Last week, MLB.com released their Top 100 list. The Twins had seven players there. Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 boasts four Twins, which is a relatively small number. Now, Keith Law's 2016 prospect list has been released, and the Twins actually have one more player on his list than they did last year.
Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Max Kepler, and Nick Gordon appeared on both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus' list, and I assume they'll all be on Law's as well. Before we get to the details, you can view Law's 1-50 rankings here and 51-100 here. Both lists are behind a paywall, so I'll only give you brief clips of Law's analysis for each player.
Not on this year's list
- Miguel Sano, #15 (graduated)
- Alex Meyer, #30 (performance)
I've included the player's rankings on Law's top 100 from 2015, as well as his mid-2015 rankings - which was a look at his new Top 25 in late May. The n/a for the second list, then, only means that they weren't in that Top 25, not that the player necessarily dropped out of the Top 100.
Byron Buxton, CF
Law acknowledges the difficulties that Buxton had with the Twins in 2015, noting that he may have been rushed but that the experience also exposed what can occasionally be a long swing. Pitch recognition appears to be his biggest obstacle to overcome in turning that first big corner. Physically he looks good, and the tools are obviously still there, but 2016 will be a big year for Buxton. If he can make significant leaps in development this summer he'll be on track to be the superstar everyone hopes he will be.
Here's a snip from Law, taken from a part of his second and fourth paragraphs on Buxton:
Buxton is an 80 runner with an 80 arm and 70 range (at least) in center, so his floor is pretty high even if he's among the weakest hitters in the majors. All questions in his game revolve around his bat and his ability to stay on the field. ... Buxton has the physical gifts to be a star even if he hits .240, as that would probably come with 50 steals, 10-12 homers and big defensive contributions.
Jose Berrios, RHP
Law has turned into a Berrios Believer, referencing the progress that the right-hander has made every step of the way. The plus curve pairs with a pretty decent changeup to go with that mid-90s fastball, but you can never say that Law is inconsistent: he's still concerned with the flatness of Berrios' fastball when he tries to throw too hard up in the zone. That's something that has been brought up more than once in the past. Still, for a player as dedicated and mature in approach as Berrios is, once he's been burned by the flat, high fastball a couple of times he'll make adjustments to his game and continue to get better as a result.
There's some interesting stuff to read about Berrios, but here's Law's final takeaway:
He has the command and control, the secondary stuff and the poise to succeed in the majors now, with only the risk of a few too many long balls on that straight four-seamer holding down his ceiling.
Max Kepler, OF/1B
While scouts and pundits have been aware of Kepler's potential, outside of Twins Territory that ceiling was never recognized outside of organizational top ten lists. It's not a mystery, considering Kepler hadn't really put forward a fully healthy season and - related or not - hadn't put forward stats of note, either. Law notes that Kepler's development will have been hampered by injuries, whether that's had an effect on his numbers or not. He gives Kepler a 55 grade for his defense in center (on the 20-80 scale), which rates at above average, but with Buxton the apparent future at the position his skills look like they'll grade out much better in the corners. It's all positives from Law here, but his enthusiasm is understandably tempered by Kepler's lack of a track record.
He has become a much better hitter than I expected, albeit with less power. I think he will still become a 15-20 homer guy with lots of doubles and a strong OBP. Not to put too much on his shoulders, but Kepler might be the first real European MLB star...
Kohl Stewart, RHP
Stewart was nowhere to be found on MLB.com's list, nor on Baseball Prospectus' Top 101. Yet Law is still bullish on him, talking up both of his breaking balls - which he, for better or worse, goes back to in changeup counts - and making note of Stewart's 59% ground ball rate in 2015. The command can still be suspect at times, and while the fastball carries plus velocity (96mph) it doesn't move a great deal, and those are areas where Law thinks the young right-hander needs to focus. Developing both of those traits will help him miss a few more bats but, more importantly, will help him keep batters off balance and force baseballs into the grass.
Law is almost worth the Insider fee on his own, so I can't recommend highly enough that you read his full writeup on each of these players, but I'll leave you with this - a good example of how positive he still seems to be on Kohl Stewart:
If he can keep cutting down the walks and gets that changeup to be a regular part of his repertoire, he has an extremely high ceiling even without huge strikeout totals because hitters have such a hard time squaring him up.
Tyler Jay, LHP
Law has made no bones in the past about criticizing Illinois' use of Jay in college, and continues here by calling Jay's talent "wasted" in the closer role. He firmly believes the lefty has it in him to be groomed into a starting pitcher. But we still hear a familiar refrain: the fastball and the slider are good enough to get him to the Twins this year out of the bullpen. Two plus pitches and pretty good command go a long way in that kind of a position. The velocity on that 96mph fastball will come down as Jay adjusts to his new job as a starter, where Law sees him as a mid-rotation talent. His upside in the bullpen is a big higher, where Law mentions his floor being a quality left-handed set-up guy. His ceiling there is obviously even higher.
The clip I'll leave you with from Law is something I don't remember having read yet about Jay, which was about how he'll need to use his lower body:
He's not very physical at 6 feet 1 and 180 pounds, and he needs to use his lower half more in his delivery if he wants to remain a starter and stay healthy in that role. It's not a very easy arm action to repeat as is, although the process of trying to repeat it 80 times a start might help him incorporate his legs more for greater balance.
Jorge Polanco, 2B/SS
It's a surprise to see Polanco on a Top 100 list again, and even more so that he's ranked as highly as he is. I expected that he could have been a borderline guy for these lists a couple of years ago, but once again his talent as a middle infielder and his proximity to the Major Leagues makes him noteworthy. Law is cognizant of this, noting that Polanco has become a better base runner while maintaining his offensive skillset as he's climbed the ladder. High-contact, good-OBP guys will always have a place as a middle infielder. We've been critical here of his long-term prospects as a shortstop, and those doubts are echoed by Law, but he believes that Polanco could more than adequately handle second or third. How the Twins find room for him is, as always, the big question.
At either position, he projects as an above-average regular who hits for a ton of contact with 12-15 homers and a .340ish OBP while adding value on defense anywhere but at short.
Nick Gordon, SS
While acknowledging Gordon's first half struggles and second half improvements in 2015, Law's optimism is clearly blunted here. He's not alone, of course. His criticisms of Gordon certainly aren't heavy-handed (after all, he's still a Top 100 prospect), but he shows concern over Gordon's run times and overwhelming ground ball rates. Contact rates and quality of contact were good in the second half of 2015, but continuing to take smarter swings - and perhaps taking a few more walks and cutting down on the strikeouts - will go a long way in determining his prospect status for next season. The defensive skills are still solid, but Law's enthusiasm is clearly tempered.
Still, if this is the worst-case scenario, I think we'd probably still be pretty happy with the results:
A year ago, he seemed like such a polished bat that he had some All-Star potential, but now it looks more as if he'll be a solid-average to slightly above-average regular, with good probability of becoming a big leaguer, but lacking that star upside.
Players like Stephen Gonsalves, Lewis Thorpe, and Engelb Vielma have years to make their marks and show up on these lists, but is there anyone else you would have liked to see make the cut here? Which group of players do you think could be considered the "next wave" of Twins prospects behind these seven players?
We'll be back later today to pick up our community prospect vote.