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Article: Feeling The Draft: Analyzing Minnesota's Stellar Early Returns


When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over the Minnesota Twins front office, they inherited a tremendous gift: the first overall pick, along with the largest signing pool ever, in the upcoming MLB Draft.

 

This gift was also a potential curse, because if they didn't get it right, the new top execs were going to be judged harshly on their choices in this first draft for many years to come.

 

We're still a long way from being able to make any truly meaningful assessments, but here in the early going, the team's decisions could hardly look better.In his recent Q&A at the Baseball Prospectus Target Field event, the general manager Levine shared some insights on the front office's drafting process, which featured an increased emphasis on analytics:

 

For the first time, the organization had the analytics department put together a model to kind of inform us of some of the decisions we can make in the draft, and just big picture, without getting into too many details. If you tell us what the percentage chance was of the player appearing in one of the next three picks that we had, if you don't take them in the second round, what are the chances he'll be in the third, fourth, or fifth round.

This method likely helped facilitate the key maneuver that defined Minnesota's draft: making a surprise pick at No. 1 in Royce Lewis, then using the savings from that selection to later take high school right-hander Blayne Enlow at the top of the third round and sign him with a hugely over-slot bonus.

 

Those two teenagers are both experiencing incredible success in their introductions to the pro ranks, making the Twins look very savvy.

 

Lewis reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and dominated at the plate over 39 games before earning a promotion to Class-A Cedar Rapids last weekend. For a prep pick to reach a full-season league in the same year he was drafted is exceedingly rare (not even Carlos Correa, who we're all dreaming on as a Lewis comp, did it), but it speaks to the 18-year-old's extremely advanced game.

 

The shortstop has made himself right at home as one of the Midwest League's youngest players, going 7-for-13 in his first three games with the Kernels. The last top draft pick for the Twins, Joe Mauer, reached the majors shortly before his 21st birthday, and no younger player has debuted for the franchise since. Lewis is now on track to beat him – maybe handily.

 

Enlow, too, has been sensational in his initial sample. Through four appearances in the GCL, he has a 1.29 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. The righty has faced 54 batters and allowed only three walks and seven hits (five of them singles) while striking out 14 with a 57 percent grounder rate. It doesn't get much better than that.

 

It was surprising that Enlow, ranked as the 33rd best prospect in the class by Baseball America ahead of the draft, fell all the way to the Twins at No. 76 overall, especially because he was widely reputed to have the best curveball of any high schooler in the draft and that pitch has increasingly become a central focus in the game.

 

But it worked out, and the analytics system Levine alluded to may have played into that.

 

Oh, and about that beautiful curveball. Enlow himself likes to admire it, and who can blame him?

 

 

Looking beyond Lewis and Enlow, nearly every other high-end draft pick from this class is showing positive early signs.

 

Brent Rooker, the collegiate slugger taken with their second pick at No. 35, has already moved up to High-A Fort Myers, and was just named Player of the Week in the Florida State League following a monster stretch for the Miracle. The polished 22-year-old hitter is on the fast track and could conceivably be in Minnesota next year. His presence looms large since the Twins have an upcoming vacancy at first base, and had no particularly attractive long-term solution before Rooker joined the organization.

 

Second-round prep right-hander Landon Leach has looked very sharp in the GCL. Fourth-round left-hander Charlie Barnes has excelled and earned a promotion from Elizabethton to Cedar Rapids. Fifth-rounder Andrew Bechtold, a third baseman out of the University of Maryland, is hitting .311/.414/.472 through 32 games in the Appalachian League.

 

Other pitchers taken in the top 10 rounds, Ryley Widell (7th), Bryan Sammons (8th) and Calvin Faucher (10th) are – without exception – off to terrific starts as pros, racking up strikeouts and shutting down opponents.

 

We're barely two months past the 2017 MLB Draft, and these players have sample sizes so small it would be absurd to draw any definitive conclusions from what we've seen. Still, it's impossible to look at Minnesota's class at this point and not be reaffirmed in your belief in this new regime.

 

The Twins followed a strategy that was viewed by many at the time as unconventional and controversial. Right now, it's looking awfully smart.

 

So far, their batting average in this draft is even higher than Lewis's in the Midwest League.

 

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I recall hearing from a number of analysts that the reason Enlow fell to the Twins in the third round is his high asking price of $2 million. Very few could pay that after the first round. Worth noting that Keith Law ranked him the 14th best prospect in the draft (although that was definitely the highest). We shouldn't be suprirsed if the guy is very talented and does well. I'd probably rank him in the top 7-8 Twins prospects now based on scouting and small sample size.

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GCL stats have almost no predictive value, even in larger samples. Leach in particular has barely played, so I'm puzzled by the contention that he's "looked sharp."

 

Rooker's stats aren't particularly great for a 22 year-old, bat-only player. 

 

Barnes' peripherals have been downright awful for an advanced college arm. 

 

For the most part, the stats so far tell us nothing we didn't know already. I can see an argument that Lewis' stock is up slightly and Rooker's down slightly, but that's about it. No one after Enlow really is a serious prospect anyway, so until they show something significant there's no reason to hype them up.

 

 

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On Rooker:

 

His presence looms large since the Twins have an upcoming vacancy at first base, and had no particularly attractive long-term solution before Rooker joined the organization.

 

Um, Miguel Sano, dollars to donuts, is a 1B for 29 teams in MLB.  He is 6'4", 275 lbs and likes to snack.

 

Twins best start looking for third sacker, preferably one that doesn't strike out so much.

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Jury is still out, as you state. But it looks good so far. Rather surprised Lewis was the first pick, but not shocked. Everyone wanted pitching, and immediate pitching, including me. But drafting the top HS position player in the draft with high makeup wasn't a bad choice. Thus far, he's looked outstanding.

 

Only bad thing about your thread is the timing. Honestly Nick, I appreciate the read and your intentions with early returns and the new FO, but how much stronger and meaningful could this post be a year from now with a re-visit?

 

For that matter, how about a re-vist/re-cap on last year's draft?

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The jury is still out as to whether Lewis plus embold is a greater return than McKay or Kyle wright. Considering the organization has two international shortstops plus Gordon at that position perhaps one of the college pitchers could contribute faster. I'm not sure I go along with the philosophy of lowballing your top pick so you can overpay your third pick.

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GCL stats have almost no predictive value, even in larger samples. Leach in particular has barely played, so I'm puzzled by the contention that he's "looked sharp."

 

Rooker's stats aren't particularly great for a 22 year-old, bat-only player. 

 

Barnes' peripherals have been downright awful for an advanced college arm. 

 

For the most part, the stats so far tell us nothing we didn't know already. I can see an argument that Lewis' stock is up slightly and Rooker's down slightly, but that's about it. No one after Enlow really is a serious prospect anyway, so until they show something significant there's no reason to hype them up.

 

That's not completely true. They have predictive value for players who do well and are younger than the league average. The prep players doing well in the rookie leagues should be very encouraging, given that the league average age is around 20.

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Great early returns...

 

Rooker's already in Ft. Myers, way ahead of a 'normal' draft curve.

Charlie Barnes, Bryan Sammons and Jordan Gore are already up in Cedar Rapids and doing well.

And Lewis being in Cedar Rapids is  quite unusual... It's exciting to see. 

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I loved this report and I would like to see another at the end of the year and every couple of months during the year.  This is out signature move from the FO and tracking the players is fun as far as I am concerned.  I am not worried about SSS and conclusions, I like to see how they are doing so that when conclusions and decisions are made I can understand them better.  Thanks for the post, my curiosity has been high.

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On Rooker:

 

His presence looms large since the Twins have an upcoming vacancy at first base, and had no particularly attractive long-term solution before Rooker joined the organization.

 

Um, Miguel Sano, dollars to donuts, is a 1B for 29 teams in MLB.  He is 6'4", 275 lbs and likes to snack.

 

Twins best start looking for third sacker, preferably one that doesn't strike out so much.

 

Seriously? 

 

I get so tired of this sentiment. Sano may not be Brooks Robinson. But he made a spectacular play last night, and he's made significant improvements in his defense versus last year. He works hard at it, and wants to be a good player. As he showed last night, and on many other occasions, he can make seriously good plays over there. Give him time.

 

He's only 24 years old. This is his first full season in the majors playing third base. He can definitely. And his best value is as a third baseman, period. 

 

That's also the best option for the Twins, who can get a number of people to play first base -- you know, like the aforementioned Rooker, or Alex Kiriloff. I doubt anybody in the minors in the Twins' system, not Nick Gordon, not Wander Javier, not Royce Lewis, has the hitting potential that Sano has and is showing. 

 

People shouldn't be so quick to put Sano at first base or designated hitter. 

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Or maybe we can move Sano to RF and Rooker to 1st in a few years. Oh wait that was we did that already. Thanks for the update. I don't blame many Twins fans for their pessimism due to the many moves made by the prior Twins braintrust. It is difficult to stay positive after the dry spell we have had. I however, am a believer in Falvey and Co. I like the out of the box thought process of the recent draft. No-one could have anticipated the long list of injuries to pitching prospects and May that we've run into this year. The glass is half full in my eyes and am excited to see what they will do in the off season. GO TWINS.

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Yup, no reason to move Sano off of 3B for awhile... Maybe 4-5 years... maybe 7-8 years. 

 

That's also why it's good to get Rooker some position flexibility, so that he could play LF and 1B and DH. Sano can play 3B, 1B and DH (would have been nice if he'd tried out in the OF, though fortunately now with Rosario, Buxton and Kepler, it isn't as necessary now). 

 

 

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Seriously? 

 

I get so tired of this sentiment. Sano may not be Brooks Robinson. But he made a spectacular play last night, and he's made significant improvements in his defense versus last year. He works hard at it, and wants to be a good player. As he showed last night, and on many other occasions, he can make seriously good plays over there. Give him time.

 

He's only 24 years old. This is his first full season in the majors playing third base. He can definitely. And his best value is as a third baseman, period. 

 

That's also the best option for the Twins, who can get a number of people to play first base -- you know, like the aforementioned Rooker, or Alex Kiriloff. I doubt anybody in the minors in the Twins' system, not Nick Gordon, not Wander Javier, not Royce Lewis, has the hitting potential that Sano has and is showing. 

 

People shouldn't be so quick to put Sano at first base or designated hitter. 

The vast majority of MLB players can make spectacular plays at the edge of their range, but that means very little about their overall ability to convert batted balls into outs. Sano at third isn't the liability that he was in right field last year, but it is a stretch to say that he is an asset there. He is competent in that he can make the routine play, and he is pretty good at charging. But there is a lot of evidence now that he just doesn't get to a lot of balls that better third-basemen can get to. If you look any of the advanced stats (UZR, DRS) or even just the percentange of balls that he is able to convert into outs, it is pretty clear that he doesn't make as many plays as a typical third-baseman. Obviously, in the short-term Sano is staying at third. But looking ahead to 2019 (post-Mauer), it has to be a serious consideration - and prehaps the best way to improve the team - to move Sano to first.

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The vast majority of MLB players can make spectacular plays at the edge of their range, but that means very little about their overall ability to convert batted balls into outs. Sano at third isn't the liability that he was in right field last year, but it is a stretch to say that he is an asset there. He is competent in that he can make the routine play, and he is pretty good at charging. But there is a lot of evidence now that he just doesn't get to a lot of balls that better third-basemen can get to. If you look any of the advanced stats (UZR, DRS) or even just the percentange of balls that he is able to convert into outs, it is pretty clear that he doesn't make as many plays as a typical third-baseman. Obviously, in the short-term Sano is staying at third. But looking ahead to 2019 (post-Mauer), it has to be a serious consideration - and prehaps the best way to improve the team - to move Sano to first.

 

No. No no no.

 

The best strategy is to keep him at third and let him develop there. He is still young. He has had only one real season playing at third. His bat is much more valuable at third than it is at first. There is zero -- ZERO -- reasons to move him off of that position. Even with his alleged defensive liability he is still the most valuable single player on the Twins team, per WAR. 

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The vast majority of MLB players can make spectacular plays at the edge of their range, but that means very little about their overall ability to convert batted balls into outs. Sano at third isn't the liability that he was in right field last year, but it is a stretch to say that he is an asset there. He is competent in that he can make the routine play, and he is pretty good at charging. But there is a lot of evidence now that he just doesn't get to a lot of balls that better third-basemen can get to. If you look any of the advanced stats (UZR, DRS) or even just the percentange of balls that he is able to convert into outs, it is pretty clear that he doesn't make as many plays as a typical third-baseman. Obviously, in the short-term Sano is staying at third. But looking ahead to 2019 (post-Mauer), it has to be a serious consideration - and prehaps the best way to improve the team - to move Sano to first.

 

And by the way, on the play last night, Sano went deep into foul territory and threw across the diamond to get Austin Jackson, who isn't exactly a plodder.

 

If that's the "edge of his range," that's one hell of a range. And that arm should not be at first base.

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Some commenters seem to think that first base is a place to hide your worst defensive player. That's what the DH is. As Maurer has shown often this year (and Vic Power for those of you with good memories), a good-fielding first baseman makes the entire infield a better defensive unit. Leave Sano at third, where he is competent, and find a good fielding, offensive first baseman to replace Maurer in the future.

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Enlow, too, has been sensational in his initial sample. Through four appearances in the GCL, he has a 1.29 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. The righty has faced 54 batters and allowed only three walks and seven hits (five of them singles) while striking out 14 with a 57 percent grounder rate. It doesn't get much better than that.

Reminded me statistically of Kohl Stewart's rookie league performance: 20 IP, 1.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 84 batters faced, 4 walks, 13 hits (10 singles), while striking out 24 with a 50 percent grounder rate. Should that have reaffirmed our belief in the old regime? :)

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Lewin Diaz would beg to disagree with this.  I would suspect that the Twins see Rooker more like an OF (and his usage shows this) than a 1B, which is ok, because there is not a glut of OF power in the organiziation as well.  Good problem to have, but it is not like there were not other first basemen in the organization.  Vargas should probably added to that list.

 

the Twins have an upcoming vacancy at first base, and had no particularly attractive long-term solution before Rooker joined the organization.
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No. No no no.

 

The best strategy is to keep him at third and let him develop there. He is still young. He has had only one real season playing at third. His bat is much more valuable at third than it is at first. There is zero -- ZERO -- reasons to move him off of that position. Even with his alleged defensive liability he is still the most valuable single player on the Twins team, per WAR. 

I'm not saying they need to move him today, but it should at least be in consideration when Mauer moves off 1B after 2018. Sano is 24, which isn't actually young from a defensive perspective. Defensive ability is primarily about having the athleticism and reflexes to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and there are a lot of studies that indicate that defensive ability peaks in the early-twenties. What are the chances that he is going to get quicker and faster at this point? It is likely then that we are seeing Sano at his athletic and defensive peak right now. And that peak is already below-average. For as good as the play was last night, he is making plays on <63% of the balls in his zone, while the average 3B is at 70% and the best are >75%. Over a full season, that is 15-20 extra hits.

 

Nothing in baseball is a given, so there is certainly a chance that Sano's defensive progression is an outlier going forward. But I wouldn't rely on it. Given that he is already below-average and that he is probably going to continue to get less athletic, I think he will be the running for worst defensive third baseman in baseball by 2019.

 

And again, I'm not saying they need to move him today. They don't need to do anything until after the 2018 season. But this idea that Sano is now cemented at 3B for the next 5 years seems incredibly limiting. By 2019 there are all kinds of scenarios where it makes sense to move him off 3B. Maybe it is cheaper/easier to upgrade at 3B rather than 1B. Maybe based on the makeup of the pitching staff it will make sense to improve the overall infield defense. Maybe 1B is less of an injury risk, or less taxing on such a big body.

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