The Minnesota Twins just completed their fourth draft under the guidance of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. While it was different in process and execution than every other draft in recent memory, it allows us the opportunity to examine the draft strategy of the current Twins regime.
Let’s start by acknowledging that there are a great many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to an MLB draft room. Certainly, the director of scouting and a host of other folks, including the national cross-checkers and head scouts in each region, have a great deal of weight to throw around when it comes time to make a pick.
But the overarching philosophy of most teams stems in some way from their front office leadership. For the Twins, that changed prior to the 2017 season, when Falvey and Levine (heretofore occasionally referenced as Falvine) were hired to lead the baseball operations department.
The Terry Ryan Philosophy
The Twins of the early 2000s were primarily known for drafting toolsy high-schoolers in the first round, from busts like B.J. Garbe and Matt Moses to slam-dunks like Joe Mauer and Denard Span. And there were plenty that landed somewhere in between, including Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere, and Aaron Hicks. All of those front offices were either led by Terry Ryan or his protege, Bill Smith. There were some transitions along the way in related to scouting directors and farm directors, but virtually everyone in a decision-making role was trained and promoted through Ryan’s front office.
Fast-forward to June of 2016, the last draft helmed by Ryan and Co. The Twins’ first four draft picks, including three second-rounders, were all high school prospects. Overall, five of their seven selections across the first five rounds were high-schoolers.
Enter: Falvey and Levine
Falvine took over in the winter and led the 2017 draft. With the first-overall pick, they took toolsy high-school shortstop Royce Lewis. Then, with a first-round compensation pick, the Twins selected college power-hitting prospect Brent Rooker. They also took high-schooler Blayne Enlow above-slot in the third-round and convinced him to go pro with a hefty signing bonus. Overall, three of the Twins’ six picks in the first five rounds were college or junior college players.
An important thing to remember: the Twins were coming off of a 103-loss season the year prior, and the farm system was looking bare. This was an example of the new regime looking to re-stock with high-upside talent, and not planning to fix things through the trade market — yet.
In 2018 and 2019, the Twins had a total of 10 picks across the first five rounds in each draft. They took nine college players, including seven position players, and only one high-schooler. That player was No. 13 overall selection Keoni Cavaco in 2019, another toolsy, high-ceiling infielder.
Before we get to 2020, what does this tell us?
Clearly, Falvey and Levine have a tendency to reach for the stars early in the draft. In NBA or NFL speak, this is drafting for best player available. Generally, that’s what baseball teams do anyway, since there is such a gap from draft night until the vast majority of prospects actually make it to The Show.
But there are preferences and tiebreakers for each organization, and the Twins’ track record with late-first-round picks through at least round five make their intentions clear: Early, take the best player out there. The upside should be so high, it doesn’t matter what position they play.
After the top half of the first round, the idea of drafting the most polished college players (usually position players) on the board, and figure out pitching later. Put simply, the development curve is much shorter for college bats than for, say, high school pitchers. If the bats don’t fit your organization, trade them for pitching that is already mostly developed.
The Twins developed ace Jose Berrios, a Ryan draft pick, but rounded out the rest of their big-league rotation with Jake Odorizzi (trade), Kenta Maeda (trade), Michael Pineda (free agency), Homer Bailey (free agency), and Rich Hill (free agency). Rotation option Devin Smeltzer was acquired via trade, too.
The 2020 draft mostly brought more of the same, although the Twins took a couple of chances they may not otherwise have taken because of the draft’s shortened length of only five rounds.
After taking college first baseman (and premiere power-hitting prospect) Aaron Sabato with the No. 27 pick and college outfielder Alerick Soularie in the second round, the Twins took a pair of high-schoolers with their final two picks. With no selection in the third round, Minnesota went with high school pitcher Marco Raya in Round 4 and high school outfielder Kala’i Rosario in Round 5.
With a level playing field and only $20,000 per player available to sign undrafted free agents, the Twins played out their version of swinging for the fences outside the top half of the first round by taking two high school prospects — the first time they took two high schoolers in the first five rounds since 2017.
Recapping the strategy
In the four-year reign of Falvine, the Twins have drafted a total of six high school players and 14 college players in the first five rounds of the draft (that’s a draft rate of 70 percent college players, if you don’t want to do the math at home). Two of those high-schoolers were in the top half of the first round.
Additionally, only six of those 20 selections were pitchers, and three of them were picked back in 2017, the front office’s first year in charge.
Recapping the recap: 70 percent of Falvine’s Round 1 through 5 selections over their four seasons in charge have been college prospects, and 70 percent of them have been position players.
That’s about as clear and obvious a pattern as we could hope to find. Now, here’s hoping it continues to work as swimmingly as it has thus far...