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Twins Daily 2022 Top Prospects: #1 Austin Martin


In June of 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Austin Martin fifth overall. They paid $7 million to sign him (more than Royce Lewis got as the top overall pick three years earlier), envisioning the collegiate superstar as a centerpiece in their plans going forward.

One year later, they traded him to the Twins at the deadline for José Berríos. Did the Jays sell low? Did the Twins buy high? Somewhere in between? That is the question.

Age: 22 (DOB: 3/23/99)
2021 Stats (AA): 418 PA, .270/.414/.382, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 67 R, 14 SB
ETA: 2022
2021 Ranking: NA

National Top 100 Rankings
BA: 47 | MLB: 36 | ATH: 25 | BP: 52

What's To Like
Derek Falvey has likely had eyes on Martin for some time. Just months after Falvey claimed Minnesota's top front office job, Cleveland drafted Martin out of high school in the 37th round of the 2017 draft. Of course, he didn't sign. 

Instead, the Florida prep phenom headed to Vanderbilt, where he solidified himself as one of the best young baseball players in the country, dazzling evaluators with his athleticism and stellar plate discipline while putting up monster stats.

Three years later, Martin had emerged as a top draft prospect, viewed by some as a worthy #1 overall pick. He ended up going fifth to Toronto, and instantly became one of the best prospects in the game. The COVID shutdown prevented him from debuting in 2020, but last year Martin went straight to Double-A, where he led the league in on-base percentage (.414).

I can hardly overstate how impressive it is for a first-year pro to lead all of Double-A – a level populated by many of the game's finest prospects –  in the most crucial offensive statistic. Martin blended his keen eye at the plate with his knack for taking an HBP to reach base at a spectacular rate. After coming to the Twins, he reached base via BB or HBP in 20% of his plate appearances.

Meanwhile, he split time between the two most valuable (non-catcher) positions: center field and shortstop. 

He's an elite young talent, ranked as one of the top 50 (or so) prospects in the game by every major outlet. Martin has established a high floor as a contact-hitting OBP machine who brings value in every facet of the game. He's a plus runner, and while the power didn't show up in his first pro season, that is frequently a later tool to materialize. He has all the ingredients to make it happen.

"Making it happen" is exactly what Martin has done up to this point. He brings a tremendous skill set and also that added dimension of "superstar aura," which exuded heavily at Vanderbilt. 

He's electric. He's confident. He's a gamer and a playmaker. You want to see him in big spots.

An All-Star in the making? The Blue Jays seemingly didn't think so.

What's Left To Work On
Just like his immense talent, Martin's question marks and barriers are plain to see. 

First, there is the lack of a clear defensive home. Nobody believes he'll play shortstop in the majors and he's blocked in center field by Byron Buxton. From there, you're looking at different scenarios that diminish his value to varying degrees. 

Will he be a great defensive third baseman? A capable second baseman? A rangy left or right fielder? There's a whole spectrum of potential outcomes and it's hard to put a finger on which is most likely, since the only positions he's played as a pro are two we can feel pretty confident he won't play regularly as a Twin.

Keith Law, who is higher on Martin's overall outlook than most (he has him ranked #25 on his top 100 list for The Athletic), has significant concerns about the 22-year-old's arm. As Law shared in a recent collab article with Aaron Gleeman, "There are two separate issues at play with Martin. One is his throwing, which went south on him in the spring of 2020, right before the shutdown, and still hasn’t improved. He was a plus defender at third base as a sophomore, but if he can’t throw well from the left side of the infield, that’s a non-starter."

The second issue referenced by Law is one that weighs heavily against Martin in every evaluation: a conspicuous lack of power. Even with the aggressive assignment to Double-A, a .382 slugging percentage in Year 1 from a top five draft pick is troubling. In 93 games, he managed just five homers and 18 doubles.

Says Law: "He’s had a tendency to shrink himself by crouching and striding toward the plate, which improved his plate coverage but robbed him of his ability to drive the ball."

Says Baseball America: "Gaining more strength and hitting the ball with authority more frequently will determine whether Martin becomes an impact regular or more of an average, everyday type player."

Says Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus: "He still needs to hit for some pop, or major league pitching isn’t gonna nibble."

That really gets to the bottom of it: standout OBP skills from the minors tend to fade quickly if MLB pitchers don't consider you a threat. On the bright side, Martin has plenty of time to build on his power output, and there's reason to believe that will happen. 

In his interview with Gleeman, Law called Martin's power concerns "overblown," citing a hand/wrist injury and shift in approach as sapping the natural pop that still resides within him. 

"It’s not a lack of strength but a conscious choice to give up contact quality in favor of avoiding the strikeout, and that can be changed — he certainly hasn’t always hit this way," says Law. "I absolutely believe the Twins are already addressing this."

What's Next
Having proven himself in Double-A, and set to turn 23 in a month, Martin seems destined to open the 2022 season in St. Paul, where he'll be a stone's throw away from Target Field. From there it becomes a matter of opportunity. 

They won't call him up sit on the bench, and the multi-positional regular role is already occupied by Luis Arraez. An early injury to Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco or Josh Donaldson might open a door for Martin to step in. 

Another scenario that creates a path is moving Miguel Sanó to DH, Alex Kirilloff to first, and planting Martin in left field. 

But the problem is that Martin has barely played left field – his last official action at the position came in the form of 15 freshman appearances at Vanderbilt. He also hasn't spent significant time at third base since 2019, and has virtually no experience at second.

For this reason, it's likely the Twins will take a somewhat measured approach rather than rushing things. Martin is in some ways a refined product – he could pretty clearly take quality ABs in the major leagues, right now – but he'll benefit from getting reps at different positions, and there may be some work needed yet on his swing. 

Since he's not yet on the 40-man roster, Martin will be able to jump into action when the minor league season commences, even if the lockout delays the MLB season. He might be ready for the major leagues before the big-leaguers are.

Martin has a high bar to reach if he hopes to justify what the Twins gave up for him. 

Previous Rankings
Honorable Mentions
Prospects 16-20
Prospects 11-15
#10: Josh Winder, RHP
#9: Chase Petty, RHP
#8: Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
#7: Jhoan Duran, RHP
#6: Matt Canterino, RHP
#5: Joe Ryan, RHP
#4: Jordan Balazovic, RHP
#3: José Miranda, 2B/3B
#2: Royce Lewis, SS
#1: Austin Martin, SS/OF


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9 minutes ago, miracleb said:

It sure would be nice if Lewis or Martin (or both) could be a middle of the pack shortstop (defensively.)  That would solve a lot of concerns.

From what I am reading it will not be Martin.  That is too bad, but it will work out.  I had high hopes that he and Arraez could be in the line up as 2 top of the lineup pesks , to push opposing pitchers pitch count up, be a pest on the bases,, and in general, somewhat like the Yankees, set the table and force the pitchers to throw quality pitches.  Lack of a defensive home for one or both renders this an issue.  

Good news is these things tend to work themselves out, so we will know more in 2023 and beyond.  

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As I posted with Lewis - this is where the massive amounts of coaches that we have now hired need to earn their money. Take an Athlete with speed and agility and create the SS that we need.  I see Miranda as heir apparent at 3B, Buxton is a fixture at CF and Celestino could be the OF that fills in when needed.  He seems like a healthier clone of Arraez which could help the FO decide that Arraez is tradable - package Arraez and Donaldson and something good should return. 

It will be interesting to see if he deserves all this national attention.  He has taken Royce Lewis place among the raters.

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Great point Nick about him starting pro ball in AA. That alone is rare. That he led AA in the most important offensive category on top of that, well that's kind of absurd.

For those interested in a breakdown of his swing, this is a great one > 

 

It's so Jeter-like. Unfortunately, so is his defense. That said, can't hurt to have a LF that can competently handle CF with Buxton on the squad. He probably wins some gold gloves in LF (the bar is so low in left).

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How they do in realigning his swing to ensure that he does damage on balls in the zone will determine how quickly we see him at Target Field. (yet another player that this damnable lockout screws over) He's got an excellent eye at the plate and the bat skills to cover the zone well, but the changes he made (and as KLaw noted were almost certainly in part because of an injury) definitely sapped his power. But he's shown that he can drive the ball, so this shouldn't be that hard of an adjustment to make, getting him back to where he was.

Is he going to be a 30 HR guy? probably not, but we've got plenty of those guys. Martin profiles as a terrific leadoff hitter who can play multiple defensive positions, who will basically live on base. He makes Arraez look more and more tradeable (for pitching or a full-time SS) because he's a guy who would be a plus defender at 2B instead of just average, and his CF skills will play just fine in any of the corners too (I don't worry about whether he's played LF with a player who can play CF).

Also, why is it that when the Twins are considering prospects for trade we're told that we have to give our best in order to get a mid-pack starter but when receiving a prospect we're told that guy isn't viewed as a future star? Blue Jays traded Martin (and Woods-Richardson) because they were going all-in on the season because they had a couple of young players who had stepped up as stars, a veteran bargain on an MVP run, and a veteran pitcher on a Cy Young season and tried to take advantage. And they came up a little short (tough beat to miss the playoffs on 91 wins) but if they'd gotten in they might have been my pick to win the whole damn thing. So I don't buy the whole "Toronto traded Martin because they were convinced he wouldn't be a star" bit; they traded him because they saw an opportunity to win and had to trade talent to get an excellent pitcher.

I love Martin. I think he's going to be an excellent player for the Twins. We will see him in MLB in 2022 and starting in 2023 at the latest he will be leading off for the Twins.

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I am a huge fan of Martin.  I think if he cannot field SS then he can shift to LF and be a good defender there.  His OBP skills are so elite.  I think the league has become way to power heavy with players.  Like if a player does not slot to be a 20 plus HR guy they are not going to be a good hitter or something.  Maybe his power will improve, or maybe it will not, but if he can still get on base at the level he does I will take him at the top of the lineup setting the table for big bats. 

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Perfect summary of prospect status, Nick.  5 games he played against Tulsa last summer showed both sides of this profile.  In the first 3, he was something like 0 for 12 and he looked really average at the plate, and didn't display any aggressiveness.  Then in the next two games he got 6 hits and hit two homeruns, and stung the ball all over the field.  He was aggressive and drove the ball with authority.  If the Twins can bring that aggressiveness and ability to drive the ball out of him consistently, he will be special.  If not, he will be a faster, better Arraez.

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Can't a 23 year old's arm strengthen? It seems odd that we keep hearing that neither Lewis nor Martin has what it takes to stick at SS, yet we can't keep stockpiling utility players at 2B. Do the Twins have the kind of coaches who can tell a prospect like Martin "Hey, SS for this organization is yours if you want it." And then make a plan to help him claim it.

Gleeman just wrote an article about how Corey Koskie once rose to the challenge to claim 3B. I can't see why this can't happen here again at SS, particularly on a team that isn't going anywhere in the standings in the near future.

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I enjoyed this article except for this:

"It’s not a lack of strength but a conscious choice to give up contact quality in favor of avoiding the strikeout, and that can be changed — he certainly hasn’t always hit this way," says Law. "I absolutely believe the Twins are already addressing this."

If the Twins try to change his ability to get on base in favor of more power, he doesn't need to turn into a strikeout machine either. I believe the Twins tried to mess with Buxton at the plate and that didn't work. Sometimes it's best to leave things/players alone. Be grateful yo have an on-base machine and use it to your advantage. Rod Carew wasn't a HR hitter. Luis Arraez isn't a HR hitter. Take what a player is good at and use it. Don't mess with it. I'd be happy if he hits .300, gets on base at a .400 clip and hits 10-15 HRs. 

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Another great read, Nick, interesting...very interesting.

I see several differences when comparing him to Arraez.  Some favor Martin, other Arraez.  Martin appears to be much faster, quicker, more athletic and likely to become the better defensive player wherever he settles in.  They both seem to have the same offensive plusses.  The difference being that Arraez has proven it at the big league level, whereas, Martin only at AA.  But the fact he was drafted, then sat before beginning his career at AA is mind blowing.

Don't have a clue what the future holds, but all reports tend to indicate this kid could be special.  The little I saw on MiLBtv last summer from Wichita didn't showcase his strengths, hopefully, will see that soon at CHS Field.  

Still don't think it is time for the Twins to trade Luis, but I will admit it is unlikely they can find 500ab a year for both with Luis' being limited defensively. 

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Everyone is so enamored with power and slugging percentages is baseball right now.  You need a guy to lead off, get on base for the guys behind you to hit and bat you in.  The one thing the game is missing is the Ricky Henderson's of the world.  There not much more exciting than having a base stealer who can steal you 50 bases a year, that's like turning a single into 50 doubles, it just revs that crowd up and you can feel the excitement.  It puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher and catcher and gives the batter a lot of good balls to hit out of the park.  Can you imagine have Martin one first base 40% of the time with Donaldson, Buxton, Karilloff, Sano or Garver hitting with him on.  They will see some good pitches because the pitcher is afraid Martin is going to steal second, then third.

I hope he starts in left field, can you imagine the defensive outfield with Martin, Buxton, Kepler.  Best defensive outfield in baseball right there, and all of them can potentially hit.

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This has been an excellent series. Thank you TD staff!

What is sadly looking like a shortened season, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to following the progress of our up and comers - including those already in the majors.  Regardless of how this season turns out, there is a lot to enjoy and keep me interested.

A solid, contending TEAM, especially a mid market team like the Twins, usually is comprised of a mix of talents -speed, arm, range, power, OBP, hustle/heart, etc. - and salary levels. Martin should fit in quite well in that model.

A lot now falls on the coaching staff, starting with Rocco and moving down the chain of command, to see that these young players develop to create a contending team as early as next year. My hope is that ownership and the FO are focused on that development in judging the staff’s performance. 

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Martin could very well be our starting LF soon. Larnach just didnt get it last year..nothing but a K King. I would have no problem with Arraez as the DH ( he's a hitting, OBP machine and needs to play every day n this lineup)...Put Martin in LF..then Alternation of the 4-Arraez, Kiriloff, Sano and Donaldson at 1B, 3B, DH. we still need an everyday SS. imagine lineup - Arraez, Polanco, Buxton, Donaldson, Kiriloff, Garver, Kepler, Martin, SS?   this could all change if Miranda really takes off or Larnach actually learns how to pick up pitches..nice luxury to have

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“We’re still evaluating him, to be honest,” Hassan said. “I feel really confident in his ability to play the outfield right now. He has real skill in the infield. He has the ability to make some plays. He played a lot of shortstop last year. If we had to say where his focus is going to be, especially early in camp, it’ll be on the infield and (we’ll) continue to refine him defensively.”

That's from Gleeman's article on Martin today on The Athletic. I find it interesting that they're still seemingly very devoted to keeping him on the dirt. It makes sense that if you think he's already good enough to move to the OF you'd work on the IF stuff and see if you can't get him to stick there I guess. Later in the article Hassan is quoted as saying that they're focusing on him being a SS still, but he'll have the ability to move around the IF. So the Twins seemingly haven't given up on him being a SS. I find that interesting. Not good or bad, just interesting.

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On 2/25/2022 at 8:35 AM, rv78 said:

I enjoyed this article except for this:

"It’s not a lack of strength but a conscious choice to give up contact quality in favor of avoiding the strikeout, and that can be changed — he certainly hasn’t always hit this way," says Law. "I absolutely believe the Twins are already addressing this."

If the Twins try to change his ability to get on base in favor of more power, he doesn't need to turn into a strikeout machine either. I believe the Twins tried to mess with Buxton at the plate and that didn't work. Sometimes it's best to leave things/players alone. Be grateful yo have an on-base machine and use it to your advantage. Rod Carew wasn't a HR hitter. Luis Arraez isn't a HR hitter. Take what a player is good at and use it. Don't mess with it. I'd be happy if he hits .300, gets on base at a .400 clip and hits 10-15 HRs. 

Totally agree with you. Too much focus is stressed on hitting HRs, resulting in humongous SOs. He'll hit a lot of HRs the way it is. Leave him alone, he has a great swing.

Martin is great, he'll give us plenty of depth in CF. After having a drought at CF back up for soooo long, soon we'll have him,  Celestino and Lewis that can play there. Now that we'll soon have 2 super utility players together with Miranda and Gordon, it makes total sense to trade Arraez, while we can get something for him.

Hopefully soon Martin can come and contribute to this very good core line up. 

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I'm really excited to see Martin, Lewis, Miranda, Kirrilloff, Buxton and Polanco all in the same lineup.    I'm still hoping for Larnach to turn things around also, and I believe he will.  I think the Twins have a very bright future and with some very exciting pitching prospects,  well, I'm just giddy.  C'mon Man.  Lets play ball.

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4 hours ago, CBtwinsfan said:

Everyone is so enamored with power and slugging percentages is baseball right now. 

"Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords.” (Said of Ralph Kiner just the other day... oops I mean in the 1940s.)

See also this 1950s newspaper commentary regarding how to deal with the shift:

Why doesn’t Ralph Kiner hit to right against the lopsided defense played against him? He doesn’t want to. When Kiner came up to the Pirates and teams began overshifting on him, he toyed with the idea of hitting to right. Fritz Ostermueller. then a veteran pitcher for the Pirates, told him: “There aren’t any Cadillacs for you in right field, Ralph. Your money is in left.”

Nothing new under the sun. 

 

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The scouting profiles are Martin are have less elation built in.

Fangraphs
Hit 50/60, Game Power 30/40, Speed 50/50, Field 35/45, FV 50

MLB
Hit 65, Power 45, Run 55, Arm 45, Field 50, Overall 55

Prospects Live
Hit 70, Power 50, Run 50, Arm 50, Field 55, OFP 55

pre-draft Baseball America
Hit 70, Power 55, Run 55, Arm 50, Field 50

Basically, it's universally expected Martin's hit tool will be excellent, but he's an average runner with perhaps below average power and throwing skills. That said, scouting reports can be pretty subjective. Martin strikes me as a high floor, medium ceiling kind of player at this point. Grades on his speed and arm are average, but scouting reports are subjective. The best comp for him on the Twins is probably somewhere between Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco. If Martin does work out that way, he could be a 3-4 WAR player with a couple career All Star Game appearances.

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As I watched the extended highlights, I thought Martin looked like a shoe-in as a future All Star. 

But then I remembered that sound - the sound of an artificial bat hitting a baseball. Supposedly they try to make composite bats react the same as wood, but it just ain't so. Looking at Martin's swing, I saw he was generating a lot of his power from his upper body, flipping the bat through the contact zone with wrist action. Slap hitter is not what the Twins want from a first round pick. This means the Twins will need to reconstruct Martin's swing to use his legs to generate power. The extra mechanics could bring his average down considerably. 

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Nice article Nick.  He should have a step up by being able to play in STP immediately and may get to Target Field earlier than other prospects on the 40-man if this lockout drags well into the season.

Also, is it possible for a player to have unacceptable arm strength for SS but have that arm be acceptable for the OF?

Lastly, I recall Clemens saying he built up his arm strength by digging sand out of a water barrel filled with sand. Maybe Martin needs that off season routine😉

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Absolutely possible to not have the arm for SS, but an arm for OF. I'd rank arm strength as important in order for the positions.

  1. Shortstop - Fields more balls than any other position, often plays deeper than other infielders and strong arm needed for double plays and far throws to home and first.
  2. Catcher - Controlling run game.
  3. Third Base - Similar to shortstop, but fields far fewer balls.
  4. Right Field - Controlling runners attempting to make triples or tagging and advancing to 3rd or home. 
  5. Center Field - Fields more balls than other outfielders, controlling advancing base runners tagging up, mostly to home, but occasionally to 3rd.
  6. Second Base - Long throws are not needed, but arm strength helpful for double plays. 
  7. Left Field - Fields far fewer balls than 2nd base, only needs plus arm strength to control potential tags at 3rd to home.
  8. First Base - Rarely needs to throw to any base.

Something like that.

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5 hours ago, Bigfork Twins Guy said:

Nice article Nick.  He should have a step up by being able to play in STP immediately and may get to Target Field earlier than other prospects on the 40-man if this lockout drags well into the season.

Also, is it possible for a player to have unacceptable arm strength for SS but have that arm be acceptable for the OF?

Lastly, I recall Clemens saying he built up his arm strength by digging sand out of a water barrel filled with sand. Maybe Martin needs that off season routine😉

I like that water barrel idea.  Clemens ended up with a strong arm.  But I am not sure how much of that may have come from banned substances.

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I feel the need to be less polite than I normally am in regard to Martin.

Can we just let the kid play a little ball before we dismiss his ability or promote him to All Star status?

Whew!

The kid is a super athlete, like Lewis, and considered a TOP prospect. But virtually overnight he's gone from a potential #1 pick to the 5th pick, to missing 2020, debuting at AA and holding his own PLUS! And opinions have him lacking a position to questionable power despite a good bat and great OB ability. Some seem to think he should be in LF almost immediately. 

Can we just pause for a moment to slow roll Martin? We should, without diminishing his potential or skill set.

1] What he did with his bat jumping from a lost year to AA shouldn't be discounted. He has "bat" potential. 

2] Not only was he jumping to pro vs college after a lost season, but he was fighting a wrist injury. He has inate power in himself, but the wrist has to be healthy, and I'm sure it will be. Then it becomes trusting his approach as well as his stroke, and that's where coaching comes in to play.

3] Said it before and will say it again, he should continue to play as much SS as he can. Why wouldn't you? The WORST that could happen is he's a fill-in at SS. Hell, he might surprise and a bulb turns on and he suddenly feels comfortable there. 

4] I see him as a LF, and soon, who can cover Buxton in CF, and can cover 2B/SS/3B as needed. He might end up being a full time player at the top of the order who plays everywhere. And there is tremendous value in that. Think a better version of Marwin. And isn't that the way baseball has been heading? Versatility. 

He MIGHT surprise us all at SS. But I see him as our 2023 LF. I think power will come. And he doesn't have to be a 25--30HR hitter to play LF. Who decided LF was a questionable defender with power? They Royals had a Gold Glove defender and offensive force for years with Gordon. The Twins did great with Hatcher and Gladden in LF. 

Ideally, soon, Lewis will take over SS, and Martin will be a "do everything" LF who covers CF and will be able cover some infield if needed.

Lewis could easily be a STUD in LF. But how about we just give I'm a full 2022, only his 2nd pro season to see what he does first.

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When you can grab a prospect another team invested $7 million to possibly become a part of your own future, it is hard to take something less.

 

Especially when there is only college numbers to go from. Yet, still, he started out the chute at AA and should be at AAA. Don't expect him with the Twins in 2022 unless he plays shortstop...the Twins will go thru many other folks in what will be a rebuilding year.

 

Sadly, he SHOULD play in 2022 if you look at the big picture, at least at the end of the year. But, hey, 40-man roster decisions are hell.

 

 

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