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Minnesota Twin Prospects: Royce Lewis leads three in MLB Pipeline’s top 100.

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Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and Brusdar Graterol are viewed as the team’s top prospects by the folks over at MLB Pipeline

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Throughout the last week MLBPipeline released their top ten lists for prospects at each position. On Saturday, they released their preseason top 100, and three Twins prospects were on the list.

Here are their ranking and breakdown

#5 Overall - Royce Lewis, SS

#2 Shortstop

Hit: 60 | Power: 50 | Speed: 70 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 65

Royce Lewis moved up to the #5 overall prospect after a strong 2018 season. The interesting thing about his position increase and overall grade increase is that it didn’t come from his bat.

Despite a strong first half of the season in Single-A Cedar Rapids, Lews had less than spectacular second half in High-A Fort Myers. Even though he hit 3 homeruns in the playoffs, his hit tools remain the same as they were during the middle of the 2018 season and the postseason.

The improvement for Lewis came instead through his defense. The Athletic and other sources reported this fall that Lewis worked heavily on his defense, especially once he got to Fort Myers. He specifically worked on his footwork in regards to setting up strong throws. Lewis’ arm had always been a bit of a question, but during his draft year some scouts postulated that the issue wasn’t his arm strength itself but rather that his poor footwork kept him from getting everything on his throws. Lewis has seemed to fix that issue.

During the Top 100 Prospect List reveal show on MLB TV, prospect list guru Jonathan Mayo said that Lewis is now considered likely to stay at short and be an up-the-middle impact player.

I don’t think Lewis will ever have a true plus (60-grade) arm, but he can keep improving his hands and glove to pair with his excellent range at the position.

Lewis will likely start 2019 back in Fort Myers looking to start hot and work his way to Double-A Pensacola around midseason. He doesn’t turn 20 years old until June.

#9 Overall - Alex Kirilloff, OF

#4 Outfielder

Hit: 65 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 60

After missing 2017 with Tommy John Surgery it was no surprise that Kirilloff was left off top 100 prospect lists to start 2018.

Then he went and hit .348/.392/.578 with 44 doubles, 7 triples, and 20 homeruns across two levels. That will certainly pique some interest in prospect evaluators.

Kirilloff cemented his status as a part of the handful of prospects seen as the best hitting prospects outside of Vlad Guerrerro Jr. Kiriloff led the minors in total bases, was third in average, and seventh in RBI.

Kirilloff’s defense isn’t spectacular, but he is a solid right fielder who won’t hurt his team defensively. MLBPipeline points out that there are some who believe Kirilloff could start playing some first base, and potentially be a plus defender there, in order to get his bat in the MLB lineup earlier, considering the Twins crowded major league outfield.

Kirilloff hit .362/.392/.578 at Fort Myers last year, so I would think he has proven himself at that level. The Twins front office has been aggressive with some prospects — like Brent Rooker — who they promoted to Double-A after only a partial season at High-A, while also being conservative with others. Kirilloff has a walk rate similar to that of Eddie Rosario, and that lack of walk-taking may be the only knock on his skill set, so there isn’t much to work on other than getting reps and proving he can hit at the next level up. He will play the entire 2019 season as a 21 year old (the same age as Nick Gordon during his first full year at Double-A)

#68 Overall - Brusdar Graterol, RHP

Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 50 | Overall: 55

Graterol moved up two spots since the end of season 2018 rankings, taking over for Fernando Romero as the Twins’ hard-throwing top 100 pitching prospect.

Graterol makes his entry to the preseason list quite a bit younger than Romero’s first appearance, and it is good to see after Graterol’s rebound from Tommy John a few years ago. MLBPipeline was willing to give Graterol’s slider a plus grade even though they noted that Graterol backs off it’s velocity and effectiveness at times.

For all of his natural stuff, Graterol did see a sharp increase in batting average against, flyball rate, and ERA and a drop in K/9 after his promotion in 2018. Plenty of front-of-the rotation pitchers make a 7.5-8.5 K9 rate work in the bigs, but you would hope the best frontline-starter prospect your system has had in decades would be able to punch strikeouts at a dizzying rate in the lower minors.

Graterol doesn’t turn 21 until late August, but the Twins are sure to be cautious with him, having thrown just 102 innings in his first full season back from Tommy John. I would expect him to start in Fort Myers and split about 120 innings between High-A and Double-A. Graterol was promoted after 8 dominant starts in 2018, and I would expect a similar “prove it” requirement for him in Fort Myers in 2019.

#5 rated First Baseman - Brent Rooker, 1B/OF

Hit: 50 | Power: 60 | Run: 45 | Arm: 50 | Field: 45 | Overall: 50

While the Twins only had three prospects on the top 100 list, Brent Rooker did earn himself a spot on the top 10 first baseman list after a strong 2018.

His plus power and solid hitting tools proved to be true even after a .254/.333/.465 season that saw him struggle early in the year and fade a bit at the end. After being drafted as 4th year senior (redshirt junior, technically), it makes sense that Rooker had to adjust in Double-A since it was the first time in a few years where the average pitcher was as older or older than he was.

Rooker did see drops to his running and fielding grades, which is on par for his profile. He isn’t much of fielder at either first base or left field, so he will likely keep getting reps in both to maintain flexibility.

Rooker will play the entire season at the age of 24. There is nothing wrong with having some older prospects (new Twin Nelson Cruz didn’t become an every day big leaguer until 28) and it even gives the Twins some flexibility since he can prove he is ready for the big leagues without requiring a 40-man roster spot for another year or so.

After fading at the end of 2018 I could see Rooker returning to Double-A to start the year before a mid-season promotion if he proves himself again. At the same time, seeing what sort of adjustments he can make after starting in Triple-A may be worthwhile as well. This would give the Twins some roster assurance if C.J. Cron struggles and if we lose Tyler Austin on the waiver wire after Spring Training.

Takeaways and Next in Lines.

The Twins don’t have the sheer high end talent as some other organizations (the Padres have 4 prospects in the top 30 alone) but there is still a lot of reason to be excited about our high end talent.

I can realistically see 5 or 6 of the top ten prospects stick in the major leagues this season, meaning that Lewis and Kirilloff would have an open shop to both be in the top 5 if their progress continues.

Graterol, on the other hand, will pitch most of the season at 20 and any sort of improvement will likely help him up the list.

The thing I find intriguing is the numbers of players the Twins have who are seemingly a good season away from the list. Many teams will have a few that flirt with the list but the Twins seem to have a solid handful.

2018 first round pick Trevor Larnach hit very well in his pro debut and if he maintains that sort of production (.890 OPS) or even drops just a little it could be easy seeing him in Double-A by the end of the year and on the tail end of the top 100 rankings.

Wander Javier could have a bounce back season as a 20 year old in Cedar Rapids after missing 2018 with injury. Shortstop prospects with power and an arm are generally valued highly, so it wouldn’t take an Alex Kirilloff-type season to get him into top 100 consideration.

My wildcard prospect to eventually crack the top 100 is actually Luis Arreaz. Arreaz missed all of 2017 with a leg injury and took some time to readjust early in 2018, but he ended the year by getting promoted to Double-A as a 21 year old, and put up a line across the two levels of .310/.361/.397. It wouldn’t surprise me to see his bat rated as a 60 grade tool so if he adds a little pop and solidifies his defense just a little at second, he could be one of the best second basemen in the minors.

The top 100 list is a fun way to look at top prospects, but it isn’t everything. The Twins are known specifically for their deep prospect list, so analyzing our full list of prospects will offer more insight than just who are our most highly ranked minor leaguers. The full list of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects should be published in the coming weeks, and we will be sure to offer our analysis when that list is out!