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  1. What’s Their Situation? The Astros continue to reap the benefits from the tremendous core they constructed nearly five years ago. Houston has a truly terrific lineup. When fully healthy, they mesh four outstanding right-handed hitters in José Altuve (138 wRC+), Carlos Correa (149), Alex Bregman (120) and Yuli Gurriel (136) with three equally great left-handed bats in Michael Brantley (138), Kyle Tucker (128) and Yordan Álvarez (146). It’s the best and most dynamic attack in all of baseball. There’s no question that the addition of Dusty Baker as manager has benefitted the Astros in a massive way. He’s carefully navigated the difficulties of their (self-imposed) cheating demons, and continues to masterfully and tactfully manage. Baker’s starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the American League (3.35) even with a fairly pedestrian strikeout-to-walk rate (15.8%). The rotation is spearheaded by Lance McCullers Jr., who’s dazzled to a 2.89 in five starts since returning from the injured list. The Astros have a quantity of quality, with a major-league-leading five pitchers who’ve started at least 10 games with an ERA that’s 15% or better than league average. Houston carries a 3.5 game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West. FanGraphs gives the Astros nearly an 87% chance to take the division and a 96.4% of making the playoffs. With the American League East looking weaker than usual and the White Sox eating up on a poor Central division, it certainly looks like the Astros are in the driver’s seat to take the pennant. What Do They Need? Houston is a very deep and strong club, with few glaring weaknesses. There’s one spot that sticks out, however. The Astros’ bullpen has a 4.09 ERA on the season, good for eighth in the American League. Ryan Pressly has been fantastic, pitching to a 1.42 ERA and 1.38 FIP in 36 games. Outside of Pressly, Houston has very little in the way of lockdown relievers. Cristian Javier has pitched well in a longer-relief role, but the Astros could use at least one more right-handed arm to supplement Pressly and the inconsistent Ryne Stanek. The return of Pedro Báez should help in that regard, though. Even more, the Astros would benefit greatly from a left-handed arm to pair with Pressly in the highest-leverage spots. Which Twins Are The Best Fit? Without question, Taylor Rogers would be the most attractive option for Houston in a deal. Rogers was sporting a 2.45 ERA and a 51-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio before allowing a grand slam in Sunday’s eventual win over Detroit. Rogers is also under contract for 2022, his final year of arbitration before free agency. Although the Astros have a deep and enviable starting rotation, they could be a sleeper for José Berríos. You can never have enough pitching and the Astros may lose Zack Greinke in free agency this winter. Could Houston, an organization that excels at maximizing starting pitching, see some hidden upside in Berríos? Very few centerfielders can match the acumen of George Springer, but Myles Straw has done an admirable job in his wake. Straw is hitting .310/.401/.405 since June 1st and has been worth 1.2 bWAR in 86 games. Even when a spot is good, why not make it great? Enter Byron Buxton, who could turn the Astros into World Series favorites if they aren’t already. A healthy Buxton would make Houston truly impeccable. Who Could The Twins Get Back? The Astros have a poor farm system, a result of graduating so many good major leaguers and losing picks due to the cheating scandal. For the Twins, the focus should be high-upside pitching prospects. RHP Hunter Brown, the Astros’ No. 3 prospect via MLB Pipeline, is an intriguing player. Brown has struck out 37% of hitters at Double-A this season with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a hammer curveball. Brown is currently a starter but has struggled to throw strikes consistently. RHP Forrest Whitley is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but has upside to dream on. Whitley has slowly fallen down prospect boards due to injuries and a truly horrific 2019 season. Still, he’s 6-foot-7 with a fastball that reaches 99 and two 60-grade off-speed pitches. OF Colin Barber offers an interesting change of pace from what the Twins may be seeking. He’s a left-handed outfielder who projects as a rightfielder in the big leagues. Barber is only 20 years old and has hit .248/.380/.411 in 44 minor-league games.
  2. The Astros, despite losing George Springer, facing the ferocious fans, and dealing with myriad injuries, continue to win, win and win. Could the Twins help them win even more in 2021? What’s Their Situation? The Astros continue to reap the benefits from the tremendous core they constructed nearly five years ago. Houston has a truly terrific lineup. When fully healthy, they mesh four outstanding right-handed hitters in José Altuve (138 wRC+), Carlos Correa (149), Alex Bregman (120) and Yuli Gurriel (136) with three equally great left-handed bats in Michael Brantley (138), Kyle Tucker (128) and Yordan Álvarez (146). It’s the best and most dynamic attack in all of baseball. There’s no question that the addition of Dusty Baker as manager has benefitted the Astros in a massive way. He’s carefully navigated the difficulties of their (self-imposed) cheating demons, and continues to masterfully and tactfully manage. Baker’s starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the American League (3.35) even with a fairly pedestrian strikeout-to-walk rate (15.8%). The rotation is spearheaded by Lance McCullers Jr., who’s dazzled to a 2.89 in five starts since returning from the injured list. The Astros have a quantity of quality, with a major-league-leading five pitchers who’ve started at least 10 games with an ERA that’s 15% or better than league average. Houston carries a 3.5 game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the American League West. FanGraphs gives the Astros nearly an 87% chance to take the division and a 96.4% of making the playoffs. With the American League East looking weaker than usual and the White Sox eating up on a poor Central division, it certainly looks like the Astros are in the driver’s seat to take the pennant. What Do They Need? Houston is a very deep and strong club, with few glaring weaknesses. There’s one spot that sticks out, however. The Astros’ bullpen has a 4.09 ERA on the season, good for eighth in the American League. Ryan Pressly has been fantastic, pitching to a 1.42 ERA and 1.38 FIP in 36 games. Outside of Pressly, Houston has very little in the way of lockdown relievers. Cristian Javier has pitched well in a longer-relief role, but the Astros could use at least one more right-handed arm to supplement Pressly and the inconsistent Ryne Stanek. The return of Pedro Báez should help in that regard, though. Even more, the Astros would benefit greatly from a left-handed arm to pair with Pressly in the highest-leverage spots. Which Twins Are The Best Fit? Without question, Taylor Rogers would be the most attractive option for Houston in a deal. Rogers was sporting a 2.45 ERA and a 51-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio before allowing a grand slam in Sunday’s eventual win over Detroit. Rogers is also under contract for 2022, his final year of arbitration before free agency. Although the Astros have a deep and enviable starting rotation, they could be a sleeper for José Berríos. You can never have enough pitching and the Astros may lose Zack Greinke in free agency this winter. Could Houston, an organization that excels at maximizing starting pitching, see some hidden upside in Berríos? Very few centerfielders can match the acumen of George Springer, but Myles Straw has done an admirable job in his wake. Straw is hitting .310/.401/.405 since June 1st and has been worth 1.2 bWAR in 86 games. Even when a spot is good, why not make it great? Enter Byron Buxton, who could turn the Astros into World Series favorites if they aren’t already. A healthy Buxton would make Houston truly impeccable. Who Could The Twins Get Back? The Astros have a poor farm system, a result of graduating so many good major leaguers and losing picks due to the cheating scandal. For the Twins, the focus should be high-upside pitching prospects. RHP Hunter Brown, the Astros’ No. 3 prospect via MLB Pipeline, is an intriguing player. Brown has struck out 37% of hitters at Double-A this season with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a hammer curveball. Brown is currently a starter but has struggled to throw strikes consistently. RHP Forrest Whitley is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery but has upside to dream on. Whitley has slowly fallen down prospect boards due to injuries and a truly horrific 2019 season. Still, he’s 6-foot-7 with a fastball that reaches 99 and two 60-grade off-speed pitches. OF Colin Barber offers an interesting change of pace from what the Twins may be seeking. He’s a left-handed outfielder who projects as a rightfielder in the big leagues. Barber is only 20 years old and has hit .248/.380/.411 in 44 minor-league games. View full article
  3. WHO ARE THEY? The headliners of the group, Jason Groome (LHP, New Jersey HS) and Riley Pint (RHP, Kansas HS) are both expected to be long gone by the time the Twins come to the podium. (Though there has been some recent chatter of Groome sliding.) The second tier of prep pitchers has a few more names in it: Ian Anderson (RHP, New York HS), Braxton Garrett (LHP, Alabama HS), Matt Manning (RHP, California HS), Kyle Muller (RHP, Texas HS), Joey Wentz (LHP, Kansas HS), and Forrest Whitley (RHP, Texas HS) WHY THE TWINS WILL DRAFT ONE OF THEM Each of these young hurlers has something you could absolutely fall in love with. Ian Anderson is 6’ 4”, 175 pounds and has hit as high as 97 on the radar gun. He also throws an advanced changeup and curveball for where you’d project a cold-weather prep to be at his age. To top it off, Anderson has a body that offers projection. Braxton Garrett, according to a veteran scout, is “one of - if not the best - left-handed high school pitcher I’ve ever seen.” Garrett doesn’t throw particularly hard - 91-92 mph - but offers a curveball that is almost unanimously viewed as the best in the prep class. His changeup is a potential plus pitch as well. Matt Manning is a big body (6’ 6”, 200 lb) that has a huge fastball. It’s been clocked in the upper-90s, though he sits in the mid-90s. His secondary pitches have taken a back seat to his dominant fastball, but both his curveball and changeup offer projection. Kyle Muller can lay claim to the fact that he recorded 36 consecutive outs on strikeouts at one point this spring. He’s not overpowering - throwing in the low-90s - but he’s very deceptive and left-handed hitters will struggle with his fastball. His secondary pitches don’t project as above-average. Joey Wentz is a big lefty (6’ 5”) who throws hard (up to 96 mph) and has a potentially plus curveball. He’s got great control and a low-effort, easily-repeatable delivery. Forrest Whitley is the guy on this list I could see most likely to be both a) available and willing to sign at #15. Whitley is all of 6’ 7” and depending on the food intake of the day, tips the scale at around 240 pounds. The big Texan has a full mix of pitches, though. A fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph, a slider that projects as plus and a curveball and changeup that still need work, but he’s shown a feel for. WHY THE TWINS WON'T DRAFT ANY OF THEM In addition to the rumored high asking prices, none of these pitchers come without warts. Anderson had a rough spring, dealing with an oblique injury, pneumonia and wet weather that made it hard for him to get on the mound. He’s a Vanderbilt commit, one of the hardest schools to sign kids away from. Another Vanderbilt commit, Garrett is also a Scott Boras client which means, as one scout says, “we won’t know what he’ll cost until the draft.” The question about Manning has also been his price tag. Recently I was informed that the Twins slot “wasn’t going to get it done.” My personal belief is that the Padres are working to get both Manning and Stanford pitcher Cal Quantrill as a package in some combination at #8, #23 and #24. Manning also plans to play both baseball and basketball at Loyola Marymount. Muller lacks the ceiling of the other pitchers on this list, though he’d probably be the most signable. Twins fans would likely be disappointed with a first-round pitcher who Baseball America suggests is a “future No. 3 or No. 4 starter.” Wentz is committed to Virginia and it’s going to take big money to sign him away from that commitment. Though he did lose a lot of weight this spring, Whitley is going to battle conditioning issues (and that didn’t work well for the Twins and Hudson Boyd). He also broke a finger right before the season started and missed a few weeks. There’s also talk of an email that was sent from Whitley’s dad that seemed to blast professional baseball, though I haven’t been able to substantiate that report. --- In the most recent mock drafts, Baseball America projects the Indians taking Anderson the pick before the Twins at #14. Keith Law and MLB Pipeline have Anderson going to the Yankees at #18. Law and MLB Pipeline both project the Marlins taking Garrett at #7, while the Baseball America crew has him dropping all the way to the Nationals at #29. Law has Manning going to the Padres at #8. MLB Pipeline connects him to the Twins at #15, but warns of the high price tag. Baseball America has Manning falling to the Cardinals, who have three picks in the top 34, at #23. Law projects the Twins take Muller at #15, while Baseball America (#32 to Dodgers) and MLB Pipeline (not in top 34) have him going later. Wentz does not appear on any of the three mock drafts. MLB Pipeline connects the Padres to Whitley at #8 (my note: likely under slot), while Law makes the same connection, only at #25 (my note: probably over slot). Baseball America goes in between, slotting Whitley in at #21 to the Blue Jays. If every one of these pitchers was available at #15 and willing to sign for slot, I’d order them in this way (with a significant gap between the top half and bottom half): Braxton Garrett Ian Anderson Matt Manning Joey Wentz Garrett Whitley Kyle Muller Other draft-related articles: Local Profiles Zack Burdi Zack Collins
  4. There is some feeling around the league that this year’s draft sees an unprecedented number of pre-draft deals. But that’s something I hear every year. Some teams - like the Astros - have gotten really good at playing the draft. You don’t think Daz Cameron dropped to them at 37 by pure happenstance do you? They had it worked out before. They offered him $4 million and he (and his advisor) knew that if he went to anyone else in the first round, that he wasn’t getting $4 million. So they threw out an absurd demand and no one touched him. Expect more of the same this year with the Phillies, Reds, Braves and Padres in a great position to throw their weight around. What those teams, and possibly a couple of others, can do is offer money to players expected to go in the mid- to late-teens that they wouldn’t get if they went in the mid- to late-teens. History suggests the most volatile group of draft-eligible players are high school pitchers, so it’s likely we see some of those guys drop. Here’s my first shot at a mock draft: PHILLIES - Jason Groome, LHP, New Jersey HS. Groome’s stock took a slight hit when he was ruled ineligible after transferring back home from IMG Academy in Florida. For now, I have Groome as the guy taking the Phillies offer of $6 million and banking another $3 million. My gut tells me that by the time the draft rolls around, it’s going to be Kyle Lewis hearing his name called first and the Phillies spending their savings on a high school pitcher at 42. (NOTE: Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday afternoon that there are rumblings that the Phillies may be turning their attention to Kyle Lewis. Since I had already completed my mock, I didn’t think I should change it.) REDS - Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer. I don’t have any doubt that the Reds would take Lewis at this point if he’s available. But sometimes arms stare you in the face and you can’t pass on them. The Reds have picks 35 and 43 as well, so they’ll have an opportunity to cut a deal and replenish their system. BRAVES - Riley Pint, RHP, Kansas HS. I don’t love this pick for the Braves, but they’ve been stockpiling arms over the last couple of years and Pint would add another dynamic arm to the system. ROCKIES - A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida. Puk could be the first name off the board, but if teams are looking to make deals, all bets are off. BREWERS - Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State. The Brewers have had some very strong drafts in the last few years and add the best arm available to kick off their picks this year. A’S - Mickey Moniak, OF, California HS. There’s been some steam that there could be a deal here. I’d be surprised if there was one in place already, but it makes sense. MARLINS - Delvin Perez, SS, Puerto Rico HS. Unfairly compared to Carlos Correa, Perez was one of the first players I heard about as a first-rounder in this draft (probably about 16 months ago). The Marlins, who should have taken Carlos Rodon instead of Tyler Kolek for various reasons, have plenty of reasons to make Perez their guy. PADRES - Matt Manning, RHP, California HS. Whoever goes here, he will be the first of three solid picks. Look for the Padres to skim here to assure getting three really good players in the first round. TIGERS - Scott Senzel, 3B, Tennessee. Not a perfect fit, but the Tigers lineup isn’t getting any younger. WHITE SOX - Corey Ray, OF, Louisville. This would fit their recent trend of drafting more developed players. MARINERS - Zack Collins, C, Miami. Nothing more than a hunch really. (And hoping he’ll be gone before the Twins have a chance to draft a future first baseman.) RED SOX - Blake Rutherford, OF, California HS. Though the Red Sox have an abundance of outfield depth, Rutherford provides value as the best player available. RAYS - Braxton Garrett, LHP, Alabama HS. A Vandy commit with Boras as his rep, Garrett could be a player who drops due to signability (to a team that makes extra room). For now I have him going here. If the Twins have a shot at him - and believe they can sign him - they would pull the trigger. INDIANS - Josh Lowe, 3B, Georgia HS. Lowe would look great in the Twins system, but the Indians have taken a number of players that I’ve had that same feeling about it. So I project they’ll do the same. TWINS - Forrest Whitley, RHP, Texas HS. There were no up-the-middle prospects worth taking at fifteen, so it mostly came down to high-ceiling prep pitchers. The Twins had always been known for taking safe college arms, but with the exception of Kyle Gibson, that strategy hasn’t really panned out. The prep pitchers, however, have made some progress, led by the filthiness of Jose Berrios, the emergence of Stephen Gonsalves and the rejuvenation of Kohl Stewart. (I don’t think the Twins would “do-over” the Tyler Jay pick, but I think they got caught up in their own success and took a player who had the potential to make a big impact.) Whitley is a big-bodied prep with room to grow and has the ceiling to be an impactful front-of-the-rotation starter. ​One name that I wouldn’t sleep on here is Zack Burdi. It has nothing to do with big brother Nick. There’s some belief that Zack has the tools to make the transition into a successful starter with a fastball/slider/changeup mix. The Twins have made that transition successfully with Tyler Duffey and have recently been adding power arms as well. Little Burdi fits the mold. There are some names that probably should be included, but are not. For example, Ian Anderson, Matt Manning and Alex Kirilloff are all legitimate Top 15 talents. But as I mentioned in the intro, teams are going to have money to throw around. If I were to continue this particular mock, I would have Manning dropping to the Padres at 24, Anderson dropping to the Reds at 35 and Kirilloff sliding to the Phillies at 42. Each of these three players would be in line to make significantly more than if they were drafted by the Twins at 15 (or another team in that vicinity.) There’s still a lot of time for things to change and even the most plugged-in people in the country would tell you - at this point - it’s a crapshoot. Hope you enjoyed, fire away!
  5. The draft is less than a month away and, at this point, nothing is very clear. There have been a number of injuries to significant players and fringe first-rounders alike - both major injuries and little nagging injuries that make it hard for teams to get a read on players. So what’s it going to boil down to? Sometimes it’s the last impression that’s the strongest. Other times it’s a player meeting a team’s offer in the days leading up to the draft. Obviously neither of those things have happened yet.There is some feeling around the league that this year’s draft sees an unprecedented number of pre-draft deals. But that’s something I hear every year. Some teams - like the Astros - have gotten really good at playing the draft. You don’t think Daz Cameron dropped to them at 37 by pure happenstance do you? They had it worked out before. They offered him $4 million and he (and his advisor) knew that if he went to anyone else in the first round, that he wasn’t getting $4 million. So they threw out an absurd demand and no one touched him. Expect more of the same this year with the Phillies, Reds, Braves and Padres in a great position to throw their weight around. What those teams, and possibly a couple of others, can do is offer money to players expected to go in the mid- to late-teens that they wouldn’t get if they went in the mid- to late-teens. History suggests the most volatile group of draft-eligible players are high school pitchers, so it’s likely we see some of those guys drop. Here’s my first shot at a mock draft: PHILLIES - Jason Groome, LHP, New Jersey HS. Groome’s stock took a slight hit when he was ruled ineligible after transferring back home from IMG Academy in Florida. For now, I have Groome as the guy taking the Phillies offer of $6 million and banking another $3 million. My gut tells me that by the time the draft rolls around, it’s going to be Kyle Lewis hearing his name called first and the Phillies spending their savings on a high school pitcher at 42. (NOTE: Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday afternoon that there are rumblings that the Phillies may be turning their attention to Kyle Lewis. Since I had already completed my mock, I didn’t think I should change it.)REDS - Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer. I don’t have any doubt that the Reds would take Lewis at this point if he’s available. But sometimes arms stare you in the face and you can’t pass on them. The Reds have picks 35 and 43 as well, so they’ll have an opportunity to cut a deal and replenish their system.BRAVES - Riley Pint, RHP, Kansas HS. I don’t love this pick for the Braves, but they’ve been stockpiling arms over the last couple of years and Pint would add another dynamic arm to the system.ROCKIES - A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida. Puk could be the first name off the board, but if teams are looking to make deals, all bets are off.BREWERS - Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State. The Brewers have had some very strong drafts in the last few years and add the best arm available to kick off their picks this year.A’S - Mickey Moniak, OF, California HS. There’s been some steam that there could be a deal here. I’d be surprised if there was one in place already, but it makes sense.MARLINS - Delvin Perez, SS, Puerto Rico HS. Unfairly compared to Carlos Correa, Perez was one of the first players I heard about as a first-rounder in this draft (probably about 16 months ago). The Marlins, who should have taken Carlos Rodon instead of Tyler Kolek for various reasons, have plenty of reasons to make Perez their guy.PADRES - Matt Manning, RHP, California HS. Whoever goes here, he will be the first of three solid picks. Look for the Padres to skim here to assure getting three really good players in the first round.TIGERS - Scott Senzel, 3B, Tennessee. Not a perfect fit, but the Tigers lineup isn’t getting any younger.WHITE SOX - Corey Ray, OF, Louisville. This would fit their recent trend of drafting more developed players.MARINERS - Zack Collins, C, Miami. Nothing more than a hunch really. (And hoping he’ll be gone before the Twins have a chance to draft a future first baseman.)RED SOX - Blake Rutherford, OF, California HS. Though the Red Sox have an abundance of outfield depth, Rutherford provides value as the best player available.RAYS - Braxton Garrett, LHP, Alabama HS. A Vandy commit with Boras as his rep, Garrett could be a player who drops due to signability (to a team that makes extra room). For now I have him going here. If the Twins have a shot at him - and believe they can sign him - they would pull the trigger.INDIANS - Josh Lowe, 3B, Georgia HS. Lowe would look great in the Twins system, but the Indians have taken a number of players that I’ve had that same feeling about it. So I project they’ll do the same.TWINS - Forrest Whitley, RHP, Texas HS. There were no up-the-middle prospects worth taking at fifteen, so it mostly came down to high-ceiling prep pitchers. The Twins had always been known for taking safe college arms, but with the exception of Kyle Gibson, that strategy hasn’t really panned out. The prep pitchers, however, have made some progress, led by the filthiness of Jose Berrios, the emergence of Stephen Gonsalves and the rejuvenation of Kohl Stewart. (I don’t think the Twins would “do-over” the Tyler Jay pick, but I think they got caught up in their own success and took a player who had the potential to make a big impact.) Whitley is a big-bodied prep with room to grow and has the ceiling to be an impactful front-of-the-rotation starter.​One name that I wouldn’t sleep on here is Zack Burdi. It has nothing to do with big brother Nick. There’s some belief that Zack has the tools to make the transition into a successful starter with a fastball/slider/changeup mix. The Twins have made that transition successfully with Tyler Duffey and have recently been adding power arms as well. Little Burdi fits the mold. There are some names that probably should be included, but are not. For example, Ian Anderson, Matt Manning and Alex Kirilloff are all legitimate Top 15 talents. But as I mentioned in the intro, teams are going to have money to throw around. If I were to continue this particular mock, I would have Manning dropping to the Padres at 24, Anderson dropping to the Reds at 35 and Kirilloff sliding to the Phillies at 42. Each of these three players would be in line to make significantly more than if they were drafted by the Twins at 15 (or another team in that vicinity.) There’s still a lot of time for things to change and even the most plugged-in people in the country would tell you - at this point - it’s a crapshoot. Hope you enjoyed, fire away! Click here to view the article
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