Jim Pohlad made the decision to hire Derek Falvey 6 years ago after a disappointing 2016 season where expectations were raised based on improvements seen in 2015. The primary decision to choose Falvey was modernizing the player development system with analytics so the Twins' farm system could sustain competitive play long term operating like a smaller market team. The biggest issue the Twins had was their utter failure to develop front line starters. Jose Berrios, despite his stellar numbers in the minors, had been eaten alive by MLB hitters and the farm system was looking a bit rough. Naturally, having graduated Sano, Buxton, Kepler, and Berrios in the last two years, that's going to see a farm system take a beating.
Falvey went into 2017's playoffs with a virtually identical team as the Twins fielded in 2016, and again in 2019 and 2020. The winning tradition was restored! Except Falvey did it all with a roster largely created from the drafts and signings of Bill Smith and Terry Ryan. Falvey had major hits... but most of the hits eventually turned into misses. Ervin Santana, Jake Odorizzi and Jason Castro all ended their time with the Twins with a whimper, but this article is really about the sustainability factor. That's why Falvey was hired. Not for free agent signings. For a sustainable, productive draft and development system built from analytics and cutting edge baseball knowledge.
I graded Falvey's top 3 rounds of drafting a couple months ago, and the situation has changed quite a bit, but again, I'm interested in the sustainability of the team. What do the Twins have in the system to fill the enormous holes on the roster coming up? Again, the idea was not that Falvey constructs a roster out of free agents when he was hired. What did the system look like when Falvey started?
#1 - Nick Gordon*
#2 - Tyler Jay
#3 - Fernando Romero*
#4 - Alex Kirilloff*
#5 - Stephen Gonsalves*
#6 - Wander Javier
#7 - Kohl Stewart*
#8 - Adalberto Mejia*
#9 - Ben Rortvedt*
#10 - Zach Granite*
*7 of those players made significant appearances at the MLB level, and in general, they were viewed pretty highly at the time. The Twins' farm system was right in the middle.
So what about today? There isn't much there. MLB's top prospects set for the Twins are:
#1 Lewis (a23)- Undoubtedly the only elite prospect in the Twins system. He could be a star. He's also younger than Martin or Balazovic... as hard as that is to believe. Lewis torched AAA and proceeded to shine bright in a handful of plate appearances at the MLB level. With a character as brilliant as his athleticism, the sky is the limit... if he can stay on the field and prove his performance wasn't a SSS fluke.
#2 Martin (a23) - Has seen his stock take a real beating this year. He went from a consensus top 50 prospect to falling well out of the top 100 on the failure to develop power and a lower batting average coupled with embarrassing defense. There was improvement in Martin's defense at SS with the error rate trending towards almost acceptable, but Martin's suffered an injured elbow diving for a ball at the beginning of July. It wasn't expected to be a big deal, but here we are a month later and he still hasn't played while (stop me if you've heard this one) the Twins hadn't been able to diagnose the issue at least as of mid July...
#3 Balazovic (a23) - If Martin's stock had a silver lining, it's Balazovic's stock. It's not possible to understate how disastrous his performance has been this year. He wouldn't even be ranked on a good farm system top 15 at this point. While there is the hope Balazovic's struggles are related to injury, the Twins don't seem to feel like the injury is an issue. They keep sending him out, Balazovic continues to get consistently destroyed.
#4 Woods-Richardson (a21) - He had another great start to the season, but he started struggling with control like last year leading to a rocketing WHIP and lots of runs. Then, there was a lengthy IL trip for COVID. Woods-Richardson probably moves to my #2 prospect in the Twins system at this point with overall impressive strike out rates, a great 4 pitch combo and stretches where he dominates. There's still a lot of potential.
#5 Matt Canterino - (a24) - Bordering on non-prospect age, Canterino is putting up impressive K rates with equally depressing BB rates in AA. He's working his way back from yet another elbow strain in the Florida Complex league where he was knocked around in his latest 1 inning appearance. He's certainly not a top 10 prospect in a good farm system and hasn't pitched into the 5 inning this year.
#6 Noah Miller (a19) - The only remaining draft pick from the first 3 rounds of 2021's draft now that Petty, Povich and Hajjar have all been moved, Miller is holding his own at the plate in Ft. Myers while playing very good defense. He's not an elite prospect at this point, but there's a chance Miller can improve his contact skills as he was drafted out of high school. Right now, Miller looks passive at the plate with a 15% walk and 25% strikeout rate more associated with power hitters, but Miller's power tool is scouted as pretty modest and he hasn't shown any of it this year.
#7 Matt Wallner (a24) - Wallner was racing up the prospect lists as a full fledged supernova-style bright spot in the Twins' system. Since his promotion to AAA, Wallner has gone stone cold with a .116/.224/.140 triple slash. That said, it's just 49 plate appearances. Please, please let his swing return to crush the opponent pitchers to end the season.
#8 Misael Urbina (a20) - A speedy center fielder international prospect signed out of Venezuela, Urbina had a really great year in Ft. Myers last season. Unfortunately, he missed half this year due to visa issues. Currently getting his legs under him back in rookie ball, Urbina's hoping to salvage the season.
#9 Brayan Medina (a19) - Came over in the Rogers/Rooker trade for Paddack/Pagan as a toss in. It speaks volumes when the Padres' PTBNL is in your top 10... In rookie ball, Medina has walked a ton of batters while holding the hits to a reasonable number with the help of a .265 BABIP and paltry 5.0% HR/FB rate. He's not in a good farm's top 20, possibly not top 30.
#10 Ronny Henriquez (a22) - The extra player received as part of the Garver trade to the Rangers, Henriquez has struggled to keep batters off the base paths in AAA. Ronny was ranked as the Rangers #15 prospect due to his ability to generate strikeouts and limit the free pass last year in AA. He's probably taken a step back this year as the walk rate has increased by 50% at AAA and batters have been able to generate hits at will leading to his 1.52 WHIP and very rough 5.71 ERA. Also, the Twins have not really been limiting pitches much with Henriquez allowing him to throw up to 92... but he's rarely been able to finish 5 innings. That said, Henriquez has been able to keep a solid K% (though certainly not elite for MiLB), the .352 BABIP is way too high and the walk rate still isn't terrible by any means. So there's still some potential. On a good farm, Henriquez is probably borderline top 20, helped by his age.
I'd argue the farm is currently a big step back from the position it was in back at the start of 2017, where it was middle of the pack. Barring some real turnarounds, I expect the Twins to grade out bottom 5.
So where does that leave Falvey? He was brought in to rebuild the farm system so it would produce high value prospects and especially stock the rotation with high value, inexpensive cost controlled rotation arms the Twins could depend on for several years. While the farm has essentially produced 2 years of Sonny Gray, he's not cheap at $12MM per year and 2 years is hardly a long time. We also used the farm to pick up Tyler Mahle for 1.5 years, but he's also not going to be cheap next year, and certainly not long term. Maybe $12MM? The one glowing example in terms of expense and control is honestly Kenta Maeda. We got 4 years of a cheap, high value rotation arm from moving Brusdar Graterol. That said, I'm not sure the agreed upon strategy was to trade all the talent in the MiLB system for a couple years of productive MLB starters. That's not sustainable and it honestly hasn't been cheap overall. Instead, the Twins have typically felt like a directionless Frankenstein monster to me, pieced together each offseason in the hopes the pieces all gel and what comes out is a lightning strike with the scream "It's ALIVE!!" to begin a playoff season.
Of course, winning solves everything. If the Twins win the World Series or even win a single playoff series, all will likely be forgotten. Every step short of that, though, has to heat up the seat under Falvey, especially given Falvey stretched the Twins' budget to $138MM (and beyond with recent trades) this year. Hard to believe the Twins turn a profit based on the attendance levels I saw and the Pohlads do not run this team as a hobby.