For the first time in a couple of years, things at the top of the Twins' prospect list have started to go from a boil to a simmer. Miguel Sano graduated out list by scaring the daylights out of every pitcher who toed the rubber against him. Trevor May's rookie status expired, as the club moved the first starting pitcher they've developed with strikeout potential in years into the bullpen. Eddie Rosario's game had its faults, but as a rookie he showed promise in all aspects of the game. Tyler Duffey and J.R. Graham were further down last year's Top 30 list, but Duffey in particular was impressive as a rookie.
Byron Buxton, with 129 at-bats, retained his rookie status for 2016. His performance with the Twins was a bit lacking, and while that's understandable and nothing to fret about that injection of reality takes the shimmer off of him as a prospect. Jose Berrios continued his strong upward trend, but Max Kepler's remarkable 2015 - even without a track record - rockets him into the conversation.
In the past, our ballot for Minnesota's top prospect consisted of two players: Buxton and Sano. The winner of Round 1 took first place and, if it was right, the other player took second.
This year we're mixing it up a little bit. Round 1 will consist of Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler. The winner will get top ranking on our 2016 list, and the other two players will proceed to Round 2. The winner and loser of Round 2 will take spots number two and three respectively.
With that understood, feel free to check out our rules and things to know post from this morning. And off we go!
Jose Berrios, RHP
2016 Age: 22
2015 High Level: Triple-A
|2014||20||A+, AA, AAA||2.76||25||140.0||1.11||7.6||0.4||2.4||9.0||3.7|
Aside from Julio Urias, the 19-year old right-hander who reached Triple-A for the Dodgers in 2015, Berrios might be the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. After 15 starts with Double-A Chattanooga to start the year, Berrios was promoted to Triple-A Rochester where he somehow proceeded to be even better. After his move up the ladder his strikeout rates went up, and his walk rates, base runners, and runs scored went down.
While the Twins endured some criticism for how they handled Berrios' innings limit, the right-hander will have an opportunity to make the club's rotation at some point in 2016. He'll compete for that job in spring training, but with so many other options available in-house it seems more likely that Berrios will begin the season in Triple-A and make his debut when injury or ineffectiveness inevitably opens up a spot for him in Minnesota.
There's no doubt that Berrios probably belongs in one of the top two spots on our list for 2016. Now that the shine has perhaps worn off of Buxton just a bit, are you daring enough to vote for a changing of the guard at the top of our prospect list?
Byron Buxton, CF
2016 Age: 22
2015 High Level: MLB
|4 Seasons||MiLB only||276||1227||322||43||37||28||94||27||135||245||.301||.383||.489||.872|
The most common question I get on the 2016 Twins, from radio spots to guest podcast appearances to friends who are just curious, is something along these lines: Are you worried about Buxton? My answer is always No. And probably another 300 to 400 words because I get on a roll.
Buxton's minor league performance in 2015, after 2014 was mostly a write-off due to various injuries, indicates that his arrow is still pointing up. He stole 22 bases in 25 attempts, played a stellar center field, and really got on a role offensively after a slow start. Granted his performance at the plate during his time in Minnesota wasn't anything to write home about, but it's hardly anything to be concerned over. Buxton was a 21-year old rookie facing Major League pitching, months after a season where he wouldn't see live pitching for weeks if not months at a time. Even if Buxton had been healthy in 2014, it's still a hard ask for a 21-year old rookie to step in and contribute the way Miguel Sano did. As far as rookie performances go, regardless of prospect status or player ceiling, Buxton's debut is the rule and Sano's is the exception. Make no mistake: Buxton is still one of the hottest young players in the game, and he'll be a pre-season favorite among American League Rookie of the Year candidates.
There's a chance that Buxton begins the 2016 season as Minnesota's starting center fielder. There's also a chance he starts the year in Triple-A. Neither of those possibilities should weight on your conscience for this ballot - only whether or not Buxton continues to be the organization's best prospect.
Max Kepler, OF/1B
2016 Age: 23
2015 High Level: MLB
There are hitters who had better years in the minor leagues, but there aren't many. Kepler absolutely tore the cover off the ball, and while it earned him a seven-game cup of coffee with the Twins in September that's not what people will be talking about when prospect rankings come out.
Injuries played a significant part in stunting Kepler's development coming into 2015, or at least that was the narrative coming out of last season. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't, but there's no denying that a fully healthy Max Kepler has put himself front and center when it comes to discussing the Twins' best prospects. He stole 19 bases in 23 attempts, walked more than he struck out, and he racked up extra base hits.
In some respects, Kepler profiles like Eddie Rosario. He could play center field but likely fits as a plus defender in a corner spot; he has good speed and knows how to use it; he does a number of things very well but nothing exceptionally and nothing poorly. Kepler doesn't mind taking a walk from time to time however, and that could be a difference maker in the trajectories of both players.
Kepler probably deserves to be in the conversation for the number two or number three spot on our list for 2016, but with the stellar season he had we just couldn't leave him out of the conversation for number one.