It’s been about two weeks since the last Minor League update, and some streaks have ended while others have begun. Here is the need-to-know on the Twins minor league teams
Triple-A: Rochester Red Wings
The Red Wings have still been bad, but they have had some solid performances here and there and boast some insane power in their lineup.
Kohl Stewart had a poor performance for the big league team in his call up, which mirrors his performance so far in the minors, with just one of his three starts in the minors lasting 5 full innings.
Last time I said that Lewis Thorpe would need to rebound in a big way after an absolutely dreadful start, and rebound he has. After giving up 15 earned runs over 8.2 innings in his first two starts, Thorpe has been a different pitcher since. The Australian Lefty has thrown 13.2 innings in his last two starts and has struck out 24 batters (12 in each start!!!!) while only walking one and giving up just 7 hits and 3 earned runs. Hopefully this run continues. Zach Littell is another guy who has rebounded a bit after a rough first outing. In his next two starts, the righty has gone 10.2 innings with 17 strikeouts against 4 walks and 11 hits while allowing 4 runs. Chase De Jong has continued being miserable after his yips-esque appearance for the Twins in New York, with an 11.12 ERA so far for the Red Wings.
Fernando Romero been up and down both in terms of roster moves and quality appearances. Of six appearances across both levels so far, he has been lights out in three and real bad in the other three. He is back in the majors, so let’s see how long. Tyler Duffey is a guy who gets lots of flack for many reasons, some of it justified. But across 11.1 innings this year he has given up 2 earned runs and struck out 18—granted he gave up 4 unearned runs in the majors because of his own error. Jake Reed had a bad first outing (3 ER in 1 inning) but has been good since, and has a 16/2 K/BB ratio over 9 innings this season. Matt Magill has been great in his rehab assignment, giving up 1 earned run over 5.1 innings with 8 Ks and 1 walk. Gabriel Moya has also returned, with 5 K’s over 2.2 innings between Pensacola and Rochester so far. Andrew Vasquez has been dreadful. He has 9 K’s over 3.1 innings, but also has given up 7 walks, 6 hits, and 6 earned runs.
In the last minor league update I completely forgot to mention Randy Cesar, who came over as a minor league free agent from the Houston Astros organization. Cesar has been on fire, off to a .311/.364/.541 slash line with 8 doubles and two homers along with 14 RBI. He has been playing third base for the Red Wings because of the log jam of players at first base, and he has been dreadful. He has 8 errors in 10 starts and another error at first base in a single game there. He is only 24 the entire season, so maybe he can get more time at first and can replace CJ Cron in the future? Or maybe he is just a quadruple-A guy.
LaMonte Wade has turned it on a bit. He has a 4/9 K/BB ratio the last ten games while also hitting .324 in that span. Overall he has a .298/.444/.386 slash line which is very on-brand for the future 4th outfielder. Brent Rooker had a 5 game stretch where he hit .294 with two home runs, but is still struggling with 26 strikeouts in 14 games against just 4 walks. He is hitting it hard (2 doubles and 4 home runs for a .481 SLG) but isn’t making contact enough. Zander Wiel has shown even more power than Rooker with 3 doubles and 4 homers of his 11 hits, but is hitting just .204 while seeing time extensively as a 1B/DH. Luke Raley started hot and is slumping a bit now, hitting just .184 in his last ten games, although he does have 3 doubles and 2 homers on the year.
SS/2B Nick Gordon is still out with “acute gastritis” with no known timetable for return.
Double-A: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Awesome pitching has propelled the Blue Wahoos to a 14-6 record despite having the least amount of prospect hype for position players for any of the Twins minor league teams.
Brusdar Graterol continues to be the big man on campus in the pitching staff. He did struggle in his last outing (4 earned runs and 4 walks over 5 innings) but that only bumped his season ERA up to 2.01 and he still has a 24/10 K/BB ratio over 22.1 innings so far this season, with a WHIP at just 0.94. Jorge Alcala also struggled in his most recent start (5 runs in 5 innings, despite an 8/1 K/BB ratio) but is another bright spot arm, with a 3.92 ERA clouding his excellent 25/3 K/BB ratio and 1.02 WHIP over 20.2 innings. Griffin Jax continues to pitch lights out, having given up just one run over 22 innings while giving up just 14 hits and 7 walks. He has only struck out 18, but there is a lot to like here.
The starter that I have failed to give love to so far might be the one we need to keep an eye on most, lefty Devin Smeltzer. Smeltzer came over last year from the Dodgers in the Brian Dozier trade and has excellent this season in a return to a starting role, after pitching for the Lookouts out of the bullpen last season. This year he has gone 25 innings over 4 starts while giving up just 15 hits and 2 earned runs. He also has an insane 30/3 K/BB ration with 1 HBP. Smeltzer can sit 89-92 and hit 93, but it plays well thanks to a deceptive delivery and a great changeup to pair it with. I think he is going to get some run as a starter in the Twins system, although he is blocked slightly by the sheer depth of starters the Twins have at Triple-A (the Red Wings will have a rotation of Stewart, Littell, Thorpe, De Jong, and Gonsalves, when the lefty returns from the IL). He could move up as a reliever and earn a spot on the big league team fairly quickly if the Twins needed him to. He turns 24 in September
The Blue Wahoos have two primary relievers who are worth keeping an eye on. Former first round pick Tyler Jay has pitched well despite a 6/4 K/BB ratio over 5.2 innings. He is 25 already, although plenty of relievers break in at 26 or 27 years of age. Jovani Moran, on the other hand, just turned 22 on the 24th of April and now has 19 K’s against 7 walks through 10 innings and 5 appearances. He has a decent fastball but isn’t a true flamethrower. Like Smeltzer, Moran’s combo with his changeup is his bread and butter and it means he can face righties too. I’m excited to see what he can do as he keeps moving up the ladder.
Still without Alex Kirilloff, the Blue Wahoos offense has been mediocre at best. Luis Arraez has slapped the ball around quite a bit, leading to a .321 average, but only has a double and a triple out of his 25 hits. Caleb Hamilton is a 24 year old catcher that has broken out in a small sample size so far, mashing a .856 OPS through 14 games.
High-A: Fort Myers Miracle
The Miracle have managed a 12-8 record to start their season thanks to stellar pitching despite poor offensive performances from important prospects.
After starting the season brilliantly, Jhoan Duran has been mediocre in his last two starts, going 8.1 innings with 7 K’s, 4 walks, and giving up 5 earned runs. Bryan Sammons continues to pitch well, finally giving up his first earned run in his 4th start. He has a 23/10 K/BB ratio through his first 21/1 innings. He turns 24 this weekend so he will have to move up the ladder fast to gain any semblance of true prospect status. Tyler Watson has been good in his two most recent starts, going 11.2 innings with a 10/2 K/BB ratio and giving up just three runs. He only turns 22 in May. Bailey Ober is another guy, like Sammons, who is old for the level, but has been lights out enough to force me to talk about him: the 12th round pick in the 2017 draft has thrown 6 innings in each of his first 3 stars for a total of 18 innings and has given up just 13 hits and 2 walks while striking out 21 and giving up no runs. He may be ready for Double-A.
Reliever Tom Hackimer is another guy ready for the next level, with 19 K’s over 10 innings through 6 appearances. He has given up 1 hit, walked 3, and hit 3 batters. He turns 25 soon, but has the stuff and numbers to end up in Triple-A by the end of the year.
It is far too early to worry about phenom prospect Royce Lewis, but he hasn’t played well yet this year. He is hitting .203 on the season and has struck out 12 times (compared to 3 walks) over his last 10 games. His hits come in bunches (6 hits over 3 games from 4/13-4/15, and 4 hits over two games from 4/20-4/22) but struggles between the mini-hot streaks. When Akil Baddoo hits the ball he is hitting it hard, managing a .406 slugging percentage despite a measly .203 batting average. He is taking walks, but about 5 percent less often than his overall clip last year, which would be a significant negative trend if it continues Of all the struggling prospects in Fort Myers, catcher Ryan Jeffers is the one turning his fortunes around, hitting .286 over his last ten games. Trevor Larnach is right behind Jeffers, hitting .268 over his last ten games with 6 of his 18 hits on the year going as doubles. He isn’t walking as much as he can, but that should even out as he gets used to the level. Jose Miranda is still struggling with a .615 OPS through 17 games, but he also started slow last year, so maybe it’s just a trend for him. Ben Rortvedt the one true prospect who has been worth his weight so far, with an .817 OPS through 14 games and a 10-10 K/BB ratio. He has hit just .229 in his last ten games with 4 of his 8 hits coming in one game, but has a 5-6 K/BB ratio in that time, so at least he is taking good at bats
Lewin Diaz turned some heads (including mine) by starting the year 10 for 21, but he has returned to earth a bit by going a still-solid 9/32 (.281) since then. Known for his power, Diaz has just 2 extra base hits so far (both doubles), and just 3 walks in 56 plate appearances. Travis Blankenhorn is another guy who started hot and is now slowing back down, although his walk rate is up a bit this year, and he is hitting the ball hard (4 doubles and 1 homer out of 14 hits) when he makes contact.
Low-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels
The Kernels’ are just a game under .500 and have a few hot starts worth watching.
Jordan Balazovic has continued his hot start with another one run game, and now has a 26/3 K/BB ratio over 14.2 innings giving up just 4 earned runs on 12 hits, the 3 walks, and a hit batter. Blayne Enlow has responded well after his poor first start, with an 11/4 K/BB ratio and giving up 2 earned runs in his last 11 innings over 2 starts. Cole Sands continues to look good. He had a rough outing on April 12th but a solid response on the 19th and has an 18/7 K/BB ratio over 14 innings while giving up 3 runs so far this year. Josh Winder was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft and is another one of those guys that has the ceiling of a 5th starter or a bullpen guy, but likely ends up as minor league depth. Either way, he has been strong so far with an 18-5 K/BB ratio over 15 innings with 5 earned runs allowed. He is a big righty (6’5” 210 lbs) with a fastball that sits 90-92 and a decent cutter/slider. Luis Rijo hasn’t pitched great so far this season, to the tune of a 4.20 ERA through 15 innings, bu he is still only 20 until September.
If you read the last minor league update then you read that the Kernels have a logjam in the outfield, with 4+ prospects having to share time. That remains true, but the Kernels have swapped pieces a bit.
Gabriel Maciel came over last year from Arizona and was “injured” to start the year, but has come back with a vengeance. The speedster has hit .440/.548/.560 over his first 7 games with a 2/6 K/BB ratio, 1 2B, 1 3B, and 7 runs scored in the seven games. With little power in his game now, Maciel projects as a 4th outfielder type, but maybe he adds some and becomes a regular major leaguer. He is 20 years old for the entire 2019 season.
There has been no shortage of power for Trey Cabbage, who is about a week away from his 22nd birthday. Through 17 games Cabbage is mashing .339/.431/.677 with a double, a triple, and six home runs. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in Fort Myers soon.
Gilberto Celestino is the highest-regarded hitting prospect on the Kernels but continues to struggle to a .169/.234/.186 line, although he has stolen four bases. Jacob Pearson is struggling alongside him with a .151/.207.245 line. DaShawn Kiersey and Jean Carlos Arias, the 5th and 6th outfielders on the team, found themselves on the injured list around the time Maciel came off it... curious.
Second baseman Yunior Severino has found himself on the injured list after a decent start, and has been replaced in the lineup by Yeltsin Encarnacion. The second baseman quietly put up a solid .299/.350/.377 line in Rookie ball last season and turns 21 in June. He has had a slow start with a .494 OPS so far. Michael Davis was a 24th round pick in 2018 and mashed a .306/.343/.567 line last year while playing 42 of his 45 games in Cedar Rapids. He returned there despite being 23 for this season and started where he left off with a .295/.396/.455 line although he just got sent to the injured list (I think this one is legitimate). Andrew Bechtold was an overslot pick in the 2017 draft with the hopes he would quickly rise up the ladder. He was dreadful last year and hasn’t started hot this year, with a .242/.319/.355 line looking like its just a good week away from respectability, but a dreadful 25/7 K/BB ratio is something that doesn’t bode well.
Along with 6 outfielders and 2 second baseman, the Kernels also boast 3 catchers even though 2 of them are actually first baseman. Chris Williams was an 8th round pick a year ago and has mashed a .238/.385/.500 line so far with a 9/10 K/BB ratio and 2 doubles and 3 homers in 13 games, with 5 at catcher. Ben Rodriguez has struggled mightily so far, with just a .422 OPS despite getting quite a bit of playing time. David Banuelos is the only one who can stick at catcher, and he isn’t much of a hitter, with a .551 OPS so far, just getting back from the IL.
To be honest there is a bit to worry about. Alex Kirilloff hasn’t played a game as we near May, and I haven’t heard any positive news even though the injury wasn’t supposed to keep him out long. Stephen Gonsalves and Nick Gordon have also stayed on the IL with little word of their return. Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, and Akil Baddoo are the teams best hitting prospects and they have all gotten off to slow starts (not to mention Severino, Miranda, Celestino, and Jeffers in the same vein). Major league call up arms like Kohl Stewart and Fernando Romero have also struggled.
But overall, the pitching in the system has been strong so far. Maybe that is an early-season fad as hitters get back into the swing of things, but its easy to like the lines put up so far by the likes of Graterol, Duran, Enlow, Balazovic, Alcala, Smeltzer, and Jax. Lewis Thorpe and Zach Littell look to be returning to form, both being on the 40-man roster and a call-up away from helping the big league club.
We are still at the point where one good week can turn a season around, so be sure to check in for our next minor league update!