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Twins Top 30 prospects of 2014 in review

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Jesse takes a look back at the 30 prospects that you voted as Minnesota's best heading into 2014.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a season of extreme highs and extreme lows for the Twins farm system. The disappointing mostly lost years from blue chip prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were in part balanced out by fantastic postings from guys like Jose Berrios and Jorge Polanco. Let's take one last look at this year's top 30.

Previous Minor League updates:

August 18 |  July 31 |  July 9 |  June 30 |  June 19 |  June 9 |  May 20 |  April 17

1 Byron Buxton CF New Britain (AA)

Buxton was the consensus number one prospect in the entire game heading into this season, and then bad things happened. He struggled through 30 games in Fort Myers, hitting .240/.313/.405 in between concussions and crumbling bones at a level that he torched in 2013. He was promoted to Double-A New Britain anyway, and played one game before getting hurt again and the Twins just took the hint and shut him down for the year.

While Buxton's status as supreme ruler of all prospects will be up for plenty of debate heading into 2015, the Twins seem fairly certain that he'll be back on course this spring after getting some time in the Arizona Fall League. He won't be in competition to win the Opening Day job in center field, but if he shows that he's back on his previous trajectory he will make his Major League debut before the season is out.

No more massive injuries and nothing but good health, please, Byron.

2 Miguel Sano 3B New Britain (AA)

Sano's season, also lost thanks to Tommy John surgery, has led to a bit more speculation than has Buxton's lost year. For a moment there were thoughts about him returning late in the season for some designated hitter duties, but that was quickly snuffed out and, indeed, Sano has been shut down for the winter. Terry Ryan brought up during the annual season ticket holder conference call that Sano could play some outfield in 2015, but for the time being that can only be viewed as speculation.

How far will Sano's stock fall when it comes to the 2015 prospect lists? It's fair to expect a bit of a dip, but he should still be Minnesota's number two. If he can show he is healthy and on track this summer he, like Buxton, should make his Major League debut by season's end.

3 Alex Meyer RHP Rochester (AAA)

Meyer's MLB debut always seemed just out of reach in 2014. Either the Twins wanted him to work on command, or there wasn't a spot available in the rotation, or there were shadows of an issue with his arm. He was stuck in Rochester all season, in spite of comments from players like Will Middlebrooks who, while on a rehab assignment, questioned whether there were five starters better than Meyer in Minnesota.

There never were five starters better than Meyer with the Twins, but callups aren't always solely about talent. So Meyer made 27 starts in Triple-A in 2014, throwing 130.1 innings of 3.52 ERA baseball. He struck out an impressive 27% of opposing batters, but he also walked 11%. Command has long been a question mark in Meyer's game and, along with a lack of efficiency, gives credence to the belief that Meyer is not a full-fledged ace prospect. Some scouts are convinced he'll actually turn into a shut-down closer.

Meyer turns 25 in January. If he isn't on the Opening Day roster, even as a member of the bullpen at least, either something has gone very wrong or the Twins have made a terrible decision. They need to see exactly what they have in this guy, because it's been a long, long time since they've had a pitcher this good so close to the Major Leagues.

4 Eddie Rosario CF/2B New Britain (AA)

To call 2014 a disappointment for Rosario is probably the most obvious observation one could make. He missed the first 50 games of the season due to getting caught for a "drug of abuse," which most of us believe to be marijuana, and after his promotion to Double-A hit just .237/.277/.396 in 336 plate appearances.

Seemingly now shifted to the outfield, Rosario is guaranteed to not be ready for Major League time by Opening Day - regardless of how well he performs in the Arizona Fall League. With Buxton and Aaron Hicks seemingly at the top of the depth chart in center field, Rosario's future is likely in left field where his speed and arm should make him an asset. His power potential will leave his offensive value limited from an outfield corner, but he's good enough to be an above average player at the position.

5 Kohl Stewart RHP Cedar Rapids (A)
Two years into the Twins system, Stewart has amassed a 2.36 ERA in 107 innings, including 86 strikeouts and 38 walk. He's only just turned 20 and should start 2015 in Fort Myers, which is a pitcher-friendly league, and that means we could get our first opportunity to really see how brightly Stewart can shine. He's still too young and too far away to do much projecting, but he's been effective so far against older competition, and that's a really good start. Hopefully the questions about the shoulder have ebbed and we can look forward to a healthy 2015.
6 Josmil Pinto C Minnesota (MLB)

Pinto started the season in Minnesota, hit .222/.323/.407 in 158 plate appearances before getting sent down, and then came back in September and hit just .206/.282/.324 in 39 plate appearances. In between he mashed at Triple-A, proving he has nothing left to learn there on the offensive side by raking .279/.376/.457.

The questions surrounding Pinto have everything to do with his defense. Will the Twins be happy with him as the team's backup catcher in 2015? Will they be able to get him the playing time he needs? Can he be even a serviceable defensive backstop? Answers to these questions, and more, coming up this winter!

Maybe.

7 Jose Berrios RHP Rochester (AAA)

Berrios will be making a push for the number three spot on this list next spring, and no doubt some will make the argument that he could be higher. He blew past hitters three years his senior at Fort Myers, posting a 1.96 ERA in 96.1 innings (along with 109 strikeouts) for Doug Mientkiewicz and the Miracle before a promotion to Double-A. The numbers weren't nearly as impressive but were still solid, and for the Rock Cats he had a 3.54 ERA in eight starts. In the end he even had one start for the Red Wings.

Berrios' performance has impressed everyone, as has his off-field persona with coaches and scouts liking his "intangibles" and makeup. Still, people are hesitant to call him an ace in the making in spite of his strong performance and age. They want to see sustained performance at Double and Triple-A before we start bumping his ceiling too high.

Whether you see him as a potential future number one or a potential mid-rotation starter, it's undeniable that he was one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues this season - not just for the Twins, but in baseball as a whole. Guys like Berrios make the farm system a lot of fun to watch. Let's see how he does when he starts 2015 in Double-A.

8 Jorge Polanco SS/2B New Britain (AA)

Polanco's promotion to Double-A came after he hit .291/.364/.415 in 94 games for the Miracle. It was a slow start but he showed the ability to adjust to the much older, much better competition, and finished his season hitting .281/.323/.342 for the Rock Cats in 37 games.

The biggest surprise for the organization's top-rated middle infield prospect (pre-Nick Gordon, at least) was his Major League debut. When the middle infield was decimated across the 40-man roster and the team just needed a warm body, Polanco was the only healthy option available. He appeared in four games in late June and one in late July, and in eight plate appearances was 2-for-6 with two walks, a double, a triple, three runs batted in, two runs scored, and two strikeouts.

Entering his age-21 season in 2015, Polanco should start the season in Double-A. He's not exactly a blue-chipper, but he's definitely an exciting prospect with potential to be an above average player down the line.

9 Max Kepler CF/LF/RF/1B Fort Myers (A+)

When we went through our first few minor league updates this year, we noted how slowly Kepler had started his season. But once he returned from the disabled list we noted, on every occasion, that he was slowly ticking his batting line in the right direction. In the end, Kepler hit .264/.333/.393 in 407 plate appearances - perhaps disappointing for the organization's number nine prospect but certainly a testament to the care and determination he put into bringing his year back from the brink.

Kepler's upside does continue to look limited, as he's now been in the system five years and has just one plus offensive season under his belt (2012). He turns 22 in February. Will the Twins continue to promote him, and let him sink or swim at Double-A in 2015? A good showing in the Arizona Fall League would certainly be a step in the right direction, but that hasn't been the case so far.

10 Lewis Thorpe LHP Cedar Rapids (A)

Thorpe finished his season by striking out 19 batters in his final 12.2 innings, and on the season posted a 3.52 ERA for the Kernels in 16 starts. His strikeout totals reached 80 in 71.2 frames. He was four years younger than his average competition and still held them to a .232 opponent batting average.

Like Berrios, Thorpe has plus makeup and looks like he's mature in his development, which indicates that he could move quickly provided he continues to be successful. He should start 2015 in Cedar Rapids again, and he should finish the season in Fort Myers. Anything more than that would be an exceptional bonus for one of the youngest and most talented starters in the system.

11 Trevor May RHP Minnesota (MLB)

May's first spin through the Major Leagues wasn't all good, although he did look better in September. He had one hiccup over his last five starts, but in general the 7.88 ERA is next to worthless in terms of evaluating his performance. The good news is that he struck out 44 Major League batters in 45.2 innings. Yes, the 22 walks aren't all that great, either, but when you run Trevor May out to the hill you know what you've signed up for.

We did see May at his best on September 14, when he struck out ten and didn't issue a walk in six innings of work. That's his upside. And while the walks will haunt, it's unlikely that we'll ever see again a performance similar to his seven-walk Major League debut.

If May isn't in the starting rotation from Opening Day in 2015, he'll certainly be in the bullpen. I can't imagine a scenario where he isn't on the 25-man roster, unless he's just no longer with the organization, period. And that's a long shot.

12 Adam Brett Walker RF Fort Myers (A+)

While the power is a true plus, Walker's 25 home runs in 2014 don't entirely cover up the fact that his contact skills are on the below average side of the scale. There's a lot to like here: the aforementioned power, his arm, his base running skills all look like they could play. But he also struck out in an astonishing 28.2% of his plate appearances, which is another way of saying 156 times in 132 games.

The truth has become apparent that Walker is, at best, a project. We listed his positives, but along with the poor contact skills it needs to be mentioned that his arm can't cover up his routes. And no matter how strong his arm is, if he can't get the relay directly and accurately to the second baseman then hitters will continue to take extra bases on him.

Walker has just turned 23. 2015 is going to be a very interesting and very telling year for his long-term status.

13 Felix Jorge RHP Elizabethton (R)

With a hard drop-off in velocity but no trip to the disabled list, it's only partially understandable why Jorge's foray into Cedar Rapids went to badly to start 2014. He went back to Elizabethton and had another strong performance there.

Jorge turns 21 in January, and it's time for him to show whether or not he can adjust. He should tumble down the prospect rankings for 2015.

14 Stephen Gonsalves LHP Cedar Rapids (A)

Gonsalves seems to have picked up this year where Jorge left off in 2013, and turned in a fantastic campaign. Between Rookie League Elizabethton and Single-A Cedar Rapids, Gonsalves posted a 3.02 ERA in 65. 2 innings while striking out 70 and walking 21 in 65.2 innings. That's a very, very solid showing for a 19-year old.

It sounds like Gonsalves' fastball and changeup are both plus offerings, and it also sounds like he's losing the curve in exchange for developing a slider. With room yet to tack on a little velocity and plenty of time to develop his breaking ball, there's some projection here. He's certainly a work-in-progress, but there's a lot to like. He should start 2015 in Cedar Rapids with an opportunity to move up if he continues to consistently own his competition.

15 Michael Tonkin RHP Minnesota (MLB)

In turns out that Tonkin will be just the third player on this list to graduate, behind Josmil Pinto and Trevor May. He made 25 appearances for Minnesota this year, putting up a 4.74 ERA in 19 innings. The strikeout (16) and walk (6) totals were fine, but he allowed 23 hits and, at times, was hit pretty hard.

The Twins returned him to Triple-A in May to work on his game, and we saw why as the year wore on. He was more than good enough to be a good reliever in the minor leagues, it's now just a matter of seeing him gain confidence in his non-fastball offerings and, basically, showing that he's ready to own one of those middle relief roles. He should be a shoe-in for the Opening Day bullpen in 2015.

16 Travis Harrison LF Fort Myers (A+)

A change in approach has changed Harrison's offensive potential, cutting down on strikeouts (23.3% in 2013 to 16% this year) while holding onto his strong walk rates. The power dipped significantly, but it wasn't looking like the plus tool we were hoping it could be anyway.

Harrison just turned 22 and it's unclear whether he'll start 2015 back in Fort Myers or if the Twins will give him a shot at Double-A right off the bat. His potential as a starter has taken a strong hit, but there is still enough to like that he could turn into a role or bench player down the line.

17 Danny Santana CF/SS Minnesota (MLB)
Santana won't qualify for awards with just 2.65 plate appearance per team game, but he's been Minnesota's Rookie of the Year. In 101 games he hit .319/.353/.472, all while playing two premium defensive positions: 535.2 innings in center, and 261.2 innings at short. He'll be either the team's starting shortstop or center fielder from Opening Day, although there's question as to whether or not he's a full-time or a super utility bench/role player in the long term.
18 Kennys Vargas 1B Minnesota (MLB)
After smashing nine home runs (including a number of the longest home runs the Twins hit this year) in 53 games, Vargas seems to have played himself into the favorite for the everyday designated hitter role. His impressive debut (.274/.316/.456) may set expectations for his future a bit too high, but there is no doubt that he has 30+ home run power. It's been mentioned before, but if you're not dreaming of a 4-5-6 of Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia, and Miguel Sano (in no particular order) combining for 100 home runs a year, then you need to start. Because that dream could come true.
19 Ryan Eades RHP Cedar Rapids (A)

It wasn't a good year for Eades. He struggled most of the season and at the end of July still had an ERA north of 6.00. But, on the other hand, he finished strong: in his last ten starts he posted a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings. He struck out just 31 in that frame and walked 22, but the hit totals did come down.

I can't imagine a scenario where Eades still makes our Top 30 heading into 2015, based off the depth of the Twins' system and the performances of a number of players not on the list this year. I'd like to think that Eades is just a slow starter, but unless his coaches can fix the mechanics he'll continue to flounder.

20 Zack Jones RHP Fort Myers (A+)

It was a long road back, but in the end Jones finished his 2014 campaign with a 1.74 ERA in 10.1 innings (11 appearances), with 14 strikeouts and six walks. If he can stay healthy, there's still a real chance of him cracking the Twins' bullpen at some point later in 2015, but he should certainly be one of the core group for 2016. He could start back in Fort Myers next spring, but as long as he's healthy he should move quickly.

His biggest question, apart from the delivery, is whether or not he can raise the game of his secondary pitches. That could determine whether his future is as a flame-throwing middle reliever, or a shut-down closer.

21 Fernando Romero RHP Cedar Rapids (A)

The Twins had been starting Romero, and he gave Cedar Rapids three starts and 12 innings before going down and eventually having Tommy John surgery. At his best he can reach the upper-90s with his fastball, and his future looks to be in the bullpen - even if 2015 will be mostly a write-off as we see him shake off the rust.

It will be 2016 before we can really start evaluating where Romero is and what his status is as a prospect, but he'll still be just 21 years old by that time. We'll check in on him from time to time in 2015, but I'd be surprised to see him make the top 30.

22 Sean Gilmartin LHP Rochester (AAA)

Gilmartin split 2014 between Double and Triple-A after coming to Minnesota in the Ryan Doumit trade, and combined for a 3.71 ERA in 145.2 innings. He was healthy this year, which was great since it gives us a much clearer picture about his upside and what role he can play for the Twins in the future: a swing man. That's no bad thing, certainly. Every team needs those "tweeners" to fill certain roles.

He should start the season in the Red Wings' rotation, and if the situation warrants we'll see him in a Twins uniform to plug a hole.

23 Stuart Turner C Fort Myers (A+)

You could say that Turner finished the 2014 season on a high, with his .249/.322/.375 triple slash representing one of his high water marks of the year. He continues to impress coaches and scouts with his game as a catcher, with his strong arm backed up by high marks for in-game skills. The bat could turn out to be average, by a catcher's standards, but for a plus defender at the position that's just fine.

Turner turns 23 in December and could start at Double-A to begin 2015. He could be pushing for the starting job with the Twins by the end of 2016 if he holds his own; and yes, that's a little optimistic.

24 Amaurys Minier LF/1B GCL Twins (R)

Minier raked for the GCL Twins, throwing down a triple slash of .292/.405/.520 in 53 games. There are concerns that his plus power won't play as he advanced through the system, and his work in the outfield still leaves much to be desired in spite of his strong arm.

There is undoubtedly a lot of talent in Minier, but many of his tools are still raw and will need time before we know exactly what kind of potential he has. I'd assume he's still on this list for next season when, hopefully, he takes his first steps into Cedar Rapids.

25 D.J. Baxendale RHP GCL Twins (R)

It wasn't a good year for Baxendale, and he'll be taking a big step backward on the prospect list for 2015. From Double-A, to Advanced-A, to two appearances in Rookie League, his combined line was a 5.48 ERA in 90.1 innings. At this point it's hard to guess where the Twins will place him to start 2015, but it will be his age-24 season so it should be at least Fort Myers.

It may be time to shift Baxendale into the bullpen full time, and abandon the starter's experiment.

26 Niko Goodrum 3B/SS Fort Myers (A+)

2014 started out so well for Goodum, but as the year moved along his performance couldn't keep up with the dash from the gate. He finished the year with a .249/.337/.336 line, but in spite of the uninspiring offense he stole 35 bases in 39 attempts, continues to show strong discipline at the plate and strong walk rates, and his speed will always be a plus tool.

Heading into his age-23 season it's easy to see the Twins trying him at Double-A to start the year. Like Harrison, his potential to be projected as a starter has faded, but there remain a number of elements to like. Goodrum could be a super utility with speed a couple of years down the line.

27 Mason Melotakis LHP New Britain (AA)

Now a full-time reliever, Melotakis was good at Fort Myers and was just as good after a promotion to New Britain. In 63 innings he posted a 3.14 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 27 walks. A trip to the Arizona Fall League could have propelled him further up the ladder for 2015, but a sore elbow meant the Twins couldn't send him.

His strong mid-90s fastball and plus curve are already setting him up to be a successful reliever with really good stuff, but - as we've already read a number of times on this list - command is an issue. He should start 2015 at Double-A, and will go from there based on his own performance.

28 Lewin Diaz OF DSL Twins (Summer)

Diaz had a nice year in the Dominican Summer League, hitting .257/.385/.451 in 174 plate appearances, with five home runs. He doesn't even turn 18 until next month.

2015 will bring his Rookie League debut with the GCL Twins, where we'll start getting an idea of just how legit his power is. His stock will hold steady for our next prospect list, and may even rise a little depending on how the rest of the candidates shake up.

29 Logan Darnell LHP Minnesota (MLB)
Finishing the season with the Twins, Darnell posted a 7.13 ERA between four starts and three relief appearances. But his time in Triple-A was much more impressive, and it's easy to see why the Twins continued to recall him by seeing his 3.60 ERA in 115 innings of work. Like Gilmartin, Darnell's role going forward would seem to be as a swing man. He should start 2015 in Rochester. In spite of so few Major League innings, I doubt Darnell will make our next prospect list.
30 Adrian Salcedo RHP New Britain (AA)
Much like Kepler, Salcedo spent much of 2014 trying to make up for a slow start. In the end, he finished with a 4.19 ERA in six starts and 33 relief appearances, recording 76 strikeouts in 73 innings. It would be a mild surprise if the Twins didn't add him to the 40-man roster at some point over the winter considering his history with the club (and his 3.25 career ERA in 517 minor league innings), since someone would certainly love to take a chance on a 24-year old reliever with a solid history.