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Matt's Top Prospect List + Explanations


Matt Braun

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  1. Royce Lewis

I have been conservative about Lewis for a while, and it is time to admit that he is the best prospect in the Twins system. His hit tool looks real, at least much better than before, and the eye test shows that he can currently play a passable shortstop, a significant point in his development. The Twins are lowering him into a super-utility role, which is fine given his athleticism, but I would prefer to have him challenged at shortstop every day. There is no real easy answer to that conundrum until Carlos Correa no longer calls that position home. For now, we shall appreciate watching a unique talent perform at the highest level for years to come.                                                

  1. Austin Martin 

2022 has not been the best season for Martin. He is striking out at a lower rate but is somehow hitting for less power than before; his season wRC+ sits at 95. While I have supreme confidence in his bat turning around eventually, his glove is a different story. He is not a shortstop; that is clear now. I’m not sure what position he can play, but the Twins will have to find one, and his value is now much lower as a super-utility guy unable to cover such a crucial position. He also has a ridiculous 20 steals, perhaps hinting at a skillset philosophy leaning closer towards a traditional, scrappy type of player. I think he’ll figure it out and become a useful major league player, but his future is far hazier than one prefers from one of their best prospects.                                  

  1. Jose Miranda          

Although not because of his performance, Miranda moves up one spot in my ranking. He hasn’t hit during his time in the majors, owning terrible batted ball data during his brief stint that ended with Lewis’ re-appearance on the Twins. One should never overreact to 70 plate appearances, and Miranda’s 2021 was so legendary that I tend to believe this to be a fad and not an indictment of his hitting ability. He owns a rare batting average/power combo that few in baseball can claim, and that alone is what keeps Miranda sitting near the top of this list. Time shall tell whether Miranda can find his groove again.          

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  1. Jordan Balazovic      

I’m still a firm believer in Balazovic as the team’s best pitching prospect, but it has been an extended period since he last unquestionably dominated hitters for a significant stretch, and it’s fair to lean into doubts. Early returns at AAA have been ugly, although the eye doesn’t catch exactly what the problem for him seems to be. He’s avoided major injury, but the nicks and dings are starting to add up, holding him back from being the “set-it-and-forget-it” ace that many thought he would become after his excellent 2018 and 2019 performances. Again, let’s not overreact, but it’s time for a correction of sorts for Balazovic.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  1. Noah Miller   

Miller is good, and people should recognize this as soon as possible. 19-year-old shortstops are not supposed to dominate A-ball like this, and the ones that do tend to become exceptional players. He’s hitting for a 146 wRC+ with reportedly silky smooth defense that could play if the team called him up tomorrow. He isn’t hitting for much power (ISO of .113), but that feels like an extreme nitpick for an otherwise otherworldly performance this far into the season. Get used to his name this high on prospect lists.

  1. Emmanuel Rodriguez

Rodriguez could have easily claimed the five spot, but Miller’s shortstop potential broke the tie, and Rodriguez ends up here. He’s also just 19, which is ridiculous, and he’s walking at a 27.3% clip while slugging .475. If one wanted to nitpick, he’s also striking out 28.5% of the time, a number digestible given his age, but one to keep an eye on given how sticky strikeout numbers tend to be as a player changes levels. His profile will clear up with time (mainly whether he owns discipline or is plain passive against wild pitchers), but things are exciting for the former international big shot signing. 

  1. Spencer Steer

I don’t think that Steer is legitimately a 147 wRC+ batter, but it is apparent that he is a well-rounded player with a potentially rare batting average/OBP/power combination. His best comp is probably Jose Miranda’s 2021 season which was equally impressive in how he didn’t have to sacrifice batting average for power. We’ve seen that combo struggle in the majors over a short sample with Miranda, but a player like Ty France proves that it can work with refinement. He can pass at both 3rd and 2nd base, giving the team options if they ever decide to clean out their gutter at 3rd or trade Jorge Polanco. 

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  1. Simeon Woods Richardson

I originally had Woods Richardson above the previous three hitters, but I kept questioning whether I was more excited about him or the other batters, and you can see the answer I came to. Woods Richardson’s ERA is excellent, but his FIP is merely passable, and his xFIP is dreadful; combine that with a suspicious BABIP, and I’m not sold that he has improved significantly since struggling at AA all of last season. He’s still just 21, which feels impossible, but his stock remains stagnant in my eyes.

  1. Matt Canterino

Canterino is a reliever. Usually, I don’t consider relievers prospects, but his stuff is so otherworldly that it’s not out of the question that he becomes a 2-3 inning fire-breathing dragon, which can be extremely valuable to every team in MLB. He has already bested his innings total from last season, and he should be up with the team down the stretch if he can remain healthy. Walks are up this year, but I believe that to be a mirage and not a loss of command for a pitcher who has otherwise thrown strikes during his time in the minors. 

  1. Cole Sands

I like Sands more than I probably should. He flashed an incredible sweeper during his cup of coffee, a pitch that I believe can carry him to some sort of helpful niche in the team’s pitching staff. The rest of his profile is pretty vanilla, and he’s currently on the IL, a statement often too true about Sands, but the power of his breaker keeps him elevated on my list.

  1. Ronny Henriquez

Henriquez is still a somewhat mysterious prospect. He came over as an afterthought in the Mitch Garver deal and has flashed some major league playable stuff but has yet to play enough for me to get as good of a read on him. It’s been a rough go at AAA so far, but he’s not even 22-years-old yet, and his development feels like it will be more of a slow burn a la Woods Richardson rather than a fiery explosion like Jhoan Duran. 

  1. Edouard Julien

Julien is unfortunately injured at the moment, but his profile is far too intriguing to ignore. It’s not every day that one comes across a player practically guaranteed to get on base at a .400 clip, but Julien is precisely that kind of player. His OBP is true, a sign of patience over passivity, which will carry him across all levels of baseball. He’s more positionless than one would like, but his bat projects so well that the Twins will find a way to make it work.

  1. Marco Raya

Raya was a popular pop-up pick in the pre-season, and he’s impressed so far with an 18.8 K-BB%. His stuff is electric, the classic mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider combo that fans can dream on with a curve and change that will need refinement as he elevates through the minors. It has been less than 30 innings into Raya’s professional debut, but it’s easy to see why the Twins were so high on him in the 2020 draft.

  1. David Festa

The Twins system has lost top-end credibility due to some graduations and players in that tier struggling, but their middle area has beefed up considerably thanks to arms like Festa. Festa came out of nowhere in 2022, dominating hitters with Fort Myers before enjoying a promotion to Cedar Rapids. His K-BB% sits at 28.9%, the highest in the system amongst pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings.

  1. Christian Encarnacion-Strand

Encarnacion-Strand went supernova to begin the season, netting all the RBIs before gently cooling off and settling in as a merely great, not Bondsian hitter. Evaluators are still baffled by Encarnacion-Strand; he fits into the scary right/first baseman/college bucket from which hitters go to die (or become Pete Alonso), and it’s unclear if he’s made proper adjustments since joining the Twins organization. For now, it’s best to shrug your shoulders and continue to ride the wave.

  1. Cade Povich

Povich, like Raya, was also a popular breakout pick for 2022. He’s responded with an eye-catching 27.4 K-BB%, a total bested only by Shane McClanahan amongst qualified MLB pitchers this year. It’s not a 1:1 comp, but his success should not be understated, and he could find himself at AA sooner rather than later at this rate.

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  1. Blayne Enlow

I remain a firm believer in Enlow. Tommy John surgery derailed his path to AA in 2021, but he recently returned from the procedure, and his performance the rest of the season will help illuminate his prospect status; it says a lot that the Twins protected him in the rule 5 draft despite his injuries and underperformance. 

  1. Brayan Medina

Medina has yet to pitch in an organized game for the Twins, so this ranking is an aggregate of other publications rather than a personal evaluation.                                                                             

  1. Louie Varland   

Varland is not having as fine a season like 2020, but he has still settled in as a consistent, reliable arm at AA. The walks have crept up while his home run rate has ballooned, perhaps an ominous sign of regression waiting in the wings. Back-sliding has not hit yet, so he remains solidly in the mid-tier of prospects until otherwise.      

  1. Steve Hajjar

Hajjar, like Povich, was an intriguing breakout arm to keep an eye on in 2022. He’s punched out a small army but has also walked far too many batters for his good; less than 50% of plate appearances against him have ended with a ball put into play. It has been less than 30 innings, but I’m far leerier of his skillset translating unless he tames his walks. 

  1. Brent Headrick

Like Gipson-Long in the next spot, Headrick is an old-for-his-level starter who has easily crushed his competition. His command is much improved in 2022, and hitters are now overwhelmed by stuff that they can no longer just wait out for the inevitable walk. He’s so similar to Gipson-Long in this regard that I gave him the one-spot nod for better peripherals (28.3 K-BB %).

  1. Sawyer Gipson-Long

Gipson-Long is an old-for-the-level starter but should not be ignored when looking at this system. He has picked up right where he left off in 2021, owning the 9th best K-BB% rate amongst all pitchers with 30 innings in the system this year (22.4%). He should get a taste of AA soon, which will help illuminate his prospect status more than feasting on A+ hitters. 

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  1. Kala’i Rosario

Rosario is a raw, toolsy prospect dipping into the full-season waters for the first time. His 94 wRC+ is far from disastrous, but his 39.2% strikeout rate is ghastly, perhaps a sign that he’s still too green. As a 19-year-old, he exists in that frustrating “potential” sphere of prospect evaluation where his struggles are summed up as him “learning,” and no actual analysis is gleaned from his performance. In summary: early returns are not favorable but not indictable yet. 

  1. Matt Wallner 

To be blunt, I have little faith in Wallner becoming a valuable major league player. Hitters who strike out 34% of the time need legendary power to negate their whiffs, and Wallner seems to have merely great, not jaw-dropping power. He can still walk and bop homers, but I remain skeptical of his skillset translating at the major league level; Brent Rooker soured any ability I have to overlook one’s strikeout rate.

  1. Aaron Sabato

Speaking of hitters striking out too much, Sabato has been disappointing since the Twins took him in the 1st round in 2020. He can take a walk, but his ISO is far lower than one wants from a pure 1st baseman (.163). At this point, I don’t expect Sabato to become a useful contributor for the Twins, and he can join Keoni Cavaco in the club of “Falvey and Levine’s unwise 1st round picks.” Speaking of which…

  1. Keoni Cavaco

Cavaco has never shown any consistent ability to hit at any level during any extended period of play. His career minor league OBP begins with a .2, which should tell you everything you need to know. Yes, injuries have played a role in his poor performance, but injuries can’t excuse his immense strikeout problems, and his ranking on any prospect list is honorary at this point. I’m holding on to his draft pedigree, but he will be dropped soon unless his performance turns around.

  1. John Stankiewicz

I have no idea what to make of Stankiewicz. He was an undrafted free agent in 2020 and has performed very well during his time in the Twins system. Time will tell if it’s a lower-level mirage, but he should still be a name to remember throughout the remainder of the season. 

  1. Jake Rucker

I just wanted to get Rucker a mention on one of these lists. Since the Twins drafted him in 2021, he's held his own and has improved his ISO (.059 to .111) despite the rest of his stat-line not falling in line. He feels like the kind of prospect who can suddenly be in AAA despite flying under the radar for the entirety of his professional career. 

  1. Misael Urbina

Urbina showed great peripherals in 2021 (12.3% walk rate, 18.7% K rate), which lost out overall to his otherwise poor slash line. Visa issues have delayed the start of his season, which is both a shame and a detriment to his development. Hopefully, he’ll be playing baseball in the Twins system soon.

  1. Drew Strotman

The clickbait 30 spot goes to Strotman out of deference towards teams far wiser than I. The Rays added Strotman to the 40-man roster, and the Twins targeted him in a trade now overshadowed by Joe Ryan’s success, showing that there are franchises that believe in him. He is now a reliever, limiting his upside, but I’ll wait to give up on him when the Twins do.

 

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Put Lewis at Firstbase and be done with it. Have you seen the play at 1st? It cost us the game last night with the lousy throw 2 feet behind the Pitcher.  Otherwise LF. Stop trying to chase Correa away. We know the Twins would love to dump Correa salary and say "Oh, we have Lewis". But KEEP BOTH!!

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I think your list is largely accurate, with good comments on each. I could argue a few placements, but that's really just nit-picking and pointless. But I wanted to comment on a few guys here.

1] Never understood all the questions about Lewis' defense. Ive seen enough in ST games, milb highlights, and his brief ML time to see a kid who is a great athlete who has the hands, range, arm, and pure athleticism to be at least a quality ML SS. If you can make the great plays, it's a matter of time and experience to make the routine plays more consistently. He's probably never going to be a Correa type defensively, but so few are. I think he's going to be very good, if not excellent, with his glove with a little more time. He's still so damn young.

2] Martin has too much natural ability for the bat to not catch up. Crazy the expectations some have placed on him. College to nothing in 2020 and then straight to AA in his pro debut. The kid needs and deserves a little time, not unreal expectations of reaching the majors in 2022. I believe SOME power WILL COME. Again, just too much talent to not expect it to come. But he doesn't have to be a slugger to be very valuable. How about 30+ doubles with some triples and double digit HR's along with AVG and OB and speed that provides SB? Agreed he's probably not a real SS, but could play 2B and 3B and, IMO, should work there but be transitioned to the OF. I see him as an outstanding defensive LF who can also play CF. I get so frustrated when I read comments that he just won't be a quality offensive player without 20+ HR power for being an OF. When was it decided LF had to be a questionable defensive performer with power? I see Martin as being a clone of Alex Gordon, with more speed and a little less power, perhaps. 

3] Miranda is still young and developing. He was a high pick the FO liked and was just waiting for the bat to catch up. That started in 2021. He's a rookie who has struggled initially...as if that's never happened before...but was starting to hit much better before his brief demotion. I think the bat is going to be just fine, though it's a question when the bulb begins to burn brightly. See "Lewis" in regard to settling down defensively as just being more consistent. The ability is there to at least be solid.

4] I just can't get too down on Balazovic with his slow start. He's behind everyone with his late start. Everything is there to be very good. I'm betting by August, if not sooner, we're all very excited for him in 2023 and will forget about his rough start.

5] Miller/Rodriguez: I get being torn between these two. Miller has surpassed my expectations and plays a premium position. Crazy how good he's looked so far in both areas. Man, if some power comes, LOOK OUT! I just cant believe how good and disciplined Rodriguez looks, while still providing power and production. I wouldn't want to "rob" him of his discipline, but I think he really starts cranking when he sacrifices a little bit of that discipline to hack and use his inate power.

6] Canterino is one of the guys that I think you have too low. Maybe I'm just blindly optimistic, but I think he's a legitimate SP at this point. His stuff is crazy good and should continue to develop and play up as he gets time. Much is made about his wind-up. But Canterino has stated he's used it for years and feels comfortable with it. To my knowledge, he never had a concerning injury of any sort in college. The Twins only limited him in 2019 due to IP. His injury in 2021 didn't require any surgery, and happened after he missed 2020 like so many others. He's being brought along slowly this year, which I appreciate and applaud, and looking about as good as ever. At this point, I just don't understand calls to move him to the pen. Why? Desperation to help the parent club? No way, IMO. His stuff is just too damn good for a knee-jerk reaction. 

And I'm going to add Festa here as well. Drafted, he's very tall and lanky, almost Ober-like, with vast potential to work with. He's EXACTLY the kind of projectile college arm the Twins love. He's already been promoted once, and there are already calls that he could be fast-tracked to the ML as a pen piece. Again, why? Why the rush and insistence to take an arm with SP potential and push him to the pen? 

7] SWR and Henriquez are exactly where they should be. A pair of 21-22yo who should maybe be in A ball. Tons of talent and potential. And if they make a sudden jump, so be it. Move them up. But I'm very happy if they just sit at Wichita all year and just grow and get better.

8] Your higher on Sands right now than I am, and I was previously optimistic. I was really encouraged by his 2021 and his first couple of starts for St Paul. Suddenly the wheels came off. He's driving me crazy. I've watched him pitch every game for the Twins, including the Detroit game tonight, and he is wild and hangs stuff, and then I see a couple great pitches and a couple great IP and I wonder what is wrong? Kaat was the color man tonight and he felt he was opening up too early and falling off toward 1st base too much. Could it be that simple? I see "stuff" and potential with Sands, but there is something missing. It may be confidence. It may be his follow through. Might be both. I think there is an arm to work with there, I'm just not sure what to do with it.

9] Steer and Julien, to me, are sort of a "package" . Steer MIGHT just claim a starting spot in the next year or so. I still believe Miranda is the future 3B. But if for some reason he doesn't take hold, Steer just might. I believe he's going to be a "Marwin" type who plays 4 spots well and provides some good offense. I suspect Julien is going to be similar, play almost every day but not be a "starter". He will play 3 INF spots, LF, and occasionally DH and be a "sparkplug" type of player. This is where a really nice player like Gordon gets pushed out.

10] Povich and Hajjar, is very interesting to me. You have a pair of top Big 10 pitchers who are so easily dismissed because of where they played, despite their success. Povich was drafted WAY higher than projected. Hajjar has the build and potential to be a SP and innings eater. Early results tell me Povich will be challenging for a rotation spot in 2024 and Hajjar will be a potentially dominate BP piece at the same time.

GUILTY PLEASURE: There is SOMETHING about Raya since he was drafted that told me he was Berrios part 2.

MISSED: I really thought Strotman was going to make a difference at some point this year. I just can't understand how far he's fallen off.

 

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Balazovic is my disappointment of the year so far. I really want him to succeed.  I have not been on the Martin Band wagon and would drop him a few places until he can establish a position. 

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I wouldn't feel bad about not giving Lewis the benefit of the doubt. I don't think anyone expected him to come out of the gate this year like he has. The talent was certainly always there, but he has never had a sustained run of success in the minors. Injuries certainly played a part of that, and are still a concern going forward.

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