It's amazing what continued performance can do for a player's prospect status. By now we're familiar with the scouting reports on both Chih-Wei Hu and Stephen Gonsalves: stats ahead of stuff, and a lack of confidence that the stuff will play at higher levels. The same kind of thing used to be said about Jose Berrios, but those voices have gotten quieter as the months roll along and Berrios just keeps on dominating.
Going into the season, looking all the way back to January, Keith Law ranked six Twins on his Top 100 prospect list: Byron Buxton (2), Miguel Sano (15), Alex Meyer (30), Nick Gordon (43), Kohl Stewart (53), and Jose Berrios (97). Yesterday afternoon Law posted an update for his Top 25 prospects, a list that featured Buxton down one spot to number three, Sano up five to number ten, and Berrios...get this...up 72 spots to number 25. (Read the full article here, Insider required - recommended reading.)
Buxton is down a spot for a couple of reasons. Law's top two prospects are Carlos Correa, a 20-year old shortstop drafted the one and only spot ahead Buxton, and Corey Seager, a future-third-baseman-currently-shortstop who looks like a big part of the Dodgers' future. But Law also mentioned Buxton's rust so far this season, and he's right: Buxton regularly took walks in 12% of his plate appearances before being injured most of last season. While he's been better after a slow start, Buxton is still hitting "just" .267/.323/.506 and is walking in a very mediocre 7.7% of plate appearances.
There's every chance that Buxton still debuts at some point in 2015, but the Twins aren't going to force anything. Hopefully he continues to hit well and can force the issue. Luckily that's something he's more than capable of doing, as he's riding another hot streak: 12-for-27 in his last six games. Let's see if he can't start leveraging these hot streaks into additional walks as well. Right now he's 13-for-14 in stolen bases and 21 of his 47 hits have gone for extra bases (including 11 triples).
After a slow start to the season it may be a surprise to see Miguel Sano climb anyone's list, but as Law points out the slugging third baseman has hit .311/.381/.589 this month. At this point his power numbers aren't entirely back to where they were from 2011-2013, but they're well on their way. He continues to play third base everyday. Law says that Sano is a guy who doesn't "love to play defense," and maybe he's correct. But for now I don't think Sano is going anywhere.
On the year, Sano is now hitting .248/.348/.503. Could he earn a promotion to Triple-A in the next month, as Law suggests? Absolutely. But that brings up other issues regarding Minnesota's upcoming roster crunch. It's a time I'm very much looking forward to, but it's going to mean not good things for certain players who have been organizational filler.
Give credit to experts like Law who can admit when, just maybe, recent assessments of a player may not be 100% on the mark. Back in January, Law said this about Berrios:
I've seen Berrios a number of times, dating back to the Excellence Games in his native Puerto Rico in 2012, and I've always had a sense Berrios' height and lack of life or plane on his fastball would push him to the bullpen. He has the ceiling of a third or fourth MLB starter if he keeps missing bats and can tighten up both off-speed pitches.
That's hardly a damning report, and it's worth noting that height plays a part in how Law evaluates prospects. But Law sounds a bit more optimistic about Berrios now, as a 72-slot jump would indicate:
I still have concerns about Berrios' flat fastball making him more prone to hard contact and home runs, but his command and secondary pitches are both clearly good enough for him to pitch in the big leagues as a starter, and if he can keep the ball in the park, he has the potential to be a solid No. 2 starter.
If, in the span of nine starts (which is all Berrios has had so far in 2015), a player can up his ceiling from a borderline #3/#4 to a #2, that player is doing something pretty special. Berrios is striking out more than 27% of batters, walking 7.4%, and opponents have posted a .229 batting average against. And this kid, who turns 21 today, is still three and a half years younger than his average competition.
Would you ask me to place a friendly wager on which of these three prospects would debut for the Minnesota Twins in 2015, I'd be tempted to take all three. Buxton and Sano are both great position players who can have roles found for them at any time on the Major League roster, once they're ready. Berrios, as young as he is, seems to be undeniable in his results. In some circles he's the least likely to attain a call up, but come September it wouldn't surprise me to see the Twins give him a cup of coffee.