MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have a pretty good track record of drafting high school quarterbacks.
In 2001, they took the hometown kid, Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback and catcher Joe Mauer, with the No. 1 overall pick. Mauer chose baseball over football despite having an offer to play quarterback at Florida State. That decision has turned out OK for both Mauer and the Twins, as the St. Paul native has won three batting titles and was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2009.
Last year, it was Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton who went second overall to the Twins. Buxton was also a high school quarterback but didn’t have the same types of offers that Mauer did to play college football. Buxton has already developed into perhaps the Twins’ best minor league prospect — and one of the best in baseball.
Thursday, the Twins once again took a quarterback with the confidence that he’ll hang up his football pads in exchange for baseball cleats. Right-hander Kohl Stewart was Minnesota’s first-round pick, No. 4 overall, in Thursday’s draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions as to whether Stewart could be lured away from his commitment to play quarterback at Texas A&M.
As Twins scouting director Deron Johnson talked glowingly just minutes after he and Minnesota’s front office selected Stewart with the fourth pick, he didn’t sound concerned in the slightest about the Twins’ ability to sign Stewart. Football, it appears, is in Stewart’s past.
The quarterback/pitcher essentially said as much not long after he was drafted. He didn’t completely close the door during his conference call, but everything he said indicated that Stewart is planning to join the Twins organization as he says thanks but no thanks to Texas A&M.
“I’m not going to say 100 percent for sure,” Stewart said, “but I’m looking forward to joining the Twins organization.”
With that said, the Twins made the pick that everyone expected them to make, and it was ultimately the right pick. Minnesota’s minor league system is regarded as one of the best in baseball, thanks in part to players like Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano. But most of the Twins’ top prospects are position players. There are a few pitching prospects who should contribute in the future — Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios — but pitching depth was something Minnesota desperately needed.
The Twins get that with Stewart. Yes, it’s tough to project how a high school arm might translate to the major league level several years down the road. But Stewart has perhaps as much upside as any pitcher in the draft, even the two college arms taken before him. He can hit 97 mph on the radar gun and has a solid four-pitch mix (with a fifth pitch, a sinker, in the works). Johnson also raved about Stewart’s competitiveness. For someone who had the chance to play SEC football, that should come as no surprise.
When it came down to it, Stewart was the pick that made sense for the Twins. Sure, there were other options on the board. Georgia prep outfielder Clint Frazier was a possibility but went one pick later to Cleveland. Washington high school catcher Reese McGuire was also linked to the Twins and was a possible Top 10 pick but fell to No. 14.
Johnson wouldn’t go so far as to say Stewart can be a No. 1 starter, but he believes “he’s got the makeup and the physical attributes to be a frontline starter.” If that ends up being the case, the pick will be validated down the road.
For now, though, it certainly seems like the Twins did the right thing with Thursday’s pick.