MINNEAPOLIS — As Kohl Stewart toured the Minnesota Twins’ clubhouse not long after the team’s first-round pick officially signed his contract Wednesday, he met with Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire in the manager’s office.
Gardenhire played his college baseball at the University of Texas and had a few words to say to Stewart, who had a scholarship to play football at rival Texas A&M.
“I know all about his football stuff, so I was giving him grief about that,” Gardenhire said. “I told him congratulations on signing and congratulations on not going to Texas A&M.”
Indeed, Stewart put football in his rear-view mirror as he officially became a professional baseball player Wednesday. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Stewart signed for right around the slot value of the No. 4 pick, which is $4,544,400.
Minnesota took Stewart with the fourth overall pick in this month’s Major League Baseball Draft. A right-handed pitcher from St. Piux X (Texas) High School, Stewart was the first prep player taken in the draft. He was 5-1 with a 0.18 ERA in 40 innings this season, adding 59 strikeouts and 16 walks.
After Stewart put pen to paper to sign his contract, he was given Twins gear and took the field to join the team for warmups. Finally, his dream of being a big league baseball player felt real.
“There’s a lot of pride that comes with wearing that uniform,” Stewart said. “Obviously my dream is to play in the big leagues. Hopefully one day that becomes true. Terry and everybody in the front office will know when that’s the right time.”
Joining Stewart at Target Field on Wednesday was the Twins’ fourth-round pick, Stephen Gonsalves, a left-handed pitcher out of Cathedral Catholic High School in the San Diego suburb of San Marcos. Gonsalves was signed for slightly above the slot value of $468,200 as Minnesota inked him for $700,000.
Stewart and Gonsalves actually formed a bit of a friendship prior to both players getting drafted by the Twins. They took part in the All-American game in San Diego and both participated in the Perfect Game tournament in Minneapolis last year.
As it turns out, the two pitchers will also be roommates when they arrive in Fort Myers to participate in the Gulf Coast League, their first exposure to professional baseball.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gonsalves said. “It’s just an amazing experience to be out here, be here with Kohl. We were able to meet each other down in San Diego, hung out during the All-American game and became friends there. Now we’re able to continue the journey together.”
Stewart knew he had a choice to make between baseball and football. He was a star quarterback in the football-crazed state of Texas and had a chance to learn from Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.
But when Minnesota took him with the fourth overall pick, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Stewart called Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the draft to inform him that he indeed would be following his first love of baseball and hang up his football pads.
“Kevin Sumlin’s an unbelievable person and wanted what’s best for me,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t hard to pick up the phone and call him and let him know what was going on. He’s just like a father figure to me.”
As with any draft pick, it will be several years before Stewart and Gonsalves reach the majors — if they do at all. For now, they’ll be getting their feet wet in the Gulf Coast League before advancing through the Twins’ minor league system.
“They’ll pretty much dictate their future and where they ultimately finish the season,” Ryan said. “But as you know, they’re both high school pitchers, and the right place to start is Fort Myers and see how they adjust to the pro life and all that good stuff.”
Minnesota also announced it has signed 21 additional draft picks aside from Stewart and Gonsalves, including five other draftees from the first 10 rounds. That includes third-rounder Stuart Turner, a catcher from Ole Miss.
Also of note among the 23 players the Twins signed is 30th round pick Tanner Vavra, whose father, Joe, is Minnesota’s third base coach.
Twenty-one of the Twins’ first 25 picks have now signed, with the exception of second-round pick Ryan Eades out of LSU; fifth-round pick Aaron Slegers, a right-hander from Indiana University; eighth-round pick Dustin DeMuth of Indiana; and 16th-round pick Brandon Bixler from Florida Gulf Coast University.