Minnesota Twins

Original Published Date: November 3, 2015

The Twins system continues to be very strong even though one of the best power prospects in the game, Miguel Sano has graduated to the majors.  Byron Buxton still qualifies, barely, for the system as he missed the cut-off by one at-bat.  While he struggled in his big league debut, all the skills are there for him to be one of the best players in the game, but it’s going to take time.

After Buxton, are two pretty good players in Jose Berrios and Max Kepler.  In my opinion, Berrios shouldn’t be on this list as he should have lost rookie eligibility.  Kepler emerged in a big way in 2015 and got a callup in late in the season to the big leagues. Jorge Polanco is also close to helping the big league club and has the tools to be a starting major shortstop for a long time.

A little further away is 2015 first round pick Tyler Jay and 2014 first round pick, Nick Gordon.  Jay is in particular intriguing as he could be in the big leagues in 2016 if the Twins decide to move him through the system as a reliever.  Don’t forget about Kohl Stewart, the Twins first pick in 2013.  While the stat line doesn’t scream “elite prospect”, the ceiling is still a number two starter.

The Twins had a very good year in 2015 with their farm system playing a significant role.  After researching and reviewing the players still in their system, I think we will be saying that for the next several years.

1. Byron Buxton (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AA,AAA 292 55 7 45 22 .305 .367 78.4 9.2 .363

After a miserable, injury plagued 2014 season, Byron Buxton was once again healthy and showed the talent that got the entire prospect community excited after the Twins drafted him with the number two overall pick in the 2012 first year player draft.  He posted an impressive .305/.367/.500 slash line in 72 games across Double and Triple-A before getting the call to the majors on June 15th.

I was honestly a little surprised with the promotion.  While Buxton has immense talent and played very well prior to the call-up, his game still didn’t feel like it was ready for prime time.  I know it’s hard to make that call when you are batting .305, but it did come with a .367 BABIP and the approach in my opinion, still needed work.  He did indeed struggle after the promotion, looking over matched and struggling to make contact.  He might have been demoted in early July, but sprained his thumb and spent a month on the DL. The good news is that he returned healthy and looked better in September, even showing some pop.

Despite the early struggles, Buxton has the tools to be a star in the major leagues.  He’s a true five-tool player with speed, power, the ability to hit, field, with a decent arm.  He just needs time and with 129 at-bats under his belt, he could easily pull a Trout and blow-up next year.  That doesn’t mean he’s Mike Trout, but I still believe the ceiling is Andrew McCutchen…which is a pretty darn good.

Scouting Report:  Buxton has star potential.  He has plus bat speed that as he adds strength, should translate into above-average if not plus in-game power.  He’s an 80 runner and should be able to steal bases in bunches.  Assuming he can get on base at an 80% clip, he could steal 50 bases as early as next year.  The hit-tool still needs work as he can still be fooled by good off speed pitches but after seeing him numerous times in the minor leagues, I think it will come.  It could still take another season or two, but it’s all there.

Fantasy Impact:  If you play in a Dynasty League and don’t own Buxton, you should ping his owner to test the water.  There are owners that are now down on him.  After all, he hit .209 and struck out 44 times in 138 plate appearances with six walks.  Play that up, tell his owner that he’s overrated and try to acquire him.  It will be well worth it.  For next year, I’m probably going to take a pass unless I get him as my fourth, maybe my third outfielder.  While it’s impossible to know when it will all click, I don’t want to be the guy who overdrafts him.  However, as the 35th to 50th outfielder off the board, I’m all-in.

2. Jose Berrios (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 163.1 136 53 12 2.06 9.47 2.87 1.05

If you looking for reasons why the Minnesota Twins did not promote Jose Berrios this past year to help them in their quest for the post season, I’m sorry…I got nothing.

Berrios season was impressive.  In 15 starts in Double-A, he posted a 3.08 ERA, striking out a batter an inning while walking 2.38 per nine.  Searching for a new challenge, the Twins promoted him to Triple-A and he did even better.  In 11 starts, he struck out almost ten per nine, walking 1.66 per nine and posting a 2.67 ERA.  Looking for a blemish???  He gave up a few too many home runs.  However, at 6-feet tall, that’s just going to happen.  However, when you don’t walk anyone and can strike out a batter an inning, you’re not going to get hurt too badly given up a few too many home runs.

Again…if you’re looking for reasons why he did not end the year in Minnesota…I got nothing.

Scouting Report:  Berrios has a nice three pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits 92 to 93 MPH and can touch higher when he needs a little something extra.  His change-up is his best secondary pitch and it is a plus, if not double-plus offering.  It can get swings and misses from both arm and glove-side bats equally and Berrios is not afraid to use the pitch in any count.  His breaking pitch is a slider-curve (i.e. slurve) that is more slider than curve.  It’s not a bad pitch and is effective with arm side batters.

While the arsenal is good, it plays up because Berrios can throw strikes with deception in his delivery.  While some pitchers get deception through funk, he achieves his deception by hiding the ball extremely well.   Batters just do not pick up the ball coming out of his hand.

Fantasy Impact:  Berrios is one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues with a ceiling of a number two starter.  The physicality and stuff does remind me of Sonny Gray, so there could even be more upside.  When will he make it to the show?  I’m guessing it will be mid-June so that the Twins can play the dreaded Super-2 game, but let’s hope that it will be sooner than that.

3. Max Kepler (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2015
2015 A+,AA 431 80 9 71 19 .318 .410 84.2 13.6 .357

We’ve written about Max Kepler’s story before, but it’s worth repeating.  Both of his parents (father was Polish and the mother, American) were professional ballerinas who met in Germany and had little Maximilian Kepler.  Blessed with great natural athleticism, Kepler started playing baseball and rose to prominence in Germany club leagues where he was scouted and signed by the Twins in 2009.

His first five seasons of professional ball were ok, slashing .267/.344/.418, but nothing really stood out.  When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League last year, you could see the athleticism and his batting practice was impressive.   While he batted .307 in 18 games, he still didn’t show a ton of pop and was just not squaring balls up like his swing suggested.  That all changed in 2015 as Max Kepler broke out in a big way.  In 112 games in Double-A, he slashed .319/.414/.528 with 32 doubles, nine home runs, and 18 stolen bases.

Scouting Report:  It took a while, but the in-game production is finally catching up to the scouting report.  At 6-foot-4, Kepler has good size and strength and projects to have at least average power.  As he adds more loft to his swing, many of those 32 doubles will turn into home runs with 20 future home run power not out of the question.  He’s also a plus runner with good instincts on the base paths with a ceiling of 20 stolen bases.  He’s always made good contact with a very good approach and therefore has a chance to be an above-average hitter.  If you add it all up, that’s a future 60 player on the 20 to 80 scouting scale.

Defensively, he’s able to play all three outfield positions.  The Twins have also played him at first base, but that was early in the season; during the second half, he played exclusively in the outfield.

The Twins will start him off in Triple-A to begin the 2016 season with a mid-season call up very likely.

Fantasy Impact:  Kepler has a chance to be an impact fantasy player and nobody is talking about him.  A wise Dynasty League owner should be taking advantage of this and trying to acquire the 22-year-old outfielder.  He has 20 HR/20 SB upside with the ability to hit and get on base at an above-average clip.  There are not many players in the minor league with that type of upside, at his age, entering Triple-A.

4. Tyler Jay (LHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 18.1 18 8 0 3.93 10.8 3.93 1.42

Tyler Jay was one of the more difficult players to evaluate in the 2015 first year player draft.  He was nearly unhittable as a junior at the University of Illinois, striking out 10.26 batters per nine and walking less than one per nine.  However, he was used primarily as a reliever, although he did start two games.  Would he be drafted as a starter or a reliever?

The Twins took him with the sixth overall pick and immediately placed him in the Florida State League as a reliever.  He dominated just like he did in college.  General Manager Terry Ryan did say that they will not rule out developing him as starter.  For his sake, Minnesota Twins fans, and fantasy owners, let’s hope that happens.

Scouting Report: Jay has terrific stuff with a fastball that sits 93 to 94 MPH but can hit the upper nineties when he’s used out of the pen.  His best secondary pitch is his curve ball that is already a plus offering.  While his change-up is his third pitch, it’s still a quality offering with good deception and similar arm speed and slot as his fastball.   Everything plays up though with Jay’s ability to throw strikes.  He has plus control of his arsenal and isn’t afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count.

At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Jay does have the prototypical size of pitchers in the modern era.  However, his combination of stuff and polish should allow him to move quickly with the ceiling of a number two starter or a backend closer.

Fantasy Impact:  If the Twins decide to keep Jay as a reliever, he could be up in 2016.  However, I just don’t see that happening.  Starters are too hard to come by and I believe the Twins will indeed move him to the starting rotation and put him back in High-A to start the season.  That move will clearly slow his timeframe down as they will have to ensure they build his arm strength up over time to reduce the chance of injury.  That should put his arrival date late in 2017 or more likely 2018.  The ceiling is a number two starter with plenty of strikeouts, a low WHIP but a higher ERA than you would like given his lack of plane and likely being homer-prone.

5. Nick Gordon (SS)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 160 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2015 A 481 79 1 58 25 .277 .336 81.7 7.3 .333

Taken fifth overall in the 2014 first year player draft, Nick Gordon has the type of exciting all around skills and makeup that should see him manning shortstop in Minnesota in a few years.  Because of his baseball pedigree and high baseball IQ, many thought that Gordon would fly through the lower minor leagues.  However, he got off to a very slow start in April and May, batting .230 with seven extra base hits.  He took off in June and has not looked back, posting a solid .277 batting average and a .336 on-base percentage.

Scouting Report:  Gordon’s combination of makeup, baseball instincts, and athleticism should allow him to be a top-of-the-order impact player for years.  Despite his slow start, his swing is short and compact and he has a good approach at the plate.  What he lacks is strength but unlike his brother Dee, he should develop enough power to post a .400 plus slugging percentage with eight to 12 home runs.  He’s also a plus runner and that started to show up in box scores as he stole 25 of 33 bases in 2015.

Defensively, he has the athleticism to be an everyday shortstop with excellent lateral movement and enough arm 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 has a chance to be just as good of a hitter.

Fantasy Impact:  While Gordon is still three years away, he has the upside to be a top 10 fantasy shortstop.  While owners would love to see 50 to 60 stolen bases, they are going to have to settle for half of that amount. However, owners should expect mid single-digit home run power with a chance for more.

6. Jorge Polanco (SS)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 200 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2015 AA,AAA 482 62 6 53 19 .288 .339 84.9 7.4 .327

The Twins shortstop situation reminds me of what the Mariners have been struggling with over the past several years.  Brad Miller, Chris Taylor and Nick Franklin are fine ball players and each has had some level of success in the major leagues.  But, Ketel Marte was the better talent and is now showing that in the big leagues.

The Twins have used Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar at shortstop over the past two years and they have played fine.  Santana had a great BABIP-induced 2014 but came back to earth this year and Escobar has been steady.  However, Jorge Polanco is the better talent and should nudge out Escobar in 2016 to become the starting shortstop in Minnesota.

Scouting Report:  A switch-hitter, Polanco shows nice contact with a solid approach from both sides of the plate.  In 117 games across Double and Triple-A, Polanco posted a .288 batting average with a .339 on-base percentage.  While the approach is solid, he can get overly aggressive, particularly early in the count and chase pitches.    It’s something that the Twins have been working with him on with inconsistent results.

He has plenty of bat speed and at a solid 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, has enough physicality to hit 8 to 12 home runs.  He’s also has above-average speed and is starting to learn the nuances of stealing bases, being successful on 19 of 29 stolen base attempts.  He still has work to do, but it’s definitely an improvement from where he was earlier in his career.

Fantasy Impact:  While Polanco can play both second base and shortstop, the bat plays best at short.  The upside is 8 to 12 home runs with 20 stolen bases and a .270 batting average.  That’s a solid fantasy player and why he’s a Top 150 prospect in the minor leagues.

7. Kohl Stewart (RHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 129.1 134 46 2 3.13 4.94 3.20 1.38

Taken number four overall in the 2013 first year player draft, Kohl Stewart has developed into a different pitcher than I wrote about in 2013.  We saw an athletic power pitcher, one that we comp’d to Taijuan Walker and Archie Bradley.  While he still throws hard, he’s actually become a low strikeout, high ground ball pitcher. Because of the plane he gets on his pitches, he’s always been able to get a lot of ground balls, but this year in 129.1 innings in High-A, he had a 3.05 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio while giving up only two home runs.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-3 and a listed 195 pounds, Stewart is starting to fill out physically.  He has easy velocity with his fastball sitting 92 to 95 MPH and touching higher.  He’s throwing more sinkers than he did when he first entered professional ball and the results have been impressive.  Batters just can not square him well, and they have trouble getting much leverage on his fastball.  His secondary pitches can be inconsistent but his 12 to 6 hammer curve shows a lot of promise.

When seeing Stewart Live, there is so much to like.  He throws hard, has good secondary pitches with simple and clean mechanics.  Sometimes though, pitchers with great mechanics don’t have enough deception in their delivery and batters “see the ball very well”.  That could very well be what we are seeing the Stewart.

Fantasy Impact:  Stewart’s stock is down and he’s no longer a Top 100 prospect.  However, he’s just outside of that and I would be trying to buy low on him.  We never give up on extremely athletic pitchers who throw hard, and that fits Stewart.  I still think there are seven strikeouts per nine in the profile with excellent ratios and that’s a guy on want on my fantasy team.

8. Stephen Gonsalves (LHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3/#4 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017-18
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A,A+ 134.1 95 30 4 3.55 8.84 2.01 1.10

Stephen Gonsalves was arguably the best pitcher in the Midwest League in the first half of the year and nearly made our May pop-up article.  In nine starts, he struck out 77, walked 15 while posting a 1.15 ERA and a sub one WHIP.  The Twins promoted him to High-A in late May where he continued to pitch well, but nothing near what he did in Cedar Rapids.

Scouting Report:  Gonsalves looks the part at 6-foot-5 and a reported 190 pounds.  To say he’s tall and lanky is an understatement.  He has an athletic delivery with enough physical projection to see an increase in his low 90’s fastball.  His best secondary pitch is a splitter that batters in Low-A had no chance against.  As he progresses through the minors, he will have to improve his curve ball or the 6.14 strikeout per nine he posted in 14 starts in High-A will become his benchmark.

As a lefty with improving velocity and secondary pitches, Gonsalves has the stuff to be at least a number four starter.  However, he’s very athletic with a great delivery and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a better pitcher than what we are projecting.

Fantasy Impact:  There something there with Gonsalves and fantasy owners need to take note.  He should be owned in all leagues with 200 minor league players.  The upside is a number four/three starter with seven strikeouts per nine and better than league average ratios.

9. Nick Burdi (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Closer
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 63.2 52 27 4 4.95 11.73 3.82 1.37

It was a tale of two stops for Nick Burdi, the Twins 2014 second round draft pick.  In 13 relief appearances in the Florida State League, he was very good posting a 2.25 ERA with 29 strikeouts and three walks.  In Double-A, things got more difficult.  The strikeout rate was there, but he had trouble throwing strikes, walking 30 batters over 27 games leading to an inflated 4.87 ERA.

Scouting Report:  Nick Burdi is big, strong, and throws really hard.  His fastball sits in the upper nineties and can hit triple digits seemingly with ease.  He throws a low 90’s slider with tight spin that is really hard to pickup.  While both pitches are plus, with the fastball being an 80-grade pitch, if he can’t throw consistent strikes, he’s going to struggle to hold onto a closer gig.  History has proven this time-and-time again.  Managers want a guy that throws hard and can get strikeouts, but putting batters on base just will not be tolerated at the highest level.

Burdi’s control is better than what he showed in Double-A.  While his mechanics are not perfect as he has a tendency to not square himself to the plate which throws off his balance, he does repeat his delivery.  Command is another issue but first the Twins need to get him to throw consistent strikes.

Fantasy Impact:  Burdi has the foundation skillset to be a closer at the highest level.  While his control has been inconsistent and his command can be even spottier, the pitching mechanics point to future success.  I get the question on future closers all the time…well, here you go.

10. Adam Brett Walker (OF)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AA 502 75 31 106 13 .239 .309 61.2 9.1 .317

Adam Brett Walker was drafted in the third round of the 2012 first year player draft and has amassed 97 home runs in 452 games of professional baseball.   He’s also struck out 542 times.  If you are a believer in Walker, you see an everyday right fielder with 35 home run potential with a .230 batting average.  If you are not a believer, you see a bench player who will strike out too much and never get to his power.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, Walker has double-plus raw power that is showing up easily in-game.  He has good strike zone awareness and has improved his walk rate every year in the minor leagues.  The swing is long and with his size, there is just going to be a lot of swing and miss in his game.  However, in Double-A that strikeout rate has gotten to an alarming rate of 35%.  That equates to a contact rate of 60%.

Defensively, Walker has enough athleticism and arm to profile as a right-fielder.  In fact, he’s an average runner and should be able to steal a handful of bases annually.

Fantasy Impact:  Power is in short supply and Walker is therefore an intriguing prospect to roster in a Dynasty League.  However, the strikeout rate is alarming and I worry that he will not hit enough to get to his power.  I’m a seller of Walker and think owners should be thinking the same.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Jermaine Palacios (SS)

Signed out of Venezuela in 2013, Jermaine Palacios has done nothing but hit since making his professional debut in 2014.  In 106 games in the minor leagues, he has batted .327 with an .880 OPS.  He has a ton of bat speed and as he fills out his 6-foot, 145 pound frame, he projects to have average home run power.  Because of his advanced bat, the Twins could start him in the Midwest League in 2016 and if he hits there, he could quickly start to move up prospect lists.

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