logic to trading Gordon with his value all the way down so the point is moot. 

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#20 theBOMisthebomb

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Posted 04 January 2019 - 09:37 AM

Yes, Astudillo needs to be on the list. I would have downgraded Buxton to get him closer to Sano (wherever you rank those two they should be side by side). Although, I do hope you are correct that Buxton will have a productive 2019. I am hesitant Buxton will get back on track - mainly as his head is not on straight after not getting called up at the end of 2018. Buxton's struggles on the field have seemed to coincide with mental struggles. Although, I am not sure what came first - the chicken or the egg/Buxton's on-field or mental struggles. They seem intertwined. I think the Twins need to let Buxton play with no pressure, put him the #9 spot and tell him to just play baseball. The mental struggle seems real with Buxton.



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