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  • Twins Daily 2020 Top Prospects: #9 Brent Rooker


    Nick Nelson

    The Minnesota Twins are not short on slugging talents presently, but that doesn't negate the excitement of having a truly prodigious power hitter, fresh off crushing at the highest level of the minors, ready to join the big-league ranks.

     

    Brent Rooker has left little doubt that he can hit. All he needs now is an opportunity.

    Image courtesy of Seth Stohs (Graphic by Brock Beauchamp)

    Position: LF

    Age: 25 (DOB: 11/1/1995)

    2019 Stats (AAA): 274 PA, .281/.398/.535, 14 HR, 47 RBI

    ETA: 2020

    2019 Ranking: 6

     

    National Top 100 Rankings

    BA: NA | MLB: NA | ATH: NA | BP: NA

     

    What's To Like

     

    Power-hitting has been commoditized to a large degree in the modern MLB environment. Players who can straight-up mash, but don't excel in any defensive capacity, are not the coveted assets they once were. But that's not to say they aren't valued: Just take a look at Miguel Sano and his freshly minted $30 million contract extension.

     

    And what Rooker can do is MASH. The Mississippi State product was widely considered one of the best hitters in the country when taken 35th overall by Minnesota in the 2017 draft, becoming the second player drafted under the Falvine Regime after they went with Royce Lewis No. 1 overall.

     

    Rooker has backed up his prestigious offensive rep since entering pro ball, slashing .267/.357/.505 with 54 home runs through 259 total games. In 2019 he put up a .928 OPS at Triple-A, with a jaw-dropping .319/.463/.572 line in 41 games after June 1st. Sounds like a guy who's about major-league ready. In fact, he might've gotten there last summer if a groin injury hadn't derailed him in mid-July.

     

    When he was on-stage as a guest at the recent Twins Daily Winter Meltdown, Kent Hrbek made an interesting a comment about the ferocity of uppercut swings that are now commonplace: "There's a lot of [retired] guys that talk about that nowadays, that there could've been a lot more home runs hit if you just sit and try to launch all day long. I mean you take a swing like they take swings off of guys now, you'd get the ball on the side of the head the next time up."

     

    Rooker pretty much epitomizes what Hrbek was describing. He swings very hard and aims to put it in the air. His immense power is legitimately eye-catching; the ball just rockets off his bat, and tends to go very far, very fast.

     

     

    While the continuance of his slugging success was a positive last year, the most promising development was his sharpening patience at the plate. Rooker walked 12.8% of the time, enabling him to reach base at a nearly .400 clip in Triple-A. He made enormous improvements with his discipline over the course of the year.

     

    What's Left To Work On

     

    The tough thing with Rooker's profile is that it leaves so little margin for error. He needs to maintain as an offensive force at the highest level to be a long-term regular in the majors. Defensively he's rather limited, whether in left field or at first base, and his best future fit seems to be as a designated hitter.

     

    That's all well and good if he keeps on producing like he has, since Minnesota's DH spot is presently unspoken for after this year, but there is reason to wonder if he can translate his dominance to the highest level.

     

    Namely, it's the strikeouts.

     

    As a result of his relentlessly aggressive cuts, Rooker whiffs quite a bit. His 34.7% K-rate last year was ninth-highest in the International League (min. 200 PA), and would've been seventh-highest in the majors (two spots behind the previously mentioned Sano, another notorious hard-swinger). Rooker's .281 batting average for the Red Wings in 2019 was buoyed by a blatantly unsustainable .417 BABIP.

     

    The lack of contact, if it continues, could make it tough for Rooker to find stable footing in the big leagues. Sano is one of the few productive hitters in that realm, though Joey Gallo is another notable example.

     

    But, again, Rooker's studious nature and proven adaptiveness offer valid reason to hope he can cut down the strikeouts. He did lower his K-rate to 29% in his final 25 games for Rochester last year, after posting an egregious 38% rate his first 40.

     

    What's Next

     

    The Twins have been very successful – so far – with their top draft picks in recent years. Rooker is sort of a victim to this success. He's basically been the player they hoped he would be, but Minnesota also looks to have struck gold on fellow first-rounders and corner guys Alex Kirilloff (2016) and Trevor Larnach (2018), who project as more well-rounded big-leaguers and have fewer question marks.

     

    Rooker is a step ahead of the others in development, having conquered Triple-A, but that doesn't help him much now, with nothing currently resembling a short-term opening on the MLB radar. That can of course change in a hurry when the current DH occupant is a 39-year-old with a balky wrist, and indeed, a Nelson Cruz absence is probably the most likely avenue for Rooker to reach the majors in short order. An injury to Sano or Eddie Rosario could also create an opening, to the extent the Twins are willing to tolerate Rooker's defense.

     

    Until such an opportunity presents itself, Rooker will head back to Triple-A, where he will likely keep on mashing.

     

    Twins Daily 2020 Top 20 Prospects

    Honorable Mentions

    20. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B

    19. Cole Sands, RHP

    18. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/LF

    17. Misael Urbina, OF

    16. Edwar Colina, RP

    15. Matt Canterino, RHP

    14. Matt Wallner, OF

    13. Wander Javier, SS

    12. Gilberto Celestino, OF

    11. Lewis Thorpe, LHP

    10. Blayne Enlow, RHP

    9. Brent Rooker, OF

    Stop by Monday for prospect #8!

     

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    He had nearly .400 OBP with a 34.7 K% at AAA? Wow, he's quite the 3 outcome hitter.

     

    I do hope we get to see him this year... but it that will only likely happen with Sano/Cruz getting hurt. With Larnach and Kiriloff coming up eventually, I hope Rooker can find MLB success somewhere, but I find it hard to see that happening with the Twins.

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    Our rankings:

     

    Seth: 14

    Nick: 8

    Tom: 8

    Cody: 13

     

    I think that Brent Rooker can be a long-term, 200+ MLB home run type of player, and I think that's very realistic... And I ranked him #14 in this system, and I don't know, in looking at my personal rankings, that I have him behind anyone that I shouldn't... Which tells me again that this Twins system is so strong... and that I could probably lump my #8 through #15 prospects into a group and you could put them in any order. 

     

    April 2019:16 G, .214/.279/.464 (.743) with 2 doubles, 4 HR. 45.9% K%

    After April 2019: 49 G, .302/.432/.558 (.990) with 14 doubles, 10 HR, 31.4% K%

     

    Contact will be the biggest thing for him. When he makes contact, good things happen. 

     

    Defense is the question. 

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    Didn't know what to expect when drafted.  To be honest, he has performed better than I expected.  Still don't know what we have.  Rather than going down, will the strikeouts increase when he faces major league pitching?  As blindeke asks above, how bad is his defense? 

     

    Expect we will learn a lot more this year and if he is the studious hard worker and improves a bit in both areas of concern, may be another big bat.  Just don't know where he will fit with the Twins this year or beyond.  I know everyone keeps assuming the DH spot will be open in 2021.  What if Nelson has a repeat performance of 2019, does he return on a one year contract?  I sure as heck would hope so.  

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    Just how bad is his defense? Like who are you comparing him to out there, on a scale of Kepler to Delmon?

    The games I saw him play with Chattanooga... I wouldn't say he's a Gold Glover, but honestly...   he was passable.

     

    Rooker is a very athletic guy and moves very well.    He may not have great natural defensive instincts, but at the end of the day I truly believe he can be at least adequate. 

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    The games I saw him play with Chattanooga... I wouldn't say he's a Gold Glover, but honestly...   he was passable.

     

    Rooker is a very athletic guy and moves very well.    He may not have great natural defensive instincts, but at the end of the day I truly believe he can be at least adequate. 

    Thanks ExPat.  When you saw him, was he at first base or in the outfield?

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    I think he'll be good insurance to have at AAA for if Sano gets hurt. Miguel is usually good for an injury or two during the season, so having Rooker around to come up would be nice. If he comes up, he can find some things to work on when he goes back down.

     

    Later in the season he could be a good 26th man, then, and it hurts me on the inside to say this, Astudillo can go to AAA.

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    We have Raley, Kiriloff and Larnach.  I think Rooker is a trade candidate.

     

    I hate his strikeouts.  If you ask me what he has to work on - its defense first, become a valuable player not a very young DH.  Second learn contact.  With that much power if he makes contact there will be more home runs.

     

    I prefer Seth's rating. 

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    I got to watch him play on team USA during the WBC here in Japan. Obviously, his range in the OF is somewhat limited, but he ran good routes on balls hit his way and didn't make any gaffes on the field, which could not be said of the other OFs.

     

    As for hitting, he appeared quite patient and boasted a +.400 BA. Granted, these are miniscule samples, but I liked his approach.

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    I like Rooker. He'll get some time in the majors this year when Donaldson, Cruz or Sano go to the DL.

     

    With the new roster expansion to 26 players, I wonder if the Twins would risk having a thunder bat on the bench for a few pinch hit opportunities over the year and spot starts or go with a more flexible option. Obviously, you generally want young guys to get constant playing time over bench time but if A) you think he's more or less ML ready now and B) his future is closer to platoon bat/bench player anyway ...

     

    There are going to be a lot of games where the Twins start Astudillo or Adrianza and maybe even Jake Cave or Wade. Having a big pinch hit bat on the bench might be an interesting experiment for the team. 

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    What will be interesting is to see who gets the call if Sano spends any time on the IL.  Will it be Rooker?  Or will it be Kirilloff.  Doubt they would bring Kirilloff north if Sano was injured for opening day.  But a month or two later, could be either.

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    What I have always appreciated, and where I have found faith/hope with Rooker is he has shown the ability to make adjustments at every level.

     

    2018, IIRC, he started rather abysmal at AA and then flipped a switch. He was OK in 2019 at Rochester and then the same thing happened before his injury.

     

    He may not mash immediately at the ML level when he gets a chance, but I believe he will make adjustments, as he's always done, and build from there.

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    I'd be a low-teens guy on Rooker. The 2019 number are inflated...both in terms of what the International league was in 2019 (there were 4 guys at Rochester last year that slashed better than Rooker)...and in terms of his unsustainably high BABiP.

     

    In 2018, as a 23-year-old in AA, he was .254/.333/.465. That's not bad, but it's not great either. And he's 25 now. Could be a late bloomer like Garver (was Garver ever ranked as high as #9?)...but Rooker has a much slimmer margin of error. Guys that can hit for power and play a bad corner outfield or first base are a dime a dozen. Catcher, not so much.

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    the question for me is whether or not his changes can stick... he always strikes out like crazy at a new level and then adjusts... if he starts out 2020 looking like the last month of 2019 and continued adjustment, I'd say there's hope that he could be very good... 

     

    That said, I'm not looking forward to his MLB debut... I think he's going to take some lumps.

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    I like Rooker. He'll get some time in the majors this year when Donaldson, Cruz or Sano go to the DL.

     

    With the new roster expansion to 26 players, I wonder if the Twins would risk having a thunder bat on the bench for a few pinch hit opportunities over the year and spot starts or go with a more flexible option. Obviously, you generally want young guys to get constant playing time over bench time but if A) you think he's more or less ML ready now and :cool: his future is closer to platoon bat/bench player anyway ...

     

    There are going to be a lot of games where the Twins start Astudillo or Adrianza and maybe even Jake Cave or Wade. Having a big pinch hit bat on the bench might be an interesting experiment for the team. 

     

    And he's really not that young.......So, ya, if they want POWER on the bench, he's an obvious choice.

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    At 25 he slips in my ratings no matter what is written.  The real stars are in the MLB lineups by 22/23.  If he is destined to be in AAA again this year the next years rankings will have him at 26.  It is time to lump him with a few others and make a trade. 

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    I like Rooker. He'll get some time in the majors this year when Donaldson, Cruz or Sano go to the DL.

     

    With the new roster expansion to 26 players, I wonder if the Twins would risk having a thunder bat on the bench for a few pinch hit opportunities over the year and spot starts or go with a more flexible option. Obviously, you generally want young guys to get constant playing time over bench time but if A) you think he's more or less ML ready now and :cool: his future is closer to platoon bat/bench player anyway ...

     

    There are going to be a lot of games where the Twins start Astudillo or Adrianza and maybe even Jake Cave or Wade. Having a big pinch hit bat on the bench might be an interesting experiment for the team. 

    Agree on the potential willingness to pull trigger sooner rather than later on a bench bat role given his age...but fwiw....it's not at all obvious to me that he's going to be a superior offensive player to Cave, and we can assume he's not going to be defensively superior. Cave was a 112 OPS+ guy last year (111 career now)...and also out-hit Rooker at Rochester last year.

     

    I guess his right-handedness could play in a platoon situation...(although, Cave even indicated the ability to handle left-handed pitching last year, in a small sample). That kind of power gives him a chip and a chance, though.

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    Addition: The one thing about Rooker I don't like us his position use. Milb is for player development. I just can't believe he was never used at 1B last year. Players do tend to gravitate to certain positions and settle in there. But he should be learning both corner spots and 1B for now.

     

    Look how much positional flexibility aided the Twins roster last year. In ST last year, the Twins even worked Raley in CF to see what he could do, even on an occasional basis.

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    At 25 he slips in my ratings no matter what is written.  The real stars are in the MLB lineups by 22/23.  If he is destined to be in AAA again this year the next years rankings will have him at 26.  It is time to lump him with a few others and make a trade. 

     

    I wouldn't worry about his age. He's not old. He's had a full season in AAA. Now it's just about opportunity. He raked for the last 2/3 of the AAA season and probably would have come up last year if he wasn't hurt. Age-to-level does matter in prospect rankings, but as Garver and Dozier and so many others have shown in the past, it isn't at all a be-all-end-all. 

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    Addition: The one thing about Rooker I don't like us his position use. Milb is for player development. I just can't believe he was never used at 1B last year. Players do tend to gravitate to certain positions and settle in there. But he should be learning both corner spots and 1B for now.

    Look how much positional flexibility aided the Twins roster last year. In ST last year, the Twins even worked Raley in CF to see what he could do, even on an occasional basis.

     

    I thought that was a little surprising. Zander Wiel played 1B all year for the Red Wings. Wiel could have afforded to use a little time in LF and RF too, same thing. 

     

    Then again, Rooker can play 1B. he needed time in the OF because, based on earlier questions... MUCH closer to Delmon Young than Max Kepler. 

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    Here's a stat: since 2006, there have been 1,861 International League players with 250+ plate appearances in an IL season.

     

    Rooker's 2019 K-rate is 20th highest out of 1,861. That's really, really bad. No one with such a rate has ever succeeded in the Majors.

     

    Of the top 100 highest K-rates, a few players did go on to some success, but at catcher and middle infield (mainly Tyler Flowers, Danny Espinosa, Jorge Alfaro - all with lower rates than Rooker and far higher defensive value). 

     

    So the issue isn't Rooker's age per se - the issue is that his current approach cannot work in MLB, it is completely impossible. So at age 25, he needs to make huge adjustments in order to have a chance of success. That's why age is an issue.

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    I thought that was a little surprising. Zander Wiel played 1B all year for the Red Wings. Wiel could have afforded to use a little time in LF and RF too, same thing.

     

    Then again, Rooker can play 1B. he needed time in the OF because, based on earlier questions... MUCH closer to Delmon Young than Max Kepler.

    Absolutely. And I would do nothing to hold back his development. But surely he is the kind of player/prospect who will be in the lineup almost daily. Let him play all 3 spots and see where he settles in, I say.

     

    For various reasons, some guys are just better or more comfortable in LF vs RF. The foot placement and action at 1B is different than the OF to be sure. I just hope they don't restrict him too soon.

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    At 25 he slips in my ratings no matter what is written.  The real stars are in the MLB lineups by 22/23.  If he is destined to be in AAA again this year the next years rankings will have him at 26.  It is time to lump him with a few others and make a trade. 

    Rooker started rookie ball at age 22, so he never really had the chance to do so. But I do remember that being part of the reason why he was a late 1st round pick and not a higher selection.

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