“I don’t know about other organizations, but it’s unprecedented in our history of the way we’ve drafted over the course of years. To take four high school position players with consecutive picks, I don’t think a lot of teams have done that.” Deron Johnson, Twins Senior Advisor to Scouting, continued, “I’m proud. It’s a bold move, I think.I don’t know many teams that have done that in the past. So far so good with the results.”
Johnson, as you recall, became the Twins scouting director in 2008 and held the position through the 2016 season when he received his promotion to the Senior Scouting Advisor role.
Alex Kirilloff has been one of the most impressive hitters in all of minor league baseball in 2018. Ben Rortvedt’s development both at the plate and behind the plate has been noticed by the organization. Jose Miranda’s 2018 season started slow in Cedar Rapids, but he’s been raking since and recently earned his promotion to Ft. Myers. Akil Baddoo remains in Cedar Rapids at this point, but he’s been very impressive at the plate and in center field and continues to improve.
Deron Johnson insists that the plan coming into the draft wasn’t necessarily to take four high school kids right away. “You have a plan, but being able to watch our system over the years, I knew that we were in need of some position players. It just so happened.”
Here is a quick look back at the top four Twins draft picks in 2016 through the eyes of Deron Johnson.
“He hasn’t missed a beat since he had that layoff.”
That layoff, of course, was missing the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. As you know, Kirilloff has not only been arguably the top hitter in the Twins minor leagues this year, but maybe one of the best in all of minor league baseball. He spent the first 65 games of his 2018 season in Cedar Rapids. He hit .333/.391/.607 (.999) with 20 doubles, five triples, 13 home runs and 56 RBI. He played in the Midwest League All-Star Game and then immediately was promoted to Ft. Myers. He represented the Twins on Team USA at the Futures Game, and went 2-for-2. In his 47 games with the Miracle, he has hit .365/.385/.547 (.932) with 19 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 37 RBI.
The Twins used the 15th overall pick to take Kirilloff who played high school ball for Plum High School near Pittsburgh. While they drafted him in 2016, they had known about him for a couple of years already. He made a major impression on Johnson at Petco Park in San Diego a year before the draft.
Johnson, recalled, “He hit a ball during the Perfect Game All-American Game in Petco. I mean, it was an absolute bomb. Left-handers don’t hit balls out a lot at that park. Mostly right-handers because the ball kind of travels there. That showed me that this guy’s got power.”
Johnson saw him again early in the 2016 season. “I saw him a couple of times. I saw him two or three games in Florida early in spring and we identified him as a guy going into the draft.”
Shortly before the draft, Johnson traveled to Pittsburgh to see Kirilloff play. Unfortunately, the game was rained out. It ended up creating a great opportunity for the scout. “ I got a chance to see him practice. A lot of times, it’s better than seeing the games. I got a chance to speak with the kid, see how he goes about his business, see how he interacts with his teammates, and that was great. Plus we had a lot of looks on him too.”
There is this perception that players from northern states can’t get seen by scouts as easily as players from southern states. There is some truth to that, but the top prep players now are playing in the summer baseball circuit across the country, and they are the showcases necessary if players want to get drafted. That is where Rortvedt was first seen.
Johnson pointed out, “We got a lot of looks in the summer. He played against the best guys. He was on that Perfect Game tour, played in the All-America Game. We definitely relied on Mike Ruth, Mike Radcliff, and Mark Wilson, the scout that had the area at the time. We had a lot of coverage on him. We had a lot of looks.”
Rortvedt was the Twins second-round draft pick, the 56th overall pick in the draft, out of Verona High School in Verona, Wisconsin. He split that season between the GCL and Elizabethton. He made the jump to Cedar Rapids in 2017, and admittedly he struggled with the bat. But he was gaining experience and making improvements. He returned to Cedar Rapids to start the 2018 season. In 39 games, he hit .276/.325/.386 (.711) with 12 extra base hits. He has now played 39 games since being promoted to Ft. Myers. He has hit .244/.342/.351 (.693) with eight extra base hits (including a two home run game).
Behind the plate, he is blessed with a very strong arm and has gained a reputation for working well with his pitchers. But there is a thought, a hope that he will be able to continue making strides offensively as well.
Johnson believes in Rortvedt’s offensive potential. “I think he can. I think he’s strong. For him, I think it’s all about approach .He’s got a nice swing. He’s a very strong young man. A lot of that’s been addressed. Drive the ball. If he can consistently learn to and want to drive the ball, the sky's the limit for him. He’s one of the younger guys again in the Florida State League. He doesn’t strike out much, makes contact. He’s got raw power. There’s no question about that. Is he going to be a 25-home run guy? Well, I’m not going to say he can’t.”
But again, his defense is where he can really affect a game. “His defense has improved immensely. He can really throw. He can stop a running game. He’s athletic behind the plate. Someone quoted me after the draft where I said that he looks like he was born to catch. I truly believe that He looks like a catcher. He looks like one of those old school catchers from the ‘50s. The big forearms, the squared jaw. The real strong face. He’s young. He’s still got some immaturity. He’s not grown up yet. It’s going to take some time, but he works at it. He really gives a good effort. His game-calling has really improved. I think all aspects of his game have gotten better.”
The Twins added the 73rd overall pick in the 2017 as part of the compensation round. Miranda was another guy that the Twins had seen quite a bit of, including at a Perfect Game event.
Miranda actually grew up in Florida. According to Johnson, “He had played in the States. His mom is a flight attendant located in Florida. He went to high school in Florida his freshman and sophomore years, and then he moved back to Puerto Rico.”
He started out this season at Cedar Rapids and like the weather conditions, he was cold. As the temperatures, Miranda’s bat heated up. In 104 total games with the Kernels, he hit .277/.326/.434 (.760) with 22 doubles, 13 home runs and 72 RBI. He has now played in eight games since being promoted to the Ft. Myers Miracle.
He had his coming out party, of sorts, at Perfect Game. “We didn’t know who he was. (Delvin) Perez was the main guy. (Long-time Twins scout) Freddie Thon said, let’s take a look at this guy. I kind of like this guy.”
“We saw him, and we like everything about him. We’ve always liked his bat. His defense is getting better. He’s found a home at 3B. He’s going to be a big man.”
Miranda was drafted as a shortstop, but it was known that he wouldn’t stay there, though he did make one start there since joining the Miracle. He split much of his time in Cedar Rapids between second base and third base.
In the 2015 draft, the Twins used their second round pick (73rd pick) on right-handed pitcher Kyle Cody, a Wisconsin native who had spent three years at the University of Kentucky. For a few reasons, Cody did not sign with the Twins. Because they did not sign him, the Twins received the 74th overall pick of the 2016 draft.
The Twins went to a familiar place for this selection. They signed a tremendous athlete out of high school in Georgia. In 2010, they drafted Niko Goodrum out of Fayette County High School in Georgia. In 2012, the Twins used the second overall pick in the draft on Byron Buxton who went to Appling County High School in Baxley, Georgia. Akil Baddoo continues that line of Twins great athletes selected by the Twins out of Georgia.
Johnson noted, “Akil is coming into his own. He always kind of knew the strike zone as a high school kid. He’s from Georgia and he plays some really good competition. Georgia is one of the few areas in the country, along with Southern California and Florida and Texas, they play a lot of good baseball. It’s been a hotbed, not just for us, but for the industry.”
Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State are a couple of powerhouse colleges, but the prep ranks are loaded with great talent. In fact, when the Twins used the 74th overall pick in Akil Baddoo, he became the seventh Georgia high school kid drafted in 2016. Josh Lowe was the 13th overall pick by the Rays. With the 14th pick, Cleveland’s selection was Will Benson. Carter Kierboom was the 28th overall pick by the Nationals. Taylor Trammell went to the Reds with the 35th pick. The Angels selected Brandon Marsh with the 60th overall pick. Alex Speas went #63 to the Texas Rangers.
Johnson saw all of them, but he wondered why Baddoo wasn’t always mentioned in the same breath as some of those top picks.
“He’s from out in the country, a little town called Conyers. Akil, everyone knew him, but he was the second tier of that group. Taylor Trammell came out that year. Three or four first-round picks come out of Atlanta that year. I was always curious why people weren’t talking about Akil more. We got a lot of looks at him.”
He was seen a lot the summer before he was drafted. But it was very late in the summer when Baddoo took another step forward in the eyes of the Twins scouts.
“We saw him at a Puerto Rico event the winter before the draft. The Mets put together a showcase where they bring a team from the States, and they play against Puerto Rican kids. It’s a great event. It’s after other events so you don’t get a lot of kids to show up. They’re tired. But Akil was there. He showed his passion for baseball. We liked him during the summer and were excited to see him show up. He went off there. He hit the ball hard, drove some balls, ran hard.”
Baddoo was the Twins Daily choice for short-season Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2017 when he split the season between the GCL and Elizabethton. He has now played in 101 games this season for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He has hit .241/.354/.413 (.767) with 19 doubles, nine triples and ten home runs. He also has 21 stolen bases in 26 attempts.
Baddoo is a great athlete and has the built of a football player. “He’s strong. He’s like a running back. For me, he’s running better than when we drafted him. He’s a 70 runner. He’s playing way better defense. Mike Quade’s done a really good job with him defensively. He was a little raw defensively, but he’s got a different throwing action, but he can throw the ball. That’s maybe the one negative, the throwing. He’s getting much better. He’s got a chance to be a plus base runner.”
It is certainly not normal for a team to use four draft picks in the top two rounds and use each of them on high school hitters. To this point, the Twins front office has to be thrilled with all four picks. Each has experienced success and advanced up the organizational ladder appropriately, maybe even aggressive in some cases.
2016 was Deron Johnson’s final draft as scouting director, replaced by Sean Johnson. He says he is enjoying his new role where he gets to scout in many places. He was involved in the amateur scouting, the pro scouting and has had a chance to do some work internationally as well. But he has the right to be proud and excited about what the future might hold for his final draft.
“I got a chance to see all those guys this summer, and it was fun to see. I got to see Alex. He’s done tremendously. Ben has been doing really well. He’s really improved defensively and his bat is coming on, so that is encouraging. Baddoo, despite his batting average, his peripheral numbers are really good. He’s hitting for some power, a bunch of doubles and stolen bases. And Miranda, I was there when he started heating up too.” Johnson continued. “It’s encouraging seeing those kids play well. I think Alex Is the oldest at 20-years-old. Akil won’t be 20 until the end of the year. It’s awesome seeing those guys have that kind of success this early in their career. ”
But what is just as exciting as the top four picks, there are several other players that the Twins drafted in 2016 who remain in the organization and also have a chance to reach the big leagues. Will they? There’s no way to know that yet, of course, but several are on the right path. Soon, we will continue the conversation with Deron Johnson and discuss the rest of the Twins 2016 draft. It is a draft class that the Twins and their front office should be excited about.