With the Minnesota Twins not expected to contend this coming season, the hope for the team lands on the futures of the team's minor league prospects. Several publications have posted their own versions of the Twins top prospects, so a few disclaimers about my own:
The players ceiling is very important in my evaluation. A player like Nick Gordon, for example, who's widely regarded as the Twins top prospect, doesn't rank as highly in my eyes because while he's likely to be a major league contributor some day, there doesn't appear to be any skills that will make him more than an average regular.
The players minor league performance matters far more than scouting reports, as I can't see these players myself and scouts are notorious for bypassing statistics for the eye test. I am not a believer in the eye test, sorry. A players age relative to his minor league level is also factored in, as a 23-year-old in rookie league is far less impressive than a 20-year-old in AA, regardless of the stats.
And while I've seen several of the other Twins prospect lists, they have no bearing on my rankings. These are heavily stat and aged based.
Without further ado, let's take a look:
1. Stephen Gonsalves, 22 years old, SP, AA Level
A 4th round pick in the 2013 draft, Gonsalves has done nothing but pitch well since being drafted. His 2016 season was his best yet, as threw 140 innings between two levels posting a 2.06 ERA with 155 strikeouts. He allowed just 3 home runs.
He has the bat missing ability to anchor a rotation in the near future, and if he can avoid any more injuries he should make his major league debut at some point in the 2017 season. If he improves again in 2017 like he has every season of his career, the future of the Twins rotation will be in great hands.
2. Alex Kirilloff, 19 years old, OF/1B, Rookie League Level
Drafted 15th overall this past June, Kirilloff's debut went about as well as one could hope for from a high school draft pick. Considered a potential middle of the order bat with enough athleticism to play good defense as well, he's the Twins hitting prospect most likely to be an impact player in the future.
He hit .306/.341/.454 in 55 games, adding 7 home runs. As he continues to mature and grow into his body, his power numbers should improve considerably. He also could become the Twins best trade piece as they have a boatload of young outfielders and Kirilloff could potentially headline a deal for a pitcher in the near future.
3. Fernando Romero, 22 years old, SP, High A Level
Easily my favorite Twins prospect, Romero's ceiling is as high as any minor league pitchers in all of baseball. He's capable of reaching 100 MPH with his fastball, and after missing the 2015 season because of Tommy John surgery, his 2016 season was even more impressive than one could hope for.
He made 16 starts between A and High A, posting a 1.89 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 90 innings while walking just 15. For someone coming off of Tommy John surgery to show the kind of control Romero did is incredibly impressive, and downright unbelievable considering he has the kind of stuff he does.
If he can stay healthy he's got the potential to be as dominant as Francisco Liriano was prior to his first arm injury during his first stint with the team. Romero has dynamite stuff that will be very difficult for anyone to hit the first few times they see it. Here's to hoping his arm holds up.
4. Nick Gordon, 21 years old, SS, High A Level
Widely regarded as the Twins best prospect, Gordon is an above average defender, good base runner and solid contact hitter. Unfortunately he rarely walks and has very little power, so he's going to need to excel on defense to add a lot of value.
On the positive side, he did have his best season in 2016, and he has been very young for each level. He hit .291/.335/.386 in 116 games, and stole 19 bases. However he was caught stealing 13 times and hit just three home runs, with 87 strikeouts and only 23 walks.
He's at best a Luis Castillo-type player capable of playing an above average shortstop, which would make him plenty valuable at his peak. However, I doubt he hits .300 more than once or twice at the big league level, which will make him an average all-around shortstop. There is value in that, especially for a team like the Twins who never seem to have even an average shortstop, but he was simply drafted too highly by the prior regime.
5. Wander Javier, 18 years old, SS, Rookie League Level
The Twins gave Javier a team record $4 million bonus in July of 2015, and he made his debut this past season in the Dominican Summer League like so many other international signings. He only played in 9 games, but he showed an impressive bat in that small time frame.
Javier hit .308/.400/.654 while showing the ability to play shortstop. He's years away from contributing at the big league level, but if his bat is even close to as good as advertised AND he's able to stay at shortstop, he's the Twins prospect with the highest ceiling.
6. Tyler Jay, 22 years old, SP, AA level
Drafted sixth overall out of Illinois in 2015, Jay drew comparisons to Chris Sale prior to the draft. However, that was mainly because both had weird motions coming out of college and questions if they could remain starters when they became professionals.
The left hander struck out 68 batters in 69 innings at the high A level last season before a late-season promotion to AA. He posted an impressive 2.84 ERA. He's likely at least one more full season away from making his debut as a starter, although if the Twins are somehow in contention late in the season Jay is definitely major league ready right now as a reliever. That's very unlikely, of course, so expect to see Jay for the first time in 2018.
7. Lamonte Wade, 23 years old, CF, High A Level
Wade was drafted in the 9th round out of Maryland in 2015, after falling due to an injury marred collegiate season, and has become one of the draft's biggest steals thus far. While he may have to move to a corner outfield spot as he ages, he currently has the ability to play at least an average center field, and likely would be at least above average.
He's hit at every level since being drafted, hitting .297/.409/.459 combined over the last two seasons. This past season between two levels the left hander hit .293/.402/.438 with 54 walks and just 44 strikeouts. If he can remain healthy, he should be on the fast track to the big leagues.
8. Kohl Stewart, 22 years old, SP, AA Level
A former standout high school quarterback who the Twins signed away from the Oklahoma Sooners, Kohl hasn't shown the kind of power arm Stewart was supposed to possess prior to being the #4 overall pick.
Stewart has pitched well for the most part, but his dropping strikeout rate is a major red flag. Last season he posted a 2.88 ERA in over 140 innings pitched, but he struck out just 91 batters while walking 63.
He should make his major league debut sometime in the near future, and at this point looks to be a mid-rotation starter. His athleticism and youth give him a chance to improve upon his strikeout numbers, but at this point that might be nothing more than a pipe dream.
9. Felix Jorge, 23 years old, SP, High A Level
Felix Jorge made his professional debut way back in 2011 as a 17-year-old. He's pitched well at every level, and while he doesn't project as a top of the rotation starter, he should make his major league debut in the near future, possibly as soon as the 2017 season.
Despite spending six seasons in the minors, Jorge has been young for every level he's pitched at. Last season between A and AA Jorge posted a 2.69 ERA in 167 innings. He will almost certainly begin the year in AA, but injuries or poor performances from Twins veterans could give him a major league shot sooner rather than later.
10. Huascar Ynoa, 18 years old, SP, Rookie League Level
Ynoa debuted in the summer of 2015 in the Dominican Summer League after signing out of the Dominican Republic. He made 14 starts and posted a 2.70 ERA, impressing the Twins enough that he began the 2016 season stateside with the GCL Twins.
The 6'3 right hander had another impressive season, making 10 starts. He struck out 51 batters in 51 innings, while walking just 12 and posting a 3.18 ERA. He's been at least two years younger than the league average each of his first two seasons, so Ynoa's performance is very impressive and he is someone to watch closely in 2017.
11. Luis Arraez, 19 years old, 2B, A Level
Signed way back in 2013 as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela, Arraez has showed a very strong bat while playing a majority of his games at second base. Arraez has a career .337/.391/.423 slash line across three seasons, and he had a break out season in 2016.
As a 19-year-old for Cedar Rapids, Arraez was two and a half years younger than the league's average hitter. Despite the age difference, Arraez hit a very impressive .347/.386/.444 in 114 games while striking out just 51 times. The league averaged a .249/.317/.355 line.
He could very easily be a top 100 prospect at this point next season with another impressive season.
12. Travis Blankenhorn, 20 years old, 3B, A Level
Drafted in the third round of the 2015 draft, Blankenhorn followed up a so-so 2015 debut season with a very good season this past year. Blankenhorn played 34 games at the rookie level, where he was a year and a half younger than the average hitter. He hit a very impressive .297/.342/.558 with 9 home runs in 138 at bats. That impressive stretch led to a promotion to Cedar Rapids, where he hit .286/.356/.418 despite being more than 2 years younger than the average hitter.
Scouts aren't sure if he'll be able to stick at third base long-term, but if he is forced to move to first base he should be at least above average as a defender there. His bat is what will get him to the bigs, so he'll need to continue to impress on that side of the ball.
13. Lewin Diaz, 20 years old, 1B, Rookie League Level
Diaz signed with the Twins as one of the top international amateur free agents way back in 2013. Diaz was paid $1.4 million, which was almost half of the Twins entire international amateur spending that season. Long considered someone with massive power potential, Diaz broke out in an impressive way this past season.
He hit .310/.353/.575 as a 19-year-old this past season, adding 9 home runs in just 174 at bats. The league average hitter was almost 21-years-old, and they hit just .256/.331/.381. While Diaz is unlikely to ever add any kind of value defensively, if his bat continues to produce the way it did during the 2016 season, he'll be a middle-of-the-order bat in the future.
14. Jaylin Davis, 22 years old, OF, A Level
Drafted in the 24th round of the 2015 draft out of Appalachin State University, Jaylin Davis was considered nothing more than a low level minor league filler. After hitting .257, .280 and .262 across three collegiate seasons, his bat was never expected to improve enough to make him a real prospect.
Injuries delayed his professional debut until 2016, but it was worth the wait. In 12 games at the rookie league level, Davis hit 7 home runs in 12 games, leading to an immediate promotion to Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, the Twins single A affiliate.
In 52 games at Single A Davis hit .250/.339/.469, with 9 home runs in less than 200 at bats. The average Midwest league hitter hit just .249/.317/.355 and was about 6 months older than Davis. If he can stay healthy and his power can continue to improve, he could be a massive steal as late as the Twins drafted him.
15. Taylor Clemensia, 19 years old, SP, Rookie League Level
Signed out of the Netherlands prior to the 2016 season, the 19-year-old left hander turned in an impressive debut season for the GCL Twins. In 11 games, 10 starts, Clemensia struck out 47 batters in 43 innings while posting a 2.47 ERA.
His 8 wild pitches in just 43 innings are a bit of a red flag, but hopefully he can reign in his control issues over the next several seasons. He had an impressive debut performance, essentially out of nowhere.
16. Lean Marrero, 19 years old, RF, Rookie League Level
A 16th round pick out of Puerto Rico, Lean Marrero struggled in his 24-game debut back in 2015. However, his 2016 season was well above the league average despite Marrero being more than a year younger than the average player.
Marrero hit .290/.319/.421 in 36 games, while the league average hitter hit just .241/.319/.336. I would expect him to spend at least one more season at the rookie league level, so he'll need to have an even better season next year to stay on our radar.
17. Tyler Wells, 22 years old, SP, Rookie League Level
Tyler Wells is a large man, standing at 6'8 and listed at 265 pounds. He spent three years pitching at California State Bernadino, improving each season before the Twins made him a 15th round selection this past June.
Wells doesn't get quite as many strikeouts as one would expect from someone with his size, but Wells followed up a solid 2016 collegiate season (2.84 ERA in 15 starts) with a solid rookie league performance (3.23 ERA in 10 starts).
Wells had too much collegiate experience not to succeed at the rookie levels, but hopefully he'll be pushed a little harder this season. If he continues to improve like he did in 2016, he could be a solid rotation option sooner than anyone anticipates.
18. Aaron Whitefield, 20 years old, OF, Rookie League Level
Signed out of Australia as an 18-year-old in 2015, Whitefield's 2016 season was a bit of a breakout. He played in 51 games, hitting .298/.370/.366 while playing all 3 outfield positions, first base and third base. He also added a remarkable 31 steals in those 51 games, which suggests he's got blazing speed.
Whitefield has a ton of size, as he's 6'4, but will need to fill out as he matures as he currently tips the scales at less than 200 pounds. While the power developing would make him a legitimate prospect, his ability to get on base when coupled with his speed and defensive versatility make him a potential big leaguer in the future.
His 2017 season at a more competitive level will be very important for his evaluation.
19. Victor Tademo, 17 years old, SS/3B, Rookie League Level
Signed as 16-year-old out of Venezuela last year, Tademo played 51 games for the Twins Dominican Summer league team. Despite being more than 2 years younger than the average player, Tademo hit an impressive .311/.388/.429, which is even more impressive when considering the average offensive player hit just .240/.334/.320.
If Tademo can remain on the left side of the infield and continue to hit as he moves up the organizational ladder over the next few seasons, he could emerge as a top 100 prospect. One 50-game sample as a 16-year-old is much too small of a sample size, but he's on the right track for now. It'll be interesting to see what level the Twins start him at this season.
20. Ben Rortvedt, 19 years old, Catcher, Rookie League Level
Drafted in the second round this past June by the Twins, Rortvedt flashes plus power potential at the plate that should carry over into games in the near future. However, Rortvedt's played minimally at the catcher position and is likely to take years to learn the position. It's rare for players to learn to catch this late in life, but it's worth taking a chance because his bat will be way more valuable as a catcher than anywhere else.
He struggled in his first taste of pro-ball, but that's not unexpected especially considering he was learning to catch as well. The biggest worry is that he didn't hit a single home run in nearly 60 games, and if the power doesn't start showing up this season, Rortvedt's prospect status will likely be brushed aside.