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What the Experts Are Saying About the Twins’ Top Prospects

It’s prospect list season. How do the public evaluators rank the Twins’ best minor leaguers?

MiLB: AUG 08 FCL Twins at FCL Pirates
Minnesota Twins prospect Brooks Lee reached AA in his first professional season
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re just a couple of weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, which means it is prospect ranking season. Over the past few weeks, most of the major baseball publications have released their updated top prospects lists, along with updated scouting blurbs about each player’s strengths, weaknesses, recent performance, and trajectory.

While there is no such thing as a sure-thing prospect (Joe Mauer excepted, maybe), these kinds of lists are seen as a measuring stick and anticipated by seamheads every off-season. I wrote in depth about how these lists work a couple of years ago and summarized some awesome studies that assessed how well top 100 lists do at predicting Major League success.

The takeaways were as follows. Something like 60% to 70% of the players named on Top 100 lists will fail to become “average” major leaguers, depending on the method chosen to evaluate “average”. Position players have shown to be a slightly more reliable bet to turn out than pitchers (yet another one of the reasons why you can never have enough pitching) and about 30% of the individual 3+ WAR seasons produced have come from players who never ranked on a top 100 list. In a given season about 40% of the total WAR produced in the league comes from players that were never ranked on a top 100 list.

Despite those “bust” rates, highly ranked prospects turn out at higher rates than other minor leaguers, so having more of them is still a good thing.

So, what do the experts think of the Twins' top prospects heading into the 2023 season?

Rounding Up the Twins in the Top 100

So far, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, The Athletic, and MLB Pipeline have released their pre-season 2023 updates. FanGraphs has not yet done so.

In reviewing the newest lists, two Twins are consensus Top 100 prospects: last summer’s first-round draft choice Brooks Lee, and 2019 international signing Emmanuel Rodriguez. Royce Lewis was represented on four of the five lists, with only The Athletic’s Keith Law omitting him.

In addition to those three, one of the prospects recently acquired from Miami, Jose Salas, showed up near the end of Kiley McDaniel’s list at ESPN and also for Baseball Prospectus. McDaniel also squeezed in break-out prospect Edouard Julien while Baseball Prospectus found space for right-hander Marco Raya.

Here’s a summary chart of where the different publications placed those players. Below that are capsules with what the public evaluators are saying about each of the Twins’ top prospects:

Brooks Lee, SS or 3B

Age: 22 | 6-2 | 205 pounds

Bats: Switch | Throws: Right

Drafted: #8 overall, 2022 draft

2022: 31 G, .303/.389/.451 across three levels (Rk, A+, AA)

2023: Should start in AA-Wichita

Baseball America Tools: Hit: 70 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Field: 50 | Arm: 55

Pros: Plus contact and plate discipline skills, makeup, instincts

Questions: Can he stick at shortstop? Lacks the athleticism/agility of top first-rounders.

MLB Pipeline #31: The switch-hitter has as good contact skills as anyone in the Minors, leaving college with more walks than strikeouts and a measly K rate of 11.7 percent. He is capable of driving the ball from both sides of the plate and clearly has no problem doing so with a wooden bat. He hit .405 and slugged .667 on the Cape and posted a .303/.388/.451 line in his pro debut that ended in Double-A. He’s added strength over time, and there should be plenty of in-game power as a result.

There was concern that Lee would have to move off of shortstop as a pro because of that increased physicality, but the Twins think he has a chance to stick there because of plus instincts, excellent hands, and an arm that approaches plus. If he does move to third, he could be a Gold Glover there and his advanced bat could get to Minnesota in a hurry.

Baseball America #45: Lee was in play at the very top of the draft, making it a boon for the Twins when he fell to them at No. 8 overall. He was one of the most polished college bats in the class and offers a solid blend of skills on both sides of the ball.

Keith Law, The Athletic #51: Lee was the best college player in this year’s draft class and would have been a worthy pick at No. 1, coming off two years of stellar performance playing for his dad at Cal Poly. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination and seldom misses fastballs in the zone, striking out just under 10 percent of the time last spring and only 16 percent of the time in his pro debut in High A. It’s an unorthodox swing with visible effort, which has meant he has a lot of medium-quality contact, and probably projects to just average power unless something significant changes. On defense, he has outstanding hands and instincts, but he’s a below-average runner and doesn’t have the agility for shortstop, while he should be above-average at third or second. He’ll get the most out of his skills because he grew up around the game and seems to have an exceptional idea of the strike zone, so while he doesn’t have superstar ceiling, he could be a high-average/high-OBP regular at third or second who hits 10-15 homers a year.

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #65: He is just an OK athlete, a fringy runner, and a bit stiff defensively — without the classic top-10 pick physique — so you could imagine his athleticism slowly regressing, but that simply hasn’t happened.

Lee is fine as a fill-in shortstop but fits well at third base, and he’s a savant in the batter’s box. He’s a plus hitter with a good approach and 55-grade raw power that he’ll probably get to in games. He is probably not a star, but he should be good for a long time.

Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF

Age: 19 | 5-10 | 210 pounds

Bats: Left | Throws: Left

Signed: International Class, 2019, $2.5M Bonus

2022: 47 G, .272/.493/.552 (Level: A)

2023: Should start in A+ Cedar Rapids

Baseball America Tools: Hit: 60 | Power: 60 | Run: 50 | Field: 50 | Arm: 60

Pros: Raw power, plate discipline, arm strength

Questions: Can he stick in center field? A knee injury ended 2022 early.

Baseball America #46: Rodriguez is one of the strongest up-arrow candidates on this list. He showed an uncommon blend of offensive gifts at Low-A before knee injuries ended his season. Despite that, evaluators were effusive in their praise of a player who could take huge strides up the board with a return to health at High-A.

Keith Law, The Athletic #48: Rodriguez went to Low A to start 2022 and showed enormous progress in his approach, hitting breaking stuff far more often and laying off more pitches out of the zone, drawing 57 walks in 47 games and hitting .272/.493/.552 before tearing the meniscus in his right knee on a slide in June. The surgery ended his season, but he still finished seventh in the Florida State League in walks and tied for 20th in homers even though he played in fewer than half of his team’s games before having season-ending surgery. It is huge raw power with an explosive swing, but at the same time, he’s very under control, which is unusual for lots of power hitters — except for some of the elite ones. He’s playing center now but the odds are strong he’ll end up in right. He needs more reps, and if he had a weakness last year, it was against changeups, but he might be a top-10 prospect in baseball by midseason if what we saw last spring holds up.

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #79: In Low-A, Rodriguez had walked 57 times and struck out 52 times through 47 games. He also hit nine homers and had a .492 on-base percentage, showing easy plus raw power and huge exit velos — so some truly wacky stuff. He’s a jacked, squatty prospect who will play a corner-outfield spot and while we need to see more than the 84 professional games he has played, all the information we have is pretty exciting.

MLB Pipeline #88: Rodriguez’s best tool continues to be his tremendous raw power, with a combination of bat speed and plate discipline allowing him to tap into it fairly consistently already. The left-handed hitter has worked to keep his bat in the zone longer, and while there’s still work to be done, he didn’t swing through strikes as much as he did in his pro debut. His reduced chasing led to a lower strikeout rate in 2022, when he walked more than he whiffed. He makes a ton of hard contact and should continue to show the ability to drive the ball as he moves up the organizational ladder.

In the early stages of his career, Rodriguez has shown he has the ability to play a solid center field with above-average speed. There’s a chance he’ll slow down as he matures, and his plus arm, not to mention his power profile, will fit very well into right field if and when a move is necessary.

Royce Lewis, SS or Super Utility

Age: 23 | 6-2 | 200 pounds

Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Drafted: #1 Overall, 2017 Draft

2022: AAA: 34 G, .313/.405/.534, MLB: 12G, .300/.317/.550

2023: Recovering from 2nd ACL repair, MLB around mid-season

Baseball America Tools: Hit: 50 | Power: 60 | Run: 65 | Field: 55 | Arm: 55

Pros: Athleticism, speed, plus power, makeup, feel for the game

Questions: Does he have the same physical abilities after the injuries? Can he stay healthy? What is his ultimate defensive position?

Baseball America #43: Lewis has been waylaid by a pair of knee injuries in the last two seasons but has shown his immense upside when given a chance in the big leagues. Carlos Correa’s return adds questions about Lewis’ defensive home, but he’s already been tested at other spots around the diamond, including center field.

MLB Pipeline #45: All of the tools that made Lewis a potential All-Star caliber player are still there. It remains to be seen if his elite-level speed will still be intact after his second knee surgery, but Lewis’ rehab work following his first injury actually increased his speed. He had struggled with his approach at times during the early stages of his career, particularly in 2019, but was much more refined and patient at the plate in 2022, with simpler swing mechanics — minus his old leg kick — allowing him to barrel up the baseball more consistently and get to what could be above-average or better power in the future.

Lewis has continued to primarily play shortstop as a pro and has the defensive chops to stay there long-term, with more than enough arm and range for the premium position. He showed off the ability to play a very good center field in the AFL and then in 2022, though there might be some concern given that’s where he reinjured his knee in the big leagues.

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #76: He made his big league debut last season playing mostly shortstop, but with Carlos Correa returning combined with the long-term questions on Lewis’ ultimate position, it looks like a utility role mixing both infield and outfield duty will make more sense.

Lewis isn’t a slam dunk at the plate, either, as he has long had issues tinkering with his swing and dialing in his approach, but he is so naturally talented — plus raw power, plus speed, feel for the game — that he’ll likely figure it out once he gets back onto the field.

Jose Salas, SS or 2B

Age: 19 | 6-2 | 190 pounds

Bats: Switch Throws: Right

Signed: International Class, 2019, $2.8M bonus

2022: 109 G, .250/.339/.383, (A/A+, Miami System)

2023: Should start in A+ Cedar Rapids

MLB Pipeline Tools: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50

Pros: Advanced hit tool, bat control, plus speed, good instincts/baseball IQ

Questions: Can he stick at shortstop as he fills out?

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #94: Salas was traded from the Marlins to the Twins with Pablo Lopez for Luis Arraez. The Fish felt like he was expendable to land an immediate upgrade to their lineup because of a glut of shortstop prospects, with Salas still a few years away.

Salas has plus bat control, a decent approach, and solid-average raw power along with a good enough glove to maybe stick at shortstop, though he might also slide over to second base.

MLB Pipeline 2022 Report, Not Ranked in Top 100: A switch-hitter, Salas has a quick swing from both sides and recognizes pitches better than most hitters his age. He has gotten stronger since signing and could produce 20-25 homers per season once he adds some polish at the plate. He has a good understanding of the strike zone but can get aggressive and pull-conscious, and presently makes more ground-ball contact than is optimal.

Salas combines physicality with twitchy athleticism, showing plus speed and solid arm strength. His proponents think his finely tuned internal clock will help him stick at shortstop, while other scouts believe he’ll lose some quickness as he fills out and wind up at second base, third base, or center field. His background has given him a high baseball IQ and made him fluent in both English and Spanish.

Edouard Julien, Hitter

Age: 23 | 6-2 | 195 pounds

Bats: Left | Throws: Right

Drafted: 18th Round, 2019 Draft

2022: 113 G, .300/.441/.490 (AA)

2023: Should start in AAA St. Paul

MLB Pipeline Tools: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 45 | Field: 40

Pros: Plus-Plus plate discipline, above-average raw power

Questions: Where can you hide him on defense?

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #100: I can confirm Julien has never been a good defender anywhere and you can look up that he’s French-Canadian without my help. His pitch selection is among the best in the minors — let’s call it plus-plus — he has had all-field plus power and a swing geared to getting to it for years. He’ll get a big league look at some point in 2023 and I’m rooting hard for him because baseball is more fun with more Kyle Schwarber types.

MLB Pipeline 2022 Report, Not Ranked in Top 100: Julien still has a power-over-hit profile, but the scales have balanced out a bit more as a pro. The left-handed hitter has tremendous plate discipline and led the Minors with 110 walks in 2021, but he also struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances. He has bat speed and strength with the ability to drive the ball out to all fields with loft. He can get overly aggressive at times, something he was working to improve with a move to Double-A in ‘22.

So far in his pro career, Julien has played first, second and third base, as well as left field, as the Twins have tried to find him a defensive home. While he’s swiped a bunch of bags, he’s not particularly quick and his arm is fringy. He’s been focusing on his second base play, where he’ll have to improve in order to have the chance to be an offensive-minded regular there.

Marco Raya, RHP

Age: 20 | 6-1 | 170 pounds

Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Drafted: 4th Round, 2020 Draft

2022: 19 G, 65 IP, 3.05 ERA, .199 BA allowed (A)

2023: Should start in A+ Cedar Rapids

MLB Pipeline Tools: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50

Pros: Average or better four-pitch mix, feel for secondaries

Questions: Durability, can he hold up under a starter’s workload?

MLB Pipeline 2022 Report, Not Ranked in Top 100: The 2022 season was the first time Raya pitched in affiliated games since the Twins selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft due to a shoulder strain that sidelined him for most of last season, and the Twins were eager to see how the relatively polished stuff of the 19-year-old from Laredo, Texas, was going to play in live action after he passed up a commitment to Texas Tech to sign with the organization. Raya didn’t disappoint, throwing extremely well with Single-A Fort Myers.

There could be a little bit of physical development left on the 6-foot, 165-pound frame, but his body is already twitchy and athletic. He knows he’s on the smaller side and is said to love to model himself after Marcus Stroman, though he’s got a fundamentally different profile reliant on a big four-seamer alongside three high-quality secondary pitches that entered the organization with great pitch profiles, with the Twins feeling like there’s not too much work needed on those. The fastball sat in the low 90s while he was in high school but was said to be up to 95-96 and touching 97 entering ‘22.

Raya pitches with a chip on his shoulder and is said to have made big strides in his mental development toward the end of ‘21, and as is the case with many young pitchers, the Twins hope he’ll simplify and attack the strike zone with his quality stuff, which he’s done in the past. He has the ability to quickly build his stock with strong live outings.

What They Are Saying about the Twins System Overall

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins
Austin Martin is a prospect whose stock has fallen, though he had a strong end to 2022 and performed well in the Arizona Fall League. Will 2023 be a bounce back year?
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Keith Law, The Athletic #19 System: Injuries beset a ton of the Twins’ top prospects, including poor Royce Lewis, Emmanuel Rodriguez, and former top-100 prospects Austin Martin and Jordan Balazovic. Rodriguez was very impressive when he played and they had a really strong 2022 draft, while also adding a top-5 prospect in Jose Salas in a trade just two weeks before publication. There’s way more position player depth and upside in this system than pitching.

Kiley McDaniel, ESPN #17 System: The Twins have been moving some chips into the middle with their decisions over the past few seasons — Byron Buxton’s extension, Carlos Correa’s megadeal, and trading for Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez, Tyler Mahle, and Jorge Lopez. But they have managed to avoid mortgaging the future entirely in the process.

Having Royce Lewis, Brooks Lee, Jose Salas, Austin Martin, Edouard Julien, Noah Miller, and Danny DeAndrade as middle-infield prospects with everyday potential gives plenty of fodder for trades or positional changes.

The Twins also do a solid job of developing pitchers who can contribute, and the organization is a good bet to land in the middle third of these rankings for a long time.

John is a writer for Twinkie Town and Pitcher List with an emphasis on analysis. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.