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The 2017 Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects

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1. Fernando Romero, RHP                             
Born: 12/24/94 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Javier Solano, James Pugliese, Nestor Cortes, Alec Mills, Jordan Swagerty
Height: 6-0 Weight: 215 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2016 21 A 28.0 4 1 1.93 2.33 8.04 1.61 24.30% 4.90% 0.00 75.00%
2016 21 A+ 62.1 5 2 1.88 2.00 9.39 1.44 26.90% 4.10% 0.14 77.20%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: Among all High Class A arms that threw at least 60 innings last season, Romero’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, 22.7%, ranked as the third best mark among 215 total pitchers. Fun Fact Part II: Since 2006, there have been just seven pitchers under the age of 22 to post a strikeout-to-walk percentage of at least 22.5% (minimum 60 innings) – Romero, Alex Reyes (20-years-old), Lucas Giolito, Christian Binford, Edwin Escobar, David Holmberg, and Cody Buckel. Not bad work for a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery – an injury that forced him to miss most of 2014 and all of 2015. Overall, Romero, a 6-foot, 215-pound right-hander out of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic, threw a combined 90.1 innings between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, averaging 9.0 strikeouts and just 1.5 walks per nine innings. He finished the year was a video game-esque 1.89 ERA.

Projection: Injury history notwithstanding, there’s not a whole lot to not like about the fire-slinging righty. A big time fastball with impeccable control is a rare – and expensive – commodity. So let’s delve into the actual numbers, shall we?

Consider the following:

  • Over his final three starts of the year Romero was practically untouchable – he threw 20.1 innings, coughed up just 11 hits, struck out 28, walked just a pair of hitters, and allowed just zero earned runs.
  • In only three of his appearances did he surrender more hits than innings pitched.
  • He gave up only one homerun the entire year, surrendering a two-run dinger to non-prospect Derek Campbell.

Every year I boldly proclaim a pitcher or two as the best prospect you’ve never heard about. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest breakout minor leaguer in 2017.

Ceiling: 4.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

2. Nick Gordon, SS                                           
Born: 10/24/95 Age: 21 Bats: L Top CALs: Odubel Herrera, Jose Pirela, Juan Diaz, Amed Rosario, Arismendy Alcantara
Height: 6-0 Weight: 160 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 18 R 255 6 4 1 0.294 0.333 0.366 0.072 4.30% 17.60% 101
2015 19 A 533 23 7 1 0.277 0.336 0.360 0.083 7.30% 16.50% 104
2016 20 A+ 493 23 6 3 0.291 0.335 0.386 0.095 4.70% 17.60% 112

Background: Flash’s kid turned in his finest season to date in 2016. After posting Weighted Runs Created Plus totals of 101 and 104 during his first two seasons, the former fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft topped the league average mark by 12% in High Class A last season. Gordon, a lefty-swinging shortstop out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida, batted a solid .291/.335/.386 with 23 doubles, six triples, three homeruns, and 19 stolen bases, though it took 32 total attempts. Overall, Gordon’s sporting a solid – and far from dominant – career triple-slash line of .285/.335/.371 in more than 1,200 trips to the plate.

Projection: I’ve never been overly optimistic about Gordon’s long term big league outlook. Last I year I ranked him as the eighth best prospect in the Twins’ system, writing:

“After struggling for the first 45 games in his full season debut, Gordon, who batted .230/.305/.281 through the first two months of the season, hit a more-than-respectable .304/.355/.406 over his final 75 contests. The speed’s already an above-average tool, but he’s nowhere close to becoming the base thief that his older brother is. Nick doesn’t offer up a whole lot of power – even during his final 75 games his ISO barely cracked the .100-mark – so the hit tool will need to carry him the rest of the way. And CAL isn’t overly optimistic either, ranking him with several highly touted former top prospects that never figured it out.”

Gordon, however, showed a little bit more offensive prowess as he moved up a level. But his power is still nil and he’s not running with the type of efficiency that makes it worthwhile. Defensively, according to Clay Davenport, he saved 11 runs in 2016 and another 16 the year before. He’s going to be a reliable big league shortstop but he’s not going to be a star.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

3. Tyler Jay, LHP                                                   
Born: 04/19/94 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: Eric Jokisch, Emmanuel De Leon, Jose Ramirez, Jack Spradlin, Matthew Bowman
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2016 22 A+ 69.2 5 5 2.84 3.31 8.78 2.71 23.60% 7.30% 0.65 79.30%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: Jay became the earliest pick in the history of the University of Illinois when the Twins grabbed him with the fifth overall selection two years ago. Fun Fact Part II: The last time Minnesota took a collegiate left-hander that early in the first round was all the back in 1998 when they grabbed former Arizona State University stud Ryan Mills, who was also taken with the sixth overall pick. On a side note: Mills’ father, Dick, was a very insightful pitching guru for amateur and professional athletes. Anyway, Jay was a career reliever during his three-year tenure with the Fightin’ Illini, making 71 total appearances and just two of them coming via the start. After simply blowing away competition during his final two years with the school – he posted a ridiculous 123-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just 108.1 innings of work – the Twins made the right decision by stretching him out in the professional ranks.

And the experiment got off to a smashing start in 2016.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound southpaw made 13 starts with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League, throwing 69.2 innings while fanning 23.6% and walking just 7.3% of the total hitters he faced en route to posting a 3.31 FIP. The front office bumped him up to Chattanooga in early July, but his season ended just three weeks later as he hit the disabled list with a neck/shoulder strain. Overall, Jay finished his first season in the pros with 83.2 innings while averaging 8.3 strikeouts and just 2.8 walks per nine innings to go along with a 3.33 ERA.

Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the wiry southpaw heading into the draft two years ago:

“Despite [Coach] Hartlieb’s erroneous decision to leave the dominant southpaw in the pen during his final season, Jay will likely become the school’s highest drafted player in history. Former right-hander John Ericks is the university’s only [other] first rounder (22nd overall).

For his part, Jay offers up an incredible package of strong control, better-than-average swing-and-miss ability, and a tremendous [talent] to keep the ball in the park; he’s allowed just two homeruns over his last 93.0 innings of work.

There’s some obvious risk that comes along, namely, will Jay be able to handle the rigors of not only taking the ball every fifth day, but also hurling more than a couple innings in each outing? [He’s] mid-rotation caliber ceiling with the floor as a better version of Kyle Crockett, the former fourth round pick by the Indians who vaulted through the minor leagues.”

So there’s some good news. Mike Berardino, the Twins beat writer for the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported that Jay’s diagnosis was neuro praxia, a nerve irritation, and shoulder/thoracic outlet were eventually ruled out.

As for the actual production, well, Jay certainly had his moments over the course of the year. In back-to-back starts with the Miracle he posted a 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just 13 innings of work. It’s not overly surprising – or concerning – that he struggled a bit in Class AA; he was already approaching his maximum workload and had thrown just 78.0 innings since he left college. Meaning: there’s not a whole lot of work between squaring off against the Big 10 and the minors’ toughest challenge.

As I stated in the pre-draft evaluation, he looks like a potential mid-rotation caliber arm.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017/2018

 

 

4. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP                                    
Born: 07/08/94 Age: 22 Bats: L Top CALs: Luke Jackson, Jacob Faria, Wade Davis, Jose Ortegano, Jake Thompson
Height: 6-5 Weight: 213 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 19 R 29.0 2 0 2.79 3.36 8.07 3.10 22.80% 8.80% 0.31 67.50%
2014 19 A 36.7 2 3 3.19 2.50 10.80 2.70 29.30% 7.30% 0.25 63.40%
2015 20 A 55.0 6 1 1.15 2.10 12.60 2.45 36.80% 7.20% 0.33 88.50%
2015 20 A+ 79.1 7 2 2.61 3.58 6.24 4.31 16.50% 11.40% 0.23 77.30%
2016 21 A+ 65.2 5 4 2.33 2.55 9.05 2.74 26.10% 7.90% 0.27 73.10%
2016 21 AA 74.1 8 1 1.82 2.76 10.78 4.48 30.10% 12.50% 0.12 81.10%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: Among all pitchers with at least 60 innings in High Class A last season, Gonsalves’ strikeout percentage, 26.1%, ranked as the 21st best mark among 215 total arms. Fun Fact Part II: Among all Class AA arms with at least 70 innings at the level, Gonsalves’ swing-and-miss percentage, 30.1%, ranked as the second best total among 171 qualified pitchers. Fun Fact Part III: Among all minor league pitchers with at least 130 innings in 2016, his overall strikeout percentage, 27.6%, ranks fifth best. Not bad work for a 21-year-old squaring off against the mid-levels of the minor leagues. Gonsalves, who was originally taken in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, threw a combined 130.0 innings with an impressive 155-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to tallying a 2.06 ERA and a 2.82 FIP.

Oh, and by the way, his 2.82 FIP was tied for the 11th best mark in the minors (minimum 130 IP).

Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book when I ranked the 6-foot-5, 213-pound left-hander as the system’s seventh best minor leaguer:

“CAL stands impressed, comparing him to established big leaguer Drew Hutchison and a pair of high-ceiling youngsters (Luis Severino and Lucas Giolito). And the trio of comparables is quite reasonable: Gonsalves has done nothing but succeede – often against older competition – since signing on the dotted line; his peripherals are above-average; and he does a fine job limiting the long ball (especially considering his groundball rates have been blasé). He’s a solid mid-rotation caliber arm who could jump up a bit as his lanky frame begins to fill out. Needless to say, Gonsalves has proven to be an incredible mid-round find for the organization.”

The frame started filling out as his weight, according to stats on Baseball Reference, jumped from 190 pounds to 213 in a year’s time. And the numbers certainly are impressive enough on their own. But let’s throw some proper context their way, shall we? Consider the following:

  • The last time a pitcher under the age of 22 struck out at least 27.5% of the total number of hitters he faced was Tyler Glasnow in 2014 (minimum 130 IP).

Gonsalves’ control took a tumble back during his time in the Southern League, but it’s been a decent skill in the past so it’s safe to assume that a bounce-back in 2017 is on the horizon.

If that takes a step forward in the next year or so, he could develop into a nice little #2-type arm. Otherwise, he should have no problems producing as a good #3 for the Twins for the better part of a decade.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017/2018

 

 

5. Alex Kirilloff, CF/RF                                              
Born: 11/09/97 Age: 19 Bats: L Top CALs: Lorenzo Cedrola, Kolby Copeland, Willie Cabrera, Mario Martinez, Zacrey Law
Height: 6-2 Weight: 195 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 18 R 232 9 1 7 0.306 0.341 0.454 0.148 4.70% 13.80% 118

Background: Fun Fact: The Twins have taken 14 outfielders in the first round, all but two of them – Alexander Rowell (1968) and Paul Powell (1969) were taken from the high school ranks. Kirilloff, the 15th pick last June, had a pretty impressive debut. The teenage outfielder jumped straight into the Rookie Advanced league without missing a beat, slugging .306/.341/.454 with nine doubles, one triple, and seven homeruns. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average by 18%.

Projection: While the same size is – unsurprisingly – quite limited, the fact that Kirilloff handled the Appalachian League with relative ease is incredibly promising. But here’s the best part: only one other qualified prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., under the age of 19 posted a better wRC+ total (122 vs. 118). No platoon splits, solid contact and power; the lone red flag would be his lackluster walk rate.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

 

6. Mitch Garver, C                                                 
Born: 01/15/91 Age: 26 Bats: R Top CALs:  Dan Butler, Jeremy Lucas, John Monell, Lou Palmisano, Chad Wallach
Height: 6-1 Weight: 220 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 24 A+ 520 24 1 4 0.245 0.356 0.333 0.088 13.30% 15.80% 116
2016 25 AA 407 25 0 11 0.257 0.334 0.419 0.162 10.60% 21.10% 118

Background: Fun Fact Part I: The underrated backstop out of the University of New Mexico slugged 30 regular season doubles last season, the third most among all minor league catchers. Fun Fact Part II: The former ninth round pick slugged the seventh most homeruns at the position last season (12). Fun Fact Part III: Garver threw out an impressive 52% of would-be base stealers during his stint in Class AA. Obviously, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound catcher had an all-around complete season – for the third consecutive time. In a combined 117 games with Chattanooga and Rochester, Garver slugged .270/.342/.422 with 30 doubles and 12 homeruns. For his career, he’s sporting an impressive .267/.359/.406 triple-slash line, with 98 doubles, four triples, and 34 homeruns.

Projection: As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the book, I’m of the firm belief that if a player can succeed in Class AA – especially during his first stint at the level – then he can be a positive contributor at the big league level. Enter: Mitch Garver. The 26-year-old backstop has been incredibly consistent – and, admittedly, a touch old for his levels of competition – throughout his four-year career. But production is production. And the big league level is completely in need of serviceable backstops.

Enter: Mitch Garver.

Above-average eye at the plate; enough power; solid hit tool; and, according to Clay Davenport’s metrics, he saved 13 runs on defense. In fact, he’s always been an above-average defender. Add it all up and you’re looking at one of the most underrated players in the game. Simply put: Garver could step in a big league lineup and total 2.0- to 2.5-wins tomorrow. The Twins recently signed Jason Castro, a career .232/.309/.390 hitter, to a three-year deal, so hopefully Garver will be able to sneak around past him.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

7. Wander Javier, SS                              
Born: 12/29/98 Age: 18 Bats: R Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-1 Weight: 165 Throws: R

Background: The Twins doled out some serious dough – $4 million, to be exact – in order to secure the services of the 17-year-old Dominican-born shortstop two years ago. According to the Twin Cities Press, a pretty severe hamstring injury limited him to just nine games and 30 plate appearances during his debut in Dominican Summer League last season. He managed to put together a pretty impressive line, though, slugging .308/.400/.654 with three doubles and a pair of homeruns.

Projection: In terms of statistical data, there was zilch available two years ago. And now there’s next to zilch after an injury-limited 2016. But despite the lack of, you know, playing time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Javier move stateside in 2017. And a showing in the Midwest League is certainly not out of the question either.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

 

8. Luis Arraez, 2B                                      
Born: 04/09/97 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: Hanser Alberto, Javier Betancourt, Luis Urias, Jose Ramirez, Ildemaro Vargas
Height: 5-10 Weight: 155 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 18 R 233 15 1 0 0.309 0.377 0.391 0.082 8.20% 4.30% 133
2016 19 A 514 31 3 3 0.347 0.386 0.444 0.097 6.00% 9.90% 146

Background: Fun Fact Part I: The diminutive second baseman led the Midwest League in batting average and his .347-mark was second among all Low Class A bats. Fun Fact Part II: Since 2006, no teenager has lead the Midwest League in batting average. Fun Fact Part III: Arraez’s .343 batting average is the best mark by a qualified teenager in either Low Class A since 2006. The lefty-swinging second baseman slugged an impressive .347/.386/.444 with 31 doubles, three triples, three homeruns, and, of course, three stolen bases. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 46%. For his career, Arraez is sporting an impressive .337/.391/.423 triple-slash line.

Projection: The 5-foot-11, 155-pound Mighty Mite is certainly in some rarified company. But let’s peruse some more interesting facts about him, shall we?

Consider the following:

  • In either Low Class A league there have been just six other teenage bats to hit at least .340 since 2006 – Byron Buxton, Chance Sisco, Jose Ramirez, Mike Trout, Oscar Taveras, and Ronald Torreyes. All but Torreyes are/were considered top prospects or have developed into well above-average big leaguers.
  • There are 18 teenagers that posted at least a 140 wRC+ in either Low Class A league since 2006 (minimum 450 PA) – Carlos Correa, Jason Heyward, Jay Bruce, Miguel Sano, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Eloy Jimenez, Jurickson Profar, Jesus Montero, Alen Hanson, Bobby Bradley, Caleb Gindl, Jaff Decker, Nick Weglarz, Travis Snider, and Arraez.

It should be noted that with respect to the second bullet point, only Sisco and Arraez posted ISOs around .100.

Anyway, it’s still damn impressive of the 19-year-old second baseman.

Arraez shows a tremendous ability to square up the baseball. The power has a chance to turn into double-digit homers down the line given his age and the sheer amount of doubles he smacked last season. Simply put: Arraez is one of the most underrated prospects in the game.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

9. Nick Burdi, RHP                                              
Born: 01/19/93 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs: Ethan Martin, Dan Cortes, Cody Satterwhite, Ben Lively, Sean Newcomb
Height: 6-5 Weight: 220 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 22 AA 43.2 3 4 4.53 3.99 11.13 6.60 26.30% 15.60% 0.62 69.80%

Background: Very few human beings can come close to matching the sheer velocity that Burdi can hurl baseballs at. The problem for the former Louisville closer was that he barely made it to the mound in 2016. A devastating bone bruise near his right elbow limited him to just three innings in Class AA last season – certainly a tough break for the former second round pick. For his career, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound fire-slinging right-hander has thrown 87.0 innings with a whopping 122 punch outs and 46 walks to go along with a 3.72 ERA.

Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about Louisville Cardinal heading into the 2014 draft:

“Craig Kimbrel of the collegiate ranks – a pitcher that simply overpowers the competition with an elite ability to miss bats with a strong enough feel for the strike zone. His control has been steadily improving in each of his last seasons, going from 3.97 BB/9 in 2011 to 3.28 as a sophomore and finally 3.12 BB/9 this season (as of 4/16/14).

Perhaps the most impressive stat, however, is the number one. The big right-hander’s surrendered just one homerun in his first 75.2 career innings. Near big league-ready, he should be among this class’ first waves to [The Show]. Big, big strikeout ability with the potential to average nearly a punch and a half per inning. He’s a very safe selection in terms of big league potential, though his career value will ultimately fall short in comparison with players like Carlos Rodon and Casey Gilaaspie.”

And I followed that up by writing this in last year’s book:

“Burdi’s production from July 2nd through the end of the year – 33.1, 1.89 ERA, 50 K, and 13 BB – is the true talent level, definitely not the hurler that battled control issues in the first half. As I wrote two years ago, the burly 6-foot-5 Burdi is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the big league level. And soon.”

Here’s hoping that he can make a full recovery from the deep bone bruise.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017/2018

 

 

10. Lewin Diaz, 1B                                                           
Born: 11/19/96 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: Curtis Terry, Brandon Laird, Wilmer Oberto, Jose Jimenez, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
Height: 6-3 Weight: 180 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 19 R 187 15 2 9 0.310 0.353 0.575 0.264 6.40% 18.70% 149

Background: Fun Fact Part I: The lanky first baseball slugged nine homeruns with the Elizabethton Twins, the fifth best total in the Appalachian League last season. Fun Fact Part II: No qualified teenager bashed more extra-base hits in the Rookie Advanced League than Diaz’s 26. Fun Fact Part III: The 6-foot-3, 180-pound first baseman finished with the fourth best overall production in the Appalachian with an impressive 149 wRC+. Fun Fact Part IV: The last a teenager finished the year with a 145 wRC+ in the league was back in 2013 when Victor Caratini accomplished the feat. Fun Fact Part V: here’s a complete list of teenagers to accomplish the feat since 2006 – Diaz, Caratini, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Anthony Garcia, Oswaldo Arcia, Aderlin Rodriguez, Oscar Taveras, Jose Altuve, Angel Morales, Niko Vasquez, Cody Johnson, and Travis Snider.

Overall, Diaz finished the year with an impressive .310/.353/.575 triple-slash line, with 15 doubles, a pair of triples, and nine homeruns.

Projection: Perhaps here’s the most interesting little tidbits I discovered about the (potentially underrated) young first baseman:

  • Since 2006, here’s a list of teenagers to receive 150 PA in the Appalachian League and post a .250 Isolated Power with a strikeout percentage below 20%: Lewin Diaz.
  • And here’s the list of player to accomplish the aforementioned feat in either Rookie Advanced League: Diaz, Jacob Scavuzzo, and Kevin Padlo.

The power, contact rates, and production are all indicative of a potential serious prospect. He’s definitely someone to watch in 2017 as he moves into full season ball. Because he’s limited to first base, the bat will need to carry him all the way through the minor leagues.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Risk: High

MLB ETA: 2020

 

 

 

Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.