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Twins Early June Minor League Update

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With injuries piling up, who is picking up the slack?

Minnesota Twins Photo Day Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Triple-A: Rochester Red Wings

Pitching:

Kohl Stewart was recently overlooked for a Major League call up, in favor of Devin Smeltzer, as much because of how the schedule played out as anything else. Stewart is still failing to show the consistent improvement he needs to stick with the big league team. In his last three starts in Rochester he has throwin 15.1 innings, given up 9 earned runs, and struck out 12 while walking 8.

Lewis Thorpe, on the other hand, seems to be turning that corner a bit. Since his rough outing on May 4th where he gave up 5 earned runs in a single inning of work, Thorpe has thrown 26.1 innings and given up 10 earned runs while striking out 32 and only walking 3. That K/BB rate is impressive in its own right and is a good sign compared to the struggles Stephen Gonsalves had throwing strikes as he climbed the ladder the last few years.

Devin Smeltzer got his first cup of coffee in the bigs and did pretty well, with an epic performance and a so-so one. He will likely continue to get the chance to start, even if his arm would benefit the big league team in the bullpen.

Chase De Jong came back from the IL and it seemed to solve the mini-yips he had, if only a little. In 8 innings since his return he has gone 8 innings while giving up 3 earned runs while both striking out and walking three. Baby steps.

Sean Poppen has seemingly popped-up out of nowhere (you like that pun?). He pitched alright for the Blue Wahoos for much of the year but was recently brought up to the Red Wings and has had some success, with a 1.57 ERA in his first 23 innings at Triple-A with a 25/11 K/BB rate. Poppen has had some control issues this year, but it seems to be a bit of a trade as his K rate is far higher than his career norms as well.

Zach Littell seems to be a bullpen arm full time now, after that stint in the bullpen for the big league team. In his last three games for the Red Wings he has thrown 5.2 innings, struck out 8 while walking only one, allowing a single hit, and giving up only 1 run. He earned his second career save in that stretch, so the move to the bullpen came in full force. I’ve always liked Littell and hope he can positively impact the team in some way, the only thing I’m questioning at this point is what happened to his curveball. The pitch was generally considered to be an above-average (55) to plus (60) grade weapon but he seemingly scrapped it this year, only throwing fastballs and cutters while with the big league team so far.

Fernando Romero has both success and failure in short spurts. In a three appearance stretch recently he went 6.1 innings only giving up 1 run with 4 K’s and just 1 walk. In the two appearances flanking those outings, though, he gave up 7 earned runs in 3.2 innings. His season ERA went from 4.98 to 5.70 after his most recent appearance. Trevor Hildenberger is similarly failing to right the ship, giving up 3 earned runs in 4.2 innings in the month of June so far. Gabriel Moya just hasn’t been on this year. He has 5 appearances as the Red Wings opener, but is ineffective no matter the inning, with a 7.82 ERA in his last 10 appearances and 12.2 innings. He has 15 K and 7 BB in that span. Andrew Vasquez has been in the same pattern as most of the rest of his teammates, having gotten his ERA down to 5.79 as of May 16th, only to give up 3 earned runs over 0.1 innings his next appearance. He has gotten the ERA back down to 6.14 on the year but has 14 walks in 14.2 innings. Jake Reed has actually had a pretty good stretch going. Since May 19th Reed has thrown 14.1 innings and only given up 2 earned runs. He has 16 K’s to 6 walks in that time. Had he not thrown the day before, he might be the guy up right now instead of Ryan Eades.

Hitting:

Nick Gordon is finally healthy and playing regularly. He has an 8 game hit streak to start the month of June, but is getting so many at bats as the leadoff hitter of a hot hitting team, that he is still only managing a .250/.300/.361 line in those 8 games. On the year he is at .284/.324/.441 and if he can maintain that sort of line all year and avoid his historical second half drop off, he might be able to earn the starting 2B job next spring if Jonathon Schoop moves on.

Luis Arraez is back after his whirlwind cup of coffee with the Twins. And wouldn’t you know it, he is doing #LuisArraezThings for the Red Birds. In seven June games for Rochester he is hitting .360/.452/.440 with 5 walks and no strikeouts.

Brent Rooker has come back from the IL with a vengeance and is making up for lost time. In 10 June games he is hitting .424/.587/.606 with 3 doubles and a homer. He has struck out 12 times in that span but also walked 10 times. He has 55 K’s (!!) in 34 games this year but now that he is healthy he seams to be righting the ship a bit. Even with that miserable K rate he has a .890 OPS on the season with 7 homers in 34 games.

Jake Cave had a rough time re-adjusting to minor league life initially, but has acted as a catalyst to Rochester’s recent turn around, hitting .372/.404/.791 in June with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homers. He is playing like someone who wants to get himself back to the Majors.

Lamont Wade continues to struggle. He hit .182/.333/.307 in the month of May and is off to a .200/.317/.257 start to June through 9 games. This comes after a .288/.436/.356 April.

Randy Cesar also had a great April followed by a poor May, but is starting to turn it around a bit in June, with a .278/.409/.278 line in 5 June games, seeing his playing time drop a bit with Rooker and Arraez back. Zander Wiel had a great May (.287/.380/.414) and is a bit cold to start June, hitting .200/.333/.371 to start with a 14/5 K/BB rate in 9 games.

After a super hot start to the year, Luke Raley will miss a few months with a broken ankle.

Double-A: Pensacola Blue Wahoos

Pitching:

Brusdar Graterol, the crown jewel of the Twins’ pitching prospects, finds himself on the IL “indefinitely” with a Shoulder Impingement. After starting the year so strong this is a huge blow for Graterol and the Twins. Graterol has already had TJ surgery as a teenager, and his violent windup has long worried evaluators that he will only be a reliever. Let’s hope he pitches again this year. He only turns 21 in August and is thus well ahead of the development curve for someone his age, but getting and staying healthy is the most important thing for such a well-ranked prospect. That is especially true since the wheels have fallen off a bit for Jorge Alcala, who has a 6.26 ERA in his last 10 appearances and has raised his season ERA to 5.25. He is still showing far better control than he was billed for last year when we traded for him (66/22 K/BB rate in 61.2 innings on the year) but is getting hit far too often for a prospect with his pure stuff.

Randy Dobnak has bounced around all year, with 4 appearances each at High-A Fort Myers, Double-A Pensacola, and Triple-A Rochester. He just recently ended a short stint with the Red Wings having thrown 17.2 innings of 2.55 ERA ball, only to be returned to the Wahoos. On the year he has a 1.94 ERA in 60.1 innings and a 52/17 K/BB rate. He turns 25 in January.

Charlie Barnes and Bryan Sammons were called up to the Blue Wahoos recently, both having been drafted back in 2017. While Barnes struggled to a 6.51 ERA in High-A Fort Myers, he has corrected things so far after his promotion, throwing 14 innings so far with a 3.86 ERA and a 16/3 K/BB rate. Sammons was lights out in Fort Myers but has struggled in his call up, with a 6.39 ERA in 12.2 innings so far, striking out 17 and walking 8.

Tyler Jay has really lost it as of late, with his ERA for the season sitting at 4.82 in 28 innings with a 27-19 K/BB rate. Tom Hackimer is pitching well, though, with a 1.08 ERA through his first 16.2 innings at the level and a 22/10 K/BB rate.

Jovani Moran remains on the IL, as does Griffin Jax.

Hitting:

Alex Kirilloff had finally started to get things to click after his return from injury, only to see himself placed back on the IL for an undisclosed reason. He was hitting .351 in his last ten games and has his season OPS up to a decent .761. Like with Brusdar Graterol, Kiriloff is young for the level so missing some time isn’t the worst thing in the world. But this is a kid who could have been a Major League call up THIS YEAR had he been healthy and hitting well from the beginning.

While Kirilloff’s health struggles are depressing, at least the Blue Wahoos have a reclamation story. Travis Blankenhorn was a 3rd round pick back in 2015 and had a pretty glowing prospect status until a miserable 2018. He has figured it out again though after his promotion to Double-A earlier this year. He has hit 10 homers in 42 games at this level and is hitting .308/.339/.535 in that span. You would like to see the walk rate go up, as that was a relative strength of his in years past. He hasn’t played 3B at all in Double-A, spending most of his time at second and the occasional game in LF.

Ben Rortvedt started off very hot in Double-A but is starting to cool off in a big way, hitting just .129 in his last ten games. His defense remains on point, though, throwing out 5 of 9 potential base stealers at this level.

Jaylin Davis continues to remain a consistent presence in the lineup, hitting .273 in his last ten games and .276/.385/.459 on the season.

High-A: Fort Myers Miracle

Pitching:

The hype around Jordan Balazovic was started before this season began, when Keith Law named him the 102nd best prospect in the game. That hype continued as he has completely dominated two levels so far this young season. Just last week, Baseball America moved Balazovic into their top 100 prospect rankings (#98 overall, subscription required). He has been absolutely filthy. In 31 innings across 6 starts in High-A, he has a 2.03 ERA and a 42/6 K/BB rate. Over his 51.2 innings at both levels, he has a 75/10 K/BB rate. He might see time in Pensacola this year before everything is said and done, and he doesn’t turn 21 until September.

Jhoan Duran had a rough patch in May but has recovered well his last three starts, throwing 20 innings and only giving up 3 earned runs in that span with a 26/6 K/BB rate, having struck out 14 in 6 innings on May 26th. Duran is only 21 this season and pairs well with Balazovic as young, high upside starting pitcher prospects. Blayne Enlow makes that duo a trio, having also earned his promotion to High-A. In his two starts at the level he has thrown 12 innings with a 2.25 ERA and a 10/3 K/BB rate. Edwar Colina is proving to be another name to watch on this pitching staff. He has a 3.53 ERA on the year with a 39/9 K/BB rate. He has a 2.03 ERA in the 31 innings since his season opener, and has gone at least 6 innings in those last 5 starts. He might shoot up prospect rankings too, as a 22 year old for the rest of the season. Cole Sands is the other former Kernel to make his way to the Miracle pitching staff this year. In 41.1 Innings at Low-A he had a 3.05 ERA witha 49/11 K/BB rate. In his first two starts in High-A he has gone 11.1 innings with a 3.18 ERA and a 13/1 K/BB rate. He may have been a steal in the 5th round of the 2018 draft, and turns 22 on July 17th. Tyler Watson rounds out the back end of the Miracle rotation but still has some upside as a 22 year old lefty who stands at 6’6” 240lbs. In 56 innings across 10 starts for the Miracle, he has middling numbers such as a 4.34 ERA and a 42/14 K/BB rate.

Hitting:

Royce Lewis continues to confuse just about every one. His season numbers are down to .225/.282/.319 and he is striking out way too much—60 times in 59 games this season. But every few games he just goes off. During a 6 games stretch early in June, Lewis went 9/26 (.346) but in the 4 games on either side of that stretch he went 0-17, bringing his average in the last 10 games to just .209. He also has 11 K’s and 0 BB in that time. In a recent post on Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Keanan Lamb mentions that Lewis is trying too hard to lift the ball, which has cluttered his usually clean mechanics. He seems to choose to swing before he sees the pitch. His large leg kick has been a staple in his game for years, but now it seems to be causing significant issues to his timing as his foot is rarely back down in time. He has also added a big hand bob/hitch to his swing that is making him late on pitches. Hopefully the organization can get him sorted out a bit, as there is still time to at least partially save his season.

Trevor Larnach is a prospect you don’t have to worry about, also earning his way onto Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list (#96 overall). He hit an insane .371/.456/.619 in May with 10 doubles, a triple, and 4 homers and a 26/16 K/BB rate. He has “cooled off” in June, still hitting an impressive .324/.395/.500 in 9 games. On the year he has a .863 OPS and is likely on his way to Pensacola after the FSL All Star game.

Lewin Diaz is another prospect who destroyed the ball in May, hitting .317/.351/.702 with 10 homers, setting a Miracle record for homers in a month. He has 3 so far in 9 June games, and a .250/.368/.563 line to go with the homers. Diaz is probably on his way up later this summer as well, having emphatically reclaimed his prospect status this year after a bad and injured 2018.

Ryan Jeffers isn’t quite hitting at the levels of the others, but still posted a .315/.370/.511 line in May, although his June has been off to a rough start with a .449 OPS in 6 games. Teams are starting to do better while running against him, but he is still throwing out 27% of baserunners. Jose Miranda is another guy who is getting it to go in short spurts only to take a step back again. While he has just a .241/.307/.361 line on the year, he has hit 3 homers in 8 games in June and hit better as the year went on last year too. He only turns 21 at the end of the month.

Trey Cabbage is back from a team suspension and is rusty, as expected, going 2 for 9 in June so far, although one of those hits was a homer.

David Banuelos has played just 9 games since his call up and has a .229 OPS to show for it

Akil Baddoo is out for the year, needing TJ surgery.

Low-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels

Pitching

With Balazovic, Enlow, and Sands all promoted and Luis Rijo on the IL, Josh Winder takes over as the Kernels pitcher to watch, but he might not be there much longer, either. He has a 2.64 ERA on the season after an impressive stretch in his last 3 starts—20 innings, 18 K’s, 5 BB’s, and just 2 ER allowed. Austin Schulfer is an interesting pop up name at this low level. He is already 23 and was drafted as a senior sign last year in the 19th round out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He started this season out of the bullpen but with the promotions has made his way to the starting rotation. Across 41.2 innings he has struck out 59 batters (!!!) but walked 22. He has a 3.02 ERA although that number bumps up to 4.05 in the 5 games he has started despite better walk rates (7 BB in 20 innings as a started). Derek Molina was a 14th round pick in 2017 out of Merced Community College in California. He doesn’t turn 22 until late July and has a 2.55 ERA across 24.2 innings this year in relief with a 38/8 K/BB rate and 7 saves in 8 tries. Kody Funderburk is a big (6’4” 230lbs) lefty taken in the 15th round out of Dallas Baptist last year. In 12.1 innings that include a cup of coffee in High-A Fort Myers, Funderburk hasn’t allowed a run and has a 13/2 K/BB rate. Kai-Wei Teng is a big (6’4” 260lbs) righty out of Taiwan. He struggled in his first Single-A game, giving up 2 earned runs (6 total) in 3.2 innings while walking 2 and striking out 4.

Hitting:

Wander Javier has finally returned and has done so in a pretty big way. In 12 games so far he is hitting .267/.365/.400 which doesn’t sound all that impressive, but he has hit 2 big home runs, including a grand slam on June 8th. He has a 13/6 K/BB rate which is something to keep an eye on, and his fielding at SS is a bit rough. If the Twins #4 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline can turn it on for the rest of the year, he might salvage some of the credit our farm system has lost from the off years/injuries by Lewis, Kirilloff, and Graterol.

Maybe, just maybe, Gilberto Celestino might be turning the corner, although I say that seemingly every update. He is still sitting at just a .621 OPS on the year, but he has two homers so far in June after hitting just 2 the entire season before that. Gabriel Maciel has more defensive value than Luis Arraez, but has a similar offensive profile. Maciel is hitting .310 on the year with a .398 OBP, but has just 4 extra base hits (1 double, 3 triples) so his SLG is a measly .359. If he can put on some muscle and learn how to turn on some pitches, watch out. He turns 21 in January. Jacob Pearson’s numbers still look bad but he actually turned in a pretty decent May, hitting .256/.376/.344. That lack of power seems to be an issue for a few of these young guys. Pearson has started June slowly, hitting .161 with a .406 OPS. Jared Akins, started the year off very hot, but has struggled since hitting just .128 in his last ten games.

Yeltsin Encarnacion is another no power guy, which is probably expected of the smallish soon-to-be 21 year old. Still, he has hit fairly well of late, posting a .303/.384/.364 line in May and hitting .286 so far in June. Having a legitimate prospect as his double-play tandem may help him continue to improve his stock. Andrew Bechtold has turned it around after a .592 OPS in April. In May he hit .236/.381/.416 and so far in June is hitting .280/.455/.320 with an 4/8 K/BB rate.

Ben Rodriguez has started hitting, posting a .260/.325/.411 line in May although his June is slow to pick up. Chris Williams is the opposite, with just a .191 average in May (although he managed a .774 OPS). but a has hit for a .950 OPS so far in June.

Yunior Severino remains on the Injured List.

Thoughts

Lewis struggling and Kiriloff and Graterol being on the IL for an extended stretch of time might seem like one of the worst things that can happen for our farm system. It is bad, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it is the worst thing that can happen by a long shot.

The trio have been pushed very aggressively. Lewis just turned 20 and already has played 104 games at High-A Fort Myers. His numbers there are bad (.241/.305/.363) but he has been one of, if not the, youngest guys in that league. Kiriloff doesn’t turn 22 until the off season and is really only a good month or two from being called up to the Majors. Graterol’s injury probably is the worst outcome of this trio, as he was dominating as a 20-year-old at Double-A and has already had injury concerns call into question his ability to remain a starter. But since the trio has been pushed so aggressively, it doesn’t hurt their prospect stock that bad in the long run since they will be at an age-appropriate level if they return to the same location to start 2020.

The good news is that a lot of our other prospects are having great years, and since the main trio is generally considered “untouchable” for trades, these successes help give us more trade chips to get a starter and a reliever before August 1st. I think Jordan Balazovic has turned himself into an “untouchable” asset unless we are truly blown away by an offer, and Larnach is probably in the same boat.

Lewin Diaz and Travis Blankenhorn have always had the tools to be good prospects, and are now performing very well at age-appropriate levels—enough to make them worthwhile throw-ins in an important trade.

Jhoan Duran, Blayne Enlow, and Cole Sands join Balazovic to give our system a decent number of “starter prospects with upside” even given our Front Office’s penchant to focus the draft on bats.

Things in Rochester are also starting to turn around for the better, with Gordon, Rooker, and Thorpe starting to figure things out in a good way.

The future of the farm system is still bright!