|Original Published Date: November 5, 2019|
The Twins have done a nice job of creating a continuous flow of players from their farm system to their big-league roster. A quick look of their Major League roster shows that seven of their starting nine are homegrown. Given how good their offense has been, I think you can declare success. The pitching is a different story. While the system has created several big-league pitchers, only Berrios and Gibson have emerged as consistent mid-rotation big-league starters.
Their minor league system continues to shine with several players near big-league ready with depth throughout all levels. The problem that has developed is the players in the upper minors are blocked. Alex Kirilloff is near ready, but who does he bump for playing time? Their two best pitching prospects are Jordan Blazovic and Brusdar Graterol. While Graterol has been used in a relief role for the Twins down the stretch, Blazovic is the kid to watch in the system.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Alex Kirilloff
- Biggest Mover: Jordan Balazovic
- Emerging Prospect: Misael Urbina
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1. Alex Kirilloff (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
- Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with plus raw power that has yet to emerge in games. He’ll also steal a handful of bases.
I write about prospects for a living and supplement that by playing in five Dynasty Leagues. One player that I hardly ever get asked about, nor do I see any of my league mates discuss is Alex Kirilloff. Maybe it’s because he missed the entire 2017 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery or that he only hit .282 this season with nine home runs. Perhaps people think this guy is just “ok”. However, I’m here to tell you, he’s much better than that. In fact, I think he could be a star.
First, he can flat out hit. While his 18.5% strikeout rate in 2019 is a little high, he’s historically been a mid-teens K%-rate guy and I expect that going forward. He also can work a walk and averaged a 7% walk rate in 2019. Secondly, there is big raw power in the bat that has yet to translate into in-game power. The most impressive thing is that it’s not just pull-power, but it’s power to all fields. If you told me that one day, he hits 30 home runs in the big leagues, I would not be surprised.
The Twins have a stacked young outfield, but in 2022, Eddie Rosario will be a free agent and that might mean the Twins move him prior to that. Kirilloff could be a terrific replacement for him in 2020-21. If not, he’s likely blocked which means something else will have to be figured out.
2. Royce Lewis (SS)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Athleticism and plus makeup. However, a change to his swing has given pause to his ultimate ceiling. He’s still a Top 100 prospect, but he’s no longer a Top 10 prospect.
Since being taken 1:1 in the 2017 MLB Draft, I had difficulty finding evaluators who would say anything negative about Royce Lewis. I had a chance to see him twice in 2018 and came away each time impressed with his approach, swing, and athleticism. Unfortunately, Royce Lewis took a step back in 2019. The swing has become more mechanical with a hitch. While not drastic, I saw the hitch during a game in the Fall League. This has led to more strikeouts and an inability to make solid contact. His BABIP all year long has been in the .280’s.
The two things that remain are his athleticism and his enthusiasm for the game. He’s a plus runner with great instincts on the base paths. Defensively, he’s solid and while I’ve heard rumors that his arm while plus in strength, isn’t always accurate. I’ve not seen that. Finally, he looks like he’s having fun playing the game. I’ve seen it in person and during the Futures Game.
As with many players, it will come down to how much Lewis will hit. I thought there was a chance for a high batting average and OBP, but with his changes in his swing and more aggressive approach at the plate, I’m more uncertain with his ultimate ceiling.
3. Jordan Balazovic (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
- Tools Summary: Plus stuff with improving control and command. He’s still a little under-the-radar and could be a nice get in a Dynasty League.
Jordan Balazovic was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 MB Draft as 17-year-old prep out of Ontario Canada. Since he was only 17, the Twins decided to take it slow with him, limiting him to Rookie ball in both 2016 and 2017. He did pitch 61.2 innings in Low-A in 2018 but 2019 has been his breakout.
During his slow roast, he’s put on weight and has improved his stuff. His fastball now sits in the mid-90s and will scrape 97 with a slider that has tight rotation. The best part is he’s able to throw strikes, walking only four batters in 20.2 innings in Low-A prior to his promotion. Since his promotion, he has continued to show excellent control.
The Twins have done right by Balazovic and he has responded. He only turns 21 in September and given his draft age, is still pitching as one of the younger pitchers at each level. If it all comes together, his upside is a number three starter, maybe a little more.
4. Brusdar Graterol (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP or Closer
- Tools Summary: At 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds with a max effort, it’s not the ideal profile of a starter. But, the stuff is electric and he’s already proven he can get guys out in the Major Leagues.
Because he got brought up to work out of the bullpen, there wasn’t a lot of fanfare on the September promotion of Brusdar Graterol. But, WOW…did he shove it. He was pumping 97 to 100 MPH with a nasty 88 MPH slider. He’s not going to do that as a starter, but it gave us a glimpse of what is capable.
Graterol just turned 21 in August and really has accelerated his rise through the minor leagues over the past two seasons. He was signed in 2016 as a 16-year-old and then missed the entire 2016 season and part of the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. After he returned, he was throwing much harder and had also put on a lot of weight. At 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds, a physical comp of a late 30’s Bartolo Colon is not far off. While nobody wants to hear that, when you are that size at 21, well, it’s notable.
After seeing him pitch at the highest level, with his size and max effort, Graterol might work better out of the bullpen. If he does, it could be special. As a starter, I think the ceiling is more of a number three starter. Maybe a little more if he improves his control. Regardless, he should see considerable time in Minnesota in 2020.
5. Trevor Larnach (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
- Tools Summary: Plus power potential with an average hit-tool.
I was a little light on Trevor Larnach last season as I was concerned about his size and lack of premium athleticism. I did acknowledge that he had good bat speed but wasn’t sure if he’d hit enough to ever develop the plus in-game power that was lurking.
In 2019, Larmach has started to answer a number of those questions. First, defensively, he’s a corner outfielder, likely a left-fielder or even given his size, a first baseman. I do see enough athleticism for him to stay in the field. Secondly, his power started to emerge in 2019. In 127 games across High and Double-A, he hit 13 home runs while posted a .457 SLG.
Finally, he’s controlling the strike zone better than I had anticipated. The strikeout rate was a reasonable 20.5% in the Florida State League before shooting up in a small sample size in Double-A. His walk rate was over 10%. Net-net, I see a solid major league player with a .250/.340 batting average with 25 plus home run pop. As I said in our mid-season update where I put him at number 79, the ceiling is an everyday Major League, but not a star.
6. Misael Urbina (OF)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Exciting top of the order skillset.
I always talk about owning one or two very young players on a Dynasty League in hopes that they will become something. Misael Urbina is one of those players I am recommending owners should consider.
The Twins signed Urbina for an impressive $2.75 million dollars signing bonus in the summer of 2018 and assigned him to the DSL for 2019 where he showed exciting top-of-the-order tools. In 49 games, he slashed .279/.380/.443, walking nearly twice as much as he struck out (6.5% K/9 ratio) and stealing 19 bases. He doesn’t have a ton a current power nor does he project to hit for much power long-term, there is solid bat speed with enough strength for plenty of doubles.
The Twins should bring him stateside to begin the 2020 season and given his approach and ability to make contact, he could move quickly.
7. Gilberto Celestino (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
- Tools Summary: Plus speed, makes great contact and a plus defender.
I continue to be high on Gilberto Celestino, the young outfielder who the Twins acquired from the Astros for Ryan Pressley.
He had an excellent season in 2019. In 117 games in Low and he slashed .276/.350/.409 with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Most importantly he made great contact (16% K/9 rate) while almost walking 10% of the time. The Twins rewarded him with a late-season promotion to High-A where he played in eight games with nearly the identical stat line.
From a scouting standpoint, he profiles as a plus defender in centerfield with plus speed and enough bat speed to post a .400 SLG at the highest level. His current swing indicates it will be more doubles power, but doubles have a way to turn into home runs in the Triple-A and the Majors. If it all comes together, he could be a dynamic leadoff batter with high on-base skills and plenty of stolen bases.
8. Brent Rooker (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Big power, big strikeouts, but will work a walk.
I never know quite how to evaluate players like Brent Rooker. He has double-plus raw power with a swing that gets long that leads to a lot of strikeouts, but he’s learned to be patient at the plate and will take a walk. In other words, he’s a Three True Outcome Player.
If players like Rooker produce a high BABIP, they can be an all-star. If not, they will struggle to hit .220. The difference though from a baseball standpoint is the walks. Even with a .220 average, Rooker will have a chance to post a .320 plus OBP. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not great but if it comes with 30 to 40 home runs, it will work. What doesn’t work is a .230 average with a .280 OBP. Players with this profile (sans Randal Grichuk) struggle to get the long-term contract and many times will get DFA’d when they get too expensive.
Back to Rooker. It wasn’t a great 2019 season for him. First, he got hurt in July and missed all but the last two games in the second half. On the positive, he slugged .535 in Triple-A with 14 home runs and hit .281. He also posted an unsustainable .417 BABIP and a very poor 35% strikeout rate.
Ok…so, now what…. I know many of you simply want to know one, when will Rooker get a chance in the big leagues and two, will he be any good.
I think he gets a sniff of the Major Leagues as early as 2020 with more likely playing time in 2021. He’s going to hit for power, but it will come with a low batting average and an acceptable OBP. Therefore, a full season could look like .230/.330/.500 with 30 plus home runs.
9. Ryan Jeffers (C)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Backup catcher/1B/DH
- Tools Summary: Good power with solid-average hit-tool. He does struggle behind the plate which might require a move off the position.
Ryan Jeffers had a solid year splitting time between High and Double-A. The 6-foot-4 catcher hit .264 with a .341 OBP and 14 home runs. He made solid contact with a 20% strikeout rate while also showing some plate patience (9% BB/9 ratio).
Defensively, he’s on the large size for catchers which has caused some liabilities behind the plate. Also, with the emergence of Mitch Garver, Jeffers could be moved off the position, or at least split time in order to get his bat to the big leagues.
10. Keoni Cavaco (3B)
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 3B
- Tools Summary: Double-plus raw power with a little speed but his approach and tendency to swing-and-miss need to be addressed.
The Twins selected high schooler Keoni Cavaco with the 13th pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. The Twins love his big power potential and believe he’ll hit enough to get to it. After his professional debut in the GCL, there might be some questions about that. In 26 games, he hit .187 with 36 strikeouts and four walks. Sure, it was a tiny sample size, but a 9:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio shows there is some work to do.
If he can hit, there is a lot to like from a fantasy perspective. He has great bat speed with a lot of physical strength and is currently a good runner. As he puts on weight, some of the speed will likely disappear, but for now, he should be able to steal some bases. It’s the kind of kid you want to bet on in a fantasy draft and hope the Twins can help him with his approach and contact.
11. Jhoan Duran (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: Double-plus cutter will likely push him to the bullpen, but he could be very good there.
Jhoan Duran earns his keep by having one double-plus pitch – a nasty cutter with terrific boring action. However, his four-seamer is straight, and he lacks a feel for his change-up. While I wouldn’t compare his cutter to Mariano Rivera’s cutter, it does show the success a pitcher can have with just one pitch. Could that be Duran? Perhaps, but unless he expands his arsenal, he’s likely bound for the bullpen.
Until then, the Twins are starting Duran and he’s responding. He has an impressive strikeout rate of over 11 K’s per nine but does need to continue to work on his control.
The Twins usually move their pitching prospects slow, so I don’t see an arrival before sometime in 2021. It could be as a starter, but again, long-term, I think he moves to the bullpen. Regardless, he’s got size, good arm strength and one knock-out pitch that should be able to get big leaguers out.
12. Chris Vallimont (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Tall with a plus fastball and solid slider. Pitched very well last season so there is some helium.
Originally signed by the Marlins, Chris Vallimont was acquired by the Twins along with Sergio Romo at the deadline last July. In was an interesting “throw-in” as Vallimont was having a solid season and once traded, continued to pitch very well. For the year, across Low and High-A, he pitched to a 3.24 ERA striking out 10.6 per nine while walking three per nine. He was 22 and old for Low-A but he’ll likely start the 2020 season in Double-A which should be age-appropriate.
The stuff is solid with a fastball that sits 92 to 95 with good secondary pitches. At 6-foot-5, he has size with downward plane. There is some effort in the delivery and given his size, I’m a little surprised that his control is as good as it is.
The ceiling is a back of the rotation starter with a chance to be more. If you want to read that as a sleeper, by all means, …do.
13. Akil Baddoo (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF or streaming outfielder
- Tools Summary: TJ Surgery ended his season early. Intriguing skills but hasn’t hit since Rookie Ball.
Drafted in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Akil Baddoo got off to a strong start during his draft year but just hasn’t done much since. In the Appy League, he walked more than he struck out, but in 2018 in Low-A, he struck out 24% of the time and in 2019, he struck out 30% of the time. He was limited to 30 games last season as he needed Tommy John Surgery in May.
There are some promising skills with good speed, a little bit of pop with good plate patience. However, the strikeouts have increased as he’s faced more advanced pitching. Unless he learns to make better contact, the ceiling looks more like a fourth outfielder or a fringe regular.
14. Nick Gordon (SS)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
- Tools Summary: Just has not developed. Hit tool and power all point to a backup role.
Despite being a number five overall pick with a Major League lineage, unless something clicks, and quickly, Nick Gordon ceiling is a utility player. In fact, the Twins have begun to move him around the infield in anticipation of such a role.
What happened? First, the power just has not developed. He’s never hit double-digit home runs and has averaged a sub .400 SLG for his career. Secondly, he’s very aggressive at the plate and there’s just too much swing and miss in his game. His 20% strikeout rate in conjunction with his 5% walk rate point to a hit tool that will be dependent on his BABIP. As an example, in 2018, he hit .212 with a .264 BABIP. In 2019, he hit .298 with a .364 BABIP. Let’s split the difference and call it .260 average with a .290 to .300 OBP, a handful of home runs and some speed. That’s a backup player.
15. Emmanuel Rodriguez (OF)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Plus raw power with an idea at the plate. That’s all you can ask for in a 16-year-old.
The Twins have always been strong in the international market with nearly half of their starting lineup mined from locations outside of the US. There was even a movie centered around Miguel Sano that gave us all insight into how the international market works, or at least, use to work. When they spend a significant amount on an international player, you should take notice.
In July of 2019, they spent $2.7 million on a young Dominican outfielder named Emmanuel Rodriguez. He’s athletic, with plus raw power, an idea at the plate and can run a little. While he’s only 16-years-old, given the organization in which he was signed and the initial feedback on the player, he might be a nice lottery pick in deep Dynasty Leagues.