Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects For 2017

Apr 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; A Minnesota Twins fan dons her promotional bomber hat before the game against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins will have the #1 pick next summer due to their rough 2016 season. What is in the current minor league system to help them in their rebuilding efforts?

An Introduction

Our minor league top 10 series is coordinated by Benjamin Chase, one of our contributors at Call To The Pen.

He has poured over thousands of minor league games over the course of the year via milb.tv along with speaking with a number of team and independent scouts. These lists are based out of those conversations.

Each system will have prospects from 10 to 1, and then finish with one newcomer to the system that is worth keeping an eye on that is not in the top 10 at this time.

Conversations are certainly encouraged in the comments section on each system as we go along!

Twins System Review

After four seasons of 90+ losses, the Twins thought they’d found the right mix in 2015 as they topped .500 and made a run at the Wild Card until late in the season. There was plenty of reason to hope for 2016, as they’d get a full season of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano along with seeing Jose Berrios break through into the rotation.

Those things happened, but the results were absolutely not there, primarily because the pitching, outside of Ervin Santana, was absolutely terrible. The team lost closer Glen Perkins after two April outings, and that shuffled the bullpen into roles that really weakened the overall pitching staff.

The result was 103 losses, the worst record in the league, and the runaway #1 overall pick by 9 games compared to the next-worst record in the league.

With the promotion of Sano, Buxton, Berrios, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Byung Ho Park, and Taylor Rogers to exceed their rookie eligibility in 2016, the Twins have lost a significant chunk of talent from their minor league system.

There is quite a bit of young talent at the big league levels and the 2016 draft was very well done. Derek Falvey and his new staff will have some big-time work to do to get the system built back up.

Let’s take a look at the top 10!

10. Wander Javier, SS

Birthdate: 12/29/98 (17 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .308/.400/.654, 2 HR

The Twins paid more than what they originally paid slugger Miguel Sano to bring Wander Javier into the fold, which gives you an idea of just what they think of the young shortstop.

Javier has the frame to really be something special offensively, and he’s already special on the defensive end of the field. Those who saw him in the DSL this summer raved to me about his reads on balls, saying he had very soft hands and good instincts for a player in his first pro season.

Javier is taller than your average shortstop, but he has a very lean build right now. He’s got the frame to add 20 pounds of muscle without hurting his ability to handle shortstop, and even if it did, he has the plus arm to handle third base.

Javier’s swing is short and compact with excellent ability to barrel balls in game in his DSL experience.

He’ll get a much bigger test coming stateside in 2017, but in talking with guys in the DSL, they said they’d not be afraid to put a Corey Seager-lite tag on Javier’s ceiling. That’s a big, big time ceiling for a player.

9. Felix Jorge, RHP

Birthdate: 1/2/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA
Stats in 2016: 167 1/3 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.51 BB%, 16.62 K%

Jorge is a very mixed prospect. He was signed in 2011 by the Twins and he’s displayed excellent control ever since.

Jorge has been consistently control ahead of “stuff” in his pro career, with only his fastball ever really receiving plus consideration, and that’s based on the tremendous movement he gets on the pitch at velocity more around 90 MPH.

Jorge moved quickly in 2015, and he followed that up in 2016, jumping to the upper minors and holding his own

Jorge has a slider and a change that are average, but he gets plenty of weak contact on both due to his premium sequencing and control on the pitch.

Jorge moved quickly in 2015, and he followed that up in 2016, jumping to the upper minors and holding his own. He may not strike out a ton of hitters, but he does an excellent job of inducing ground balls.

When I talk with people around, some are very high on Jorge and believe he’s a sure-fire major league starter. Others believe his lack of swing-and-miss ability will lead to him being organizational filler.

Jorge has jumped forward without really filling out as many thought he would on his 6’2 frame. Still lanky, he could add some velocity with added size and really jump forward as a prospect.

From my own viewings, I’m impressed with Jorge as a possible starter. He has a good mentality on the mound in sequencing hitters and relies on his defense to get him through innings, even in rough spots, which shows maturity on the mound.

He’ll likely open with AA or AAA and have a chance to make an impression that gets him a late-season call up in 2017.

Mar 9, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Adalberto Mejia (76) throws during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

8. Adalberto Mejia, LHP

Birthdate: 6/20/93 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: 132 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 5.62 BB%, 23.6 K% (minor leagues only)

While not flashy, Mejia is a guy who throws four pitches well and has tremendous control of all four. He may not project as a front line starter, but when the Twins acquired Mejia in the Eduardo Nunez deal, they knew they got a guy who could help out their rotation quickly.

Mejia is a guy who is likely done with his minor league development after 2016’s excellent performance across the upper minors for three teams. He was able to keep hitters off the bases with his tremendous control and show the ability to be a #4 starter from the left side, which is a very valuable piece.

Mejia is a guy who is likely done with his minor league development after 2016’s excellent performance

Mejia has a fastball that sits in the low-90s and tops out at 95-96 with hard sink and arm side movement. His best secondary pitch is his change that he has tremendous good arm deception on with added movement this year to mimic the fastball.

Mejia’s curve and slider may not be plus pitches, but both miss barrels of bats. Mejia gets swing and miss from his slider when he’s really on, especially against left handed hitters.

He has a very low-effort delivery that leads to his excellent control as he can repeat the delivery very well. Mejia should get a run at the big league rotation in 2017.

7. Lewin Diaz, 1B

Birthdate: 11/19/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .310/.353/.575, 9 HR

The Twins signed Diaz for just over $1M in 2013. While he is very noted for his power, he’s definitely more than a single-faceted slugging type. Diaz has a decent eye at the plate and a swing that allows for decent contact as well.

Diaz flashed his big power in batting practice before 2016, but he struggled to translate it to the game until he did just that in the Appalachian League in 2016.

(Diaz) struggled to translate (his raw power) to the game until he did just that in the Appalachian League in 2016

Diaz has a swing that reminds many of former Twin David Ortiz. He used that big swing to knock out 9 home runs in just 46 games, but on top of that, he also had 15 doubles and 2 triple. That’s 26 extra base hits in 46 games, which would be akin to putting up 80 extra base hits over the course of a season.

Diaz is 6’4 and he’s filled out to about 225-235 pounds at this point. He was already a first base only type defensively, but his filled out size has allowed him to tap into his power more frequently. If he could trim some weight, Diaz does have a plus arm that could play in right field, but even as a 1B/DH type, that power should be something to keep an eye on going forward.

6. Tyler Jay, LHP

Birthdate: 4/19/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA
Stats in 2016: 83 2/3 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.51 BB%, 22.25 K%

Jay was a reliever throughout his college career, but he had such a dominant 2015 season for Illinois that he was the #6 overall selection for the Twins, who then began transitioning Jay to the rotation.

Jay possesses an intriguing four-pitch mix that features two plus pitches with a fastball that sits 92-94 and has touched 98-99 in the bullpen. His slider is his other plus pitch with wicked break that racks up both weak contact and plenty of whiffs.

Jay possesses an intriguing four-pitch mix that features two plus pitches

Jay’s curve and change are both solid pitches, though they lag behind the slider and fastball by quite a bit, and that shows on the mound in Jay’s confidence in throwing both. I saw Jay probably a half dozen times this year, and there were two starts where the amount of combined change ups and curves could be counted on one hand.

Jay was a two-sport athlete in high school as a football player and baseball player, and he has a solid build on the mound. He has the physicality to make it as a starter for sure, but he has to trust all of his stuff. He was eaten alive in AA when he started being easily predictable as a two-pitch pitcher.

Jay will likely return to AA in 2017 initially, and he’ll need to show the ability to trust his third and fourth pitch in order to show he’ll be able to succeed as a starter.

5. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B

Birthdate: 8/3/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie, low A
Stats in 2016: .293/.348/.502, 10 HR, 5 SB

Blankenhorn was the Twins third round pick out of high school, and many were not sure about what to expect from the Pennsylvania prep player. He had a good defensive reputation, but cold weather experience as a hitter led to a lot of questions about what his bat would be.

He has a plus arm that allowed him to make the transition from short to third without a glitch this season, getting high marks for his smooth hands and excellent reactions at the hot corner.

a bit of added loft in his follow through allowed Blankenhorn to move to a solid plus power grade

The thing that made a big impression this season was his bat. Blankenhorn showed contact ability that was certainly fringe-plus at least. His power, though, was rated as below-average coming into the season, and a bit of added loft in his follow through allowed Blankenhorn to move to a solid plus power grade in the eyes of nearly everyone I spoke with.

In my own viewings, Blankenhorn’s biggest weakness to me was his attacking mentality at the plate. He’s certainly confident in his swing, and he shows that with his willingness to attack early in the count, but that has led to low walk rates and fairly high strikeout rates. If he can sit back for the best pitch of the at bat, he has the swing to be a guy who could hit 20-25 home runs with excellent defense at third.

4. Fernando Romero, RHP

Birthdate: 12/24/94 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: low A, high A
Stats in 2016: 90 1/3 IP, 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 4.35 BB%, 26.09 K%

In a year, we all may look foolish for having Romero so low after he really took a monster step forward as a pitcher in 2016.

Romero has struggled with injury over his career until he ended up having Tommy John surgery in 2014, which cost him the rest of 2014 and all of the 2015 season.

He was eased back onto the mound in 2016, which allowed him to get his feet under him. Adam Wainwright has talked about how velocity returns in the first year after TJS and command/control returns in the second year.

(Romero) was eased back onto the mound in 2016, which allowed him to get his feet under him

If that’s true, Romero could be in for walking no batters at all in 2017. He walked almost no one already in his first year back. To get better than that is a scary thought for hitters in the Southern League, where Romero will likely be sent to open 2017.

Romero’s fastball when healthy sits in the 93-95 range and can touch 98. He has two breaking pitches, one a sharp slider, the other more of a slurve pitch, intentionally thrown with the sloped break.

His feel for his change was highly noted in his return this year, as he got plenty of weak swings at the pitch, and one scout told me that it’s a “pure strikeout change up”.

Romero will be handled with some care to allow his arm to regain full health, but there is front line starter material if he’s fully healthy and able to stay such for a full season.

3. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP

Birthdate: 7/8/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA
Stats in 2016: 140 IP, 2.06 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.42 BB%, 28.23 K%

Considered a big time prospect coming into his senior year of high school, the Twins snared Gonsalves in the 4th round after he had struggled through a rough senior year. They handled him carefully in his introduction to pro ball before taking off the training wheels in 2015.

Gonsalves is a guy who throws four pitches, with his change likely being his best pitch, as he has tremendous feel for the pitch with excellent late movement.

The fastball is not far behind, with an excellent velocity, but also great late movement that makes it very difficult to barrel up the pitch.

Gonsalves simply produced all season long. He had a tremendous year all around, using all four pitches, even his below-average slider, which is best considered a “show me” pitch that keeps pitchers honest down in the zone.

Gonsalves has tremendous mechanics from the left side at 6’5 and 215ish pounds, which allows him to get great plane to get on top of his curve and add sink to his fastball and change. He also has very solid control as he’s filled into his body.

Gonsalves will be in the high minors to start 2017, whether that’s at AA to start with an eye on a quick promotion to AAA if he continues his 2016 performance, or a straight promotion to AAA, Gonsalves should end his season in the Twin Cities regardless.

2. Alex Kirilloff, OF

Birthdate: 11/9/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .306/.341/.454, 7 HR

One of my absolute favorite bats in the 2016 draft, Kirilloff lasted to the Twins at pick #15, and they could end up looking back and saying they got a top 5 talent in the draft when all is said and done.

Kirilloff has a swing that is longer than you may like, but he has tremendous bat speed within the zone, which allows him to get the barrel to the ball frequently and significantly. He has a big sound off his bat seemingly even on grounders.

Kirilloff has tremendous ability to contact the ball in spite of his long swing. That’s evidenced in his sub-14% strikeout rate, which for a power hitter is ridiculously low.

He is a much better athlete than advertised, showing above average speed once underway, though he doesn’t have great first step sort of speed, meaning he’s probably not going to steal a lot of bases, but he’ll likely get plenty of first-to-third on the bases, and he’s certainly able to handle any position in the outfield.

He did play some center field in the advanced rookie Appalachian League, but he probably profiles best as a right fielder with a fringe-plus arm to go with his solid speed once underway. He reads balls well, which allows him to get to plenty of balls in the air.

I’m extremely high on Kirilloff, and I could see him doing very well in full-season ball in 2017. The Twins got a good one here.

Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West shortstop Nick Gordon of the Minnesota Twins during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1. Nick Gordon, SS

Birthdate: 10/24/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A
Stats in 2016: .291/.335/.386, 3 HR, 19 SB

Gordon comes from an extended family that has baseball lineage with father Tom Gordon being a former big league pitcher and brother Dee Gordon already entrenched as a solid player for the Miami Marlins.

He was selected #5 overall by the Twins in 2014, and many thought from day 1 that the Twins selected him partially due to a system weakness at shortstop, citing players that were more highly regarded than Gordon available at #5.

That’s put a lot of pressure on his glove in the eyes of a lot of people, so it’s not surprising that there are some in that camp that have negative view on his glove. However, the questions I had raised about his glove from a number of guys who weren’t in that camp was more than you’d imagine from a guy who had plus grades on the glove coming into the season.

Gordon has a big arm at short, but many questioned his actions and hands at short, with indications that he has the range and arm to play the position, but he had mental lapses and flubbed what should have been routing plays too often.

Offensively, Gordon has a very high ceiling, with a plus run tool that he can pair with an excellent swing that generates gap hits frequently. He likely won’t play up for much power, similar to his brother’s profile. He does use his speed well on the bases, though as he tallied 23 doubles and 3 triples on the season.

Gordon has work to do on his consistency at short and his pitch recognition, and he did get solid marks on the latter during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Gordon will likely work his way to AA in 2017, and that should be a big test for where he could be going forward.

Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Ben Rortvedt, C

Birthdate: 9/25/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .222/.306/.253

The most highly regarded high school catcher in the 2016 class, Rortvedt turned heads when he won the Under Armour All American home run derby last summer, displaying some of his high end power.

He was the second high school catcher chosen, as many teams were worried about Rortvedt being more of a bat-first catcher that wouldn’t fit the modern focus on catcher defense.

Rortvedt displayed his big swing in his short time between two rookie levels, though it didn’t result in any home runs. His batting practice swings turned a lot of heads, however.

Rortvedt defensively has a fringe-plus arm, solid movement behind the plate, and reportedly has solid work with his pitching staff. He has some work to do on his blocking skills, but that’s something he’ll have time to work on.

Agree? Disagree? Someone you have a question about from the system? Leave a comment down below!

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