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Minnesota Twins

Original Published Date: November 7, 2017

After many years of development, the Twins finally made it to a playoff chase and made the most of it.  Their strategy was two-fold.  Player acquisition and development and then some very good free agent signings.  Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler all played key roles in the 2017 campaign after spending years going through the development process.  The best news is that the Twins are just getting started as there is more in the system.

Nick Gordon leads the system and should be ready as soon as next season.  He’s not at the same caliber as Buxton and Sano but should be the long-term answer at shortstop.  The 2017 first round pick, Royce Lewis is a close second and arguably has better tools than Gordon.  He’s further away but with a hit-tool that is more advanced than we thought entering the draft, could move quickly.  The number one pitcher is Fernando Romero, a big fan of ours and a kid we project to be a number two starter.  Also, don’t forget at Wander Javier.  He’s tooled up and could develop into an impact talent.

Nick Gordon (SS)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS

Since being taken number five overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Nick Gordon has been making steady progress through the system.  He played the entire season in Double-A where he hit .270 in 122 games.  He clearly exchanged some contact for power as he slugged 40 points over his career average but struck out 30% more of the time, or 22.4% of his plate appearance.

Logic would put Gordon’s major league debut at some time in 2019, but he could see time there next season if the three-headed shortstop monster of Escobar/Polanco/Adrianza continues to provide ho-hum production.

Scouting Report:  Gordon has solid skills across the board but doesn’t have a true standout skill.  He’s far from a burner and also struggles in getting great jumps.  However, there is enough speed that he should steal 15 to 20 bases annually.  He does have good bat speed and has enough physicality to hit five to 10 home runs annually.  What has been a surprise is his very aggressive approach at the plate.  He’s up there to swing and if he continues to post a .355 BABIP, that will work.  However, in order to become a top-of-the-order impact player, he needs to learn some plate discipline.  The increase in strikeouts just adds more concern to the profile.

Defensively, he has the athleticism to be an everyday shortstop with excellent lateral movement and enough arm strength to make the deep throw from the hole.

He’ll likely be compared to his brother for the first few years of his career but they are different players.  Nick doesn’t have the double-plus speed of his brother but should develop more pop.  Candidly, I never thought Dee would develop into the hitter he has become, and believe that Nick still has a chance to be just as good of a hitter.  As noted, I would like to see him develop better plate discipline and return to his contact skills.  I believe the 5 to 10 home runs annually will come naturally as he gains size and strength.

Fantasy Impact:  I’m still putting the ceiling for Gordon at 10 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a .280 batting average, hitting at the top of the lineup.  It might not be sexy and he does lack that true standout skill, he still has the upside of a solid Top 15 shortstop in fantasy.

Royce Lewis (SS/OF)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS

I’m a big fan of Hunter Greene and was therefore disappointed that the Twins took Royce Lewis with the number one overall pick last June.  While I think Greene’s upside is that of an ace or even an impact shortstop at the highest level, I might have underestimated what Lewis can become.  After the draft, I spoke with several scouts who saw him extensively in high school and they described him as athletic, “great eye at the plate”, ”lots of pop in the bat” and a “big makeup guy”.

After he signed, Lewis headed off to Fort Meyers and played extremely well in the GCL.  In 38 games, he hit .271 with three home runs, 15 stolen bases and most importantly, walked more than he struck out.  In mid-August, the Twins had seen enough and promoted him directly to the Midwest League.  While he only played in 18 games, he held his own, slashing .296/.363/.394.

Scouting Report:  Where to start.  Lewis is really tooled up with double-plus speed, plus bat speed and an understanding of the strike zone.  He’s currently playing shortstop, but most evaluators believe he will move to center field as his career progresses.

As with most young players, he just turned 18 in June, his hit-tool is behind is other tools.  While he struck out more than he walked in rookie ball, he does expand the strike zone.  While his strikeout rate will increase as the competition increases, most evaluators are bullish that he will figure things out long-term.  The swing mechanics are solid though with great bat speed and with his size and strength, it’s easy to project 20 to 25 home runs down the road.

Finally, the make-up.  I hear nothing but really positive things.  Hard worker and just a good guy to have around.  It sounded a lot like Nick Gordon.

Fantasy Impact:  I still like Greene more but the Twins did well here and Dynasty League owners would not be stupid to take Lewis ahead of him in next year’s drafts.  It’s the positional player vs. pitcher argument.  The upside is a .270 hitter with 20 plus home runs and 30 stolen bases.

Fernando Romero (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

I was really bullish on Fernando Romero entering last season and he did not disappoint.       He spent the entire season in Double-A posting a 3.53 ERA while striking out a batter an inning and walking just 3.2 per nine.  Most importantly, he only gave up four home runs.

The Twins have understandably been careful with their prized right-hander after he had Tommy John Surgery that erased most of the 2014 and the entire 2015 season.  He pitched 90 innings in 2016 and 125 last year.  That should put him on pace for 160 innings next year and then ready for a major league starter workload in 2019.

Scouting Report: Before his 2014 TJ Surgery, Romero sat comfortably at 92 to 94 MPH.  He’s now up to 93 to 95 MPH and scraping 96 MPH when he needs to reach back for something extra. To complement his fastball, he also throws a power slider and a change-up that both grade out as potential future plus offerings.  All of his pitches play-up as he’s able to throw each for strikes.

As with Jose Berrios, Romero stands only 6-feet tall and therefore doesn’t get natural plane on his pitches.  However, he did have a 2-to-1 ground out to fly out ratio and only gave up four home runs the entire season.

The delivery is not great as he doesn’t finish off his delivery.  It hasn’t hurt his control but I would like to see his delivery cleaned up as to avoid further arm injuries in the future.

Fantasy Impact:  Romero is no longer flying under the radar in Dynasty Leagues and should be owned in all format.  His delivery does give me some pause and it could cause him to move to the bullpen.  But for now, he’s a starter, and a good one.  His ceiling is a Top 30 starting pitcher with 8.0 plus strikeout per nine.

Wander Javier (SS)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2021-22, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS

While the amount of a signing bonus is an indicator of a player’s perceived ceiling, it’s by no means a guarantee for baseball stardom.  This is particularly true in the international market.  Of the six players signed for at least four million dollars, only one, Nomar Mazara has made it to the big leagues.  In fact, none of the others have ever ranked in my Top 100.  Granted, Vlad Jr. and Miguel Sano were signed for $3.9 and $3.15 million respectively, but it shows you the variability in signing 16-year-old Latin players.

One of those six players is Wander Javier.  Signed for $4 million dollars in 2015, Javier has hit the ground running and so far, he’s living up to the high expectations heap upon him.  Last season, he played 41 games in the Appy League and slashed .299/.383/.471.  He added four home runs and four stolen bases. He did strikeout too much, a characteristic that has derailed many high profile Latin players.  However, his 19 walks also show he has a decent understanding of the strike zone.

Scouting Report:  Javier is definitely tooled up with great bat speed and equally great running speed.  While he hasn’t demonstrated his speed on the basepaths, he’s definitely a plus runner with a chance to steal 30 plus stolen bases in the future.  At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, he should put on weight and with his plus bat speed, 20 home runs is not out of the question.

The big question, of course, will be his ability to get on base.  His hit-tool is very raw.  He chases pitches, expands the strike zone but does have a decent understanding of the strike zone.  It’s the hardest skill to develop and also the hardest skill to scout.  Plus, as a Latin player, you just don’t know how good his training has been and the quality of competition.  Although as a high profile signee, it’s likely been very good, but again, the data says that might not matter.

Fantasy Impact:  Javier should be on the radar of all Dynasty League owners.  He’s currently a four-tool player with a chance to add the fifth tool.  However, the fifth tool for him is the ability to make consistent contact and that just happens to be the hardest one to develop.  He’s a lottery ticket but if you have room, I would be rostering him.

Stephen Gonsalves (LHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP

After starting the season on the disabled list, Stephen Gonsalves pitched extremely well last season.  In Double-A, he posted a 2.68 ERA striking out nearly 10 per nine and walking 2.3 per nine.  He was promoted to Triple-A in August and continued to miss tons of bats.

The most impressive thing about his season was his dramatic reduction in walks.  Prior to last season, he was walking nearly 3.5 per nine, but across Double and Triple-A, he reduced his walk rate to 2.25.

Scouting Report:  When I saw Gonsalves during the Arizona Fall League, I was not impressed.  He was sitting 89 to 90 MPH with his fastball.  I was told by evaluators who saw him this year (I did not) that his velocity was much better, more in the 90 to 93 range.  If accurate, I’m more interested.

He still lacks a true breaking pitch and he relies too much on his change-up/splitter.  It’s a quality pitch but in general pitchers without a true breaking pitch struggle in the major leagues.  The Twins will likely start him back in Triple-A with a good chance to see the major leagues in the second half.  If his velocity is indeed improved, the ceiling jumps to a number 2/3 starter.

Fantasy Impact: I’m guardedly optimistic about Gonsalves.  It’s good to hear his velocity has improved since when I saw him.  I still worry about the lack of a quality breaking pitch but I’m going to put his floor at a number four starting pitcher with a chance to be a low-end number two starter.

Alex Kirilloff (OF)

Highest Level: DNP, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF

After a nice 2016 season, Alex Kirilloff missed his entire sophomore season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.  He was heavily added in Dynasty Leagues last year after posting a .795 OPS in the Appy League as an 18-year-old.  How impactful was his injury, he’ll likely start the 2018 season, likely again in short-season ball, but this time as a 20-year-old.  All of sudden, he goes from one of the younger players in the league to league-average or older.

That said, the future is still very bright for the 6-foot-2 outfielder and we still have his ceiling as a Top 40 outfielder in the game.

Scouting Report:  We have included last year’s scouting report with minimal changes.

Kirilloff feel for hitting is well beyond his years.  He has a classic lefty swing with natural loft that should allow him to hit for plus in-game power.  While he’s been very aggressive in the early going, I expect he will develop more plate discipline as he gains experience.  While he didn’t steal any bases, he does have average speed and should not be a clogger on the base paths and could even steal a handful of bases annually.

Defensively, he profiles best in right field to let his plus arm play.

Fantasy Impact:  Since the hit tool is the hardest to develop, Kirilloff gets an immediate boost as he should be able to hit for a high average.  His solid raw power should also allow him to hit 20 home runs at the highest level.  He’s three to four years away, but the ceiling is a solid number three outfielder on your fantasy team.

Brent Rooker (OF)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF

The Twins originally selected Brent Rooker in the 38th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, but he declined their offer (I’m assuming a five or ten thousand dollar signing bonus) and decided to go back to school for his senior year.

Smart move.

In his senior year, he posted a 1.305 OPS, doubled his home run production while reducing his strikeout rate and increasing his walk rate.  He entered the 2017 Draft much more confident and it paid off.  The Twins once again drafted him, but this time they spent a supplemental first round pick, paying him a $1.93 million dollar signing bonus.

Scouting Report:  After signing, the Twins assigned Rooker to the Appy league for the first month where he posted a .952 OPS.  They then assigned him to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League where he continued to play well posting a .916 OPS.  He did strikeout too much but the increased power he showed in college continued.  So what changed, or more importantly, are the changes real.

I looked at video from 2016 and compared them to 2017.  I saw a swing with a smaller load and less movement in his lower half.  This is causing him to get shorter to the ball and given his size and strength, he’s not losing much power.  The result is better plate coverage and the elimination of many of his holes that plagued him early in his college career.

While Rooker turns 23 in November, he could easily see Double-A by the end of next season with a chance to see the majors in 2019 assuming health and continued production.

Fantasy Impact:  Rooker’s upside is a solid number four outfielder on your fantasy team with 25 home run potential and a .260 batting average.  He’s a below-average runner, so don’t count on many stolen bases.

LaMonte Wade (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF

Players who walk more than they strikeout get my attention.  Players who are doing this in the upper minors, really get my attention.  Enter LaMonte Wade.

Last season, Wade walked 76 times while striking out only 71 times in 117 games in Double-A.  All this led to a .292 batting average and more importantly, a .397 on-base percentage.  The problem is he’s showing below average in-game power with average speed.

Scouting Report: Wade obviously can really hit.  He controls the strike zone well and is extremely patient.  He does have good bat speed but his swing is more geared to contact than over-the-fence power.  In the past, I might write this profile off from a fantasy standpoint, but given what is happening in our fantasy game, I’m intrigued.

Power is developing at the major league level and whether it’s the ball, changing swing mechanics or something else that has yet to be revealed, it’s happening.  Wade has the bat speed and strength to develop power.  Plus, finding guys who can help your batting average and/or on-base percentage categories is hard.  Wade can do that.

Fantasy Impact:  If Wade can develop 15 to 20 home run power to go along with his .280/.340 batting average and on-base percentage, he will have value.  It’s the profile of Brandon Belt, a good player but not an impact player.  However, you need those guys on your fantasy team and many times, they are the ones that win you leagues.

Felix Jorge (RHP)

Highest Level: Major, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP

I lot of people have asked me about Felix Jorge.  Should I pick him up for my fantasy team?  Could he help the Twins down the stretch?  Based on my ceiling, most would say the answer is no, but I do think he’s a big leaguer and with some small improvements, could be an interesting asset.

He did make a couple of starts in the major leagues last season but didn’t pitch especially well.  It’s so hard to draw any conclusions with just two starts, but he does have six years of minor league experience and his profile has emerged fairly consistently.  He throws strikes (2.21 BB/9), induces a ton of ground balls (2:1 ground ball to fly ball rate), and doesn’t strike out many (7.25 K/9).   That’s a profile of a back of the rotation starter or maybe a number four starter.

Scouting Report:  Jorge is a classic sinkerballer and his 2 to 1 GO/AO ratio supports that skill.  His secondary stuff is average-to-plus, so I’m a little surprised at the low strikeout rate.  My guess is he’s just become a pitch-to-contact guy.  His fastball sits in the low 90’s and most evaluators thought he would see a grade improvement but it just has not happened yet.  If he can sit 92 to 94 MPH with his improving secondary pitches, he could be much more than a number four starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Jorge is a guy to monitor in all fantasy formats.  While his profile suggests that he’s only rosterable in deep leagues, if he can pick up a mile or two on his fastball and start striking out eight-plus per nine, he becomes a different pitcher.

Zack Granite (OF)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire OF

After his 2016 season where Zack Granite stole 56 bases in Double-A, the Dynasty League community was “all a twitter”.  Why didn’t he make your Top 10 Twins list?  Can he steal 50 bases in the major leagues?

While I did consider him for last year’s list, I saw him as a classic fourth outfielder and decided to leave him off.  In hindsight, I should have included him.  Not because I believe he’s more than ultimately a fourth outfielder, but guys with a history of 50 stolen bases and who can also hit should be on all owner’s radar.

Scouting Report: Granite’s carrying tool is his plus speed and the ability to control the strike zone.  He also has 30-grade power, although he did show a little power in Double-A as well as a little in Triple-A.  However, to project more than a handful of home runs at the highest level is not warranted.  My question is would he have enough strength to fight off the consistent high velocity seen at the next level?

Plus, he’s blocked in center field by Byron Buxton.  He could play a corner outfield, but I think they the Twins are looking for more power there.  Therefore, at least for the Twins, he’s a tweener – translated more formally, a fourth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact: Granite has the talent to play at the highest level and would likely be the first responder if Buxton gets injured.  Since Buxton plays with reckless abandonment, I would not be surprised if he misses a few weeks of each season with nagging injuries.  You can expect good on-base skills and plenty of stolen bases when he plays.

2018 Emerging Prospect

Lewis Thorpe (LHP)

Australian Lewis Thorpe has been off the grid for two years as he recovered from Tommy John Surgery.  In fact, I forgot about him until a reader asked about him over the summer.  I asked around and was told he looked good with his velocity was back to where it was pre-surgery.  He pitched in 16 games in High-A, posting a .269 ERA.  He struck out 9.8 per nine but he also walked 3.6 per nine.  He’s never controlled the strike zone well and that has continued.  The bottom line is he has a good arm with some projection remaining, is a lefty, with the chance to be a mid-rotation starter.

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