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2023 Twins Draft Primer

The Twins were big winners of the first MLB draft lottery, jumping up to the 5th spot. Get a full breakdown of all the Twins options here.

Wake Forest v LSU Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

The MLB Draft is a very different event from the other sports leagues. Where the NBA and NFL drafts have become transaction-filled spectacles, the MLB draft has always been a more closed-door affair. In recent years, MLB has made a concerted effort to bring the draft to the forefront, including now making it part of All-Star Week, kicking off the break this Sunday at 7 PM EST (6 PM CDT).

The Twins had the great fortune of jumping up to the 5th pick in a draft that has a consensus top five players who would be in the running for the #1 pick in any other year.

How the MLB Draft Works

2022 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Unlike other leagues, MLB does not allow trading picks. Instead, they have a bonus pool system that helps teams and players get matched up. Each pick in the draft is assigned a slot value with a dollar amount attached to it. The total amount that teams can spend on draft picks is each of their slot values summed up. Every team will spend their entire bonus pool, it’s just a matter of how they divvy it up. The Twins have the 4th biggest pool this year at $14,345,600.

For an easy example here, you can go back to the 2017 draft where the Twins took Royce Lewis first overall. The pick value for that slot was $7,770,700, but the Twins signed him for just $6,725,000. By saving $1 million on the first pick, the Twins were able to pick up Blayne Enlow in the third round, signing him for $2 million, way over that pick’s $755,500 slot value. Selecting Lewis wasn’t the Twins trying to save money, it was strategically setting them up to have surplus value to pick better prospects in later rounds. Plus, that Royce Lewis pick is looking pretty good, regardless.

This year, there’s some thought that Dylan Crews, the consensus top player in this draft, is trying to manipulate his landing spot based on his bonus demand. He’s asking for a high bonus in an attempt to scare away the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the first pick. There’s no way he makes it to the Twins at number 5, but a man can dream.

The Consensus Top 5

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida vs LSU Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

As I mentioned earlier, this year’s draft has a pretty clear top five players, meaning at least one of them has to be available by the time the Twins pick. The Twins could just pick whoever is left when they are on the clock. However, there’s been some rumblings that the Twins might prefer someone outside of that top five. Let’s take a brief look at each of these players, and then why the Twins might like someone else.

Dylan Crews, OF, LSU

2023 Stats: .426/.567/.713, 18 HR, 46/71 K/BB

#2 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Crews is far and away the best hitting prospect in this year’s draft. He has an elite skill to get the barrel to the ball, walks a ton, doesn’t strike out all that often, and led a dynamic LSU offense to a National Championship. He was the best hitter in college baseball in the best conference and has hit at every single level of his baseball career. If there is anything that will hold him back, it’s his lack of top-tier athletic ability. He plays centerfield, but if his good, not great, speed causes him to move to a corner, that will diminish some of his value. Similarly, while he barrels almost everything he puts in play, he doesn’t have that top-of-the-line exit velocity you like to see from someone who is going to hit 25-30 home runs consistently.

I’m nitpicking here, but that’s what you do for a prospect as good as Crews. If his bonus demands scare Pittsburgh away, he won’t make it past Washington at 2.

Paul Skenes, SP, LSU

2023 Stats: 1.69 ERA, 2.05 RA9, 15.3 K/9, 0.750 WHIP

#1 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Crews’ LSU teammate has been called the best college pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, and it’s easy to see why. Skenes has an elite fastball that sits 98 MPH and can touch 102, and a great slider to go along with it. He’ll need to better develop his changeup to reach his top-end potential, but those two pitches are good enough to make him great right away.

The only other concerns about Skenes are his health, just like with most pitchers that throw that hard. Additionally, he had a very heavy workload leading the LSU pitching staff to the College World Series, so there’s some added concern about the wear and tear he already has on the arm. Whoever drafts him will likely shut him down for the rest of the season to avoid any additional stress.

Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida

2023 Stats: .373/.498/.784, 21 HR, 44/56 K/BB

#3 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

If the bonus demands and health concerns with LSU’s dynamic duo scare off the Pirates, Wyatt Langford could end up hearing his name first overall. After not playing much as a freshman at Florida, Langford had a breakout two seasons to cement himself as a top prospect. He walks enough, has decent control of the strike zone for his frame, and could develop into a true five-tool player. What he lacks in pure hitting, he makes up for in raw power and athletic ability. He played primarily in left field at a muscly 6’1” and 225 lbs, but there’s a chance the right team could unlock a bit more speed in his powerful frame to slide him over to centerfield, giving him a bit more value. He’s not as good as Crews is now, but his athletic frame and work ethic could help Langford to surpass him long term.

There’s a small chance Langford could find his way down to the Twins, but with the Crews rumors and Pittsburgh’s recent fear of highly drafted pitchers, I think there’s a better chance he’s taken with the first pick.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series Final-Florida vs LSU Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick, NC (HS)

#4 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Now we’re into the wild cards. I’m not including any stats for the high school players, mostly because they don’t really matter at this level. If you’re good enough to be taken in the first round at 18, you can bet that they were crushing a bunch of 16 and 17-year-olds throwing 55 MPH fastballs. It’s more about the tools.

So let’s talk about those tools. Walker Jenkins is the top high school hitter in the 2023 draft. He’s already 6’3” and 210 lbs and should grow more into his frame as he matures. He has a powerful left-handed swing that has some holes, but has shown high-level power. His hitting ability needs to catch up to his power, but scouts praise his work ethic, which should obviously be a huge asset for him as he develops. He has played centerfield throughout his high school career, but will likely move to a corner as a pro. He doesn’t do anything poorly, but he’ll need to develop his other tools to be an All-Star caliber player.

The other concern for Jenkins is his injury history. He suffered a hamate injury the summer before his senior year, typically when you want these high schoolers to be showing off their potential, which slowed him down quite a bit. Some major leaguers have shown reduced power after hamate injuries, so any team that drafts him will want to get a clear medical evaluation.

Max Clark, OF, Franklin, IN (HS)

#5 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Max Clark is from a tiny town in Indiana, but he is already capital F Famous. Franklin, Indiana has a population of 23,712. Max Clark has 335,000 Instagram followers, 14x more than people that live in his hometown, and significantly more than most major leaguers. How does a teenager from a town in the middle of nowhere get this famous? He’s really good at baseball.

Clark has four tools that should almost immediately translate to some early success, the best of which is his speed. Where the other outfielders on this list will likely move to corner spots, Clark’s elite, elite speed, great arm strength, and great fielding ability make him a sure-fire centerfielder. The defensive and base stealing value alone give him a fairly high floor. The bigger questions come on the offensive side.

With a sweet left-handed swing focused primarily on line drives, he has good bat speed and bat-to-ball skills. However, his power will need some development if he wants to reach his potential. That will be the difference between Clark becoming more like Billy Hamilton or more like Corbin Carroll.

If, as expected, it’s one of the two high schoolers left on the board at 5, the Twins may opt to go a different route. Their models have historically preferred college hitters over other types of prospects, which makes sense. They’ve grown more into their bodies and faced higher levels of competition, making them much easier to project. Since Falvey took over, the Twins have made eight first round picks. Of those, 4 of them have been college hitters, while three have been high school hitters. (The eighth, Chase Petty, was traded to the Reds for Sonny Gray).

You can see why college hitters are safer pretty easily with the Twins’ picks. The four college hitters (Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach, Aaron Sabato, and Brooks Lee) have a much better track record than the high schoolers (Lewis, Keoni Cavaco, Noah Miller). Rooker, Larnach, and Lee all look to be solid big league players with the potential to be more, while Cavaco and Miller are going to have a tough time even making it to the big leagues.

Health concerns aside, Royce Lewis seems to be an anomaly for the Falvey-led Twins. That being said, he was the first overall pick for a reason, and there’s an argument to be made that Clark or Jenkins are even better high school prospects than Lewis was. I still think that the most likely outcome is that the Twins take one of them fifth. However, if the murmurs are true and the Twins want a college hitter, here are the other candidates, and their MLB Pipeline scouting reports since I haven’t been following them as closely.

Other Potential College Hitters

Syndication: The Tennessean Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss

2023 Stats: .327/.435/.564, 10 HR, 28/35 K/BB

#18 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Note: This is the guy I’ve seen the Twins most commonly linked to. He’s also my least favorite guy on the list.

Gonzalez earned national freshman of the year recognition in 2021 and helped Mississippi win its first-ever College World Series championship last June. The U.S. collegiate national team’s starter at shortstop the last two summers, he could be the first player drafted at that position in 2023. He’s a lock to become the first Rebels position player ever selected in the first round.

Gonzalez has the bat-to-ball skills and control of the strike zone to be at least a solid hitter, and he has been more consistent in 2023 after hunting home runs too much as a sophomore. With his strength, bat speed and the leverage in his left-handed stroke, he has 25-homer potential. He does a nice job of using the entire field, with most of his over-the-fence power going to his pull side.

While Gonzalez regularly displays below-average speed out of the batter’s box, he may be quick enough to stay at shortstop. His instincts and rhythm help his cause at short, where he covers ground with long strides and has solid arm strength. Some evaluators wonder if he’ll have to shift to third base or second base, but if so he’d be able to profile as a quality regular at either position.

Kyle Teel, C, Virginia

2023 Stats: .407/.475/.655, 13 HR, 36/32 K/BB

#7 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Teel was a very good high school prospect in New Jersey, one who was considered a Top 100 talent, until he removed his name from Draft consideration during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in order to honor his commitment to the University of Virginia. He’s been a full-time starter since he arrived in Charlottesville, putting up better numbers as a freshman than he did as a sophomore and is generally considered to be the top college backstop in the class of 2023.

A left-handed-hitting backstop, Teel has the chance to hit for average and power, though he’s gotten caught a bit in between trying to be a hitter with some pop or a power guy. He was more hit over power in high school, but he has been trying to show off the pop more, perhaps a reason why he hit just .276 in 2022, though he’s found the right balance this spring. He does have an advanced approach, walking more than he struck out last year, and while struggles in the Cape Cod League and with Team USA last summer led some to worry about the hit tool, he’s answered them during his junior year.

Extremely athletic, Teel has seen time in the outfield and probably could handle playing second or third, but he has every chance to stick behind the plate. He has an easily plus arm and his athleticism helps his overall receiving. He gets high marks for his baseball IQ and leadership skills, and with his bat showing up more consistently, his name is floating up Draft boards.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Mississippi State v Virginia Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon

2023 Stats: .412/.461/.635, 6 HR, 5/19 K/BB

#10 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Wilson played his high school ball at Thousand Oaks High School in California, playing for his father, former big league All-Star Jack Wilson. Jacob went on to Grand Canyon University and was named a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball in 2021. He was even better in 2022, finishing with a 1.004 OPS as a sophomore before raising his profile even more over the summer with a solid stint in the Cape Cod League and then Team USA.

Wilson, whose dad followed him to Grand Canyon and is an assistant coach this season, has an intriguing combination of baseball IQ and tools. He might be one of the better pure hitters in the class, one who consistently finds the barrel and struck out just seven times in 275 plate appearances as a sophomore. He’s starting to tap into his power more consistently as well, smashing 12 homers and slugging .585 in 2022.

A fringy-to-average runner, Wilson has the skills to stick at shortstop, with good actions, range and an above-average arm. He might not have the pure power profile should he have to slide over to third, where he played as a freshman, but scouts feel he’ll hit plenty for the hot corner. That makes him a prime candidate to go near the top of the first round.

Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU

2023 Stats: .308/.430/.631, 23 HR, 60/54 K/BB

#15 on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Rankings

Note: Taylor grew up 5 minutes from where I currently live, so selfishly I think it would be fun for the Twins to take him.

Taylor flew under the radar as a Utah high schooler but has developed significantly at Texas Christian, setting the stage for him to become the program’s first-ever first-round position player. He doesn’t feature a true plus tool but does a little bit of everything and has performed well everywhere he has gone. The Big 12 Conference freshman of the year and a Cape Cod League All-Star in 2021, he played for the U.S. collegiate national team last summer.

Using a sweet left-handed swing and fine bat-to-ball skills, Taylor makes repeated contact to all fields. He’s not afraid to work deep counts and controls the strike zone well. Though he has sacrificed some batting average while looking to pull and drive more balls this spring, he demonstrated increased power and set TCU records for single-season (23) and career (48) home runs.

An average runner, Taylor has played mostly third base for the Horned Frogs and provides solid defense at the hot corner with arm strength to match. He also has seen action at second base and shortstop, and while he lacks typical middle-infield quickness, his instincts help him make plays there. He’s younger and more projectable than most college hitters, so he could continue to get better.

There we have it! There are a few other names who have a chance to end up with the Twins (Rhett Lowder, Noble Meyer, Arjun Nimmala), but all signs are pointing to one of the college hitters listed above if not one of the consensus top five. Whoever they end up with, moving up in the draft lottery has put the Twins in a great position to get a cornerstone prospect to build around. Check back here Sunday night to get a full breakdown of the Twins’ moves in the draft!