Today marks an interesting home openor for the Minnesota Twins, with chilly weather and more April snow looming on the horizon.
But today also marks the opening of the season for the Twins’ full season minor league affiliates! While the the Twins lack the high-end prospect talent of the Braves, Blue Jays, or White Sox, they do have a deep farm system that makes each of their minor league teams worth keeping an eye on. Let’s take a look at the notable players on the opening day rosters for each team.
All Prospect rankings are according to MLB.com
Triple-A: Rochestor Red Wings
In 2017 the Rochester Red Wings were used as a holding pen for a bevy of bleh AAAA pitchers who were shuttled back and forth on the nightly flight from Rochester to Minneapolis. This year, the team actually has some legitimate talent that will be worth keeping an eye on.
Fernando Romero (Twins’ #2 prospect, #68 Overall) is the real headliner for Rochester. Having been put on the DL with arm fatigue at the end of 2017, I assumed Romero would be starting at Double-A Chattanooga to build up arm strength. An impressive spring helped place Romero just a step from the big leagues.
Adelberto Mejia, Aaron Slegers, Dietrech Enns do not have the top prospect billing (Mejia is no longer an eligible rookie after 2017 and thus not a ranked prospect) of Romero but they provide more solid depth options than the Twins had a season ago. Keep an eye on Mejia’s BB/9 ratio, as he still has the makings of a number 4 starter if he can control his pitches more effectively.
In the bullpen, Tyler Duffey returns to the minors after almost two full seasons on the big league club. Joining him are Alan Busenitz and John Curtiss (21), who had their first cups of coffee last season. This trio likely gives the Redwings one of the best bullpens in the minors, and it shows the depth of bullpen additions the Twins made this offseason. Jake Reed and Mason Melotakis also have decent ceilings and are worth keeping an eye on.
Position Players -
While the Redwings lineup doesn’t have the oomph of Fernando Romero, there are solid players to watch, especially in the outfield. Zach Granite (27) destroyed the International League last season, and he returns to play centerfield for the Red Wings until called up by the big league. He is joined in the outfield by Jake Cave (26), recently acquired from the Yankees. Cave hit 20 homers across two levels last season and likely has more MLB potential than his outfield partner. This duo gives the club solid outfield depth in the minors incase the injury bug hits the Twins or in case of a trade.
Willians Astudo is a no-strikeout, no-walk, no-look pickoff machine, and if he produces in Triple-A he may have a future as a backup catcher somewhere. In the infield the Red Wings will trot out a handful of career minor leaguers and Kennys Vargas... at least until Nick Gordon gets called up to Rochestor.
Double-A: Chattanooga Lookouts
Since they became the Double-A affiliates of the Twins in 2015 with a roster that included the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jorge Polanco, the Lookouts have been the Twins’ minor league team to watch. They remain so this year, both because of the players returning to the team and those who are new to the roster.
Frankly, the Lookouts rotation is absolutely stacked. It is led by Stephen Gonsalves (#3, #79 Overall), and following him are Lewis Thorpe (12), Zach Littel (15), Felix Jorge (17), and Kohl Stewart (18). I was surprised that Gonsalves and Jorge returned to Double-A, but look for Gonsalves to move quickly if he starts hot. Jorge starts the year on the DL and has a low ceiling, but seeing him pitch well upon his return will bode well for the organization. Don’t be worried to see Thorpe’s start skipped every so often since the Aussie had Tommy John just a few seasons ago, but the young lefty can pitch and a solid, healthy season could really help his prospect stock. Littel may also move quickly after a stellar season last year, and Kohl Stewart still has loads of untapped potential.
In the bullpen the Lookouts will be led by Tyler Jay (16), the former first round pick who is back to full health after a succesful stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2017. Jay still has high-end reliever potential. The rest of the bullpen is mostly fodder, but Ryan Eades and Zach Jones both have late-bloomer potential
There are three primary reasons to be watching the Lookouts hit. Returning from last season are Nick Gordon and Lamonte Wade. Gordon (Twins #4, #81 Overall) had a phenomal start to 2017 for the Lookouts, but fell off as the season went on. There is no one blocking him at Triple-A so I was surprised to see him start in Chattanooga. Another hot start could see him move up the ladder fast, but since he is still one of the youngest players at Double-A the Twins might try to see if he can hold off the midseason slump at the same level. Wade (13) is likely only in Double-A because of the acquisition of Jake Cave, althought I don’t consider him to be truly blocked by the other left handed outfielders a level above.
The big new acquisiton for the Lookouts is Left Fielder/First Baseman Brent Rooker (8). Rooker made his professional debut last season and absolutley mashed, hitting 18 homers in 62 games across the Single-A level. Even though he was drafted as a 22 year old, starting Rooker at Double-A in his first full professional season is an aggresive move by the Twins that shows their trust in his ability and approach. I forecasted last year that Rooker could potentially see a September call up in 2018 if everything goes well, and the start in Double-A certainly points to him seeing time with the big league team as early as 2019 so long as he adjusts to the level accordingly.
Gordon will lead off for the club, with Wade hitting third and Rooker hitting cleanup. Keep an eye on this club, as it holds a large piece of the organizations future
Single-A Advanced: Fort Myers Miracle
The Miracle have sort have had the short end of the straw recently in terms of prospects, but this year they have some solid deep-cuts to keep an eye on.
There are no ranked prospects starting the year on the Miracle pitching staff but still keep an eye on the pitching section of the box score. Lachlan Wells returns to the Miracle after an injury-filled 2017. He can still reach his back-of-the-rotation ceiling now that concerns over his size have dissapated. Charlie Barnes was a 4th round pick in 2017, and could move quickly through the Twins system with his 60 grade changeup.
Tom Hackimer, Hector Lujan, and Alex Robinson are the headliners in the bullpen and could be later bloomers if they develop correctly.
The Miracle lineup has some front-loaded thump thanks to three prospects. Lewin Diaz (10) will be 21 all season and may have a breakout year if he taps into his raw power. Travis Blankenhorn (14) still has to find a defensive position, but if he can get his average up from last year his bat will certainly play. After missing last year to injury, Luis Arreaz (23) starts the season on the DL in Fort Myers. The kid hit .347/.386/.444 in Cedar Rapids in 2016 and I’ll be keeping my eye on him once he returns. Like Blankenhorn he lacks defensive skills but only turns 21 on April 9th.
Single-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels
The Kernels boast the Twins top prospect and some legitimate depth to flank him. If the Lookouts’ roster is the next wave, the Kernels have the second wave—which may ultimately prove more talented.
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 Draft, Blayne Enlow (9) is the biggest name in the Kernels rotation. By starting the year in Cedar Rapids, Enlow will skip over playing in Elizabethon, the Twins’ Advanced Rookie Ball affiliate. He may skip some starts in his first full professional season, but keep an eye on Enlow’s season closely. Tyler Watson (22) came over in the Brandon Kintzler trade last season, and if the lefty can add some velocity and have a solid season he could really up his prospect stock. Bryan Sammons joins the rotation as a 2017 draft deep cut that is worth watching.
Jovani Moran posted a 0.36 ERA with a 45/6 K/BB ration in 24 2⁄3 innings last season in the Appalachian league and leads the bullpen in Cedar Rapids.
Of course, Royce Lewis (1, #20 Overall) is the prize of the Twins system after being taken first overall in the 2017 draft. He had success in a short stint in Cedar Rapids last year, and I could see him moving quickly since there is no shortstop to block his progress in Fort Myers. The Twins first pick from 2016, Alex Kiriloff (6) joins Lewis this year after losing 2017 to Tommy John surgery. Only 20 for the entire season, Kiriloff hit great in 2016 and could boost his still-solid prospect status with a good year. Akil Badoo (11) joins Kirloff in the outfield, giving the Kernels one of the most athletic duos in the minors when paired atop the lineup with Lewis. After a .323/.436./.527 line in 2017, Baddoo’s prospect status could reach the national stage with another solid performance this year.
The Kernels also boast the Twins best (read:only) catching prospects in Ben Rortvedt (24) and David Banuelos. They both have solid potential, and if Rortvedt can build on his second half from last year, he could solidify his prospect status.
Andrew Bechtold (20) is a slick-fielding third baseman the Twins signed for over-slot money in the 2017 draft. He is blocked only slightly by Blankenhorn in Fort Myers, but Bechtold could still move quickly up the ladder. Jose Miranda (28) doesn’t really have a defensive position, but he hit 11 homers in 54 games last season and only turns 20 this season in his second full season of professional ball
Extended Spring Training
Starting in extended Spring Training is not necessarily a bad thing for the Twins’ prospect who find themselves there.
Wander Javier (5) gets this assignment in part because of his age (19 for the entire season) and because he is blocked at Shortstop by Royce Lewis at Cedar Rapids. Javier could easily be moved to Cedar Rapids if Lewis is aggresively promoted, but starting in Extended Spring Training could help smooth Javier’s still-raw defense.
Brusdar Graterol (7) is another highly touted prospects who needs a bit more of a leash, coming back from Tommy John in the 2016 season and only turning 20 in August. Another good year in rookie ball will launch Graterol up prospect rankings, especially if he earns a promotion come August.
Jacob Pearson (25) and Landon Leach (29) and Yunior Severino (30) are high-ceiling youngsters who need the seasoning that extending spring training provides, keep an eye out for their performance once rookie-ball starts this summer.
Each of the Twins’ four full-season minor league teams have rosters that are worthy of keeping an eye on (even you, Fort Myers). We have a bevy of prospects who could be knocking on the door of the mother club (Gonsalves, Romero, Granite, Cave, Busenitz), or the next promotion (Gordon, Littell) very quickly. The 2017 draft is also well represented, with players already spread across three(!) levels and as high as Double-A.
Keep an eye on Rochestor for the pitching, Chattanooga for literally everything, and the Single-A teams for their lineups.
It will be a fun season for Twins fans, with a competitive team at Target Field and plenty of boxscore-watching to be done on the farm.