2017 Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects

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1. Nick Gordon, ss
2. Stephen Gonsalves, lhp
3. Alex Kirilloff, of/1b
4. Fernando Romero, rhp
5. Tyler Jay, lhp
6. Adalberto Mejia, lhp
7. Kohl Stewart, rhp
8. Felix Jorge, rhp
9. Daniel Palka, of
10. Travis Blankenhorn, 3b/2b

The signs all seemed to point in a positive direction.

After four straight years of 92 or more losses, the 2015 Twins won 83 games under first-year manager Paul Molitor. They competed for a postseason berth. A wave of top prospects, led by outfielder Byron Buxton, seemed ready to seize big league roles.

Then the 2016 season rolled in, and those good feelings quickly evaporated. The Twins started the season 0-9 and were 33-58 at midseason (the second-worst midseason mark in franchise history), so owner Jim Pohlad fired longtime general manager Terry Ryan in mid-July.

Ryan was in his second stint as GM. His first ended with a flourish, when the Twins finished first in the American League Central four times between 2002-06. His second stint ended in failure, as he was unable to get the franchise back on track. The Twins finished the 2016 season 59-103—worst in franchise history.

Obviously, little went right for Minnesota in 2016. Byung Ho Park, a 29-year-old Korean first baseman signed to be the primary DH, struggled to adjust to American baseball, batting .191/.274/.409 before being demoted to Triple-A Rochester. Righthanders Tyler Duffey and Kyle Gibson took steps back from their strong 2015 seasons. Powerful Miguel Sano—the team’s No. 2 prospect in 2015—missed all of June with a hamstring strain after an ill-fated attempt to play him in right field.

The Twins graduated five of their Top 10 Prospects, with varying levels of success. Buxton, sent down twice during the season, finally clicked in September, hitting nine home runs in 101 at-bats. Righthander Jose Berrios went 3-7, 8.02 in the first 14 starts of his big league career. Shuttled between Rochester and Minnesota, both outfielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco seemingly solidified major league roles by season’s end.

The Twins decided to make two hires to replace Ryan. First came Indians assistant GM Derek Falvey, whose title is chief baseball officer, and right after the World Series they hired Thad Levine from the Rangers as GM. They inherit a major league roster in transition, and farm system thinned by prospect graduations.

The Twins’ Top 10 might have more questions than answers. Does top prospect Nick Gordon have the athleticism to stick at shortstop? Can lefthander Tyler Jay, the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, make a successful transition from reliever to starter? Can righthander Kohl Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in 2013, find a way to miss bats? The answers to those questions could define the Twins’ immediate future.

The Twins drafted high schoolers in the first four rounds in 2016, and while those picks offer plenty of upside, they are far from helping the big league club. If there’s a silver lining from a disastrous 2016, it’s that the 2017 draft will give them an opportunity to restock, starting with the No. 1 overall pick.

1. Nick Gordon, ss | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Oct. 24, 1995. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Drafted: HS—Orlando, 2014 (1st round). Signed by: Brett Dowdy.

Batting: 50.
Power: 45.
Speed: 50.
Defense: 50.
Arm: 60.
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Background: The son of righthander Tom Gordon—who pitched parts of 21 seasons in the big leagues—and the younger half-brother of Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, Nick benefits from significant major league bloodlines. The Twins drafted him fifth overall in 2014 and signed him for $3.581 million, making Gordon the first high school position player selected that year. The top prep shortstop in his class, Gordon could’ve also followed in his father’s footsteps. He showed a low-90s fastball and flashes of a curveball—Tom’s signature pitch—in the summer showcase circuit. Instead, the Twins have groomed Gordon as a shortstop, and he continues to learn the nuances of the position. Gordon built on a solid 2015 season at low Class A Cedar Rapids, during which he batted .277/.336/.360, with a near identical offensive stat line at high Class A Fort Myers in 2016. However, Gordon recorded a .530 OPS against lefthanders and made 24 errors at shortstop—two areas he’ll look to improve as he moves up the ladder in the Twins organization. Gordon finished 2016 on a strong note with Surprise of the Arizona Fall League, where he made the circuit’s all-star team.

Scouting Report: Unlike his half-brother Dee, Nick doesn’t boast off-the-charts speed or athleticism; he’s average in both categories. As such, some scouts outside of the organization view him as more of a second baseman. The Twins believe he has the aptitude, instincts and short-area quickness to stick at short, but he’ll need to continue to put in the time to learn hitters, properly position himself and refine his footwork. His success at shortstop will depend on his preparation. By most accounts, he has a strong work ethic. Gordon’s plus arm strength is his greatest asset, though he did have throwing issues at times in 2016, contributing to his error total, which ranked fourth among Florida State League shortstops. Offensively, Gordon shows strength and bat speed in his lefthanded, line-drive swing as well as an ability to hit to all fields. His power is geared for the gaps at present, but he should put more balls over the fence as he develops physically. With good hand-eye coordination and barrel awareness, Gordon is generally a disciplined hitter, but he also gives away at-bats on occasion, and the Twins want him to take care of his plate appearances with a little more focus and concentration. His issues against lefthanded pitchers in 2016 are worth watching, though he’s shown better splits in the past and he could improve against lefties with repetition.

The Future: Gordon’s game is predicated more on fundamentals than flash, and he’ll need to continue to refine those fundamentals for him to stick at shortstop. Gordon’s instincts and feel for the game are ahead of many players his age—thanks in part to his big league genetics—and that aptitude helps him play above his raw tools. The Twins have had 10 different starters on Opening Day at shortstop since 2005, and they will start Gordon at Double-A Chattanooga in 2017 with the hopes he’ll end their revolving door at shortstop soon.

Fort Myers (Hi A) .291 .335 .386 461 56 134 23 6 3 52 23 87 19

2. Stephen Gonsalves, lhp

Born: July 8, 1994. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 213. Drafted: HS—San Diego, 2013 (4th round). Signed by: John Leavitt.

Background: Drafted in the fourth round in 2013 and signed to an above-slot $700,000 bonus, Gonsalves has moved steadily up the Twins system. He returned to high Class A Fort Myers in 2016 after making 15 starts there at the end of 2015, and he earned a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga in late June. He went 13-5, 2.06 between both levels, with his ERA ranking seventh in the minors and his .179 opponent average ranking fourth.

Scouting Report: Athletic with a loose arm and easy delivery, Gonsalves’ 90-91 mph fastball plays up due to his extension and the tough angle created by his low arm slot. He can touch 95 mph, but he’s effective as long as he works the corners. The command of his fastball lacks consistency and will need to improve. A plus sinking changeup gives him a weapon against righthanded hitters. The Twins had him throw more curveballs in 2016, but it’s a pitch Gonsalves still needs to mix in more. While it doesn’t project as a plus pitch, his curveball flashes average and should be a usable third option.

The Future: Gonsalves will likely pitch at Triple-A Rochester at some point in 2017 and could crack the big league rotation as soon as 2018. He has the look of a mid- to back-of-the-rotation starter.

Fort Myers (Hi A) 5 4 2.33 11 11 1 66 43 2 20 66 .284
Chattanooga (AA) 8 1 1.82 13 13 1 74 43 1 37 89 .214

3. Alex Kirilloff, of/1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Nov. 9, 1997. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Pittsburgh, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: Jay Weitzel.

Background: The Twins drafted Kirilloff 15th overall in 2016 signed him away from Liberty with a $2,817,100 bonus. They thought the preseason first-team All-American was advanced enough to eschew the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and start at Rookie-level Elizabethton. That assignment proved prudent. Kirilloff went on to win MVP honors in the Appalachian League before being shut down late in the season with elbow inflammation.

Scouting Report: Though only 18, Kirilloff showed a college hitter’s polish in his pro debut. With strong, quick wrists and a fluid, balanced lefthanded swing, Kirilloff hits the ball to all fields and has the chance to hit for both average and plus power at higher levels. Reminding some in the Twins organization of big league outfielder Max Kepler, Kirilloff could develop 20-25 home-run power. While he played some center field in high school and is a solid-average runner, he projects best in a corner. His plus arm plays in right, and that’s likely where he’ll spend the bulk of his time in the minors. Kirilloff is also an adept first baseman and could end up there as a fallback option.

The Future: The Twins envision Kirilloff as a power-hitting corner outfielder or first baseman—though he has a long way to go to reach that ceiling. Riding a strong pro debut, he will play at low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2017.

Elizabethton (R) .306 .341 .454 216 33 66 9 1 7 33 11 32 0

4. Fernando Romero, rhp

Born: Dec. 24, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 215. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Fred Guerrero.

Background: The Twins have had high hopes for Romero since they signed him as a 16-year-old. Tommy John surgery in June 2014 wiped out his last two seasons. He missed all of 2015 and made just three starts the season prior. Finally healthy, Romero took astep forward in 2016, thriving at two levels and making it through the season unscathed.

Scouting Report: The Twins were pleased with Romero’s conditioning work during Tommy John rehab, and he came into 2016 leaner and stronger than he was before the surgery. Though just 6 feet tall, Romero flirts with triple digits, routinely working 94-97 mph with an electric, double-plus fastball. He pairs that fastball with a firm 86-92 mph slider—a wipeout pitch when it’s working—and an average changeup that he’ll need to throw more. With two potential high-end pitches, Romero might possess the best raw stuff in the Twins organization, but he needs to polish his command and his approach. Romero brings an attacking, aggressive mindset to the mound. However, he can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to strike out every hitter he faces, elevating his pitch counts.

The Future: Making it through a full season healthy was an important step for Romero, and he’ll pitch with few restrictions in 2017. He has No. 2 or No. 3 starter ceiling.

Cedar Rapids (Lo A) 4 1 1.93 5 5 0 28 18 0 5 25 .186
Fort Myers (Hi A) 5 2 1.88 11 11 0 62 48 1 10 65 .214

5. Tyler Jay, lhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: April 19, 1995. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Illinois, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Jeff Pohl.

Background: The Twins drafted Jay sixth overall in 2015 with visions of developing him as a starter. He was a power closer and first-team All-American on a 2015 Illinois team that went to super regionals. In 71 college appearances, Jay started just twice. He made 15 starts in 2016 before moving to the bullpen in the second half at Double-A Chattanooga, and the Twins shut him down at the end of the year with neck inflammation.

Scouting Report: With his mid-90s fastball and hard, late-breaking 88-92 mph slider, Jay has two big league quality pitches that give him a high floor as a potential closer. As a starter, he features a four-pitch mix, flashing an above-average curveball and mixing in a changeup that has proven effective against righthanded hitters. Evaluators question whether the modest-framed Jay has the physicality to sustain his stuff in extended work. Though electric in short stints, he wasn’t as sharp the second and third time through lineups in 2016. Whether Jay will ever build that durability is a divisive topic among scouts.

The Future: The Twins remain committed to developing Jay as a starter, and he should return to Chattanooga in 2017. However, with the major league club in need of arms, he could at least begin his major league career out of the bullpen.

Fort Myers (Hi A) 5 5 2.84 13 13 0 70 64 5 21 68 .248
Chattanooga (AA) 0 0 5.79 5 2 0 14 13 2 5 9 .245

6. Adalberto Mejia, lhp

Born: June 20, 1993. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 240. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Pablo Peguero (Giants).

Background: The Twins acquired Mejia from the Giants just before the 2016 trade deadline, sending big league infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Bay. Signed by the Giants in 2011, Mejia moved quickly through the system, buoyed by his advanced pitching feel. A 50-game suspension for the stimulant Sibutramine slowed his progress in 2015, but he worked his way to Triple-A Sacramento in 2016 and continued on with Triple-A Rochester after the trade.

Scouting Report: Mejia throws strikes and keeps the ball low in the zone, fitting the Twins’ pitching paradigm. The thick-bodied lefthander isn’t overpowering. Mejia generally works 91-93 mph with his fastball, mixing in an average low-80s slider that can flash better and an above-average changeup, and he has command of all three pitches. The Twins love Mejia’s even-keeled makeup and mound presence, and he’s shown the ability to make adjustments on the mound when necessary.

The Future: Essentially a finished product, Mejia should vie for a role in the back of the Twins’ rotation immediately and projects safely as a No. 5 starter.

Richmond (AA) 3 2 1.94 11 11 0 65 48 4 16 58 .203
Sacramento (AAA) 4 1 4.20 7 7 0 41 42 5 11 43 .263
Rochester (AAA) 2 2 3.76 4 4 0 26 28 3 3 25 .269
Twins (MLB) 0 0 7.71 1 0 0 2 2 0 0 1 .455

7. Kohl Stewart, rhp

Born: Oct. 7, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Houston, 2013 (1st round). Signed by: Greg Runser.

Background: A Texas A&M recruit, Stewart might have succeeded Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback. Instead, the two-sport star signed with the Twins for $4,544,400 after they drafted him fourth overall in 2013. A type 1 diabetic, Stewart battled second-half shoulder soreness his first two seasons and elbow inflammation in his third. Aside from a brief bout with biceps tendinitis, he shouldered a full workload in 2016.

Scouting Report: Drafted for his power stuff, Stewart has missed fewer bats than expected. His strikeout rate rose a tick from a subpar 4.9 per nine a year ago, but it still remained a curiously low 5.7 per nine in 2016. Stewart is behind other pitchers his age due to his football background, and the Twins believe his strikeout rate will improve as he learns sequencing and improves the command of his full arsenal. Stewart can touch 96 mph with his four-seamer, but he leans more on his 91-92 two-seamer. He throws a hard slider, up to 87-88 mph, a power 12-to-6 curveball and the occasional changeup. His above-average slider is the best of the mix, but it produces more weak contact than swings and misses.

The Future: Stewart’s next step is Triple-A Rochester, and 2017 could be a big season for him as he tries to establish his identity as a pitcher. He has a No. 3 starter ceiling.

Fort Myers (Hi A) 3 2 2.61 9 9 0 52 52 39 19 44 .207
Chattanooga (AA) 9 6 3.03 16 16 0 92 91 4 44 47 .265

8. Felix Jorge, rhp

Born: Jan. 2, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2011. Signed by: Fred Guerrero.

Background: Signed as a slender teenager for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Jorge took a step forward in 2016 after repeating low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2015. The righthander started the season 9-3, 1.55 at high Class A Fort Myers, earning a July promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. The Southern League proved more challenging for Jorge. His strikeout rate dipped to 3.9 per nine, but he maintained his trademark control.

Scouting Report: Jorge fits the command-oriented mold of past Twins starters. He finally started to fill out his lanky frame in 2016 and gained velocity in the process. Working anywhere from 86-94 mph in the past, Jorge now has the physicality to sit consistently at 90 and above. He touches 95 mph with sink and has added more action and velocity to his breaking pitches. Jorge uses an average, late-breaking slider to keep hitters off balance, but his above-average sinking changeup is his main out pitch. Jorge throws with a clean, athletic delivery and fields his position well.

The Future: With pitching feel and command beyond his years, Jorge is finally developing the durability necessary to maintain his stuff deeper into outings. He projects as a back-end starter and will likely pick up where he left off at Chattanooga in 2017.

Fort Myers (Hi A) 9 3 1.55 14 14 0 93 76 3 11 77 .226
Chattanooga (AA) 3 5 4.12 11 11 0 74 83 7 12 32 .290

9. Daniel Palka, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Oct. 28, 1991. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2013 (3rd round). Signed by: T.R. Lewis (D-backs).

Background: The Diamondbacks took Palka in the third round in 2013 and dealt him in November 2015 to the Twins for catcher Chris Hermann. He opened 2016 at Double-A Chattanooga with a display of power and punchouts, and that pattern continued after a promotion to Triple-A Rochester. He finished fourth in the minors in home runs (34) and third in strikeouts (186).

Scouting Report: Much like fellow farmhand Adam Brett Walker, Palka has huge raw power and an all-or-nothing approach that leads to egregious strikeout totals. However, Palka features a more well-rounded tool set than Walker, and while he’ll likely never hit for a high average, the Twins have more conviction that Palka will be able to make the necessary adjustments to hit just enough at the next level. He batted .267/.319/.527 against lefthanders in 2016—a touch better than he hit against righties. Though not an outstanding athlete, Palka is a serviceable defender in right field and his strong arm helps make up for some his deficiencies in range.

The Future: Palka is coming off his best pro season and is on the cusp of cracking the big league roster at some point in 2017, where he could provide some needed thump either off of the bench or in an outfield corner.

Chattanooga (AA) .270 .348 .547 345 42 81 12 4 21 65 38 100 7
Rochester (AAA) .232 .296 .483 203 31 47 12 3 13 25 18 86 2

10. Travis Blankenhorn, 3b/2b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 3, 1996. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 208. Drafted: HS—Pottsville, Pa., 2015 (3rd round). Signed by: Jay Weitzel.

Background: An accomplished prep basketball and football player and a Kentucky baseball signee, Blankenhorn signed with the Twins for $650,0000 after they plucked him in the third round in 2015. After playing the bulk of his pro debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, Blankenhorn returned to Elizabethton in 2016 before forcing a promotion to low Class A Cedar Rapids in August. Primarily a shortstop in high school, he has played mostly second base since signing, with occasional starts at third.

Scouting Report: The Twins believe in Blankehorn’s lefthanded bat and envision him hitting for average and potentially 15-20 home runs per year as he physically matures. He has a quick, balanced swing, good presence in the box and an advanced offensive approach for his age. Blankenhorn’s future position is up in the air, because he likely will outgrow second base, where he’s a fringy defender at present. He’s athletic enough to handle left field but seems destined to land at an infield corner. He has an average arm.

The Future: Blankenhorn has the look of an bat-first player with some defensive versatility. He could evolve into one of the best pure hitters in the system, with the chance to hit for power. He’ll likely return to Cedar Rapids to start 2017.

Elizabethton (R) .297 .342 .558 138 30 41 7 1 9 29 8 33 3
Cedar Rapids (Lo A) .286 .356 .418 91 11 26 5 2 1 12 8 28 2

Last Year’s Twins Top 10 Prospects

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