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Mid-April Minor League Update

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We check in on our prospects after the first week of the minor league season

Tampa Bay Rays v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Since 2017, when I joined Twinkie Town to write about prospects, we have tried a few different ways to get you, our wonderful reader, worthwhile updates on the Twins’ minor league prospects.

It’s a delicate chore, because there is SO much information we could provide you with, but only so much that you are actually interested in.

So instead of trying to give you ALL of the info, this is my first attempt this season to give you the information you need to know about how the Twins’ youngsters have fared on the farm so far.

Triple-A: Rochester Red Wings

I’ll be blunt: The Red Wings have sucked so far this season. Bad pitching, bad hitting. But there are a few bright spots.

Pitching:

Kohl Stewart was the Red Wings opening day starter, and has made two starts so far. One was great, giving up one earned run with eight K’s over five innings. In his second start he gave up a bunch of unearned runs and was pulled early after giving up seven total runs (just one earned). For minor league pitchers I don’t look too far into ERA, because official scoring regarding errors is so hit or miss, but for Stewart I am very intrigued about his K/9, and so far he has 11 strikouts in 7 23 innings.

Lewis Thorpe has struggled mightily, giving up 15 earned runs through 8 23 innings over two starts. That is very bad. He had a rough first two months last year, so maybe he is just a slow starter. Thorpe’s weakness is the lack of a true putout pitch and a penchant for giving up homers. He’s given up just two so far, compared to his overall run total, but he will need to rebound in a big way to prove he is more than just a number five starter. Zach Littell also struggled in his first start (five ER in 4 23 innings). These two are the youngest starters on the Red Wings roster, but pitched well at the level in 2018 and could rebound quickly.

Fernando Romero has been great as a multi-inning “fireman” reliever in a small sample size, striking out six over five innings—although he has walked two and hit two in that span. In a similar role (very popular in the minors) Tyler Duffey has 6 K’s in 4 innings, giving up a single run. Ryan Eades, a former 2nd round pick, has 10 K’s in 6 23 innings, but has given up three runs.

Hitting:

Looking at Twins’ minor league teams, you will notice a trend of incredible depth at one of two similar positions on different teams that create a logjam and limit at bats for an unlucky soul. In Rochester, the depth is in the 1B/LF/DH spot. Luke Raley has performed best in this logjam despite having the fewest plate appearances. He has six hits in 16 at bats (.375) and he belted his first homer on Thursday night. Brent Rooker has notably only seen time in Left Field and DH (but not first base). He has a 13/1 K/BB rate so far this year (bad) and is only hitting .179 (bad) but in his five hits he has two doubles and two homers (good). Rooker has been in the outfield because Zander Wiel and Wilin Rosario have been at first base. Neither have hit well so far, but look for Zander Wiel to rebound after posting a .809 OPS at Double-A last year. He is old for a prospect (26) but can hit. Rosario is 30 years old and I’m not going to give you an update on a 30-year-old in Triple-A.

Outfielder Lamont Wade has done Lamont Wade things so far, taking seven walks in his first eight games to post a .394 OBP. Wade is on the 40-Man Roster, and could see time in the bigs if there were an injury in the outfield.

SS/2B Nick Gordon is still out with “acute gastritis” with no known timetable for return.

Double-A: Pensacola Blue Wahoos

I’ll let you look up what a Blue Wahoo is, but with OF uber-prospect Alex Kirilloff on the injured list with a wrist injury, the Blue Wahoos are lacking that center-stage of excitement for the beginning of their season but have still started 5-2 and boast some pitching to keep an eye on.

Pitching:

Brusdar Graterol has been lights out early for the Blue Wahoos, giving up just one run while striking out 10 over 10 13 innings although he has walked five. Jorge Alcala (from the Ryan Pressley trade) has been the second ace on the team, giving up just two runs in 10 innings with an impressive 10/1 K/BB ratio, considering his control is his biggest weakness. Griffin Jax is now a full time prospect after getting a waiver from his military commitment, and struckout five in 4 23 scoreless innings. Former first round pick (taken before Andrew Benintendi) Tyler Jay has thrown three scoreless innings, but has walked three and struckout one. Jovani Moran doesn’t get much prospect hype as a pure reliever, but he is only 21 and has five K’s in 3 1⁄3 innings so far.

Hitting:

Without Kirilloff, mentionable hitters for the Blue Wahoos are pretty sparse. Luis Arraez has the biggest prospect hype as a tweener 2B/3B. He has a legitimate ability to put the ball in play, but lacks power and has put up a .357/.438/.357 line so far. He is on the 40-man roster and can flat out hit—I like the kid and so should you. Ernie De La Trinidad was a piece in the Eduardo Escobar trade and is only 23, but has started slow with a .530 OPS.

High-A: Fort Myers Miracle

The Miracle are .500 and despite some slow starts, have a few players starting red hot.

Pitching:

Jhoan Duran, the prize of the Eduardo Escobar trade, has been impressive through his first two starts, posting a 9/2 K/BB ratio through nine innings, giving up only two runs on three hits, two walks, and a single home run. Bryan Sammons is more of a farmhand than a true prospect, but is left handed and has 10 scoreless innings through two starts, with a 13/5 K/BB ratio. Tyler Watson (acquired for Brandon Kintzler in 2017), another lefty, struck out seven in his first five innings of work, despite giving up four earned runs.

Reliever Tom Hackimer is back in full force, striking out seven through just 2 23 innings so far, earning two saves. Look for him to speed through the system now that he is healthy.

Hitting:

There are two batches of Twins’ position player prospects in Fort Myers: The Next Wave, and the Fallen Repeats. So far, the Next Wave has struggled. Royce Lewis is the big one to watch, of course, and despite only hitting .174 so far, he has an 8/3 K/BB ratio and four SB in five attempts. Akil Baddoo is another important prospect to watch. He struck out way too much last year, and is back at it again this year with a 8/2 K/BB ratio in seven games, but of his four hits he has a triple and a homer so far. Last year’s first round pick Trevor Larnach started in Fort Myers despite just 24 games at Cedar Rapids last year, which may explain his slow start (.233/.314/.333, but with three doubles out of seven hits). Catcher Ryan Jeffers also surprisingly started in Fort Myers after only playing 36 games in Cedar Rapids last year. He is hitting .095 through 21 at bats... so, yeah. Jose Miranda has a big fan in ESPN’s Keith Law, but has started slowly with .537 OPS through 24 plate appearances. It is notable he did play shortstop to spell Royce Lewis on Wednesday. Ben Rortvedt is the other catcher on the roster, creating another of those common logjams, a .717 OPS doesn’t look impressive, but he has a .267 average (all singles) and a 7/5 K/BB ratio in five games with the defense to get him to the big leagues even with just-decent offensive numbers. The team only has two catchers, so Ron Gardenhire and I both get anxious when Jeffers’ starts at DH with Rortvedt catching.

We have a lot more to be excited about for our Fallen Repeats, who found themselves off of traditional prospect rankings after dreadful 2018’s at this same level. I blatantly do not like 1B Lewin Diaz as a prospect, but he has started his year by going 10 for 21 with a 4/2 K/BB ratio (.476/.520/.524 slash line). 2B/3B Travis Blankenhorn has a bit more upside, and has also started hot with a .350/.458/.600 triple slash line.

Low-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels

The Kernels’ roster lacks the high-end talent of the Miracle and the close-to-the-majors scrum of the Red Wings, but they have a plethora of mid-to-low-level prospects who are worth watching in case one of them really breaks out.

Pitching

The Kernels run a six man rotation, which is common for the level. Of those six pitchers, the rotation consists of two high-level prospects and two low-level “maybe” prospects that I am very excited about. The high-end pair consists of Blayne Enlow and Jordan Balazovic. Enlow was the Twins’ big-money third round pick in 2017. He struggled in his first start, giving up six runs in two innings, but rebounded in his second appearance and struck out five while giving up a single run in five innings. Balazovic was ranked by Keith Law as the #102 prospect in all of baseball this spring, and has lived up to the hype so far. Through 9 23 innings in his first two starts, Balazovic has a 18/2 K/BB ratio while giving up three runs. The second pair of prospects in the rotation consists of Luis Rijo and Cole Sands. Rijo came over in the Lance Lynn trade (lol) and struck out six in his first five innings of work while giving up three runs (two earned). He is small for a starting pitcher, but is just 20 years old and has great control. Cole Sands was the Twins fifth round pick in 2018 and never appeared in a professional game last year due to injury. His skill got him starting in Low-A this year despite never throwing a pitch in Rookie ball, and he proved why in his first start with five innings of no-hit baseball, striking out eight while walking one and hitting one. Sands is a 6’3” 225lb righty that sits 92-94 mph and hits 96 with a legitimate breaking ball/changeup combo and solid control. I like the kid, and he may reach High-A before he turns 22 in July.

Hitting:

The Kernels lineup has two big log jams and some interesting low-level prospects to keep an eye on.

The biggest name on the roster is Yunior Severino, who signed with the Twins after being severed from the Braves due to their sketchy prospect signing. Severino is playing second base every day and off to an okay start with a .269/.367/.269 line.

The logjams start in the outfield, with Tray Cabbage, Gilbert Celestino, DaShawn Kiersey, and Jacob Pearson all vying for playing time. Cabbage is the elder statesman of the group and, as such, is off to the best start. Drafted way back in 2015, Cabbage turns 22 in early May but is off to a .440/.462/.720 start. DaShawn Kiersey, who is 10 days younger than Cabbage, was drafted 3 years later, and is slow to start with a .507 OPS in his first season above Rookie Ball. Kiersey has legitimate skill, and if he remains healthy he could move up fast. Celestino came over from Houston last year and is also starting slow (.154/.185/.192) but I like his skill set and expect him to move fairly quickly. Bringing up the rear is Pearson, who came over from the Angels after the 2017 season for International Slot money that ultimately went to the signing of Shohei Otani. Pearson struggled mightily in 2018 and is off to a measly .100/.143/.150 so far.

The other logjam for the Kernels is at catcher, handled by Ben Rodriguez and David Banuelos. Rodriguez is 6’6’ and plays 1B half the time. I have no idea if he can actually catch, but he hit well last year and his 261/.292/.261 line early this year shouldn’t stick for long. Banuelos is legitimate catcher, with backup/AAAA catcher potential. He couldn’t hit last year and can’t hit this year, off to a 100/.250/.100 line. If he finds enough of a bat, he will move up slowly and be that 28 year old rookie catcher who stays in the league for a decade due to his defense. And yes, if you were wondering, these two are the only two catchers on the Kernels roster, a Ron Gardenhire nightmare if I’ve ever seen one.

Thoughts

Seven games is a miniscule sample size and not much to draw on overall. The Twins have a bevy of prospects injured to start the year (Kirilloff, Gordon, Gonsalves, Maciel, Wells, Wells) which is as much of a story as the early numbers for the players who are actually on the field.

The big things to watch, in my opinion, are the role-players currently in Rochester as well as the overall strength of the Miracle and Kernels. Most of the players drafted and acquired by the current regime are playing on those Single-A teams (save Rooker and Alcala), and if just a few of them break out, the farm system will be one to watch for many years.