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  • Part 4: Seth's Top 30 Twins Pitching Prospects (11-15)


    Seth Stohs

    As we continue to countdown the top Minnesota Twins pitching prospects, we have five pitchers with high ceilings and some question marks. When looking at starting pitchers, you would like to see a consistent third or fourth pitch. There are injuries and rehab. It's not easy to get to the big leagues as a pitcher, but I believe all five of these pitchers can be big leaguers. 

    Image courtesy of Jean Pfeifer (aka go4twinkies on Instagram, Varland), Seth Stohs (photos of Cole Sands, Blayne Enlow), William Parmeter (photo of Gipson-Long), Rob Thompson (photo of Drew Strotman)

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    In today’s list of five Twins pitching prospects, you’ve got five pitchers that have big potential, high ceilings, but also may have a question mark or two. That may be the need to add a third (or fourth) pitch, gain better control or command, or return from injury and continue to improve. 

    #15 - RHP Drew Strotman 
    2021 STATS: 3-3, 7.33 ERA, 12/12 G/GS, 1.76 WHIP, 42/30 K/BB, 54.0 IP

    Drew Strotman was the Rays fourth-round pick in 2017 out of St. Mary’s College (California). He had Tommy John surgery in June 2018. He returned to the mound with nine games and 24 innings. He got some extra time playing with Twins prospects in the Arizona Fall League after the season. The Rays added him to the 40-man roster after the season, but he didn’t pitch in a game in 2020. In 2021, he had been 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA for Triple-A Durham. Then in late July, he came to the Twins with Joe Ryan in the trade for Nelson Cruz. He struggled with the Saints. Overall on the season, he threw 112 1/3 innings> He struck out 104 but walked 63 batters. Obviously after Tommy John, he will need to regain control and command, but the velocity is certainly back. He was sitting in the mid-90s with the Saints and touched 99 mph with the fastball. He has secondary pitches that can be really good at times. He will be 25 throughout the 2022 season. If he can find control, he has a chance to be a big-league starter. But with his fastball and a good slider, he could be a big bullpen arm for a long time.

    #14 - RHP Sawyer Gipson-Long 
    2021 STATS: 8-8, 4.55 ERA, 20/19 G/GS, 1.30 WHIP, 134/27 K/BB, 97.0 IP

    The Twins drafted Sawyer Gipson-Long in the 6th round of the 2019 draft out of Mercer University in his home state of Georgia.He made six starts that summer in Elizabethton. After the missed 2020 season, the Twins had him start with the Mighty Mussels. He made 13 starts and went 5-5 with a 4.54 ERA in 67 1/3 innings. He ended the season with six starts for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. And went 3-3 with a 4.55 ERA. Overall, he worked 97 innings. He walked just 27 and struck out 134 batters (12.4 K/9). Gipson-Long looks the part of a big-league pitcher, standing tall and strong. He’s got a really good fastball and as you can see, he has the ability to miss a lot of bats. Like all pitchers, there are areas he can keep improving upon and the big thing may be consistency with his secondary pitches. But if you’re looking for a breakout pitcher in the Twins system for 2022, just-turned-24-year-old Gipson-Long just might be it. 

    #13 - RHP Cole Sands
    2021 STATS: 4-2, 2.46 ERA, 19/18 G/GS, 1.17 WHIP, 96/35 K/BB, 80.1 IP 

    In November, Cole Sands was added to the Twins 40-man roster, and it was likely an easy decision. In 19 games (18 starts) for Double-A Wichita, Sands was really good when he was on the mound. He has arguably the best curveball in the organization and his fastball is in the low-90s, touching 94-95 mph. Unfortunately, he missed time a couple of times on the Injured List for short stints. The 24-year-old spent three seasons playing in his hometown, for Florida State, before the Twins drafted him in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. He made his professional debut in 2019 and pitched at Ft. Myers, Cedar Rapids and Double-A Pensacola. He didn’t pitch in 2020. 

    #12 - RHP Louie Varland 
    2021 STATS: 10-4, 2.10 ERA, 20/18 G/GS, 1.09 WHIP, 142/30 K/BB, 103.0 IP

    Louie Varland, a North St. Paul High School grad, chose to join his older brother Gus at Concordia University in St. Paul. The two were on the team for two seasons before Gus was drafted by the A’s in 2018. A year later, Louie was the 15th round pick of the Twins. He made three appearances for Elizabethton that season and then did not pitch in 2020. So while most Twins that don’t follow Twins Daily didn’t know about him before the season, he had a monster breakout season in 2021. He pitched in ten games for the Mighty Mussels and went 4-2 with a 2.09 ERA. He moved up to Cedar Rapids in the second half and was 6-2 with a 2.10 ERA. In 103 innings, he struck out 142 batters (12.4 K/9) and walked just 30. He was the easy choice for Twins Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year. Varland made a name for himself last offseason when video of him hitting 100 mph on the radar gun surfaced on Twitter. In games, he generally sat between 94 and 96 mph with the fastball. He also has a slider that at times can be really, really sharp. The pitch that will determine his future is the changeup. At times this year, it was really good. I mean, look at his numbers. He was on all year, but that is his third pitch and one he will continue to develop. The next challenge for Varland will be Double-A in 2022. He will be 24-years-old throughout the season. 

    #11 - RHP Blayne Enlow 
    2021 STATS: 1-1, 1.84 ERA, 3/3 G/GS, 1.30 WHIP, 23/6 K/BB, 14.2 IP

    Blayne Enlow has been in the Twins organization for a long-time already. He was the Twins third-round draft pick in 2017 out of high school in Louisiana. The Twins were able to meet his signing bonus request, and he gave up his scholarship to LSU. He slowly worked up the system, ending the 2019 season at High-A Ft. Myers. That is where he began the 2021 season, this time in Cedar Rapids. He made three starts for the Kernels and was throwing hard and missing a lot of bats. In those games, he worked 14 2/3 innings and struck out 23 batters. Unfortunately, in a between-starts bullpen session, he didn’t feel right. In June, he had Tommy John surgery. After some time off, he has been rehabbing in Ft. Myers. The Twins had a tough decision, but chose to add him to the 40-man roster because of his upside. Unfortunately, when the lockdown started, he was no longer able to work at the Twins complex or talk with people with the Twins. He has been working in Arizona and hopes to be ready for the start of the season. The Twins will be patient with such a talent. When healthy, Enlow was pitching in the mid-90s, having added velocity in the lost-2020 season. He’s always been known for his spin and throws both a curveball and a slider. He also had a much-improved changeup. Just as important, he is in a good frame of mind and has full confidence. 

    In summary, this is a really exciting group of pitchers. They fit into the mold of this front office. These guys can spin the ball. Four of the five were drafted out of college. Each of them has had a big increase in velocity. And, each of them has a real chance to pitch in the big leagues. 

    Feel free to discuss these pitchers and ask questions below. 

    Previous Rankings
    Hitters Part 1: 26-30
    Hitters Part 2: 21-25
    Hitters Part 3: 16-20 

    Pitchers Part 1: 26-30  
    Pitchers Part 2: 21-25 
    Pitchers Part 3: 16-20
    Pitchers Part 4: 11-15 

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    This Twins MiLB season is going to must watch for the pitching rotation in all four Affiliates. In AAA it could be Winder, Sands, Balazovich, Strotman and Jax with Smeltzer and maybe Duran as well depending on where they want to start him. That is a rotation 7 men deep and each one a possible future starter for the MLB club.

    AA has Canterino, SWR, Varland, Vallimont, Gross, Funderburk and Schulfer which is another nice group.  Canterino, Balazovich and Duran could end up at AA or AAA really hard to say and I guess it would depend on where they need guys and whether any of Winder, Sands, Strotman, Jax or Smeltzer impress enough to start with the MLB club.  Still it is a nice group of arms.  If serious arm issues hadn't hit Enlow and Rio they would likely be in the conversation with the AA group as well.

    At High A we have Gipson-Long, Mooney, Laweryson, Headrick and Legumina.  Maybe not quite as much upside on those last three but still a solid group.  Varland could start out at High A depending on how things shake out above but I am still Sticking Louie at AA for now given his complete domination at High A.

    Finally at A ball we get a chance to see Hajjer, Povich, Mcleod and Adams who were selected in the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds. 5 pitchers in the first 6 rounds if you include 1st round pick Petty who I presume will spend his time in the FCL working on pitches and building endurance for full season ball in 2023.  I can't remember the Twins picking that many pitchers that high in a long, long time.  Grace, Hanner, Leach. Stankiewicz and maybe Escobar could also join that group depending on how they look this spring.

    If Escobar stays in SS ball the FCL pitchers look promising as well with Petty, Raya, Escobar, Rimmel, and maybe Yabbour. 

    So Lot's of promising arms to watch in the MiLB season this year.  Let's hope there are fewer injuries so that we can watch all these guys develop.

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    Will second the above comments, Seth.  With Enlow (#11), Sands (#13) and Strotman (#15), the top 10 is going to be one heck of a group.  Especially considering that two of them were recently added to the 40-man.

    I understand that us fans aren't always patient, especially after a year like 2021.  But the FO is doing exactly what they were brought in to do, ie, build a pitching pipeline.  And we need to remember that doing so takes time.

    None of us want to fast forward and wish away 2022, especially us old guys, but I have a feeling that the Twins pitching come 2023 is going to be better than good.  And a big part of it will be home grown and young!

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    More great summaries, Seth.  I also love your conversations with minor leaguers.  I saw Varland pitch at CR and on that day his changeup was looking good.  Among the Twins pitching coaches at all levels, who is the best one at helping develop changeups?  Once the lockout ends :(, I would have him spend some time with Varland because if he can get that going, he is going to be quite an arm.

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    The series of reports on minor league prospects, by Seth Stohs in these sets, have grown increasingly detailed throughout the past forty years since Baseball America was founded and largely replaced The Sporting News as a source for baseball information. Seth does a terrific job and places a wealth of information in the hands of the Twins fans. It is always interesting to read and follow the prospects mentioned in the articles. Thank you Seth for such a fine job of setting out a brief report on so many prospects.  

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    Thanks for the summary.  I am less in on Enlow and Strotman than the rest of the commentators, but still love this group.  

    One question I have for you Seth.  Most batting prospects are expected to get to the majors about years 23 - 25 and after that they are considered marginal.  I was interested in the ages in this group and wondered what the expected ages are for pitching prospects?  I know that Nathan was 29 when he made it, but it took a switch to the BP and he started in the majors at 24, Berrios was 22 his first (and not great) year in MLB and Santana was 21.   Viola was 22, Kaat was 20, and Radtke was 22.  

    Strotman is 25, Gipson-Long is 24, Varland and Sands are both 24 and Enlow is the youngest at 23.  None are ready for the majors, but their clock is ticking. 

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    3 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    Thanks for the summary.  I am less in on Enlow and Strotman than the rest of the commentators, but still love this group.  

    One question I have for you Seth.  Most batting prospects are expected to get to the majors about years 23 - 25 and after that they are considered marginal.  I was interested in the ages in this group and wondered what the expected ages are for pitching prospects?  I know that Nathan was 29 when he made it, but it took a switch to the BP and he started in the majors at 24, Berrios was 22 his first (and not great) year in MLB and Santana was 21.   Viola was 22, Kaat was 20, and Radtke was 22.  

    Strotman is 25, Gipson-Long is 24, Varland and Sands are both 24 and Enlow is the youngest at 23.  None are ready for the majors, but their clock is ticking. 

    I think some of that some stems from teams perhaps being more cautious or deliberate with some of their arms.  We've seen a large uptick in teams going with college arms as their earlier choices in the draft (at least it appears this way on a cursory glance) and a willingness or perhaps even a preference to let HS pitchers go to college and grow and develop there first.

    When looked at it from that perspective, you start to see the ages of some of the MLB debuts creep up a little as many guys are entering the pro ranks at 21/22/even 23 now instead of 18.

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    3 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    Thanks for the summary.  I am less in on Enlow and Strotman than the rest of the commentators, but still love this group.  

    One question I have for you Seth.  Most batting prospects are expected to get to the majors about years 23 - 25 and after that they are considered marginal.  I was interested in the ages in this group and wondered what the expected ages are for pitching prospects?  I know that Nathan was 29 when he made it, but it took a switch to the BP and he started in the majors at 24, Berrios was 22 his first (and not great) year in MLB and Santana was 21.   Viola was 22, Kaat was 20, and Radtke was 22.  

    Strotman is 25, Gipson-Long is 24, Varland and Sands are both 24 and Enlow is the youngest at 23.  None are ready for the majors, but their clock is ticking. 

    I was going to comment something similar. They all seem quite old for their levels to be prospects. I assume that is largely due to the covid response of cancelling the MiL season.

    I sort of expected more aggressive promotions in 2021, but the Twins seemed to treat 2021 like the 2020 season rather than the 2021 season. Does that make sense as I wrote it?

    Are most MLB orgs handling their prospects the same way?

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    5 hours ago, tony&rodney said:

    The series of reports on minor league prospects, by Seth Stohs in these sets, have grown increasingly detailed throughout the past forty years since Baseball America was founded and largely replaced The Sporting News as a source for baseball information. Seth does a terrific job and places a wealth of information in the hands of the Twins fans. It is always interesting to read and follow the prospects mentioned in the articles. Thank you Seth for such a fine job of setting out a brief report on so many prospects.  

    Thank you! Wow! That was too kind.

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    1 hour ago, Minny505 said:

    I was going to comment something similar. They all seem quite old for their levels to be prospects. I assume that is largely due to the covid response of cancelling the MiL season.

    I sort of expected more aggressive promotions in 2021, but the Twins seemed to treat 2021 like the 2020 season rather than the 2021 season. Does that make sense as I wrote it?

    Are most MLB orgs handling their prospects the same way?

    I found this article from last spring - youngest MLB players and thought it was interesting.  The position players are getting younger promotions - Acuna, Soto, Guerrero, etc, but the number of equally young SP seems to be falling.  And this article from last winter Best under 25 had two pitchers out of 25 players - and they were in the bottom half of the rankings.   In September this article looked at the best pitchers under 25 -  Just missing the top ten was former Twins prospect - Huascar Ynoa 

     

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    14 hours ago, RJA said:

    More great summaries, Seth.  I also love your conversations with minor leaguers.  I saw Varland pitch at CR and on that day his changeup was looking good.  Among the Twins pitching coaches at all levels, who is the best one at helping develop changeups?  Once the lockout ends :(, I would have him spend some time with Varland because if he can get that going, he is going to be quite an arm.

    Varland isn't on the 40-man roster, so he can continue as normal this offseason. It's just players on the 40-man roster who can't work at the Twins facilities or talk to coaches, front office, etc. 

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    7 hours ago, mk said:

    Barring injuries, is there any reason the St. Paul starting rotation shouldn't include Duran, Balazovic, Winder, Strotman and Woods-Richardson? What's the upside of running out someone like Chandler Shepherd for 17 starts?

    I would have Woods Richardson in Double-A for at least half the season, or even the full season would be fine. I would assume Devin Smeltzer will be in the St. Paul rotation. I assume Griffin Jax could be. Cole Sands should be before Woods Richardson. And, I know people hate it, but there's always value in bringing in veterans who can pitch in a starting or relieving role in Triple-A. And teams will still be effected by the 2020 season in terms of innings limits, injuries, etc. 

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    A ton of talent in this set and we're not even in the top ten yet? (this also may be a sign that I'm going to disagree with some of Seth's top 10, lol)

    Sands is a guy I really like, and while I expect him to be in AAA to start the year, he's definitely someone in the mix to make his debut in 2022. While I'm not excited about how the MLB rotation is shaping up right now, I am enthusiastic about the fact that if/when the Twins need to go deeper to get starts from within the organization they're going to be looking at someone like Sands, rather than Charlie Barnes.

    There's no question that the missing 2020 minor league season set some of these guys back in their development and the adjustment in returning to game play may have been one of the reasons we saw so many pitching injuries in 2021. So here's hoping for good health by all of these guys!

    Strotman...well, we'll see. He's got talent, but he looked pretty rough last year. He's got to find the command or he's going to be in the bullpen pretty quickly.

    Can't wait to see Varland at AA to see how he does against better and older competition. He had a terrific year and deserved to get in the prospect conversation, but if you can't dominate low-A at age 22, then you're probably not going to be a prospect. The fact that Varland continued to pitch so well upon promotion really speaks well of him and suggests that the mechanical adjustments they've made with him give him the stuff he needs to compete. He's a great reminder to keep an eye on your own backyard and not ignore a player just because he went to a D-II school. Hope they continue to scout the Northern Sun!

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    Seth:  Echoing the comments of several others-----outstanding piece/analysis on these pitching prospects.  Have a mid May trip planned to Wichita to see the Wind Surge play Springfield.  Planning to see at least 2 games---which I hope to see SWR or Varland get a start.  Looking forward to your 1-10 rankings.  

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