With the minor league season ending in early September, I was a bit worried about this piece, since I was moving that week and didn’t have my computer set up. Luckily, the continued success of Luis Arraez and sudden appearance of Randy Dobnak meant enough prospects were playing well enough that it made enough sense to delay this report until the end of the Major League Season.
We are only going to cover the upper level hitters today, from the Majors down to Double-A Pensacola, including players who were considered prospects at the beginning of the year.
We can’t start this thing without talking about Luis Arraez, whose bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline were a perfect complement to the heavy hitters of the Bomba Squad through the dog days of summer. Remember that Arraez started this season all the way down in Double-A, in just his second year back from missing all but 3 games due to an ACL injury in 2017.
All the 22-year old did was hit. In 38 games in Pensacola, he hit for a .342/.415/.397 line before being briefly promoted to Rochester where he hit .348/.397/.409 in 16 games.
After being called up to the Twins he ultimately hit even better, with a .334/.399/.439 line thanks to his power undoubtedly being impacted by the live ball (4 homers in 326 MLB at bats this year despite just 6 homers in 1,585 Minor League at bats throughout his career).
While Arraez has never been known for his defense, his positional flexibility kept him on the big league roster and impacting the game on a nearly nightly basis. He logged 390 innings at second base with lackluster results (-4.9 UZR or -22.4 UZR/150 per Fangraphs) but was pretty decent in small sample sizes at third (0.6 UZR in 130 innings or 7.5 UZR/150) and in left field (0.3 UZR in 161 innings or 3.7 UZR/150). Of course the sample sizes are small, but he was better than a liability for a good chunk of his games.
While Arraez’s end-of-year injury might limit him in the playoffs, his emergence should allow the Twins to move on from Jonathan Schoop after this season. The trio of Arraez, Marwin Gonzalez, and Ehire Adrianza could easily handle the majority of games at 2B while also providing coverage at third, short, and in the corner outfield spots.
I’m going to briefly mention Astudillo because A) he was technically a rookie at the beginning of the year and B) people are still infatuated with him. Luis Arraez can’t play catcher, but he is far more worthy of our love as a slightly pudgy guy who plays all over and never strikes out.
Astudillo has unique skills but flat out swings too much. His defense at catcher isn’t good enough to support his .268/.299/.379 slash line and there are times where not swing would be far more beneficial than the weak contact he often produces.
I like Astudillo as a third catcher who is a great teammate and who can play a few other spots well enough to earn at bats if he is hitting well. With the 26th man becoming permanent in 2020, Astudillo’s unique skill set might be worth a spot on a team built on positional flexibility. I don’t want him as my second catcher, or my second anything for that matter, but he makes sense as the third guy on a depth chart at a few important positions.
LaMonte Wade Jr.
I’ve always liked LaMonte Wade Jr because he is exactly who he is, and no one has ever thought anything different. When he was drafted he was seen as a 4th OF with a good eye but no power. Throughout the minors he was seen as a future 4th OF with a good eye and no power. And for a short while this year he was a legitimate 4th OF with a good eye and no power.
In 69 (nice) MLB plate appearances, the rookie only hit .196 but he had a .348 OBP and a passable .375 slugging percentage, when compared to his average.
In 87 games in the minors split between three levels (primarily at Triple-A but with rehab assignments below) he hit .240/.382/.347.
The Twins seem to like Wade as a CF more than most prospect guys would agree, but he played there mostly out of need and because his bat doesn’t profile that well in the corners. I’m sure he will start in Triple-A next year and be an injury-call up when needed in 2020, which is fitting for his skills and useful for the team.
Gordon had a frustrating 2019, missing all of April and all but 2 games in August and September. The good news is that he he hit pretty well when he was on the field, thanks in part to juiced ball at the Triple-A level. In 70 games Gordon hit .298/.342/.459. Those are great numbers on their own, but in both 2017 and 2018 Gordon started to struggle mightily right around mid season, which means this solid year may only have been his traditional first half hot streak.
Gordon’s ability to stick at SS has long been a question in part due to his limited range, and he ended up playing far more games at 2B than usual this year, with 30 of his 70 games coming at 2nd.
Any potential of Gordon being our SS/2B of the future was usurped this year, first by Jorge Polanco’s extension and stellar year, and then again by Luis Arraez’s wonderful season. Gordon, who has been young-for-the-level every year of his career until now, will be 24 at the beginning of next year without a Major League at bat and three lackluster seasons in a row. He’s already on the 40-man roster and likely safe to stay there unless the Twins are hyper-confident in Royce Lewis’s ability to fill in if Jorge Polanco were to miss substantial time in 2020.
With Triple-A adopting the MLB baseball, no one in the Twins system was poised for a bigger year than Brent Rooker, whose epic man-strength is perfect for launching long dingers. Unfortunately, Rooker was plagued by the injury bug like so many of his teammates across the organization.
Rooker started April pretty cold with a .214/.279/.464. He hit 4 homers but struggled otherwise, with 28 strikeouts in 16 games compared to 5 walks. But he missed the end of the month with injury only to come back for the middle of May where his fortune continued, hitting .235/.278/.500 in 8 May contests with 2 homers in those games but 15 strikeouts compared to 1 walk before another injury.
When Rooker came back healthy in June, he really took off. In 30 June games he hit a crazy .337/.507/.612 line with 9 doubles and 6 homers. While he struck out 39 times, he also walked 27 times. He cooled off a bit in June with a .275/.326/.475 line and a 13/2 K/BB rate in 11 games.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Rooker’s season is the fact that he didn’t play a single game at 1B. Rooker has always been seen as decently athletic for his size, but he is not known for good OF instincts or routes. I don’t know if this means he is growing as an OF or if he is just that bad at 1B.
Had Rooker stayed healthy and mashing, he very well could have earned a call up in September. Instead, he will return to Triple-A in the spring and hope to impress enough to earn a call up mid-season.
Luke Raley came to the Twins as part of the Brian Dozier trade in 2018, and was arguably the “big name” in the trade before the emergence of Devin Smeltzer.
Raley didn’t start super hot for the Red Wings, with a .243/.317/.459 line in 20 April games. But he absolutely smashed the ball in May, with a .385/.429/.596 line in 13 May games before he fractured his ankle. He ended up with 5 games for the GCL team as part of a rehab assignment, where he hit .368. Raley also got to go the the Arizona Fall League, and in his first 7 games he is struggling to a .154/.233/.269 line so far.
He needs a 40-man spot for 2020, and with guys like Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach having played in Double-A in 2019, his spot in the organization may not be safe. He offers a bit more potential as the 5th Outfielder in the minors than LaMonte Wade Jr., but also lacks the high floor that Wade’s OBP skills represent.
You may not have heard of Zander Wiel. After all, he is an older “prospect” who will be 27 to start the season in 2020. But the kid has put together two strong seasons in a row. After hitting .297/.367/.442 in 2018 (primarily at Double-A but with 15 games in Triple-A), he put together a solid .254/.320/.514 this year in 126 games in Rochester with 40 doubles, 5 triples, and 24 home runs. He struckout 158 times with 40 walks, and primarily played first base with just a handful of games in the outfield.
Wiel becoming an everyday big leaguer all of a sudden at 27 isn’t likely, but Nelson Cruz had a similar path and these sorts of players are one of the reasons teams like the Cardinals have been competitive for decades. Wiel is eligible for the Rule-5 Draft.
Let’s start off with the name on everyone’s mind. Lewis flat out did not have a good season offensively in 2019.
In 94 games at High-A Fort Myers, he hit just .238/.289/.376. He carried a miserable 51/7 K/BB rate in the months of May and June, but he rebounded a bit in July, hitting .273/.341/.481 in 19 games that month with a 18/7 K/BB rate in those games.
His rebound month in July earned him an early promotion to Pensacola, where he posted a similar overall line, hitting .231/.291/.358 in 33 games.
What went wrong with Lewis this year? There was simply too much going on. He still employs a high leg kick, which seems even higher and more time consuming than ever before. His hands also seem to have more action pre-swing than years past, which combined with the leg kick create too many moving pieces to regularly be able to make contact with offspeed pitches. The Twins were pretty hands-off throughout the season, electing to let Lewis try to overcome the issues himself instead of trying to overhaul his swing midseason.
There is good news though. As bad as his season was, he smashed a .400/.478/.650 line in 5 playoff games and has started hot in the Arizona Fall League with a .346/.400/.808 line in his first 7 games there. And keep in mind that Lewis will likely start in Double-A next season at 20 years old, before turning 21 in early June.
Lewis was praised for his ability to improve his defense in 2018. I’ve seen reports on both sides in 2019, with some like Keith Law saying he will never be a SS, and others thinking that he has legitimately improved his defense yet again.
In his last regular season game this year he started at 2B and finished the game at 3B (where he played his junior year of high school). In the Arizona Fall League he has split time at 3B and CF, where his 70-grade speed plays up. We don’t know if this is a matter of stacked rosters in the AFL, the Twins looking to move Lewis around in case his bat lifts him to the Majors in 2020, or if the Twins are out on his defense at short, but I’d guess its the first two instead of the last one.
It was an off year for sure, but there is still plenty of promise.
If Kirilloff had been able to repeat his 2018, he would easily be on the Twins postseason roster. Instead, he missed all of April with a wrist injury and then missed a chunk of games in June due to the same wrist. Wrist injuries tend to linger all season, like CJ Cron’s thumb issue, so Kirilloff’s production this season should be seen with a bit of an asterisk.
He ended up hitting .283/.343/.413 in 94 games with 18 doubles, 2 triples, and 9 homers along with a a 76/29 K/BB. The lack of power isn’t something I’m worried about with due to the wrist, and I’m glad that his BB% went up from 6.7% in 2018 to 7.1% in 2019. That isn’t a huge jump, and it might not even be outside of standard deviation, but it is good to see that Kirilloff had the discipline to take more walks while he didn’t have his normal strength, instead of overcompensating and swinging too much to make up for it (cough*Eddie Rosario*cough).
Kirilloff also saw his first professional action at 1B this season, as a bid to increase his positional flexibility for the future. Kirilloff ultimately played 35 games at 1B compared to 41 in his normal RF and 8 in LF.
A healthy season from Kirilloff in 2019 might have meant no CJ Cron in 2020, but he will still have the chance to earn his time in 2020. He will only be 22 all season.
The Falvine front office has been known to be aggressive with prospects, and Larnach shows how beneficial that can be. In his draft year in 2018, Larnach only amassed 102 plate appearances in Low-A Cedar Rapids after 75 in Rookie-League Elizabethton. Still, Falvine opted to start Larnach in High-A Fort Myers and it paid off in a big way. In 361 plate appearances in Fort Myers he smashed .316/382/.459 with 26 doubles and 6 homers. He earned his promotion to Double-A and continued to hit with a .295/.387/.455 line. His BB% got better at the higher level, with a 12.2 BB% compared to a 9.7 BB% at High-A.
Larnach has almost exclusively played RF in the pros, finally getting 14 starts in LF this season as he gets closer to the big leagues.
Larnach will be 23 in 2020 and could easily see time with the Twins next year unless he is used as trade bait this winter.
After a great 2016, Blankenhorn shot up Twins prospects rankings a bit. A mediocre 2017 and dreadful 2018 plummeted his stock, only for Blankenhorn to rebuild some of that stock this season.
He started with a solid month at High-A Fort Myers, his second stint at the level. In 15 games there, he hit a respectable .269/.377/.404. That earned his promotion to Pensacola where he absolutely took off, hitting .294/.324/.507 before the Double-A All Star Break. he cooled down heavily in June, hitting just .259 but maintaining a strong OPS thanks to 6 homers in 26 games that month. He rebounded in July, hitting .354/.380/583, only for an injury to take away the last half of the month. he struggled again through the dog days of August, hitting just .200/.218/.329 through 21 games that month
Blankenhorn spent most of his time in 2019 at 2B, but he doesn’t really profile there due to a lack of range. He saw 24 total games in LF and just 2 at 3B, the position he was drafted as.
Blankenhorn will be 23 for most of 2020 and turns 24 in early August. At this point he seems destined for a bench or platoon role in the era of positional flexibility.
Jeffers exploded onto the professional scene in 2018 hitting .344/.444/.502 through his first 64 games. He didn’t hit nearly as well in 2019, but did well enough to be pushed aggressively to Pensacola.
Outside of a great month of May (.315/.370/.511) he actually struggled at High-A, with just a .256/.330/.402 line overall. Upon his promotion he fared quite better, hitting .287/.374/.483 through 24 games at Double-A.
The biggest question for Jeffers at this point isn’t his ability to make contact, but his ability to stay behind the plate. In 74 games behind the plate in 2019 he allowed 63 stolen bases and threw out 22. That is a 25.8% CS percentage which is below average but not miserable.
If he can continue to improve his defense a la Mitch Garver, Jeffers could develop into a solid rotational catcher. He turns 23 in early June and is likely to return to Pensacola to begin 2020.
Rortvedt had some hot streaks in 2019, but ultimately remains who he is: a great defensive catcher with mediocre-at-best offensive abilities.
He started April hot hot hot, hitting .250/.375/.467 through 18 games but struggled to a .577 OPS in a small 6 game sample size in May before his promotion to Double-A. he started hot at this new level, with a .351/.455/.595 line in 11 games in may at the new level. A dreadful June (.193/.299/.253) followed before he returned to a level of mediocrity in July (.237/.286/.373) and five August games (.222/.364/.278) before he went on the IL for the remainder of the season. In all he ended up with a split-driven line at Double-A, posting a solid .746 OPS against righties but hitting a dreadful .488 against lefties.
Where Rortvedt shines is defense. In 55 games behind the plate, Rortvedt through out 30 of 58 potential baserunners, an asinine 51.7% Caught Stealing Rate. Don’t run on this guy.
Rortvedt’s offense seems to be a few years away from the majors, even if he is heavily platooned. He is only 22 for all of 2020, and I could see him with the Twins in 2022 or so, when Mitch Garver would be roughly 30 and likely in need of a solid defensive backup.
Miranda managed a single regular season game at the end of the Double-A season, and played for the Blue Wahoos in the playoffs, so he gets named here even though his numbers will mostly reflect his time in Fort Myers.
He didn’t do all that well. He managed a .248/.299/.364 line, but only struck out 54 times in 118 games. He did start producing as he got used to the level, hitting .280/.327/.430 in 26 games at the level in the month of August before his promotion to Double-A.
For what it’s worth, if you include his 1 regular season and 5 playoff games, Miranda hit .417 at the Double-A level through 24 at-bats.
Miranda played most of his time at 3B with some time at 2B and the occasional emergency start at SS to spell Royce Lewis.
Miranda doesn’t turn 22 until June 29th of 2020, and still has plenty of upside as a contact-focused 3B prospect with decent defense.
By and large, the Twins top hitting prospects faltered compared to their successes in 2018. There is no real way to tiptoe around that. Outside of Luis Arraez and Trevor Larnach, pretty much all of the players who truly hit well had parts of their seasons wiped out by injury.
But the Twins are still in a position to max aggressive promotion decisions with patience. Outside of Rooker and Gordon, the Twins top prospects will be at age-appropriate levels in 2020 or even young for those levels and within a solid month or two of being promoted to the big league team.
Next we will go over how the Twins prospects fared at the lower levels, including our most recent draft picks.