With the MLB Hot Stove as cold as the temperatures this past week and baseball right around the corner, it’s time to look at some of talent that will be coming to Minnesota with a pretty affordable price tag. There is much to discuss with some of the Twins’ young studs, as a trio of minor leaguers from Minnesota’s farm system are quickly rising up prospect lists and will have a shot to make their major league debuts in the next couple of years.
I took a look the top 100 prospect lists from four well-respected sources: the Baseball America Top 100 ($), the Baseball Prospectus Top 101, ESPN’s Keith Law’s Top 100 ($) and the MLB.com Top 100 (which our own Kyle Edelbrock recently wrote about). All four lists were released recently in the latter part of January and have a variety of opinions on the Twins’ three quick risers. Breaking down the prospects, I gave my evaluation of the rankings and speculated a bit on what each of these three potential cornerstones could become and when they would reach the big leagues.
Royce Lewis, SS
Baseball America: 9
Baseball Prospectus: 8
Keith Law (ESPN): 9
Average Ranking: 7.8
Lewis was ranked between 20-27 by all four of these lists last season, rocketing into the top ten this year with an encouraging 2018 season split between two levels of A-ball. While Lewis’ numbers in High-A didn’t jump off of the page in 46 games (.726 OPS, 5 HRS, 6 SB), his high rankings are due to his potential and his premium position. Lewis was 3.4 years younger than the average player in the talented Florida State League (High-A) last year and hit well in the Midwest League (Low-A), posting an .853 OPS. When drafted, some were worried that Lewis wouldn’t be able to remain at shortstop, but his 2018 season quelled those concerns. MLB.com put Lewis’ arm and defense tools at 55 (above average) while Baseball America gave the 19-year old a 60 on defense and a 55 on his arm.
If Lewis were able to live up to expectations, he’d be the first Twins shortstop to last more than a year or two since
Eduardo Nunez, Danny Santana, Pedro Florimon, J.J Hardy … well it’s been a long time (though Jorge Polanco has shown flashes). Lewis is said to to have one of the more solid swings in the minor leagues and is projected to be able to add some more power to this game, considering he hasn’t even topped 20 years on planet earth yet. Even if he isn’t able to add much more pop to his game, look for Lewis to be one of the more productive top of lineup hitters in the big leagues, maybe as early as 2020. Here’s a look at a player that will very likely be one of the Twins’ cornerstones for years to come:
Evaluation of the Rankings: All three outlets had Lewis ranked in their top-ten, so it is splitting hairs to choose one over the other. With the potential to be a five-tool player that others in the top-10 don’t have, I’d likely go a little above the average of the four rankings and put Lewis in the seven spot. It’s not everyday that a prospect gets compared to Derek Jeter.
Alex Kirilloff, OF
Baseball America: 15
Baseball Prospectus: 39
Keith Law (ESPN): 11
Average Ranking: 18.5
Kirilloff was left off of all four top 100 prospect lists prior to 2018 after his Tommy John surgery. The outfielder, drafted out of the Pittsburg high school ranks, ripped two levels of A-ball last season in his return to the diamond, sporting an OPS of .970 and hitting 20 dingers. Kirilloff has been compared to fellow lefties Max Kepler and Christian Yelich (I know, a pretty big production gap there), but his 2018 season certainly was more comparable to the latter. Where Kiriloff may differ the most from Kepler is the ability to hit left-handed pitchers, as he posted a .361/.386/.556 slash line against southpaws last season.
Some are saying that Kirilloff’s hit tool is the second best in the minor leagues, only behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has received 80 ratings for his pure hitting prowess. If Kirilloff continues his production in the higher levels of the minors next season, his average of 18.5 from these three lists will look much too low. It will be interesting to see if pitchers and opposing scouts will be able to find weaknesses in his game after one season of minor league brilliance, though his approach of spraying the baseball to all parts of the field may be tough to combat. Baseball America listed the outfielder as a prospect that would have an outside shot of jumping all the way up to the big leagues in 2019 ($) if Rosario and/or Kepler don’t hit. He’s an average or better defender at both of the corner outfield positions, but Law’s analysis suggests that he could end up with some time at first base in a Cody Bellinger-type role in the big leagues.
On a quick personal note, I met Kirilloff briefly at TwinsFest last spring when I was working at the event as a student volunteer. He was the nicest guy of the handful of major and minor leaguers that I was around at the event, and seemed happy to be interacting with the fans. The instance that I remember most was Kirilloff engaging in a conversation with an old lady who clearly didn’t know who he was, as he patiently explained his rehabbing process while also shooting mini basketballs with several little kids. Based on that small sample, Kirilloff will fit in a just fine with “Minnesota Nice” if he does somehow manage to shoot all the way up the big leagues in 2019.
Evaluation of the Rankings: Kirilloff’s monster season comes after a full year off of baseball due to surgery, making him a tougher prospect to rank. This can be seen with the gap in rankings between MLB.com’s placement (9) and Baseball Prospectus’ ranking of 39. I would tend to put Kirilloff closer to Baseball Americas’s ranking of 15, certainly with potential to shoot into the top-5 if he can replicate his 2018 success.
Brusdar Graterol, RHP
Baseball America: 55
Baseball Prospectus: 33
Keith Law (ESPN): 108
Average Ranking: 66
Graterol also received a wide variety of rankings from the four outlets. Like both Lewis and Kirilloff, the young Venezuelan had success at both Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers in 2018. Graterol will be just 20 years of age for most of the 2019 season, and sports a flaming fastball as his best pitch, making him a prime boom-or-bust prospect. He regularly sits between 96-98 on the radar gun and has the potential to touch triple digits. The biggest keys for Graterol will be commanding his pitches and working to perfect his slider. If Graterol can command the zone with his heater and offspeed pitches while dialing in the slider as a consistent punchout pitch, he will also jump up the prospect rankings next season.
Though Graterol is coming off Tommy John surgery previous to the 2018 season, he pitched into the sixth inning in seven of his last eight games in Fort Myers. He also allowed just seven earned runs in his last seven starts, which spanned 40.1 innings (1.56 ERA). His strikeout numbers were solid in that span, averaging just a tick under a strikeout per inning in a league where he was 2.9 years younger than the average player. With momentum going into the 2019 season, it is hard to imagine Graterol falling off a cliff. However, if the 6’1 righty is unable to continue to develop his secondary pitches or has trouble with his control, AA hitters may be able to exposure Graterol’s current weaknesses. On the flip side, if all goes according to plan, Graterol could be hucking his 100 mph heater at Target Field as soon as the 2020 season.
Evaluation of Rankings: Graterol has been excellent in his minor league career with 2.71 ERA, but until we see the fireballing righty stay consistent and healthy for back-to-back seasons, I would side with Baseball America and rank him in the lower 50’s. Graterol’s Baseball Prospectus’ ranking (33) and Keith Law’s Ranking (108) show the differences of opinion on the the Twins’ best power pitching prospect in years - some view him as a potential #1 while others think he is destined for the bullpen. Like Kirilloff and Lewis, Graterol is still young and has certainly has some room to grow, making him an exciting possible ace for the Twins in the future. I’d lean towards saying that he’ll be able to remain a starter and will pair well with Jose Berrios at the top of the Twins’ rotation in the not-too-distant future.
Each of these three prospects shot up lists this past season in two levels of A-ball, so it will be intriguing to see if they can carry over their momentum into a tougher AA setting. If all three are able to post solid campaigns in 2019, it is very likely that they will each be donning a blue, red, and kasota gold jersey at Target Field in 2020 (or will the creams be forced out of retirement by then?).
Looking at other prospects who have the ability to jump into top 100’s next year, a few names stick out. Trevor Larnach had a solid pro debut, and certainly has the potential to mature quickly in his first full season in 2019. Wander Javier is a dark horse (as he didn’t play last season due to injury) who could shoot up the system and overall rankings, profiling as a toolsy shortstop with a potential to have plus hit and power grades in the future. Looking at pitching prospects, both Blayne Enlow and Jorge Alcala have an outside shot at cracking the top 100 list next season. Enlow is thought to have one of the best curveballs in the lower levels of the minors, while Alcala has the ability to throw consistently in the upper 90’s like Graterol. Both would need to find consistency that has evaded them in their minor league careers, but both also have the raw stuff to become a top pitching prospect.
After losing top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios to the big leagues in recent seasons, the Twins farm system has quickly been built back up with some top-end talent as well as solid amount of depth. Each of these players listed above (especially the top three) are worth keeping an eye on in 2019, as their arrival in the big leagues may help open the Twins’ much-discussed “window”.