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The 5 Most Uplifting Developments on the Farm This Year


If the Minnesota Twins are going to bounce back next year, it will take more than savvy offseason moves from the front office. Impact veterans help but, as we've seen with Carlos Correa, they can't do it all. Internal help is crucial.

The club was helped greatly this season – and saved perhaps from another all-out disaster – by key rookies making immediate contributions, including Jose Miranda, Jhoan Duran and Joe Ryan. 

Some positive developments in the minors offer hope that more impact help is soon on the way.

Image courtesy of Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports

Yesterday we assessed the damage from the most upsetting negative developments in the Twins system this year, with three of the organization's top six prospects experiencing calamitous setbacks that have sent them spiraling out of the Twins' plans. 

As a chaser to cleanse all those bad vibes, today we'll highlight some hugely positive developments on the farm, each propelling ascendent prospects more directly into the team's future. Best of all, we couldn't limit this list to just three.

These five players have tremendously improved their stocks this year, setting the stage to potentially help the major-league team in the very near future (if they haven't already).

Louie Varland backs up a big year.

We've already seen the early returns on this breakout prospect star. Varland didn't exactly come out of nowhere – he was named the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year in 2021 – but there was still an air of skepticism around him, a former 15th-round draft pick out of a D-II college. Sure, he was amazing in A-ball last year, but plenty of collegiate draft picks have dominated those low levels only to get a reality check in the high minors.

For Varland, that check never came. He translated his excellence to Double-A without missing a beat, earning a late-season promotion to Triple-A that quickly turned into a major-league debut. Stepping out under the lights of Yankee Stadium, Varland excelled and made a big impression. Things didn't quite as well his next time out, in Cleveland on Saturday, but this is a guy whose stated goal for this year was to reach St. Paul.

He blew past it, and as a consequence, will find himself squarely in the MLB depth picture heading into next season.

Matt Wallner mashes past his contact issues.

Wallner is another prospect whose monster campaign has already paved the way for a sooner-than-expected MLB debut. And like Varland, he's a local kid, native to Forest Lake, MN. 

Unlike Varland, Wallner was not a late-round draft pick who emerged from low expectations to achieve top prospect status. He was a bona fide stud coming out of college, selected 39th overall in 2019. But he had his own set of doubts coming into this season, relating mainly to his contact and discipline issues. Even for someone with as much raw power as Wallner, it's really tough to project big-league success for a bat-first player who strikes out 33% of the time and barely walks – at Single-A as a 23-year-old, no less. Would upper-level pitchers chop him to bits?

Turns out, it's been the other way around. Wallner obliterated Double-A pitching, posting a .299/.436/.597 slash line with 21 homers in 74 games. That earned him a trip to the Futures Game and a promotion to Triple-A soon after. 

Wallner got off to a slow start with the Saints, batting .105 with zero extra-base hits in his first 10 games. Then he flipped a switch. Since the beginning of August he's slashing .289/.414/.564. Walks are up, strikeouts are down, and that has a been an overall trend for him this year as he's shown the ability to actively improve his strike zone control and evolve his game.

The huge breakout season, combined with desperation for help at the big-league level, led to Wallner getting called up in Cleveland this past weekend. He homered off Shane Bieber in his first MLB game.

Wallner felt like a bit of a longshot at this time last year, but now looks like a guy you can confidently write into the team's plans going forward. The idea of both he and Varland, as hometown boys, turning into fixtures for the Twins over the next five years is pretty fun. 

Simeon Woods Richardson shows his true colors.

A former second-round draft pick of the Mets, Woods Richardson has widely been viewed as one of the more prestigious pitching prospects in the minors, making both Baseball America's and MLB.com's Top 100 lists in 2020 and 2021. The Twins were thrilled to get him alongside Austin Martin in the trade that sent José Berríos to Toronto last summer.

Looking at his 2021 season in isolation, fans might have been asking ... why? He had a 5.76 ERA in 11 starts with the Blue Jays' Double-A affiliate, and then put up a 6.75 ERA in a brief eight-inning September stint with Wichita. It was a weird year that saw him get aggressively assigned to Double-A at age 20, then take a bunch of time away from his team for the Olympics, where he didn't even pitch.

The 6-foot-3, 210 lb right-hander has fully gotten back on track this year. He didn't allow a run in his first four starts en route to a 2.92 ERA over 71 innings at Wichita before moving up to St. Paul in mid-August. There he has continued to excel with a 2.55 ERA in 24 ⅔ frames. Between both levels, Woods Richardson has averaged well over a strikeout per inning, cut down significantly on the walks, and allowed only six home runs in 21 outings. Opponents have batted .206 against him. He's about three years younger than the average player at Triple-A.

This reaffirming turnaround from Woods Richardson has been huge for two reasons, both tying to yesterday's article. First, it keeps the Berríos trade looking like a winner even with Martin falling off, and second, it keeps another high-caliber and near-ready pitching prospect in the wings even with Balazovic getting derailed.

Emmanuel Rodriguez blossoms into prospect stardom.

Unlike the others highlighted in this article, Rodriguez is probably not in line to make an MLB debut in the especially near future. He's a teenager who hasn't appeared above Low-A and his timeline was further delayed by a season-ending knee injury suffered in June. 

In spite of all that, his performance prior to that injury was so magnificent, and so incredibly encouraging, that he has to be included in this piece. 

Rodriguez ranked 15th on our preseason top prospects list, characterized as an intriguing yet distant international talent coming off an impressive showing in rookie ball. His follow-up at Single-A left no doubt as to the outfielder's sky-high potential: in 47 games before going down, he slashed .272/.493/.552 with nine homers, 11 steals, and 57 (!) walks. Yes, you read that right – nearly a .500 OBP and more walks than games played from a 19-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

Realistically, even if he comes back with gusto next year, Rodriguez is probably looking at a 2024 debut at the earliest, but his spectacular first half puts him in the "blue chip prospect" conversation and that's a hugely positive development for this system.

Brooks Lee arrives and thrives.

I honestly believe this will go down as THE biggest boost to the farm system over a span of many years: Lee, widely viewed as one of the premier talents in this year's MLB draft, somehow sliding to the Twins at No. 8 overall, where they were more than happy to take him. They may have landed a new franchise player.

Quickly signed to a $5.7 million bonus, Lee has handled every assignment so far with aplomb. He went to rookie ball briefly where he batted .353 to earn a promotion to Single-A. Five weeks at Cedar Rapids was enough to convince the Twins he was ready for the next level, so over the weekend, Lee was called up to Wichita, reaching Double-A exactly two months after he was drafted.

Touted for his "otherworldly bat-to-ball skills," Lee was one of the top hitters in college, an exceedingly advanced talent, and the Twins could barely contain their excitement when he fell into their laps. "It’s hard to say who made who fall to our pick," said scouting director Sean Johnson, "but regardless of who caused it, [for] the domino to trickle, we’re ecstatic."

Their actions have backed up their words. Advanced talent or not, pushing a player to Double-A two months after drafting him makes an aggressive statement. Presumably billed to open back at Wichita in 2023, Lee will be in position to make a case for a big-league promotion next summer. It's almost as if the Twins are planning around that possibility.

 


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Thanks for a thoughtful article, Nick.  I agree with your comments, though I would add a sixth in Julien, who I think has earned a careful look in Spring Training, especially if he does well in the AFL.  He is everything they hoped Martin would be--and on base machine with some pop in his bat.  I wish they would have given him a chance in St. Paul this year.  Of the five you mentioned, I think Rodriguez is the guy who really excites me.  Assuming a full injury recovery, I think he will move quickly and arrive sometime in 2024.  He is special.  Next year will be a big year for the FO pitching pipeline.  If Varland and SWR both arrive and have success, some of the criticism of their efforts will abate.  If not, we may be at the point of saying they have failed miserably.  Let's hope for the best.  

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40 minutes ago, MinnInPa said:

i wouldnt want those 3 hits on my highlight reel....all three were weak hit balls.. but, looks like this kid has a bright future..Twins need it..hitting talent is very very over rated..Arraez and Miranda are real deals....after that just very avg MLers

I don't know, if I made AA 2 months after being drafted and had a 3 hit game I wouldn't really care what they looked like. And "hitting talent is very very overrated" is a surprising thing to read on a baseball forum.

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37 minutes ago, HrbieFan said:

Lee have a shot at being our everyday MLB SS by the middle of next year? If Carlos doesn't resign, I'm fine with Palacios at SS for awhile 

I think the more likely outcome in the IF if Correa isn't back is Lewis at SS and Lee at 3B at midseason. Assuming all goes right for both of those players. I'd be quite happy with a Lewis and Lee leftside for the next 7-10 years if they're both what we hope they are.

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12 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

I think the more likely outcome in the IF if Correa isn't back is Lewis at SS and Lee at 3B at midseason. Assuming all goes right for both of those players. I'd be quite happy with a Lewis and Lee leftside for the next 7-10 years if they're both what we hope they are

I would also like a Lewis/Lee combination on the left side but with Lee as the SS and Lewis at 3B.  I think Lee is the better fielder of the two.

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1 hour ago, MinnInPa said:

i wouldnt want those 3 hits on my highlight reel....all three were weak hit balls.. but, looks like this kid has a bright future..Twins need it..hitting talent is very very over rated..Arraez and Miranda are real deals....after that just very avg MLers

The first was a 1-2 pitch he was just trying to make sure he put ball in play, because that is only way to get a hit is to put in play.  It was a weak hit but not pure luck or anything.  The next 2 hits were not "highlights" but were solid line drives.  The point of hitting is to put ball in play and get a hit right?  The point is he can put ball in play with solid line drives.  He is not going to hit 40 plus HR or anything but he is expected to hit and will have some power. Add in fact he switch hits, that is a huge plus too. 

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2 hours ago, MinnInPa said:

i wouldnt want those 3 hits on my highlight reel....all three were weak hit balls.. but, looks like this kid has a bright future..Twins need it..hitting talent is very very over rated..Arraez and Miranda are real deals....after that just very avg MLers

 

If he gets on base I'll take Arriaz levels of weak hits all day!  If he develops Miranda's level of power we may be in luck.  

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Will be interesting next year, Nick.  Especially, if Lewis returns playing like he did prior to his injury.

Assuming Correa is gone, of the two who is the shortstop?  And putting the other at third base isn't an easy answer.  If you do, what do you do with Miranda?  

Appreciate this article, especially after the way this season is ending.  Will also agree with those above that Rodriguez could be special.  Any word on how bad his knee injury was and how his recovery is coming?  

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2 hours ago, terrydactyls said:

I would also like a Lewis/Lee combination on the left side but with Lee as the SS and Lewis at 3B.  I think Lee is the better fielder of the two.

I think the general feeling on Lee is he won't have the range to be a big league SS. Now scouts have certainly thought that about others and been proven wrong, but I think Lewis looked like he could handle the position pretty well when he filled in for Correa. I wouldn't be mad with either configuration as both are likely above average 3B, but I'd lean Lewis at SS for the added range he'll likely provide. 

Mostly I just hope both reach pretty close to their ceilings and things will take care of themselves from there.

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POSITIVE PROSPECT DEVELOPMENT  IS THE KEY WORD ...

These prospects are all rated in our top 30 list  ...

It's great that they are doing well and getting to the next level  , step by step they have to continue to earn there way up towards the MLB level and earn there keep at staying  , its difficult to preform at the major league level ...

I like what they have accomplished and continue to be impressive and will really help the MLB  CLUB ...

I'd really like our homegrown  minnesotans , varland and Wallner to lead the twins to a world series like hrbek did  , sorry mauer you were not a leader ...

 

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6 minutes ago, Blyleven2011 said:

POSITIVE PROSPECT DEVELOPMENT  IS THE KEY WORD ...

These prospects are all rated in our top 30 list  ...

It's great that they are doing well and getting to the next level  , step by step they have to continue to earn there way up towards the MLB level and earn there keep at staying  , its difficult to preform at the major league level ...

I like what they have accomplished and continue to be impressive and will really help the MLB  CLUB ...

I'd really like our homegrown  minnesotans , varland and Wallner to lead the twins to a world series like hrbek did  , sorry mauer you were not a leader ...

 

Yeah, that loser Joe Mauer. He only has more MVPs than every single player on the 1987 and 1991 teams combined! Oh wait, I almost forgot about Don Baylor who had 58 plate appearances in 1987. He has an MVP too.

If only Mauer had learned how to pitch and catch at the same time, but he was too lazy. Lazy Mauer.

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I think Jhoan Duran, Jose Miranda and Royce Lewis are the brightest spots for the farm system in general. Those guys have seriously made an impact, even if Lewis didn't have enough time for things to stabilize, he was incredibly exciting when nobody expected him to contribute so quickly.

In the minors specifically, I agree about Wallner. He's made a really fantastic change to his game by learning to be more patient and taking walks. It elevates his game dramatically and showcases the fact his ability to read pitches is far greater than I expected. He's a legitimate top prospect for the Twins at this point.

Woods-Richardson... well, I don't know. The reports on his velocity and mechanics being all over the place are flat out bad. Maybe he throws 89 or maybe he throws 92. It seems like he's got some great stuff, but only when his mechanics are in order and he's repeating his delivery like he should. I'd like to see him against MLB batters.

It's been great to watch Brooks Lee hit well in the minors, just like advertised, and unlike some other prospects who just didn't seem to be able to make the transition in tact. 

Emmanuel Rodriguez has really turned some heads and rocketed up the prospect chart as a result, but Julien has also had a really great year. That's been a bright spot as well.

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All fine choices.

I was surprised to see Wallner described as a player who barely walked, since he's never had a season where his OBP was less than .350 and it's not like he was cranking out high BAs. The contact issue will be the question for him until he proves it in MLB, but if he makes enough of it...the power plays. He's had a terrific season. Just be prepared for the Ks, because they're going to keep coming in bunches. 

SWR is a player I've always liked and he's had a nice year. It's great to have him finish at AAA. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see his K numbers tick back up a little either. He's got the stuff to be a rotation staple, IMHO.

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6 hours ago, HrbieFan said:

Lee have a shot at being our everyday MLB SS by the middle of next year? If Carlos doesn't resign, I'm fine with Palacios at SS for awhile 

I'm fine with Palacios or Gordon for a few weeks. Lewis is on pace for a 10-12 month recovery. Could put him back on a baseball field in mid April.

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It will be interesting to see who wins the LF job next spring with Walner, Larnarch, and Killeroff in competiton.  I still expect Kepler will be back.  His trade value is likely down a little.  I am sure he could be moved but why?  maybe at the trade deadline if next year turns into a rebuilding year.  

I like positive articles like these.

I like seeing 2 more starting pitching options ready for an opportunity.  that makes Ober, Winder, Varland, and Woods-Richardson at this time who seem like developed starters ready for the rotation.  So the development is working.... and maybe Balazovich will be back better than ever next year too.

If Enlow can continue to move up and develop and Prielipp moves up as well and Balazovich is back on track we could have several starters developed..... 

I still want to see the Twins re-sign Correa but I can see why they wouldn't too.  Just keep saying things that help Correa's market so Scott Boras wants to call us again the next time a super star doesn't get the contract they want.....  especially an ace starter who over plays their hand..... and Lee and Lewis are a good reason not to worry so much about SS next year after the first month or so of the season.  

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Not sure Kiriloff will be back and better than ever as he now has been shelved for two straight seasons with a weak wrist.  The wrist could be very troubling issue moving forward in his career.  So let's say it is now Wallner fighting for RF with Kepler and Larnach getting the LF job.  Buxton plays CF 60% of the season we hope, and then that leaves Gordon as the other OF.  Do we think that is a solid OF? If Kiriloff is healthy, then he is our 1st baseman and Miranda shifts to 3rd?  Spring should be fun to see where this plays out.

 

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None of those players are a shoo-in next year (Wallner will be in AAA until he learns how field a ball)

Nothing is written in stone for next year except maybe Buxton, Polanco and Kepler; hopefully Correa comes and and ditto for Urshela.

Twins fielding with the rookies is a Chinese Fire Drill too often.

Any Twin , and I mean any, from this team that want to give the Twins a try will be in Spring Training; the only flier here is if the fron office brings in some veterans as they did in 2019.

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RJA stole my initial thunder concerning Julien. Even though we talk about him quite a bit, he seems to be an under the radar player and I don't understand why. After being drafted in 2019, he didn't even make his pro debut until 2021. And all he's done is hit, get OB at an amazing clip, collect XB hits and steal bases at a high rate at 3 levels in his first two seasons. He actually looks pretty special offensively. I get his defense is a question mark, despite being used at multiple positions. It's up to him to take all that athleticism and find a spot or two where he can be at least average defensively. I think he may be destined for LF and 2B. With his length, I wouldn't think 1B would be out of the question, even as a backup option. I'm just guessing the glove and/or arm don't play at 3B. Really going to watch him closely in the AFL along with Martin. 

I would have made Julien a 6th choice if I wrote the OP.

As to the rest listed, a fine list and perfect choices. I'm just not surprised by Wallner. I think he, is compared, unfairly, to Rooker. And I get it. They are big sluggers from quality programs that put up big numbers and were even drafted in similar spots. But they are entirely different people/prospects. Wallner will always K a bunch because he's a power hitter. But Wallner has not on had solid BB and OB numbers, but he's been trending positive in all numbers AS HE HAS BEEN RISING in the system. He still has to prove himself going forward, but I do not see another Rooker or poor version of Sano in him. He SHOULD begin 2023 in AAA but he's going to make a mark.

I wasn't the biggest fan of SWR initially. And it wasn't about being traded twice or his lost 2021 with the Olympics. And it wasn't about being so young and pushed so hard. I can deal with all of that. I just kept reading 92mph and still working on his secondary stuff. And I kept wondering why he was so highly regarded if that's what his offering were! And I know he's not even close to being a finished product and the proverbial "switch" might happen any day now, but I'm begining to see what others have projected.

I don't want to compare Lee to Martin, because it's not fair for a number of reasons. But Lee has been as advertised from the start. But can we just cool the jets for a moment before we state he'll be ready for MLB mid season? No matter how talented, how about we just let him finish his ROOKIE introduction to pro ball and let him spend at least a little time at AA Wichita in 2023 before we anoint him? Let him finish there, go to instructs, go through ST, produce and play well, and then see how quickly he's ready for AAA. 

As to the future of the left side of the infield, I'm one of those that thinks Miranda is way better at 3B than some think. I mean, rookie bouncing around and adjusting and he's somehow "bad" in a very SSS? Sorry, I don't agree. But it's not hard to picture Lee maybe being even better with Lewis taking over SS. And I do speculate Lewis will be better at SS than Lee, even though I think Lee could be at least decent there. 

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Separate side note: Should Festa be a legitimate #7 after the 5 options listed and Julien? I know he's a #13 pick in the 2021 draft, but he was DOMINATE at 2 A levels in 2022. Just when it looked like he might be running out of gas, he had one of his best starts of the year to finish the Ft Myers season. And it's not like other players didn't have really good years. But he sure teased at "awesomeness" this year.

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7 hours ago, Tibs said:

Royce Lewis also showed why he was the #1 overall pick. Can't wait to have him back

They're very young but 3 international OF signings had pretty good years in the DSL as well. Acuna, Mercedes, and Jose Rodriguez

One of the worst things that happened in the 2022 milb season was the injury to E Rodriguez who looks like a potential STUD. His development was outstanding and his future looks bright.

And while there is no realistic way to include DSL players, as young as they are, in some top 5-7 list, I do applaud you mentioning these kids. 

Prospect lists are simply speculation, albeit, with experienced opinions. But they fluctuate from year to year, of course. Think Arraez coming from nowhere. Imagine Balazovic and Enlow 100% in body and mind next season how they change rankings. So I take it all with a grain of salt. But if these kids transition well in 2023...and the organization has a very solid base in place to help them do so...imagine the top 30 with all of them

 

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