Larnach, Balazovic standout performers among notable Twins prospects in 2019

The Minnesota Twins have positioned themselves as a playoff contender, but the team still has a number of promising prospects.

Every Thursday, FOX Sports North took a closer look at some specific young players in Minnesota’s farm system — as well as noting others who might be stepping up — measuring, highlighting and evaluating their progress.

For our 19th and final edition of this year’s Young Twins Tracker, we offer our MVPs for Minnesota’s minor-league teams as well as some notable players. For our purposes, we’ll limit our picks to players who might still be considered a prospect.

 

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Player of the Year: OF Trevor Larnach (1st round, 2018), Fort Myers/Pensacola

Skinny: The Twins thought they got a polished hitter coming out of Oregon State last year in Larnach. In his first full year as a pro, Larnach helped prove Minnesota was right. Beginning the season in Single-A, Larnach hit .316/.382/.459 with 26 doubles in 84 games before being moved to Double-A. Larnach was the only player in the Florida State League (among qualifying leaders) to bat over .300. With Pensacola he hit .295/.387/.455 and bashed seven home runs in 43 games. His combined slash line in 2019 was .309/.384/.458 with 30 doubles and 13 homers. Only three other players in the Twins’ system had a higher batting average, and none of the top three players more than 82 games.

 

Pitcher of the Year: RHP Jordan Balazovic (5th round, 2016), Cedar Rapids/Fort Myers

Skinny: After four strong starts in Low-A, the 20-year-old Balazovic was bumped to High-A Fort Myers and he was dominant – when healthy. With the Miracle, he pitched 73 innings and had a 2.84 ERA, 1.93 opponent batting average, 1.000 WHIP and 96 strikeouts. Overall, he had a 2.69 ERA, .193 OBA, 0.98 WHIP and 12.4 K/9, all which ranked highly among Twins’ minor leaguers.

 

OTHER NOTABLES

 

Travis Blankenhorn, (3rd round, 2015), 2B, Fort Myers/Pensacola

Blankenhorn had shown some pop in previous years, but he really broke out in 2019, hitting a career-high 19 between Single-A and Double-A. Blankenhorn really shined after being moved up to the Blue Wahoos, batting .278/.312/.474 with 18 doubles and 18 homers in 93 games. He also was a perfect 11-for-11 on stolen base attempts.

 

Randy Dobnak, RHP, Fort Myers/Pensacola/Rochester

Dobnak was one of the great stories of 2019. The former undrafted free agent began the year down in Single-A — hardly a great spot for a 24-year-old – and eventually made the majors. After allowing just one run in 22 1/3 innings with Fort Myers, Dobnak was sent to Double-A, where he posted a 2.57 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 66 2/3 innings. Hs next stop was Rochester, and a 2.15 ERA, 1.75 OBA and 1.00 WHIP in 46 innings followed. Dobnak was about as fringy a prospect you can have before the start of the year and his inclusion here is a result of an unexpected, amazing year.

 

Alex Kirilloff, OF (1st round, 2017), Pensacola

Kirilloff’s season got off to a late start due to injury and he was placed on the injured list three more times during the season. Undoubtedly, his health played a part in his lower-than-expected numbers, especially after coming off a huge 2018 in which he batted .348. Nevertheless, playing for the first time at the Double-A level, Kirilloff hit .283/.343/.413 and really came on in August, when he batted .311/.351/.500 in 26 games.

 

Cody Laweryson, RHP (14th round, 2019), Elizabethtown

Coming out of the University of Maine, where he started 14 games this past year, Laweryson dominated the Appalachian League. Pitching in 11 games, with seven starts, for Elizabethtown, the 20-year-old posted a 1.57 ERA, .168 OBA and struck out 63 batters in 46 innings (13.0/9). He also made one start for Cedar Raids on Aug. 2, tossing five shutout innings, allowing just two hits. Lawyeryson’s 0.804 WHIP was the best of any pitcher in the Twins’ system. Laweryson left ‘em wanting more: In his last outing, Aug. 26, he blanked Greeneville for six innings, giving up three hits without walking a batter, while striking out 15.

 

Royce Lewis, SS (1st round, 2017), Fort Myers/Pensacola

Lewis did not have the best year at the plate, but he also played part of the year in Double-A at just 20 years old (which he turned in June). In 127 combined games between Fort Myers and Pensacola, Lewis hit .236/.290/.371 with 26 doubles, 12 home runs and 22 steals.

 

Bailey Ober, RHP (12th round, 2017), Fort Myers/Pensacola

Now in his third year in the Twins’ system, Ober continued what he did in the previous two – allowing few walks while striking a lot of batters out. In 2019, he also limited hits and runs allowed more than he ever had. While injuries limited Ober, he made 14 appearances (13 starts) for the GCL Twins (nine innings), Fort Myers (45 2/3) and Pensacola (24) and finished with a combined 0.69 ERA, .194 OBA, 0.81 WHIP while striking out 100 (11.4/9) and walking only nine (1.0/9). Ober had the best ERA in the Twins’ chain as well as the top strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.11).

 

Brent Rooker, OF, (CBA round, 2017), Rochester

Rooker continued to show off his power in 2019 and added the extra ability to get on base. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 67 games (65 at Rochester and two rehab games in the GCL). But with the Red Wings, he hit .282/.398/.535 with 14 home runs. Rooker’s .399 on-base percentage was second among Twins’ minor leaguers behind just Luis Arraez, who had a .409 in 54 games. If Rooker can stay healthy in 2020, there’s a good chance he’ll join Arraez in Minnesota.

 

Statistics courtesy milb.com and baseball-reference.com

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns