And just like that, the first reliever is off the board. Nick Burdi is a consensus Top 10 organizational draft pick and is considered the top relief prospect in the Twins' system. But now we come to the round where we confirm our community Top 10.
I've added both Adam Brett Walker and Lewis Thorpe to the ballot, joining Alex Meyer, Byung Ho Park, and Engelb Vielma to form a group of players that many organizations would be happy to see comfortably nestled into their Top 10 list. Minnesota's system is deep, and we're only just starting to see the evidence play out in our ballots.
Twins top 30 prospects for 2016
- Byron Buxton, CF - 55% (Berrios 24%, Kepler 21%)
- Jose Berrios, RHP - 62% (Kepler 38%)
- Max Kepler, OF/1B - 78% (Jay 10%, Gordon 9%, Polanco 3%)
- Nick Gordon, SS - 59% (Jay 32%, Polanco 9%)
- Stephen Gonsalves, LHP - 59% (Jay 32%, Park 5%, Polanco 3%, Stewart 1%)
- Jorge Polanco, 2B/SS - 50 % (Jay 37%, Park 12%, Stewart 2%)
- Tyler Jay, LHP - 44% (Stewart 42%, Park 14%)
- Kohl Stewart, RHP - 62% (Park 21%, Burdi 11%, Meyer 4%, Vielma 2%)
- Nick Burdi, RHP - 44% (Park 33%, Meyer 21%, Vielma 2%)
Alex Meyer, RHP
2016 Age: 26
2015 High Level: Minnesota (MLB)
Byung Ho Park, 1B
2016 Age: 29
2015 High Level: Nexen (KBO)
Minnesota got a steal in Park, at least in terms of their financial commitment, considering he was unequivocally the best international hitter available on the market. He'll plug in as the Twins' everyday designated hitter, occasionally taking starts at first base where he is rated as a good athlete and fine fielder.
The scouting reports on Park all agree on two things: the power is for real, and he's going to strike out a lot. Scouts rate the power between a 60 and a 70 on the 20-80 scale, and if that power translates to the Major Leagues he could hit 25+ home runs in 2016. Whether or not he can reach that potential depends a great deal on how much contact he can make in the first place, which in turn will depend on how quickly he can adapt to the league's higher quality of pitching.
It should be expected for Park to struggle a bit, particularly during the first four to eight weeks. Early struggles will be normal, and he may start less frequently early in the season as a result, so don't be surprised if the Twins bring him along slowly - as the Pirates did for Jung Ho Kang in 2015. Kang started just six games in April before catching fire and becoming a regular. As scouting reports were compiled, pitchers adjusted, and he went through an extended slump in June and the early part of July. But Pittsburgh was patient and gave him time; he adjusted again, and from the All-Star break through the end of the year Kang hit .310/.364/.548. If Park follows a similar path, the Twins will be elated.
Lewis Thorpe, LHP
2016 Age: 20
2015 High Level: Did Not Play
Thorpe lost all of the 2015 season to recovery and rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery in March of 2015. He could have been more proactive in having the procedure done, perhaps as early as late 2014, but rest and rehabilitation is a common first pass. It didn't work out. This means that while the Australian lefty's rehab is coming along well, he's not likely to see game action until at least mid-summer. 2016 will be a "knock the rust off and let's see how your arm holds up" season, so don't put too much stock into the numbers he puts up this summer - if any - regardless of how good or bad those numbers look.
Talent-wise, Thorpe's stuff is considered among the best in the system for a left-handed pitcher. As he matures his fastball should settle in the low 90s, and he'll match it with a good changeup for a pair of plus offerings. The curveball is the better of his two breaking balls, which may seem obvious since he just started working on his slider in 2014, but if both pitches turn out to be average then Minnesota has a young lefty with decent command and a four-pitch arsenal.
It's also worth remembering what Thorpe was doing in the Australian Baseball League when he was 16 and 17 years old. Facing guys the better part of a decade older than him (hitters were an average of 8.4 years his senior when he was 17) he was still a highly effective pitcher. Minnesota may not see this kid get back on track fully until next summer, but he was a Top 100 prospect for Baseball Prospectus heading into the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He could regain that status in the next couple of years.
Engelb Vielma, SS
2016 Age: 22
2015 High Level: Fort Myers (A+)
Vielma has been in the system for four years now, and has quietly moved up the ladder in spite of underwhelming offensive numbers. Yet his bat has been just good enough to pair with his stellar defensive tools, making his promotion justifiable every step of the way.
His tools are impressive, combining a strong arm with good range and the sweet phrase every scout loves to hear: soft hands. Maturity and leadership on and off the field are intangible benefits that endear him to teammates and coaches alike. As Roger has said on multiple occasions, Vielma has the potential to be one of the best defensive shortstops in the Major Leagues. If he can hit .250 and boast a .290 on-base percentage (because he's never going to hit for power and walked in just 7% of his plate appearances last year), that will be good enough to make him an everyday player. He just has to show that he can get there; the bat is always going to be the question, and because of his size (5' 11" and 150 lbs are likely overstated) he'll always need to prove it.
Following the 2016 season the Twins will need to add Vielma to their 40-man roster. A successful campaign in Double-A will set up a Minnesota debut sometime in 2017, and he could - at some juncture - be considered as the club's starting shortstop.
Adam Brett Walker, OF
2016 Age: 24
2015 High Level: Chattanooga (Double-A)
Walker's raw power drops jaws and inspires dreams of moonshots that don't just leave the field but leave the ballpark entirely. His game power isn't rated quite as highly, which is an artifact of his contact skills, but there's only so much raw power can be mitigated when the player is still hitting 31 home runs.
In spite of his mammoth power potential, Walker is a lean 6' 4" athlete who moves pretty well in the corner outfield. Where he gets the most of his average speed on the bases by watching pitchers and getting good reads, his defense is still a work in progress as he gets better with the mechanics of right field - namely his footwork, throwing, and placement on balls off the wall. His arm is good enough for a corner spot however, so there's no reason he can't be an adequate defender in the long run.
If he can find a way to make enough quality contact as he climbs the minor league ladder, Walker will make for a promising and very intriguing Major Leaguer. The strikeouts will never go away, but nobody will mind as long as he can hit .240 or .250 because his on-base percentage will hover around .300 and he'll collect extra-base hits in droves. He'll be one of the most highly-followed players in the system this season, and he should spend most of the year in Triple-A with an opportunity to make his Major League debut if circumstances merit.