With the 2017 minor league season firmly in the rear-view mirror, let’s look at how the future organization was able to do this year at their respective levels. We won’t look at all of the Twins top 30 prospects, but we will look at the best seasons of our top prospects and also the best efforts of more fringe prospects. All ranked prospects are ranked according to MLB.com’s mid-season prospect rankings.
1. Royce Lewis, SS
Taken first overall in June by the Twins, Lewis impressed enough to make it to Low-A Cedar Rapids as an 18-year-old, even faster than Joe Mauer made it to the same league. In 54 games between the GCL squad and Cedar Rapids, Lewis hit for a .279/.381/.407 slash line with 8 doubles, 3 triples, and four home runs. He also added 18 stolen bases to go along with his 33/25 K/BB ratio.
While his average and slugging percentage do not scream elite, the total package with his on base skills, base running, and solid defense proved that Lewis is an exciting young player worthy of that first overall pick. He may start next year at Cedar Rapids again, but look for Lewis to move quickly next summer if his success continues.
2. Nick Gordon, SS
After hitting a phenomenal .315/.376/.504 in the first half of the season, Gordon was poised to have a breakout. Alas, Gordon hit a major cold streak in the second half, where he hit only .221/.304/.305 to bring his season numbers to .270/.341/.408.
While the second half slump ruined a season that could have positioned Gordon as one of the best prospects in baseball, there were still positives for Gordon this year. He walked a career high 53 times this season, leading to a career high .341 on base percentage. He hit 9 home runs, beating his previous season record of 3. These improvements in on base skills and power should help Gordon become more than a bland bottom-of-the-order glove first SS. Gordon was also only 21 for the entire season, technically young for his level.
3. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP and 4. Fernando Romero, RHP
The Twins’ best pitching prospects had good but not stellar years. Gonsalves started the year hurt, but pitched well at Double-A and earned himself a promotion to Triple-A, where he pitched well despite one bad outing.
Romero, on the other hand, started strong but faded in August, ultimately ending up on the DL, with his 125 innings pitched being the most he has ever thrown.
It would not be surprising to see both pitchers at the front of the Red Wings rotation next spring, only a step away from pitching in the majors.
5. Wander Javier, SS
Javier had a bit of hype when the Twins signed him for $4 million back in 2015, and he finally is starting to show why. In 47 games at Elizabethton (Advanced Rookie Ball), Javier hit .299/.383/.471 with 13 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs. He is strikeout prone and will likely need to move away from shortstop (much like a young Miguel Sano), but Javier’s electric bat should play. Look for Javier to see time in Low-A Cedar Rapids next year.
12. Brusdar Graterol, RHP and 13. Blayne Enlow, RHP
Graterol missed last year due to Tommy John but pitched well in his return, striking out 45 over 40 innings and 10 games across both rookie leagues. Only 19 years old, Graterol might return to Elizabethton next year in order to limit his innings, but a promotion to Cedar Rapids will likely happen before he turns 20 next August.
Enlow, a third round draft pick last June, pitched well in his limited work as well, giving up just 10 hits and 4 walks in 20 innings pitched. He will likely join Graterol in Elizabethton to start next year, making a formidable front of the rotation in the low minors for the Twins.
14. Brent Rooker, LF/1B
Drafted as a 22-year-old, pundits stated that Rooker would have to move through the system quickly in order to be a worthy second round pick. Rooker has done just that. With a stop at Elizabethton and a promotion straight to High-A Fort Myers, Rooker has proven his bat will play in professional ball. In 62 games this season (40 of which at Fort Myers), Rooker hit .281/.364/.566, with 11 doubles and 18 (EIGHTEEN!) home runs.
The kid proved he can mash, and it is possible he starts next season at Double-A Chattanooga, only one good season away from his first big league call up.
15. Lewis Thorpe, LHP; 16. Zack Littel, RHP; 18. Tyler Watson, LHP
Through trades and a comeback season by Lewis Thorpe, the Twins formed a solid second wave of young starting pitching prospects.
Australian Lewis Thorpe missed two years of action with Tommy John and mono, respectively, but did well in his age 21 season. Across 83 innings his struck out 91 while walking 33 and pitching to the tune of a 2.91 ERA. He did get a spot start in Double-A and will likely start next season there, although he may have an innings restriction.
Zack Littell had an epic year between the Yankees and Twins systems (he came over in the Jaime Garcia trade), pitching to the tune of a 19-1 record (even if you don’t believe in pitcher wins, that is impressive). A 142/41 K/BB ratio over 157 innings may not be ace material, but he will likely be pitching in Triple-A next year as a 22-year-old, younger than Gonsalves and Romero. He will need a 40-man roster spot, making him potential trade fodder at the winter meetings as well.
Tyler Watson came over for Brandon Kintzler, and is more of a project. With a 116/32 K/BB ratio over 120.1 innings, Watson’s peripherals look better than his 4.34 ERA and low velocity would suggest. He will likely start next year in High-A Fort Myers, turning 21 years old in May.
19. John Curtiss, RHP
You are familiar with Curtiss now that he earned himself a call up to the Twins, which he earned due to an epic year split between Double, Triple-A. Striking out 68 over 49.1 innings in the minors, Curtiss was named to the mlbpipeline.com Prospect of the Year team, having allowed a hit in only 19 of his 39 minor league appearances. He’ll be looking for a bullpen spot in the majors next spring.
26. Jermaine Palacois, SS
After a terrible season a year ago, Palacois’ great first half brought himself back onto the prospect radar with a great first half at Low-A Cedar Rapids. That start earned him a promotion to High-A Fort Myers, where he started hot but fell off at the end of the year. Still, a full season hitting .296/.333/.454 with 21 doubles, 10 triples, and 13 home runs is a good season to build on. Palacois will likely get another look at High-A next spring but with Nick Gordon likely starting at Triple-A, there will be a hole for Palacois to fill at Double-A if he starts hot.
Up and coming
Michael Montero, RHP and Alberoni Nunez, RF - DSL Twins
The Dominican Summer League is the lowest level of professional baseball, home to the best Dominican signees for each team. Success in the DSL does not necessarily lead to success in the GCL or beyond, but it is never bad to have players lighting up a league. Montero had a 64/12 K/BB ratio over 58.1 innings with a 2.78 ERA. Nunez hit .352/.420/.545 with 9 doubles, 7 triples, and 3 home runs.
Montero’s numbers and 6-foot-3 frame as a 17-year-old are exciting to project, and Nunez’s right handed power as an 18-year-old may prove to be a solid tool.
Charlie Barnes, LHP; Ryley Widell, LHP; Jovani Moran
Barnes, a fourth round draft pick in June, projects as a back-of-the rotation type, a traditional crafty lefty without much velocity. Pitching between Elizabethon and Cedar Rapids, he appeared in 12 games to the tune of a 46/18 K/BB ration and a 2.61 ERA overall. Barnes reminds me a bit of Taylor Rogers as a crafty college lefty, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is in Double-A by the end of next year as a 22-year-old.
Widell, a seventh round draft pick this year, has a bit more upside than Barnes, but is more of a project. Although he walked 20 in just 29.2 innings in Elizabethton this year, he struck out 41 and posted an ERA of 2.43. If he can add some velocity he has the upside of a 3 starter, or a solid bullpen piece.
Moran was drafted back in 2015, but missed all of 2016. Pitching out of the bullpen for Elizabethton, Moran struck out 45 in 24.2 innings, allowing only 18 baserunners and pitching to a 0.36 ERA. He’ll turn 21 in April but still has upside if he can replicate even more realistic versions of this year’s numbers.
Akil Baddoo, OF
Drafted as a 17-year-old in 2016, it was known that Baddoo would take time to develop although a dreadful season in the GCL knocked him off MLB.com’s prospect radar. A terrific 2017 may put him right back on. Baddoo split the season between the GCL and Elizabethton, hitting a combined .323/.436/.527 with 19 doubles, 5 triples, and 4 home runs along with 9 stolen bases in 13 attempts. Baddoo likely sees full season ball next year, although he may not start there, he will turn 20 next August so his future is bright.
Gabriel Moya, LHP
Moya came over to the Twins for John Ryan Murphy and dominated enough to earn a call up in September. That is what happens when you strike out 87 batters in 58.1 innings. With an impressive September and Spring, Moya could earn himself a bullpen spot to start 2018. If not, he will likely start next season as a 23-year-old in Triple-A
While I did not cover all of the Twins minor leaguers, this is a good snapshot of the best of the best. Remember too that there were injuries to solid prospects such as Alex Kiriloff, Luis Arreaz, and countless others.
Which prospects were you impressed with this season?