The Twins drafted Bailey Ober in the 12th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft. He was taken from the College of Charleston and went to Elizabethton as a 21-year-old. After posting a 3.21 and 3.84 ERA, respectively, in each of his first two professional seasons, 2019 saw a massive leap. Compiling a 0.69 ERA across 78 2/3 inning from Rookie-ball to Double-A, Ober had announced his presence.
At 6’9”, it’s pretty hard not to notice Ober, and while he doesn’t reach triple-digits, that frame allows his fastball to get on hitters quickly. He had a track record of high strikeout rates with few walks in the minors. Despite not being invited to the Twins alternate site during the 2020 minor league shutdown, Ober continued to put in work. Dominating quickly at Triple-A in 2021, he earned a big-league promotion after just 7 innings.
Looking back at Ober’s track record before his promotion, there is no evidence of sustained innings. He had never pitched more than his 2019 total and had the entire 2020 season without games. What that suggests is that Minnesota would be willing to allow an opportunity for an arm they feel is ready, even if it’s not battle-tested or proven through longevity.
Right now, the Twins have no less than two open rotation spots. Whether they’re filled externally or not, it’s a good bet that someone will emerge and turn heads sooner than expected. Although not a 12th rounder, my bet this season is Florida State product, Cole Sands.
Arguably the most significant thing working against Sands at the moment is his recent inclusion to the Twins 40-man roster. Subject to the lockout, he cannot get the season going with other minor leaguers currently down in Fort Myers. However, Sands substantiated a strong 2019 and worthy draft position with an even greater step forward last season.
Following 75 innings of work at Florida State in 2018, Sands didn’t debut professionally until 2019. He posted a 2.68 ERA and made starts from Low Single-A to Double-A. A 10.0 K/9 was paired with a 1.8 BB/9 and a 1.027 WHIP. The production looked every bit the reason why he was targeted so early in the draft.
Getting back to professional games following the 2020 shutdown, Sands spent all of 2021 at Double-A Wichita. His 2.46 ERA solidified the strong debut and again was combined with a double-digit strikeout rate. He did allow an alarming number of walks at 3.9 BB/9, but the missed bats and lack of hard contact allowed him to keep opposing lineups at bay.
Sands should begin at Triple-A St. Paul this year, and he could be knocking at the Major League door quickly. While the development may not be as surprising as that of Ober, this is still a guy that’s a borderline top-20 prospect for Minnesota on most national lists. He’s not going to be an ace, but a strong contributor in the middle of a rotation exists here. Ober turned in 20 starts to the tune of a 4.19 ERA in his rookie season with Minnesota, and seeing Sands do that or better might not be a crazy thought.