It was a vastly different experience going to that little ballpark compared to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, but watching unknown minor leaguers play on those fields always filled my mind with delusions of grandeur to be like them one day—a professional baseball player chasing their dream to become a Major Leaguer.
That is the main reason I do a little bit different of a list heading into a new season than all those “Top Prospects” lists you see here at Twins Daily, on MLB.com, or at other outlets like FanGraphs and Baseball America. There are so many of them these days I don’t think this amateur scout can tell you anything you haven’t already heard. Instead, I want to recognize all those guys who have worked hard to get where they are, whether they’re a top prospect or not, and whom you might see make their MLB debut at Target Field during the upcoming season—those ready to make their childhood dreams like mine come true.
Across all of Major League Baseball during the 2021 season, 265 players made their Major League debut, with eight members of the Minnesota Twins organization contributing to that number. They included pitchers Charlie Barnes, Griffin Jax, Jovani Moran, Bailey Ober, and Joe Ryan, as well as position players Gilberto Celestino, Nick Gordon, Trevor Larnach, and Ben Rortvedt.
All four of those hitters and pitchers Jax and Ober were profiled in this same column before the start of the 2021 season, and you’ll see some of the same names in this list below for the 2022 calendar year that didn’t quite make the jump.
So, who are the prospects that could make their Major League debut and become the next Minnesota Twins during the 2022 season?
ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER:
The Twins enter the 2022 season with a 40-man MLB roster that does not have much room for position players yet to make their MLB debut. That list is just two players, but any fan should be excited about the names that are included in this section. There is, however, much more room for pitchers in both the starting rotation and the bullpen, and the top end talent is almost all at the top of their system to start the 2022 season.
Royce Lewis (22 years old on opening day), IF/OF – Twins Daily’s #2 Prospect (Lewis made his MLB debut on 5/6, playing SS against the Oakland Athletics and batting 7th. He finished 1-for-4, picking up a single in the 8th inning of a 2-1 win)
It’s hard to gauge where Royce Lewis is at in his development, given he’s missed two entire years’ worth of time due to Covid and tearing his ACL. But when we last saw him, he was crushing in the Arizona Fall League to the point he took home the league’s MVP award. He has continued to work on his swing while off the field, and I expect big things during the 2022 season when he finds his footing. The biggest question continues to be what position he will play when he reaches the majors. I have been critical of his shortstop play in the past, but there is no doubt he can be an elite defender in the outfield. He excelled at third base in the AFL as well if that does not work out. That is to say, if he’s hitting well and anyone in the outfield or middle infield on the Major League roster goes out for an extended period, it would not surprise me at all if Lewis is the name that gets called to fill in if he is hitting. Plus, he looked good at short for the Saints on Tuesday if you were wondering:
Jordan Balazovic (23), RHP – TD’s #4 Prospect
Balazovic is ticketed for the starting rotation with the St. Paul Saints in 2022, though he will start the season on the Injured List with a left knee strain. While he does not necessarily get the accolades around his pure “stuff” that some of the other guys on this list do, he has been one to get better results as he’s climbed the ladder. That can be attributed some to having better command, but he has also shown steady improvement with his offerings year over year, showcased by his fastball averaging around 96 MPH with Wichita last season. One thing going against him is innings, as his 97 in 2021 were a career high after missing the first two months with a back injury. There is little doubt when it comes to Balazovic that he will break through as a starting pitcher and stay there when he reaches the majors, compared to others further down this list.
Jose Miranda (23), 3B – TD’s #3 Prospect (Miranda made his MLB debut on 5/2, playing third base and batting sixth against the Baltimore Orioles. He was 0-for-4 in a 2-1 Twins win)
The thing with Miranda was never about talent, as the Twins had always seen a good bat in the infielder from Puerto Rico. However, before the 2021 season that bat had never quite lived up to expectations, producing just one season with an OPS above .750 and that was all the way back in rookie ball. But coaches continued to encourage him to alter his approach and wait for pitches he could do damage with, instead of swinging first and asking questions later. He took it to heart and ran with it for the 2021 season, enroute to one of the most impressive Minor League seasons you have ever seen from a Twins prospect. He led all of the minors in total bases, clubbing 32 doubles and 30 home runs in 127 games between Wichita and St. Paul. He finished with a .344/.401/.572 slash line and rocketed up prospect lists by the end of the year. He’s basically only a corner infielder and won’t win any Gold Glove awards with his defense, but if he’s even close to repeating those hitting numbers in 2022 at triple-A, his bat will force the issue sooner rather than later.
Jhoan Duran (24), RHP – TD’s #7 Prospect (Duran made his MLB debut on opening day, pithing two innings against the Seattle Mariners. He allowed two hits, walked one, and struck out four in a scoreless outing)
Whether they’ve been trying or not, since I’ve been a fan of the Twins they have always had a velocity problem. Duran is one of the pitchers who can continue to change that, whether that comes as a starter or a reliever. He has size, is capable of hitting 100+ MPH with his fastball, and throws a weird sinker he can play off that velocity to get swings and misses. Like many young hurlers, consistency is key and despite his stuff he has had trouble maintaining that start-to-start in the past. When he is on Duran is fully capable of dominating an outing, but has thrown only 16 innings in live games since the end of the 2019 season.
If you were asking me before the start of Spring Training, I would have fully expected Duran to begin the season in the St. Paul Saints rotation. Instead, he has been absolutely dominant in his outings thus far and will come North with the Twins to start the year!
Josh Winder (25), RHP – TD’s #9 Prospect (Winder made his MLB debut on 4/12, pitching one inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed one run on two walks and struck out one. He made his first MLB start on 5/1, and picked up the win with 6 innings of shutout baseball. He allowed just two hits, walked one, and struck out seven against the Tampa Bay Rays)
A casual fan may not recognize Winder’s name as much as others, but I recommend paying a lot more attention to him this season. I have seen evidence from the Twins over the past two years that they may think he is the best of the starting pitching bunch they have approaching the majors. Plus, as of writing this he is still on the bubble to come North to Minneapolis instead of St. Paul to start the 2022 season. While he only threw 72 innings last year, they were so good that he was the Twins representative to play in the Futures Game during All Star Weekend. He was promoted to triple-A immediately after that and made four starts for the Saints before being shut down for the rest of the season with a shoulder impingement. He was solid in his outings this spring, starting three games (meaning he was facing mostly MLB players) and allowing just two runs on seven hits and two walks, while striking out nine in eight total innings pitched.
While there is no reason for the Twins to put him in the bullpen permanently, it would not shock me to see him as part of a 16-man pitching staff to start the season in a piggy-backing role. I can even envision him performing better than whomever he follows to the point he takes over when rosters get cut down from 28 players.
Cole Sands (24), RHP – TD’s #13 Prospect (Sands made his MLB debut on 5/1, pitching two innings of relief against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed two earned runs on three hits, and struck out two.)
Making his professional debut during the 2019 season, Sands was a standout performer and as a result pitched at three levels, reaching double-A for one start to end the year. He finished the season with a 2.68 ERA and struck out 108 hitters over 97 1/3 innings. He followed that up in 2021 by dominating with Wichita to the tune of a 2.46 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 80 1/3 innings. He missed some time due to an injury, but will be in the Saints rotation to start the 2022 season. His path reminds me a bit of one Bailey Ober and if the Twins can get more of that, they would be ecstatic. Since he is on the 40-man roster, you never know—if he is lined up to pitch on the right day, an injury on the Twins could spur a cab ride across the river to Target Field at any point.
Drew Strotman (25), RHP
The second half of the trade package the Twins received from the Tampa Bay Rays for Nelson Cruz, Strotman was thought by some evaluators to be the better prospect in the deal at the time. I do not think that is the case now, considering Joe Ryan is slated to pitch opening day for the Twins while Strotman fell off a bit after coming over, but it should give you an idea of how well the Twins did in that trade to get both of those guys. He throws in the mid-90s with a good cutter that catches the attention of scouts, but command has been a bit of an issue since having Tommy John Surgery back in 2018. He is being fully transitioned to the bullpen in 2022 and could turn into another high-octane option there as the season progresses.
Ronny Henriquez (21), RHP – TD’s #16 Prospect
With the flurry of trade activity that happened after the lockout ended, the Twins ended up with an intriguing right-hander from the Texas Rangers in sending off Mitch Garver. You will hear a lot about his size or lack thereof, but there is a lightning arm attached to his right shoulder that hits the mid-90s with ease. He has consistently piled up strikeouts and limited baserunners, but the long ball has been a bugaboo as he gave up nearly two per nine innings pitched in double-A last season. He has primarily started games in his pro career thus far and should continue to do so with the Twins, but his profile sounds a lot like a future reliever when it is all said and done.
Chris Vallimont (25), RHP
The moniker of the “Vallimonster” is apt for the right-hander, as he can perform quite the Jekyll and Hyde routine whenever he is on the mound. He paired a 13.0/9IP strikeout rate with a 5.8/9IP walk rate during the 2021 season and if you go game to game, you will see that up and down nature in his stat lines as well. A switch to the bullpen to maximize his pure stuff in shorter stints is something to watch for during the season if that pattern continues.
Consider this entry more of a “not-yet-on-the-40-man-roster” section heading into this season since a lot of the top prospects have already appeared above, but what remains below still holds the theme that these guys are close to Major League ready. All three of them are on the double-A roster of the Wichita Wind Surge to start the year, with a few of them sure to move up quickly when the 40-man depth above is called upon by the Twins.
Austin Martin (23), IF/OF – TD’s #1 Prospect
The top prospect on our board, it is slightly odd that Martin returns to double-A to start the season after spending all of the 2021 season there, but he does have some things to work on. Those being his defense at shortstop (or elsewhere), and tapping into some power that may have been hindered by a wrist injury throughout last year. That said, he posted a .414 on-base percentage in 93 games that led all of double-A and you would be hard-pressed to find a more prototypical leadoff hitter anywhere in the minors. As soon as a spot opens up in St. Paul I expect Martin to be promoted, but the depth the Twins have when it comes to position players pushes a debut timeline out to later in the summer. He is the type of talent who can force that issue sooner rather than later, however.
Simeon Woods Richardson (21), RHP – TD’s #8 Prospect
Plenty of people seem to be down on SWR going into the 2022 season, but I am not one of them. You cannot blame him for the 2020 season being canceled or for competing in the Olympics (though he didn’t pitch at all) in the middle of the 2021 campaign. There was absolutely some rust to shake off by the time he put on a Wind Surge uniform, but he did flash what makes him highly regarded as well:
A key point to consider with him in comparison to every other player on this list is his age. Even after missing a full season, he was only 20 years old and pitching in double-A at the beginning of last year. Especially for the Twins, this is a rare occurrence. Jose Berrios, for example, had turned 21 a couple of months before he reached double-A and was the quickest moving pitcher the Twins had produced in a long time. If he can reign back in his control, Berrios is also a great comp for the type of ceiling we are talking about for Woods Richardson, who has dwarfed any strikeout rates the former Twins pitcher ever produced in the minors.
Matt Canterino (23), RHP – TD’s #6 Prospect
Canterino finds himself in double-A to start the 2022 season despite pitching only 23 total innings last year with Cedar Rapids. That was due to elbow troubles, which is a legitimate concern moving forward given his history coming out of Rice University and herky-jerky mechanics, but you cannot deny the numbers. He struck out over half the hitters he faced while walking only four in his time on the mound, resulting in a 0.78 ERA and 0.61 WHIP. His stuff is electric, with a fastball that can reach the high 90’s and a slider and changeup that are both legitimate swing-and-miss offerings as well. Due to those health concerns, there are many evaluators who see the bullpen in his future, but if you are looking for a pitcher that can make some serious noise during the 2022 campaign, Canterino is your guy.
MINOR LEAGUE DEPTH:
While these players may not necessarily be top prospects, they are at or near the top of the system and have performed well to get themselves there. It could be a situation where a pitcher is lined up to pitch on the right day the Twins need a spot-start across the river at Target Field, or an injury leads to needing a specific position covered and there is no other ready replacement available. Maybe something new has clicked and they have improved their stock from internal evaluators. No matter how it happens, players like these are always needed at some point during the MLB season.
Ryan Mason (26), RHP
Mason has been a standout performer in the bullpens of Twins affiliates since being taken in the 13th round of the 2016 draft. Missing the 2020 season hurt guys like him more than most, but he came back in 2021 to post stellar numbers and finished the final two months of the season in St. Paul. While there, he posted a career-high strikeout rate of 12.1/9IP, and guys like him are always among my favorites to root for.
Yennier Cano (27), RHP (Even though he didn't throw a pitch as the game was suspended, Yennier Cano was credited with his MLB debut on 5/11 against the Houston Astros. When he did take the mound the next day, he delivered two perfect innings before running into some trouble in his third. In total, he allowed three runs on three hits, and struck out two.)
A sneaky international signing all the way back in 2019, Cano finally got to showcase his talents for a full season during the 2021 campaign, spending the bulk of it in St. Paul. He boasts a mid-90s fastball and deep repertoire, as well as an intimidating mound presence that reminds me a lot of Aroldis Chapman (both are around 6’4” and 230 lbs). He will need to reign in the walks that spiked once he reached triple-A, but certainly looks the part of a bullpen horse.
Mark Contreras (27), OF (Contreras made his MLB debut on 5/12, when the suspended game from the day before resumed he took over for Byron Buxton, playing left field. He finished 0-for-2, but scored a run and drove in one with a sac fly in the 11-3 loss to the Houston Astros.)
Contreras made his mark in the Twins organization with his defense, taking home a MiLB Gold Glove award after the 2019 season, but something clicked for him in the batter’s box in 2021. Spending the bulk of the year with St. Paul, the lefty nearly matched his career home run total to that point (23) with 20 on the year, 18 of them coming in his 95 games at triple-A. I would not expect Contreras to get the call as a long-term starter in the majors, but you can do a lot worse with a fourth outfielder type as he can play all the outfield positions well, including center in a pinch.
Jermaine Palacios (25), IF
Palacios is a bit buried on an organizational depth chart with the names Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis, and Austin Martin in the fold, but what he has above the other two prospects is that he is definitely a shortstop. That fact plays against him a little for the 2022 season as those two prospects above him need the work, but he is in triple-A where he will be moved around the infield depending on the day. He also showed some pop with 19 home runs for Wichita last year, and was also spectacular in the Venezuelan Winter League during the offseason, posting a .987 OPS in 42 games.
There always seems to be a player or two who comes out of nowhere to make a surprise debut during the season. They might be a known name but are not that far up the ladder at the season’s outset, returning from an injury so they have been forgotten some, or have a unique skill set or background that is intriguing and could pay big dividends if something else falls into place. These are my shots in the dark at guys that could be in 2022.
Jordan Gore (27), RHP
The former shortstop begins the season as a high-leverage option out of the St. Paul Saints bullpen. He split time between Cedar Rapids and Wichita during the 2021 season, picking up seven saves and striking out 11.7/9IP with a WHIP below 1.00. Plus, he has great hair.
Louie Varland (24), RHP – TD’s #14 Prospect
First of all, he is #OneOfUs, growing up in Maplewood and being drafted out of Concordia University in St. Paul in the 15th round of the 2019 draft. Second of all, he is the reigning Twins and Twins Daily’s, Minor League Pitcher of the Year. That is because he struck out 142 hitters in 103 innings pitched last season split between Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids. He is buried on a starting pitching depth chart at this point, but if he continues that type of dominance in double-A and eventually triple-A this season, there will be a spot for him at some point.
Edouard Julien (22), OF – TD’s #19 Prospect
I have long been a fan of the type of player Julien was during the 2021 season, where he led all of the minors in walks (110 in 112 games) and had an on-base percentage flirting with .500 for a large chunk of the season. He also tapped into some power upon being promoted to Cedar Rapids, launching 15 homers in 65 games after getting out of the Florida State League. He starts the 2022 season with Wichita, and he and Austin Martin should prove extremely annoying to double-A pitching for much of the summer.
So, there you have it, my picks for some of the minor league players I think could be called up to the majors and put on a Minnesota Twins uniform for the first time during the coming season. When do you think any of them will show up at Target Field? Who are you looking forward to the most? And who are some of the prospects you think I have missed that could make that jump? Let’s play ball!