The Twins may have the best minor league system in baseball thanks to its impact talent at the top and depth throughout. Both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano could arguably be the best player in the minors at their respective positions. It’s extremely impressive how the organization has been able to acquire high-ceiling talent through a variety of means: the amateur draft, the international free agency and the trade market.
The Year in Review: To say 2013 was a huge year for Buxton would be an understatement. He went from being widely considered one of the Top 3 prospects in the Twins system to one of the Top 3 prospects in all of baseball. Just 19 during the regular season, the athletic outfielder played at two A-ball levels and posted a .944 OPS with a .334 batting average. He also stole 55 bases in 74 attempts. Buxton ended his year with 12 games in the Arizona Fall League but was noticeably worn down.
The Scouting Report: Buxton is a player that can do it all in terms of the five-tool spectrum. He can hit for average, he flashes raw power potential, he has the speed to steal 50-60 bases, he has a very strong arm and he plays outstanding center-field defence. There aren’t too many things he needs to work on other than gaining experience against better pitching and continuing to trust himself and stay within himself.
The Year Ahead: Buxton will almost certainly open the 2014 season in Double-A. He has a shot at reaching the Majors in the second half of the season. Future fourth outfielders Alex Presley and Darin Mastroianni will keep the position warm for the stud prospect.
The Career Outlook: Buxton, who turns 20 in a few days, has all the makings of a perennial all-star and should be the heart of the Twins team for years to come. The organization is positioning itself to be a true powerhouse in the American League Central.
The Year in Review: How do you follow up on a season where you hit 28 home runs as a 19 year old? You hit 35 dingers at the age of 20. Sano, a Dominican native, split 2013 between High-A and Double-A and definitely faced a stiffer challenge at the higher level. After posting a 1.079 OPS with a .330 batting average in High-A, the third baseman managed a .915 OPS but hit just .236 in Double-A. The main culprits behind his struggles were the increase in strikeouts (25% to almost 30%) and the dip in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from .397 to .265.
The Scouting Report: Sano has perhaps the most potent power potential in the minors with his tool grade coming in at 75-80. In typical slugger fashion he also walks a lot but swings and misses with regularity. Because of those whiffs, he’ll probably never hit for a great batting average but could sit somewhere in the .250-.270 range, which should still allow him to produce strong on-base percentages. Defensively, his bat and plus-plus arm give enough reason for him to remain at the hot corner but his range is likely to diminish as he ages and his actions are stiff.
The Year Ahead: Sano struggled with Double-A pitching in 67 games but a strong spring could push him to Triple-A, one step away from The Show. Trevor Plouffe’s days as a starting big league third baseman could be over in a Plou?ffe of smoke before the summer is over. One wrinkle to that plan, though, could be a lingering elbow injury. Some unsubstantiated rumors have suggested Tommy John surgery could be a possibility, which would cause him to miss a large chunk of the season.
The Career Outlook: There are some questions about Sano’s true age (and understandably so, if you’ve seen him) but even if he’s closer to 24 or 25 he should have a strong future as a middle-of-the-order slugger. He could threaten the 40-home run plateau in the Majors during his prime.
The Year in Review: Meyer made just 13 starts in Double-A (with three rehab appearance in rookie ball) due to a shoulder injury but bounced back well to throw another 26 innings in the Arizona Fall League to give him more than 100 innings thrown on the year. Along with racking up the strikeouts, the right-hander also induced ground ball outs at a tremendous rate.
The Scouting Report: A contact within the Twins organization told me that Meyer may very well have both the best fastball and curveball in the organization. He has a mid-to-high-90s fastball with movement and his curveball is a true swing-and-miss offering. His height allows him to create a significant downward plane on the ball that makes it nearly impossible to lift when his command is on. The big concern with the 6’9” monster is keeping him healthy and on the mound.
The Year Ahead: The strong showing in the AFL could convince the organization to assign the University of Kentucky alum to Triple-A to open the year. The club should have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Meyer all ready for the Majors right around the same time.
The Career Outlook: Meyer just continues to get better and the Washington Nationals are no doubt second-guessing their decision to include him in the Denard Span deal from a year ago. If his shoulder holds up he could become a No. 1 or 2 starter in the Twins rotation and has a significantly higher ceiling than anyone currently found on the big league staff.
The Year in Review: The fourth overall selection in the 2013 draft, Stewart looked like a stud in his brief debut. The right-hander rolled through the rookie Gulf Coast League and earned a late-season promotion to the advanced-rookie Appalachian League. In total, he allowed just 13 hits and four walks while whiffing 24 in 20 innings of work.
The Scouting Report: The first two things that stand out with this Texas native are his athleticism and competitive nature. It helps him repeat his pitching mechanics and it also allows him to serve as an extra quality fielder. His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball with excellent movement (although he needs to sharpen his command of the offering), potentially-plus slider, curveball and changeup. He’s learning to consistently get on top of the ball and create a good downward plane to work consistently in the lower half of the zone.
The Year Ahead: Stewart should open the 2014 season in full-season ball even though he just turn 19 in October. The organization is usually fairly reserved with its young arms so expect him to spend the entire year in the Midwest League. He’ll likely reach the Majors sometime in 2016.
The Career Outlook: Stewart has just 20 innings of professional experience but his athleticism and makeup should help him squeeze every ounce out of his impressive tools, which could eventually help him develop into a No. 1 or 2 starter. He could easily be among the 15 or 20 best prospects in baseball by this time next year.
The Year in Review: Rosario split the 2013 season between High-A and Double-A. The 22-year-old Puerto Rico native hit significantly better in High-A than Double-A but he didn’t exactly embarrass himself at the higher level. Rosario also spent the off-season playing in both the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rico Winter League but didn’t perform overly well at either stop.
The Scouting Report: Rosario is a strong hitter and should produce a solid batting average at the big league level. His aggressive approach at the plate hinders his ability to get on base at a solid clip. Strong wrists and forearms, as well as significant bat speed allows him to flash above-average, left-handed power although it’s mostly gap pop at this point. Defensively, Rosario has strides to be made at both second base and in the outfield so some stability would certainly help. His offensive profile would fit better at the keystone than a corner outfield spot.
The Year Ahead: Rosario will reportedly sit out the first 50 games of the 2014 season after being nabbed for using a banned substance. There has also been talk of him being moved back to the outfield after spending the last two seasons at second base. Once his season begins, he could return to Double-A to help shake off the rust (assuming he sits for 50 games as reported) before moving up to Triple-A.
The Career Outlook: It remains to be seen where Rosario will eventually settle in defensively. Brian Dozier has been a league-average player at the position so he’s not a huge roadblock but there appears to be a more glaring need in left or right field with Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arica possibly filling the other two-thirds of the outfield. He could be an all-star at second base but he’d be more fringe-average to average as a corner outfielder.
The Year in Review: I ranked Berrios at eighth a year ago and he put forth another strong performance in 2013 to move up to the sixth slot despite the significant depth in the system. A native out of Puerto Rico like Eddie Rosario, Berrios made just 19 starts in his first full season but held his own in the Midwest League. He also managed to surpass the century mark in both innings pitched and strikeouts.
The Scouting Report: Berrios’s best pitch is his fastball, which he can dial up into the mid-90s with good movement. He doesn’t always stay on top of the ball and he gets in trouble when the ball is elevated. Both his breaking ball and changeup have the chance to be average or better offerings. Because he was around the strike zone a fair bit — but with so-so command — he allowed a lot of hits in 2013.
The Year Ahead: Berrios will move up to High-A ball and he’ll likely continue to be one of the more underrated prospects in both the Twins system and the game in general. He has a shot at reaching the Majors in 2015 but will more likely be ready for The Show in 2016.
The Career Outlook: Berrios has the makings of developing into a No. 3 starter — possibly a No. 2 if one of his secondary pitches really takes off — or he could make his way to the back-end of the bullpen. He’s a fun lottery ticket to follow in the Twins system.
The Year in Review: Kepler opened the 2013 season in extended spring training after an elbow strain nixed the plan to have him begin the year in full-season ball but he was assigned to the Midwest League in June. The 20-year-old native of Germany showed impressive left-handed power even though he failed to hit for average and his on-base percentage was a dismal .312. After the season, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League — even though most player assignments typically come from the Double-A and Triple-A ranks.
The Scouting Report: Kepler is learning to tap into his raw left-handed pop, which can send balls over the fence to all fields. He’s also gaining much-needed experience at the plate in an effort to improve his pitch recognition and the consistency of his mechanics. Kepler is a good athlete for his size and has a fluid swing. The young hitter is honing his skills in the outfield but his modest arm could eventually convince the organization to shift him to first base,
The Year Ahead: Kepler should officially play a full season in 2014 when he’s assigned to the Hight-A Florida State League. He’s probably not bound for the Majors until late 2016 at the earliest.
The Career Outlook: Kepler has some work to do against left-handing pitching if he’s going to avoid a future platoon gig and realize his full potential. If everything clicks, the European-born player has the tools to be a star with plus power production from the middle of a big league lineup.
The Year in Review: Polanco spent three seasons in short-season ball but it appears to have been time well spent. He was outstanding in his first taste of full-season ball, showing the ability to hit for average with improved pop and limited swing-and-misses. He also showed the ability to handle both middle infield positions. He received a lot of playing time in the Dominican Winter League — especially for such a young, inexperienced player — and made the most of his opportunity with a .326 batting average and .825 OPS.
The Scouting Report: The Twins have a pair of intriguing middle infield prospects in Polanco and Danny Santana. The former is a little bit more of a safer pick while the latter is a little more toolsy but also more raw. Polanco is a switch-hitter with solid pop from both sides of the plate and he has a good eye which allows him to produce solid on-base percentages and a good batting average. Defensively, he can play both shortstop and second base but he’ll likely spend more time at the latter position due to his modest range.
The Year Ahead: Polanco, 20, will move up to High-A ball in 2014 and, if all continues to go well, he could see significant time in Double-A before the year is out. He’s probably looking at settling into a big league role some time in 2016.
The Career Outlook: Polanco has a chance to develop into an offensive-minded second baseman at the big league level who’s also capable of handling a little shortstop when needed.
The Year in Review: Santana, 23, had a solid season in Double-A by hitting .297 with 160 hits in 131 games but he walked just 24 times and went down swinging 94 times. He was prolific on the base paths with 30 steals, although he was also nabbed 13 times. He had a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League against older competition.
The Scouting Report: Santana has hit for a solid average each of the past two seasons but his aggressive nature leads to low on-base percentages and high strikeout rates. He’ll likely never hit for power and will probably find himself in the eighth or ninth slot in a big league lineup despite his above-average speed. In the field, Santana has more than enough arm strength for shortstop but is inconsistent with the other areas of his defensive game. He’s also played some second base and dabbled in the outfield. The young infielder made a lot of errors early in the season but impressed the organization with the improvements he showed in the second half of the year.
The Year Ahead: Santana will move up to Triple-A and could be the Twins’ starting shortstop by the all-star break unless the organization brings in a more established veteran to play ahead of Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar. He has some growing to do before he becomes a league-average, or better, hitter in the Majors.
The Career Outlook: If he can become a little more selective at the plate and a little more consistent in the field, Santana could be a league-average or better shortstop for the Twins.
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The Year in Review: After being considered little more than organizational cannon fodder during his first seven pro seasons, Pinto caught the attention of prospect watchers with his hot hitting last season that resulted in a second straight season with an OPS of .844 or higher. He finished his minor league season with an on-base percentage of .400 thanks to 66 walks in 126 games. Pinto’s success continued with a strong 21-game MLB debut.
The Scouting Report: Pinto is a patient hitter but he also struggles with pitch recognition at times and with premium velocity. He produces above-average on-base rates, shows the ability to hit for average and also produces a healthy number of extra base hits. Behind the plate, Pinto is a solid receiver but he struggled with game calling at times during his MLB debut. He has good arm strength but his success at throwing out base runners has been inconsistent because of mechanical issues.
The Year Ahead: With the impending move of incumbent catcher Joe Mauer to first base, Pinto is the odds-on-favorite to see regular playing time behind the dish in 2014. In eight seasons, the Venezuela native has surpassed 100 games played just three times so he may not have the stamina to be a true everyday guy just yet.
The Career Outlook: Pinto has shown the ability to hit for average, get on base and drive the ball with surprising authority throughout his career. He should also be an average or better defender. As a result, the 24-year-old backstop has a chance to be a solid big league regular.
The Next Five:
Lewis Thorpe, LHP: Australian players tend to be more raw than the average North American amateur when they turn pro due to the lack of popularity of the sport down under. Thorpe, though, is an exception to the rule thanks to his above-average control and developing repertoire. The southpaw, who just recently turned 18, walked six batters in 44.0 innings while sending 64 batters back to the dugout shaking their heads. Thorpe has one of the most intriguing ceilings in the organization and it will be interesting to see how he builds on the success from his debut season. He came very close to making the Top 10 list but ultimately fell just outside of it because he’s a lot less proven than some of the other talent in this impressively-deep system.
Trevor May, RHP: Formerly one of the top prospects in the Phillies system, May’s value has decreased due to a lack of improvement with both his command and control, as well as conditioning concerns. What the right-hander has going for him is durability and a strong fastball, although he lacks consistency with it and it lacks movement at times. He also needs to do a better job of working consistently down in the zone. May, 24, may be best suited for the backend of a bullpen where he can focus on his power heater-slider combination.
Felix Jorge, RHP: The 19-year-old Dominican Republic native has the makings of three average-or-better offerings in his 89-93 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. His above-average control helps his stuff play up. There is a noticeable change in arm speed when the right-hander throws his secondary pitches so he has some adjustments to make, along with improved command. Jorge should move up to full season ball in 2014 and will look to make enough improvements to prove he can be a long-term starter.
Travis Harrison, 3B: The 50th overall selection during the 2012 amateur draft, Harrison produce respectable numbers in the full-season Midwest League in 2013 at the age of 20. He has all the makings of a strong offensive player, especially if he continues to tap into his raw power potential without becoming too pull conscious. He’ll probably never be more than fringe-average to average in the field but he should hit enough to justify his defensive position.
Stuart Turner, C: Fellow catching prospect Josmil Pinto saw his value increase significantly in 2013 and ’13 draftee Turner could see a similar spike in the coming season. The defensive whiz has excellent receiving skills and a strong arm. His offence is the biggest question but he could have value in the Majors even if he hits in the .220-.240 range with modest extra-base ability. Turner was drafted out of the University of Mississippi in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft.
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