Coming into the 2022 season, Twins Daily ranked Austin Martin, Jordan Balazovic and Matt Canterino as the first, fourth, and sixth best prospects in the organization, respectively. Not only were they high-caliber talents with polish and big upside, but they were all more or less on the precipice of major-league readiness.
In each case, things hardly could've gone worse. Whether performance, injury, or a combination, each of these critical assets saw his stock nosedive over the past summer, and it adds another layer of complexity for a front office trying to build its way back to contention.
With that said, hope isn't lost for any of these three. Let's take a look at each of their campaigns so far, as things come close to wrapping up here in September.
Austin Martin and the power that never came.
The prize of last year's José Berríos trade at the deadline, Martin was billed as a near-ready prospect right out of the gates. It was warranted, after he led all of Double-A in on-base percentage during his first pro season. Despite his resounding success, Minnesota sent Martin back to the same level this year, no doubt hoping he'd shore up his biggest weakness from 2022 – an absence of power to complement the excellent OBP – and earn a quick call-up to Triple-A or even the majors.
That didn't happen. Martin's power trended the wrong direction this year. After slugging .382 with a .127 ISO and five home runs in 418 PAs between New Hampshire and Wichita, this year he's slugging .317 with an .074 ISO and two home runs in 406 PAs at Wichita.
Martin has kept his on-base skills steady, with a .367 OBP despite the crummy .241 average, but his lack of ability to drive the ball with any authority almost renders it moot. Posting a .685 OPS as a 23-year-old in your second turn at Double-A, with no apparent underlying injury, is nothing short of disastrous.
Given all the injuries the Twins have faced this season, it's likely Martin would've gotten a chance at some point if he'd even modestly improved his production from a year ago. His drop-off eliminated that possibility and will leave him as something of an afterthought heading into 2023.
Martin's going to tank on national prospect lists, where he ranked around #50 by consensus coming into the season.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Martin would hardly be the first player to develop significant power rapidly in his mid-20s. In fact, two "shortstop" prospects who came before him in the Twins system serve as optimistic precedents:
Brain Dozier totaled 14 home runs in 317 games through his first three minor-league seasons. Five years later he would set an American League record by launching 42 as a second baseman in 2016.
Jorge Polanco hit 35 total home runs total in 598 minor-league games, and could barely muster an XBH in his early days. He hit 33 home runs for the Twins last year.
Jordan Balazovic's puzzling struggles in St. Paul.
We had Balazovic ranked as the #1 pitcher in the system coming into this year, following a strong campaign at Double-A where he posted a 3.62 ERA and 9.5 K/9 rate as a 22-year-old. Relative to other arms in the system, Balazovic had a more consistent track record and more established workload base, which is why it seemed feasible to envision him playing a significant role in the Twins rotation this year.
His abominable performance at Triple-A has done away with that notion entirely.
Balazovic started a month late with the Saints due to a knee strain. While he ostensibly put that behind him, staying healthy enough to take the mound each sixth day, he has never seemed right at any point. The right-hander's performance with St. Paul has been beyond awful. In 62 ⅔ innings across 20 appearances, he's 0-6 with a 7.47 ERA. Opponents have slashed .342/.412/.625 against him, as both his walk and home run rates have spiraled out of control. Balazovic has made 19 starts for the Saints and completed five innings ONCE.
In late June, Balazovic told Dean Spiros of the Pioneer Press his struggles were "like a puzzle; every day it’s something new."
"I’ve never pitched like this,” Balazovic said. “Last year (at Double-A Wichita) my numbers started to get worse in the second half because I was working on stuff. That’s kind of carried over to this season a little bit, but not to where it should be affecting me this bad.”
The big 6-foot-5 righty boiled his issues down to consistency and execution, but expressed hope he was getting closer to solving the puzzle. "I’m still hoping for that day," he said, "and I’m hoping that day is tomorrow."
It wasn't. The following day he needed 60 pitches to get through 2 ⅔ innings against the Iowa Cubs, allowing five hits (two homers) and two walks. His next time out he coughed up five earned runs in three innings against Omaha. These have been typical results for Balazovic this year, and as a result he's slid down a pitching pipeline hierarchy that's already been depleted by the Chase Petty trade and the development we'll look at next.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Balazovic didn't quite follow through on his "hoping that day is tomorrow" goal, but he might not have been far off? While he bombed in his next two starts, he's been on a bit of a roll ever since, posting a 2.52 ERA and 29-to-11 K/BB ratio with just three homers allowed over 25 innings in his past six starts.
Sometimes guys need to experience their worst to unlock their best. Balazovic has plenty of talent to rebound and get back on track.
Matt Canterino and the elbow that finally gave way.
Canterino's elbow is the only thing that's stood in his way. Drafted 54th overall in 2019 after blowing people away at Rice University for three years, the hard-throwing righty immediately started doing the same to professional hitters. In a 25-inning debut between rookie ball and Low-A, he posted a 1.44 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only eight hits allowed.
Then, the pandemic happened and wiped out the 2020 season. In 2021, he was limited to 23 total innings by a forearm strain (he posted a 0.78 ERA when he was able to pitch). This year, his elbow soreness re-emerged and while the Twins continually tried to navigate around it, treating surgery as a last resort, they eventually ran out of options. "It felt like we didn't have anymore stones to turn over," said assistant GM Jeremy Zoll.
Unfortunately, the efforts to avoid surgery only delayed it, and now Canterino's prospective impact has also been pushed well down the line. Since he didn't undergo Tommy John until last month, Canterino will likely miss all of next year rehabbing, meaning that by the time he's ready to fully return to the mound, he'll be a 26-year-old with fewer than 100 innings as a pro. It's really difficult to come back from that.
Why you shouldn't lose hope: Difficult, but not impossible. The biggest cost of all this lost time would theoretically be missed development for a guy who's barely been able to get in-game reps since being drafted three years ago. For Canterino, I'm not sure it matters as much.
He's basically always looked like a guy ready for the majors when he's pitched, with raw stuff that speaks for itself. So long as that stuff remains mostly intact after the surgery, he'll have a chance to get back up to speed quickly and make his long-awaited impact on the bullpen, even if it's not until 2024.
Feeling bummed out? I hear you! Make sure to check back tomorrow when I break down the most uplifting developments on the farm for the Twins this year ... Good news: I couldn't manage to limit that list to just three.