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  • One Twins Pitching Prospect to Watch at Each Minor League Level

    Cody Christie

    The Twins have been attempting to create a pitching pipeline, starting with developing arms up and down the organization. Here is one pitcher to watch for each Twins affiliate in 2023.

    Image courtesy of William Parmeter

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    The Guardians have stayed relevant in the AL Central because of their ability to continue to churn out above-average big-league arms. Minnesota is trying to replicate Cleveland’s pitching philosophy which is one of the reasons why the team hired Derek Falvey away from their organization. Below are pitchers to keep tabs on this season, even if they aren’t the top-ranked prospect at that level. 

    Triple-A: Randy Dobnak
    Saints Opening Day Roster

    The Saints are starting the year with a loaded rotation, including Bailey Ober, Louie Varland, and Simeon Woods Richardson. Randy Dobnak might be a forgotten piece of the organization’s pitching depth. Minnesota signed him to a five-year extension leading into the 2021 season, but a finger injury has limited him to just over 50 big-league innings over the last two years. He’s no longer on the 40-man roster and needs to prove he is healthy before the Twins give him another big-league opportunity. Fans also need to keep realistic expectations for Dobnak in 2023. In his first Saints start, he allowed one earned run on three hits with five walks and five strikeouts. Multiple younger pitching prospects have passed him in the organization’s depth chart, but that doesn’t mean he can’t provide future value to the club. 

    Double-A: Kody Funderburk
    Wind Surge Opening Day Roster

    The Twins drafted Funderburk in the 15th round of the 2018 MLB Draft from Dallas Baptist University. Last season, he spent the entire season at Double-A with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP with a 103-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 107 innings. He was slightly older than the average age of the competition at Double-A last season, so it will be interesting to see how the Twins treat him this year. The left-handed hurler will be even older for the level in 2023, but there are other names ahead of him at Triple-A. His goal should be to reach Triple-A by the season’s second half. David Festa is the highest-ranked pitching prospect on the Wind Surge staff, with former top prospect Blayne Enlow also on the roster. 

    High-A: Jaylen Nowlin
    Kernels Opening Day Roster

    Many eyes will be on Cedar Rapids to see the professional debut of Connor Prielipp, Minnesota’s second-round pick in 2022. He was considered one of the top college arms in the draft class but was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Nowlin joins Prielipp in the Kernels rotation, and he looks like a steal from the 19th round of the 2021 MLB Draft. In 2022, Nowlin made 22 appearances between Low- and High-A with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. His strikeout rate was impressive as he posted a 14.1 K/9 with 111 strikeouts in 71 innings. In 2023, he needs to continue to build his innings total and cut back on his walk (4.6 BB/9) and hit rate (7.6 H/9). He’s starting the season where he ended last year and now needs to prove he can make positive strides as a starting pitcher. 

    Low-A: Juan (Miguel) Olivares
    Mighty Mussels Opening Day Roster

    Minnesota signed Olivares out of Venezuela in September 2021, which meant the 2022 season marked his professional debut. Twins Daily voted Olivares the short-season minor league pitcher of the year after posting a 1.44 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP over 50 innings. He has not allowed a home run during his professional career and posted a 54-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As a 19-year-old, he will come stateside in 2023 and look to build off his award-winning pro debut. Nearly 78% of his plate appearances came against younger batters, and that trend should continue during the 2023 campaign. He’s a long way from Target Field, but he can continue to make strides that will help him rise on prospect rankings. 

    Which pitchers will you be watching at each level? Will any of the names listed above have a breakout season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    22 minutes ago, Cody Christie said:

    Nearly 78% of his plate appearances came against younger batters

    I think you mean batters who are older than him. Looking at the Fort Myers roster, only De Andrade is younger than Oliveras. You and Seth have really put this guy on my radar to watch this year.

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    That is a nice list of somewhat underdog's in the system.  I like to keep an eye on those guys as they can really help a team when they work out.

    Dobnak still needs to find a K pitch to get to strike 3.  He gets guys to two strikes and they foul stuff off until he walks them or they put the ball in play.  I think if he can solve that he has a legit chance as a long man.  I still have my eye on Varland.  If he can keep pitching well he can be a guy we can rely on for next year which will be important.

    I really like Funderburk and wish their was room for him at AAA but I also will be hoping Festa becomes a long term solution and remains dominant after moving up a level.

    Not sure if Nowlin is just effectively wild or the real deal but that is one impressive K rate.  I hope he is the real deal because we could use a good lefty.  I also like Prielipp and am very interested to see how he does this year.  Once Raya shows up that should be quite the rotation.

    I don't really know anything about Olivares but like the stats.  They must be big time believers to move him from the DSL to A ball.  Definitely a player to watch.  Almost all the pitchers at A ball will be first full season guys so will be watching to see who excels at that level.

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    Stretch for me to read Dobnak’s name under a ‘Prospects’ header. But yes, he’s organizational depth who could find something and figure into things in 2023. As could Aaron Sánchez.


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    Ugh! Just NO WAY I can pick ONE GUY at each level that I'm watching. I'm watching them all! LOL. But I will TRY to FOCUS best I can.

    AAA: Dobnak is not merely a feel good story. When healthy, he's been a pretty solid back end starter. But Dman is correct that he just doesn't have a "put away" pitch, and that hurt him at the ML level. He doesn't have to K 9 per. But even with weak contact and a load of ground balls, he's got to be at least 6 or 7K per. His future with the Twins will be as a middle/long man. But his career pursuit as a SP might just be with someone else. Despite not being on the 40 man, I can still see him added at some point to be a contributor at some point. Good sentimental call.

    But I am 100% focused on Balazovic. Still frustrated and confused why he was pitching with an aching knee that threw off his mechanics in 2022. Why? It had to mess with his head as well. But he felt better late in the year and actually threw much better his last few starts. He reported to ST early to get ready for this year. The entire "sucker punch" debacle can be debated at length, and has been. And I'm just not going to spend type rehashing all the opinions and possibilities. But you don't have his frame, his stuff, and dismiss all that potential after one bad season due to a troublesome knee. His arrival "clock" is certainly delayed at this point due to his broken jaw. At this point, I don't care if he's ready August instead of June or July because I'm still looking at the long game with him. He isn't exactly old. 

    My #2...since we're NOT focusing on the obvous...is Headrick. HUGE season. AA numbers aren't great for 2022, but he finished strong. I was still surprised he jumped to AAA this soon, but love the aggressive approach. The Twins see something to make this move.

    AA: Funderburk is an interesting choice. What hasn't he done right so far? But, IMO, he screams a mid/long LH who will join Laweryson or Winder as an outstanding 7/8 man grouping in the pen who you can count on for anything from 1-4 IP and NOT feel either has to ride the shuttle as the top 6 in the pen and the rotation talent won't necessitate so much movement as we've seen in the past.

    But if we are choosing to ignore the OBVIOUS, which is Festa, and concentrate on the less obvious, then it has to be Adams. Drafted in 2021, apart from ONE appearance, he didn't debut until last year. Solid numbers at A- and mediocre numbers at A+. But already at AA? College pitcher or not, he's being moved aggressively. 

    My #2 is Enlow. He was mediocre in his return from TJ in 2022. How does he look NOW?

    A+: OK, can't chose the obvious of Priellip? Got it! Nowlin is my guy! Top arms come various places and sometimes surprise. This kid has STUFF! Does his frame allow him to pitch multiple innings at the ML level? (Probably still filling out at is age). Can he harness enough control? His ceiling says he will fill out a bit physically to deal with the demands of being a ML SP, and he will gain enough control to be at least a mid rotation starter. His floor screams a dominate 1-2 IP RP arm. Still only 22yo, there's a lot of variance in his future.

    My #2 is actually my 1A. I want to see a healthy Raya..."small shoulder issue"...ready by May as reported. This kid seems like lightning in a bottle. He was my favorite 2020 draft pick and I'm riding my opinion on him until he proves me right or wrong. I think he's a combination of Berrios and Ryan and I think he's going to be a keeper.

    A-: Other than Priellip, the entire rotation of Ft Myers is pretty much draftees from 2022 and FCL arms. I'm OK with that. There may be some optimism with position players, and it will be interesting to watch. But I like the rotation here. Is Oliveras a potential stud coming from the DSL? The Twins have been largely in to position players regarding international signings. And they traded a few away in recent trades. But Oliveras might be one they stick with.

    But my #1 and #2, as of now, are Cory Lewis and Zebby Mathews. Both are long framed and have a nice build to say they are projectibale. I actually like them better than Morris, the 4th round pick last year. So they are the guys I'm looking at initially unless someone Oliveras jumps up and proves themselves. 

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