|Original Published Date: November 8, 2016|
2016 was not a good year for the Minnesota Twins. In fact, it was so bad that it cost long-term General Manager Terry Ryan his job. The offense, that showed such promise in 2015, slide backwards in 2016. The pitching staff struggled even more, giving up 5.25 runs per game, the worse in baseball. Want more…the Twins relied on their young developed players to make a difference and while some showed promise in the second half, they mostly underperformed.
As a small market team, the Twins do not have the level of finances to solve their problem through free agency and need to continue to develop players. I do think the offense will be better as Byron Buxton will be a superstar, Miguel Sano will improve and Max Kepler is only going to get better; and that doesn’t include Brian Dozier who at 29-years-old had his outlier year (time to trade him???). In the minors, Nick Gordon should develop into a fine shortstop with an anticipated arrival date of 2018
The pitching staff is the problem. Jose Berrios is better than the 8.02 ERA he posted in Minnesota. He’ll always be homer-prone but still has the upside of a number three/four starter. In fact, that’s the problem. All of the pitchers on the Twins staff are number three/four/five starters. In the minors, Fernando Romero has a dynamic arm and could develop into a nice number two starter if it all comes together. As with Berrios though, he’s 6-feet tall. Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves and Chargois all should see time in the major leagues, but don’t profile as impact players.
The wild card is 2015 first round pick Tyler Jay. He has the stuff and plus control to be a starter and the Twins are developing him that way. However, at 6-foot-1, he doesn’t have the size of a top-of-the-rotation starter and he was mishandled in college; starter to the bullpen and back. We’ve put a number two starter on the profile but we also worry that he could find better success in the bullpen.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
Nick Gordon, the Twins 2014 first round draft pick (pick #5) is progressing very nicely through the minor leagues. He played the entire 2015 season in Low-A and then the entire 2016 season in Fort Myers of the Florida State League. He did fine, posting a slash line of .293/.356/.389 with three home runs and 19 stolen bases. He made good contact but also was very aggressive at the plate, walking only 4.7% of the time. While none of the stats jump out at you, he also played the entire season at 20-years-old, making him one of the youngest players in the league.
Gordon’s baseball pedigree should not be dismissed. Brother of Dee and son of former pitcher, Tom “Flash” Gordon, Nick’s has a very high Baseball IQ and a work ethic to complement his knowledge. Combining that with his age, there’s an excellent chance he makes it to the big leagues. The question is: will he be an impact player?
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 .356 BABIP, that will work. However, in order to become a top-of-the-order impact player, he needs to learn some plate discipline.
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 but the contact skills are there.
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.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP or Closer
After three straight years (2012-2014) of dipping into the high school ranks for their first round pick, the Twins took Tyler Jay, a college pitcher with their first pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. Jay was used both as a starter and reliever by the University of Illinois in college, much to the dismay of many teams entering the draft. Some evaluators thought he was misused and were not able to get a good read on him. Other evaluators questioned whether he could sustain the rigors of starting every fifth day.
Last season, Jay pitched very well in High-A, posting a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts, striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking 2.7 per nine. In July, the Twins promoted him to Double-A where he struggled in his initial two starts. The Twins moved him to the bullpen to cut down on his innings and he hit the DL in August with a neck strain, that was latter reported as a shoulder injury. He did not pitch again, once again raising concerns about his durability.
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 doesn’t 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. Durability will continue to be a concern until Jay is able to throw 150 innings in a season.
Fantasy Impact: Jay is owned in many Dynasty Leagues. While the ceiling is still that of a number two starter, there is a non-zero chance he winds up in the bullpen. The stuff is good enough to be a closer, so the investment in Jay still seems very warranted.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
In sharing my list with other evaluators, I had more than one person tell me that Fernando Romero was the best pitcher in the Twins organization; minor league and major league. They were impressive comments and looking at what he did across Low and High-A in 2016, it’s easy to understand their sentiments.
In 16 starts, he posted an impressive 1.89 ERA, striking out a batter an inning and walking 15 in 90.1 innings. It’s the combination of a swing and miss arsenal along with plus control that has so many people excited.
Scouting Report: Romero was signed in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic and was making great progress through the system when he blew out his elbow in June of 2014, missing the remainder of that season and all of 2015. Before surgery, he sat comfortable at 92 to 94 MPH. I have reports that the velocity has fully returned, and then some. He reportedly was hitting 95 MPH during the summer. 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 one home run the entire season.
There’s a lot to like about Romero, so much so, he likely will sneak into the back of my Top 100 list.
Fantasy Impact: Romero is currently flying under the radar in most Dynasty Leagues but with the season he just had, that will soon change. He has the ceiling of a Top 30 fantasy pitcher with the ability to strikeout eight plus batters per nine.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Left-handed pitcher Stephen Gonsalves has struck out 9.7 per nine since being drafted in the fourth round in 2013 and pitched to a 2.06 ERA across 24 starts this year, yet we have ranked as the fourth best in the system. What gives?
Scouting Report: First we like Gonsalves and believe he could profile as a solid number three starter in the major leagues, with perhaps some upside. He’s proven he can miss bats in the minor leagues but he lacks a true breaking pitch and has relied on his plus change-up/splitter as his primary out pitch. It can miss bats and even make batters look silly, but I’m not convinced it will fully translate once he’s promoted to the highest level. Without a third pitch, major league batters will figure his splitter out and the results will likely not be the 2.06 ERA he posted across High and Double-A.
That said, there’s still a lot to like with Gonsalves. The fastball is a nice offering that sits in the low-90’s and he he’s proven he can throw it for strikes; although he walked 4.5 per nine in Double-A. He also has some cross fire in his delivery, not as severe and deceptive as Madison Bumgarner but enough to be a real challenge for lefty batters.
The Twins will likely start Gonsalves back in Double-A to begin 2017 and unless they change their development philosophy, he won’t see the major leagues until 2018, when he’ll be 24-years-old.
Fantasy Impact: Last year, we told fantasy owners to take note on Gonsalves as we believe there was “something there”. Hopefully many of you did and have him on your teams. His upside is a solid major league starter and a Top 40 to 50 pitcher in fantasy.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
In the 2016 MLB Draft, the Twins went back to drafting young when they selected Alex Kirilloff with the 15th overall pick. He impressed many in high school, showing natural bat-to-ball skills, solid bat speed and a plus raw power. He was also a pitcher in high school, posting impressive numbers including striking out 60 in 38 innings with a .074 ERA.
The Twins, as did other teams, liked the hit tool so much that he was drafted as an outfielder. In his first exposure to professional ball, he did more than hold his own. In 55 games, he hit seven home runs while batting .306. He also made great contact (85%) but was very aggressive at the plate, only walking 11 times in 232 plate appearances.
Scouting Report: While Kirilloff will enter the 2017 season as a young 19-year-old, his 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 for 20 home runs at the highest level. He’s three years away, but the ceiling is a solid number three outfielder on your fantasy team.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
I love athletic pitchers who throw hard and therefore I applauded the Twins when they drafted Kohl Stewart as the fourth overall player in the 2013 MLB Draft. As a high school senior, Stewart was recruited to play Division I football as a quarterback but ultimately decided to take the Twins offer of a $4.5 million dollar signing bonus to pitch.
He was signed as a power pitcher and demonstrated that early in his career but as he’s worked through the system, the strikeouts have disappeared as he’s become a pitch-to-contact pitcher with a 2-to-1 groundball to fly ball ratio. This was clearly evident in his 16 starts in Double-A where he struck out only 47 in 92 innings. His control also left him as he walked 4.3 per nine.
While there are plenty of major league pitchers who have been successful with this profile, to be an impact performer at the highest level, a pitcher needs to miss more bats. If Stewart continues to pitch in this manner, he profiles more as a number 3/4, instead of the number two starter he looked like when the Twins drafted him three years ago.
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 but has shifted to throwing his two-seamer the majority of the time. While batters can not square him well, the strikeouts have disappeared. Kyle Hendricks is proving this profile can work, but the Cubs have a plus defense. We think Stewart needs to mix in more four-seamers and work better on incorporating his plus curve and solid change-up better into his pitching mix. If he does, he could once again pitch to a seven plus strikeout-per-nine.
Fantasy Impact: I never give up on athletic pitchers who throw hard and therefore, I’m sticking with Stewart. I do believe he gets his strikeouts up and becomes a solid number three, or better pitcher in the league. I still believe the ceiling is seven strikeouts per nine, a very good ERA but a slightly elevated WHIP given his ground ball tendency.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: 2nd Catcher
Drafted as an offensive catcher with natural strength and bat speed, Ben Rortvedt did not crack the HR box score in his first taste of professional ball. Of course the sample size was tiny (99 at-bats), the Twins are clearly very high on the 6-foot catcher from Wisconsin. If it all comes together, he could have similar upside as Jacob Nottingham or J.T. Realmuto.
Scouting Report: In looking at Rortvedt, you quickly realize he’s a big strong kid. In fact, one report I received indicated that he might be muscle-bound and that could affect how much he’s able to extend his arms on his swing. He’s clearly strong with some leverage in the swing with good bat speed; all elements that should allow him to have future above=average, if not more power. The question, as is many times the case is will he hit enough. As mentioned, his professional debut was not stellar so there is clearly work to be done.
Defensively, he’s stiff behind the plate but has significant arm strength. Sources were split on whether he could stay there but I’m going to take the over. The Twins drafted him as a catcher and will give him every opportunity to stay there.
Fantasy Impact: The Twins system is deep and Rortvedt is a strong prospect in the back of their Top 10 list. In two catcher leagues, many times the second catcher spot is sub-optimal. While it could take him four to five years of development, if you have room, he would be a nice kid to stash in your minor leagues as there could be 20 home run potential.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
J.T Chargois turns 26-years-old in December and is on the older side of the prospect landscape. Part of the reason for this is he missed two seasons after having first trying to rehab an elbow strain before having TJ Surgery in September of 2013. Once he was back, he made quick work of the minor leagues and made his major league debut in June, returning for good in August.
Scouting Report: Chargois throws hard, averaging 96.79 MPH in his brief time in the big leagues. He complements his fastball with a hard slider that he throws at 88 to 89 MPH. He also throws a change-up that has nice fade and deception. He doesn’t always throw his arsenal for strikes and that was highlighted in his brief time in the majors. However, as he gets further away from TJ Surgery, the control should continue to improve with a chance to have at least average control.
Fantasy Impact: I would be rostering Chargois as a potential closer in the majors, perhaps as soon as 2017. Brandon Kintzler did an admirable job in the role in the second half, but Chargois has much better stuff, is younger and Kintzler is a free agent next year.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
The Twins acquired Adalberto Mejia last July in a trade for Eduardo Nunez. The Twins gave him a spot start in August where he struggled and of course, demoted him the next day. He’s a solid pitcher with good stuff and plus control, walking only 2.1 batters per nine in his minor league career. The Twins will likely start him back in Triple-A to begin the 2017 with a chance to see Minnesota in the second half of 2017
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and a listed 195 pounds (he’s heavier than that), Mijia has a solid arsenal that begins with a fastball that sits 90 to 92 MPH with a lot of movement. He complements the fastball with a nice sharp slider and a feel for a change-up. He’s never been a high strikeout pitcher but instead pounds the strike zone, pitching more to contact.
His delivery is a traditional sweeping lefty release. Because of the delivery, he’s is very difficult on left-handed batters, holding them to .161/.212/.258 slash line. When I saw him in 2015, he looked a little out of shape and I’m assuming the 50-game drug suspension didn’t help that last year as well.
Fantasy Impact: Mejia has the stuff and polish to be a number 3/4 pitcher at the highest level. He will not be a great fantasy pitcher though as he’ll likely strikeout less than seven per nine. That said, if you are owner, I would hold onto him in leagues that roster 300 or more minor leaguers.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Travis Blankenhorn is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Twins organization. While I debated putting him in the emerging prospect category, his performance this past season warranted a placement on the big board.
Drafted in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft, he spent time between the Appy and Midwest Leagues, posting an impressive .841 OPS in 59 games. He also hit 10 home runs and swiped five bases.
Scouting Report: Blankenhorn has solid all around skills but doesn’t have that one skill that stands out above the rest. He has good bat speed and enough strength and athleticism to eventually hit for at least above-average future power. He’s also an average runner with great instincts on the base paths and should be able to steal double-digit stolen bases early in his career. He makes good contact but currently needs to work on his aggressive approach. While he’s still three to four year away, he has a chance to be an everyday contributor at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: While I like the overall package, I’m not yet ready to pull the trigger on Blankenhorn in a Dynasty League. The 20 home run power potential is intriguing at second base, but his approach needs improvement. That said, he’s a kid to keep an eye on in all Dynasty League formats.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Jaylin Davis hurt his shoulder in his junior year at Appalachian State and that caused his draft stock to plummet. The Twins took a chance on him in the 24th round and he started paying dividends for them this past season. Splitting time between Rookie ball and Low-A, he belted 16 home runs with 5 stolen bases while batting .255. The tools are clearly intriguing, with above-average raw power and speed. If he’s fully healthy and can recover his college hit-tool, he could be regular, full-time corner outfielder at the highest level.