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  • Youth Is Served


    Seth Stohs

    Twenty five years ago tonight, the Minnesota Twins played in one of the greatest World Series games in baseball. Jack Morris’s ten-inning effort, and Gene Larkin’s deep-enough fly ball single scored Dan Gladden, and the Twins were the 1991 World Series champions.

    It’s hard to believe that so many of the sports stars who make their in-season homes in the Twin Cities were not even born when that game was played. The Twin Cities is one of 13 Metropolitan areas in the United States to have teams in all four major sports (baseball, basketball, football and hockey). Each of those teams have undergone change in recent years, in the front office, in the coaches, or simply a turnover in players.

    The strategy appears to be the same for all teams, and it is not a unique strategy. Every organization in every sport wants to develop its own players and build a core which can later be supplemented when the team is ready to compete for championships.

    It would be fair to say that the Minnesota Vikings are furthest along that track. Despite their loss on Sunday, they are generally considered to be a contender, in large part due to their defense. The Minnesota Wild have played in the playoffs each of the last four seasons. They are looking to take the next step. The Minnesota Twins, or at least their fans, thought the team had turned a corner with their 2015 season in which they were not eliminated until the penultimate game of the season. They then lost 103 games in 2016. The team has not been in the playoffs since 2010, their first season at Target Field. Last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves opened their 2016-17 season. While so young, there are hopes and many reasons for excitement about this team.

    Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson, USA Today

    However, all four teams (and fans of all four teams) should have a measure of confidence, or at least excitement, that things could be better in the not-too-distant future. All four teams are loaded with young players who potentially have big futures in their leagues. And that’s not just homer-speak. Experts in those sports believe that the young talent has a chance to develop into stardom. Some of them are already there. Others are getting closer. Let’s take a look around the Twin Cities sports scene and see just much young talent there is. Below, I will focus on players who are 24 years old and younger.

    MINNESOTA TWINS

    Twins fans are sick of hearing about all the young talent that we keep touting, but a lot of it is already here. While many of these names no longer appear on prospect lists, a better way to review an organization’s young talent is to look at a Top Players Under 24 List. I’d put the Twins group up against anyone. My guess is that most would put the Cubs #1, but the Twins would certainly follow very quickly on that list.

    Miguel Sano - 23

    Max Kepler - 23

    Jorge Polanco - 23

    Jose Berrios - 22

    Byron Buxton - 22

    These are all prospects that we heard and read a lot about from the time they were signed. Kepler and Polanco signed on July 2nd of 2009. Sano signed a few months later. Buxton and Berrios were the Twins 1st round picks in the 2012 draft. We’ve heard their names and we’ve read of their prospect status for a long time, so it is a good reminder of how young these guys are.

    Sano struggled some in 2016, but in 196 MLB games, he has 43 homers and 118 RBI. He’ll be fixture in the middle of the lineup. Byron Buxton struggled with the bat, but few have played better center field in the Twins organization, and that says a lot when you consider all the Gold Gloves. His September is a glimpse at what could be. Polanco finally got a chance, and he’s shown that he should be an everyday player in the big leagues, at some position. Kepler was the Twins rookie of the year in 2016 with a solid showing. In fact, he showed more power than he typically has in his career. Jose Berrios took his lumps in his first MLB season, but again, we saw glimpses of the stuff that should make him a quality starting pitcher for years to come. This is a strong group, a strong core, that the Twins and their fans hope will lead the way to a lot of wins in the coming years.

    Of course, the Twins still have several prospects that can either supplement the five guys above or become part of that core. Pitchers like Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves and Tyler Jay certainly have a chance. Relievers like Jake Reed and Nick Burdi could be up soon. Nick Gordon could be the shortstop of the future. Meanwhile there are more high-ceiling prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Wander Javier and Lewin Diaz who are further down the line.

    MINNESOTA VIKINGS

    The Vikings have not played in a Super Bowl for 40 years, not since 1976. The team’s track record of tough playoff losses is well known. In fact, when some say that the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, there is a large contingent of fans that roll their eyes at the notion. This year’s team is a contender because of their defense. Obviously they have some issues on the offensive line that will have to figure themselves out if they want a better chance, but the defense is legit. While there are several strong veterans around the defense, there are some under-25s that are a huge part of what they do now, or will be a big part of it within the next year.

    CB MacKenzie Alexander - 22

    LB Anthony Barr - 24

    OT TJ Clemmings - 24

    WR Stefon Diggs - 22

    DE Danielle Hunter - 21

    S Jayron Kearse - 22

    LB Eric Kendricks - 24

    RB Jerick McKinnon - 24

    WR Laquon Treadwell - 21

    CB Trae Waynes - 24

    There are several other players under 25 on the roster as well, playing on special teams. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are both 24 and they’re both Pro Bowl caliber linebackers. Danielle Hunter is still just 21 years old and he is still learning how to be a force. Trae Waynes played little a year ago, but he’s been solid in his opportunities so far this year and will be more important as we go forward. MacKenzie Alexander is in the same situation Waynes was last year. With Andrew Sendejo’s injury, Jayron Kearse may have to learn under fire.

    Stefon Diggs has become a go-to wide receiver this year after bursting onto the scene the middle of his rookie year a year ago. Jerick McKinnon has been solid, when healthy and when given playing time. TJ Clemmings was placed right into the fire a year ago when Phil Loadholt was lost of the year. He struggled, as expected, but held his own. He’s struggled again at times this year, but I would not give up on him by any means. Finally, Laquon Treadwell is this year’s Trae Waynes. The team’s 2016 first-round pick is patiently waiting an opportunity. What he’s doing behind-the-scenes is more important right now because at some point, he will get a chance and hopefully be a big part of the team’s offense.

    MINNESOTA WILD

    The Wild have made it to the playoffs four straight years. Last year they lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars. The three previous seasons they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild have a really good mix of veterans and young players. They have veterans like Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal.Their goaltender turned 30 about six months ago. However, some of those under-25s have a couple of years of NHL service time. They have decisions to make on some of them after the season. The time table is tough.

    F Charlie Coyle - 24

    F Mikael Granlund - 24

    F Nino Niederreiter - 24

    F Teemu Pulkkinen - 24

    F Jason Zucker - 24

    D Jonas Brodin - 23

    D Matt Dumba - 22

    F Joel Eriksson Ek - 19

    Each of those forwards - with the probable exception of the recently claimed Pulkkinen - have had several huge moments in his Wolves career, and even in the playoffs. These are guys who were playing two years ago. Coyle appears to have taken a step forward. Others continue to have their moments yet fight to find a consistency, for whatever reason. Same thing with the defensemen. Dumba’s got the big shot that we all love, but on defense, he has some rough stretches. In fact, he was supposed to be a healthy scratch in a game over the weekend because of poor play. Illness put him back in the lineup and he played a strong game. Erikkson Ek is, of course, a different story. The team’s top pick just 16-months ago just made his NHL debut for the Wild last week. He scored a goal in his first game, and he had three assists in Tuesday’s game in Boston on Tuesday.

    Obviously the hope is that a new voice, Bruce Boudreau, will be able to get the most out of these young talents. Chuck Fletcher has some tough choices to make. Hopefully he chooses well and keeps some of these guys long-term and they help the team toward its first Stanley Cup.

    MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

    After making it to the playoffs eight straight seasons (including that fun 2004 run to the Western Conference finals), the Wolves have not made the playoffs for 12 years. In fact, they have not finished in 12th place in the 15-team conference ten of those 12 seasons. However, this year’s team is full of hope due to their extreme, but incredibly talented, youth.

    Shabazz Muhammad - 23

    Kris Dunn - 22

    Zach LaVine - 21

    Andrew Wiggins - 21

    Karl Anthony Towns - 20

    Tyus Jones - 20

    It’s interesting to think that Kris Dunn left Providence a year early, and yet he is older than four other former first rounders on his own team. The Wolves acquired Wiggins, the 2014 first-overall pick from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade. LaVine, who has won the last two Slam Dunk contests, really came into his own in the second half of last season. They earned the #1 overall pick in 2015, and they were wise enough to take Karl Anthony Towns with the pick. They also acquired Tyus Jones from the Cavs in that draft after his stellar career at Duke (...after his stellar career at Apple Valley).

    ccs-19-0-23357900-1477541941.jpg

    photo by Mark J Rebilas, USA Today

    Towns was the unanimous choice for NBA Rookie of the Year last year, and with improvement this year, he’ll find himself in NBA Best Player conversations soon. Wiggins can score, but he’ll need to show he can do some of the other things in the game. LaVine took off in the second half last year, showing he is much more than just an athletic dunker. He will get to play more at the 2-guard rather than point guard this year, but I believe that time was very valuable to his overall development. Dunn will allow LaVine to not play point guard. He’ll push Ricky Rubio (who, by the way, is just 25 still). He’ll be an integral part of the lineup in the near future. Muhammad has shown his ability in his three previous NBA seasons that he can provide offense off the bench. Jones probably needed a couple more years of college to get bigger, but he has always shown an ability to lead as a point guard. His time will be limited, however, unless there is an injury to Dunn or Rubio.

    THE CHALLENGE

    That’s a quick overview of the 24-and-under players for the four major league teams in the Twin Cities. I encourage all kinds of discussion in the comments below. For instance, which team’s “build” was best? Rank which teams will be a championship contender soonest. Which players are most marketable in the Twin Cities, or nationally?

    But here’s what I would like everyone to think about. I would like you to rank the top five players in the Twins Cities (under 25) by value. It can be value today, or what you think their value will be over the course of the next few years. Yes, that almost undefinable term that MVP voters love to throw around. It’s not necessarily just who is the best player relative to others in their sport, but it is also about intangibles that you may have in your mind? Which are all stars in their sport? Who has a chance to be an MVP candidate? Which ones are just nice, solid, every single day contributors.

    Just to start it out, here is my list:

    10) Mikael Granlund - Wild

    9) Zach LaVine - Wolves

    8) Charlie Coyle - Wild

    7) Stefon Diggs - Vikings

    6) Eric Kendricks - Vikings

    5) Byron Buxton - Twins

    4) Andrew Wiggins - Wolves

    3) Anthony Barr - Vikings

    2) Miguel Sano - Twins

    1) Karl Anthony Towns - Wolves

    What do you think? How would your ranking look? I left out some big names, like Max Kepler and Jose Berrios, like Kris Dunn, like Danielle Hunter, and like El Nino, Jason Zucker or Jonas Brodin. Maybe it’s easier to make a Top 15 or 20 list.

    Note - this article will appear on Twins Daily, Vikings Journal and Wild Xtra. Check the Comments between sites. I’m curious if the rankings will look any differently based on your fandom. Let the discussion begin.

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    Expect Zucker will be gone by next summer. Makes sense for Las Vegas to take the local kid in the expansion draft.

     

    Are you shortchanging the Wild a bit, Seth? Coyle should be higher than #8. I would also include Ek in your top 6 or 7. In part because he has been around so long, we don't appreciate how good Brodin is. I would get him into your top 10.

     

    Personally, I would drop Barr to #5 or lower, moving Buxton into #3. Being a Packer fan, I have a difficult time seeing anything positive about the Vikings...although I will agree they are the better team midway thru the 2016 season.

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    Wow, still can't believe the Jack Morris classic was 25 years ago.  That entire series was wild.....

     

    I must be up front, I'm a Twins fan living in Chicago so I don't follow the other Minnesota teams very much.  I'd agree 100% with Towns as #1.  That's a mega-star in the making.

     

    I'd put Buxton as #2, and I grant that it was a small sample size, but I base that on the September he had.  The 103 losses hurt, but watching him put together that month made me feel a little bit better.  As much as I like his on field ability/potential, I like his attitude just as much.  Seems very focused and well prioritized for someone so young.

     

    I even comitted to buying a Buxton shirsey, so I guess Gleeman would call me a Buxton bobo........

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    I don't follow hockey, sorry. And I follow the NBA somewhat casually, though I am a Lakers and Wolves fan. But the Vikings turn around I can comment on, and I have to say I'm very impressed. I think Spielman deserves an aweful lot of credit for what he's done to assemble talent. Especially since he was placed, more or less, fully in charge of his duties after having to initially defer so much. But the single biggest difference in the Vikings has been Zimmer and his coaching staff.

     

    Zimmer is proving to be an outstanding coach who has a real grasp of how to game plan, and how to reach and develop his team. Same with the coaches on his Stagg. Yes, there are problems with injuries on kffense, most notably the OL, and this one issue may preclude the Vikings from reaching their ultimate goal this season, though there is a lot of season to be played.

     

    The Twins are, I believe, finally on the right track with the rebuild of the FO and the rise of all the young talent on the roster, most of the names you mentioned above. I know we're all sick of the word "patience" due to the losing seasons and waiting for what seems like ages for all these prospects we've been reading and hearing about to arrive. But going forward, this newly assembled FO, the kids who have arrived, and others really closs, is a different team than the ones who lost 90+ games before 2015. While not 2r or under, the names Duffey, Rosario and Chargois old be added to the list of talented youngsters with a lot of baseball still ahead of them. So I hate to be patient, or ask others to be patient, but again, this is a new team and organization moving forward now. And for me, it's a lot easier watching and rooting for my team...even if not in immediate contention...making smart moves and building with prospects rather than losing or treading water with retreats, older prospects and stopgap FA signings.

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    I don't know, maybe I'm more bullish on him than I should be, but I absolutely have Buxton over Sano, at least for future overall value. Maybe I'm wrong.

     

    For me, it was a quick look at a combination of what they've done to this point overall, what they could become (Ceiling) and how that would rank in their respective sport.

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    Towns

    Buxton

    Sano

    Wiggins

     

    Those 4 have MVP capabilities in the near future.  The rest  of the folks is difficult as there is to much splitting hairs.

     

    25 years ago I just returned to Misawa AB Japan from a 10 month tour In Riyadh Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm/Shield .   The trip back basically made me miss the first 5 games.   I got to watch Game 6 live on Armed Forces TV and was hoping to see game 7 as well, but of course the military had other ideas.  I was supposed to receive an award from the Wing Commander.  I was a less than amused!  However, this is not something that can be turned down without major consequences, especially for a peon like I was at that point in my Air Force career.  SO I show up and it turns out the commander was from Minnesota,  and guess what?   Right, He sent the deputy commander to perform the duty, so as I can only assume so he could watch the Greatest MLB game ever played, and I was so pissed, I got to hear it on AFN radio, but NOT the same.  Although, I still cheered like an idiot!  My roommate recorded it for me...but set it to 3.5 hours on his VCR so it cut off in the 8th inning I think, that was just painfully funny at that point.  I did not get to actually see the end of the game until about 3 months later when my mother sent me the whole game when it came out on VHS.

     

    The Commander that did not show up was Col McFarland. (first name I do not know),  If by chance you you are reading this, I am still pissed!

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    Towns

    Buxton

    Sano

    Wiggins

     

    Those 4 have MVP capabilities in the near future.  The rest  of the folks is difficult as there is to much splitting hairs.

     

    25 years ago I just returned to Misawa AB Japan from a 10 month tour In Riyadh Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm/Shield .   The trip back basically made me miss the first 5 games.   I got to watch Game 6 live on Armed Forces TV and was hoping to see game 7 as well, but of course the military had other ideas.  I was supposed to receive an award from the Wing Commander.  I was a less than amused!  However, this is not something that can be turned down without major consequences, especially for a peon like I was at that point in my Air Force career.  SO I show up and it turns out the commander was from Minnesota,  and guess what?   Right, He sent the deputy commander to perform the duty, so as I can only assume so he could watch the Greatest MLB game ever played, and I was so pissed, I got to hear it on AFN radio, but NOT the same.  Although, I still cheered like an idiot!  My roommate recorded it for me...but set it to 3.5 hours on his VCR so it cut off in the 8th inning I think, that was just painfully funny at that point.  I did not get to actually see the end of the game until about 3 months later when my mother sent me the whole game when it came out on VHS.

     

    The Commander that did not show up was Col McFarland. (first name I do not know),  If by chance you you are reading this, I am still pissed!

     

    Thank you for your service, and thank you for your story... There are some great memories and stories from that night and that game!

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    Wow, still can't believe the Jack Morris classic was 25 years ago.  That entire series was wild.....

     

    I must be up front, I'm a Twins fan living in Chicago so I don't follow the other Minnesota teams very much.  I'd agree 100% with Towns as #1.  That's a mega-star in the making.

     

    I'd put Buxton as #2, and I grant that it was a small sample size, but I base that on the September he had.  The 103 losses hurt, but watching him put together that month made me feel a little bit better.  As much as I like his on field ability/potential, I like his attitude just as much.  Seems very focused and well prioritized for someone so young.

     

    I even comitted to buying a Buxton shirsey, so I guess Gleeman would call me a Buxton bobo........

    shirsey = part shirt, part jersey. I get it. Very clever slip on the icy keyboard.

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    IF, big IF, he comes back healthy in a year or two Teddy Bridgewater could be added to this list.  He is only 23, if he comes back he will be around 25.

     

    However, he is could also never play a snap again.  I would lump him in toward the back end based on first 2 seasons of play.  But man, this pre-season he looked pretty stellar until his leg folded in half.

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    IF, big IF, he comes back healthy in a year or two Teddy Bridgewater could be added to this list. He is only 23, if he comes back he will be around 25.

     

    However, he is could also never play a snap again. I would lump him in toward the back end based on first 2 seasons of play. But man, this pre-season he looked pretty stellar until his leg folded in half.

    I don't see how you keep both Bradford and Bridgewater.

    Barring a major injury to Bradford, I think Teddy has probably played his last game in purple.

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    I don't see how you keep both Bradford and Bridgewater.
    Barring a major injury to Bradford, I think Teddy has probably played his last game in purple.

    Teddy is still on a very reasonable rookie contract, so it doesn't hurt the Vikings to keep both on the off chance he successfully rehabs his knee. As we saw this year, it's always a good thing to have a good young backup QB on roster in case of devastating injury. 

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    1. Big KAT - don't watch any basketball, but all I've heard is he's this mega star in the making

    2. Anthony Barr - complete game changer for Vikings D 

    3. Miguel Sano - 40 HR caliber players don't grow on trees

    4. Eric Kendricks - Pro-Bowl caliber LB already. Should only get better

    5. Byron Buxton - Elite defense

    6. Jonas Brodin - one of the more consistent defensive focused D men in NHL

    7. Andrew Wiggins - again, don't watch basketball but have heard good things

    8. Stefon Diggs - flashes of brilliance, needs more consistency

    9. Charlie Coyle - should be a 25-30 goal scorer

    10. Danielle Hunter - would not surprise me if he had a 20 sack season one year

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    Teddy is still on a very reasonable rookie contract, so it doesn't hurt the Vikings to keep both on the off chance he successfully rehabs his knee. As we saw this year, it's always a good thing to have a good young backup QB on roster in case of devastating injury.

    I had forgotten that the Vikings can pick up the 5th year option on Teddy.

    I was thinking that next year would be the last year of his deal- in which case you'd want to recoup a draft pick before losing him for nothing.

    But yeah, with that 5th year option, it makes sense to keep him 1 more year, unless someone offers you a 1st round pick.

     

    The one possible fly in the ointment there is that the Vikings would have to guarantee that option before they know if he's fully recovered.

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