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Ten unranked Twins prospects to watch

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Jesse highlights ten of his favorite unranked Twins prospects.

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We keep a fairly good eye on the minor leagues around these parts, although most of our time is focused on members of our Top 30 prospect list - as voted by you, the Twinkie Town community. That doesn't begin to cover the depth or breadth of Minnesota's farm though, so today I thought I'd take a little time to highlight ten other prospects who are having good starts to the year.

There was no hard and fast threshold for any of these players to cross, but they're all doing well. Today we have three position players, two starting pitchers, and five relievers for your perusal.

Matt Batts, LHP
Drafted: 17th round, 2014
2015 Age: 23
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

Minnesota's 2014 draft class looks like a good one in the early going. Nick Gordon (1st round), Nick Burdi (2nd), Michael Cederoth (3rd), Jake Reed (5th), and Tanner English (11th) represent 1/6th of our Top 30 list, and suffice it to say that Batts won't be the last of that class on this list, either.

Batts is a fascinating study for a prospect. He cruised through three levels in his debut season, finishing in Cedar Rapids and then beginning 2015 at the same level. With seven starts under his belt this year, including a 2.21 ERA in 40.2 innings, Batts has now thrown 69.1 innings of 2.21 ERA baseball at Single-A. That includes 78 strikeouts, just 14 walks, and all of one home run.

While the numbers are outstanding, it'll be Batts' stuff that will need to prove itself. A deceptive delivery helps keep hitters off balance and he has confidence in all of his pitches, but his Reagan-era fastball will need to prove itself to scouts over and over again before he gets the recognition his numbers indicate he might be worthy of.

D.J. Baxendale, RHP
Drafted: 10th round, 2012
2015 Age: 24
Current Team: Chattanooga (AA)

Baxendale debuted on our prospect list at #23 pre-2013 and held onto #25 pre-2014, but this year he fell out of our Top 30 following a season that saw him put up a 5.48 ERA in 90 innings. He suffered through various injuries, including a bicep strain, so there's hope that with his strong start in 2015 perhaps last year's tumble was more health-related than talent-related.

Indeed, through seven starts and 41.1 innings this spring Baxendale is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA. He may not have the upside of a Berrios or be as Major League-ready as Duffey, but Baxendale gives the Lookouts a trio of very good, very talented starting pitchers. and right now Baxendale's ERA is the lowest of them all.

There isn't enough of a track record here to place many bets through seven starts, but Baxendale can solidify himself as a starting pitcher prospect with a strong campaign. If he struggles, the Twins could shift him back to the bullpen.

Cameron Booser, LHP
Signed: Undrafted free agent, 2013
2015 Age: 23
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

Booser's story is fantastic, and after striking out 30% of batters faced in 2014 he nearly made our top 30 this year. He's off to another fantastic start in 2015, posting a sub-1.00 ERA in 18 innings while striking out 32 (yes, 32) batters. He's only allowed nine hits.

With mid-90s heat that can nearly touch triple digits, the big test for Booser this year will be how well and how consistently he can control his slider. If he can, then Booser has two plus/power pitches. With that kind of velocity and that kind of stuff, two pitches would be all he'd need. Watch this space.

Zach Granite, CF
Drafted: 14th round, 2013
2015 Age: 22
Current Team: Fort Myers (A+)

The Twins' 2013 draft class flies under the radar a little bit. Each of the players selected in the first five rounds have some level of potential still, led by fourth overall pick Kohl Stewart, but as a group the class lacks the depth of the 2014 class. And yet there are players like Granite proving how deep the Twins' system is at the moment.

With good speed and a good eye at the plate, Granite's ability to hit for average and take a walk makes him a prototypical leadoff hitter. He spent the first 19 games of the year with Cedar Rapids, but after stealing seven bases and walking 12 times (striking out six) while hitting .358, the Twins rightfully bumped him up. He's more than holding his own with a .314 average and .410 on-base percentage in Fort Myers.

If he keeps this up, he could still earn yet another promotion this summer. Eventually, one or more of the outfielders at Double-A will be promoted (currently a balancing act of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Adam Walker, and Travis Harrison), and they'll need a body. Right now, Granite looks like he might be in the driver's seat for that job.

Dalton Hicks, 1B
Drafted: 17th round, 2012
2015 Age: 25
Current Team: Chattanooga (AA)

After taking a step backwards with the power in 2014, Hicks looks like he's re-establishing himself as a monster threat in the middle of the Lookouts' batting order. In spite of his size (6' 5", 247lbs), Hicks is a legitimate first baseman. His swing has holes, but for a player of his size and power you kind of expect it.

Kennys Vargas is in Triple-A now, but he's not likely to stay there for an extended period of time. Rochester's primary first baseman this year has been 28-year old Reynaldo Rodriguez, who is hitting a fair .276/.340/.440. Could Hicks find himself as the starting first baseman for the Red Wings by the end of the year?

Much like pitchers who put up great numbers in the lower levels but whose stuff doesn't make believers out of the scouts, the questions about Hicks revolve around how well he'll be able to catch up to better fastballs. The only way he'll be able to maintain his prospect status will be for him to continue to hit.

Trevor Hildenberger, RHP
Drafted: 22nd round, 2014
2015 Age: 24
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

A great professional debut was the catalyst for starting 2015 in Cedar Rapids, and Hildenberger has done nothing but dominate. With a side-arm delivery and pitches with a good deal of movement, he's been downright baffling for younger and less experienced hitters.

Eight hits in 20.2 innings. 27 strikeouts. Three walks. He's averaging one half of a base runner per inning and is striking out nine batters for every one he walks. You would think that such a performance would indicate an imminent promotion, but the Fort Myers bullpen already features J.T. Chargois, Todd Van Steensel, Brandon Peterson, Brian Gilbert, Madison Boer, and Alex Muren. It's outstanding.

Cole Johnson, RHP
Drafted: 44th round, 2011
2015 Age: 26
Current Team: Chattanooga (AA)

Only in Minnesota's system could a guy put up numbers like Johnson and not be in Triple-A or on the 40-man roster. How he wasn't selected in the Rule 5 is a bit of a mystery to me. On the other hand, if he was as special as his numbers indicate, surely somebody would have come calling to take advantage of what Minnesota is passing over...and that hasn't happened.

And yet Johnson, who gets good movement on a low-90s fastball and who possesses a plus changeup, continues his upward swing in proving how good he is at rolling over Double-A batters. He's been too successful and he's too old to not at least test at Triple-A. The biggest obstacle to that promotion, quite realistically, is the chaff in the bullpen of the Major League club.

Johnson is currently teammates with a number of other relief arms with which we're familiar: Zack Jones, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, Dallas Gallant, Adrian Salcedo, Tim Shibuya. If Johnson deserves a promotion, and he does, so do one or two other relievers on that list.

Felix Jorge, RHP
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010
2015 Age: 21
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

After his success in 2013, Jorge debuted on our prospect list at #13 pre-2014...but he had a disappointing season. So it's great to see Jorge succeeding after he had such a rough time at this level last year. A lot of his issues had to do with a dip in velocity, which is an issue which won't be fully resolved until he proves he can throw a fastball at a consistent velocity for more than a couple of months at a time, but there's no denying his early success in 2015.

Depending on what happens to his fastball in the long run, Jorge could have two plus pitches between that and his curve. He's averaging less than a base runner per inning and is exhibiting good command and swing-and-miss ability, so Jorge's stuff is clearly playing in the lower levels.

We did consider Jorge at the end of our Top 30 prospects this year. Perhaps we were a bit unfair and could have considered his case earlier, but a good year in 2015 would take care of that issue for next winter's list.

Zach Tillery, RHP
Drafted: 13th round, 2014
2015 Age: 22
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

After shifting between the mound and the field in college and then the rotation and the bullpen in his professional debut last summer, Tillery has been mostly utilized in relief so far in 2015. In one start and eight relief appearances he owns a 2.39 ERA in 26.1 innings.

Tillery gets good velocity out of his fastball, but the maturity of his offerings isn't where you might think it would be for a 22-year old pitcher. He's already off to a fantastic start to the year, which is a very good sign, but as he continues to develop his pitches as the year goes along we'll see highs and lows as he finds out what works.

There's opportunity for Tillery to develop as a starter yet, but at his age and with the amount of refinement still needed with his current stuff it would be easier to develop him as a reliever.

Trey Vavra, 1B/LF
Drafted: 33rd round, 2014
2015 Age: 23
Current Team: Cedar Rapids (A)

Son of Twins coach Joe Vavra and brother of Tanner Vavra (currently in Fort Myers), Trey turned a surprising rookie league debut in 2014 into a regular job with the Kernels this year. He doesn't carry much speed to speak of, which hurts his range in left field, but with a good arm and some potential in the bat it will be interesting to see how he develops.

As a 33rd-round draft pick, I would expect a promotion to take longer than it would for a high draft selection putting forward the same performance. Right now it's feasible that he plays himself into a discussion for the back end of our Top 30 prospect list for 2016.