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2021 Minnesota Twins Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update

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The Twins qualified for the postseason three times in the first four years of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey’s front office regime. The club harbored expectations of making another playoff trip in 2021.

But virtually nothing went according to plan in the first half, and Minnesota embarked on the second half buried in the standings at 39-50. The Twins trailed the soaring White Sox by 15 games in the American League Central and stood 12 games out of a wild card spot.

Health and availability of MVP candidate Byron Buxton played a role in the stumble. But even without his burgeoning bat and all-world glove in center field, the Twins’ offense ranked third in the AL with a 110 OPS+. Graduating rookies Alex Kirilloff—the system’s preseason No. 1 prospect—Trevor Larnach and Ryan Jeffers had contributed to the offense. Kirilloff will miss the second half after having season-ending wrist surgery.

Twins pitchers did not hold up their end of the bargain. The staff ranked next-to-last in the AL with an 84 ERA+ at the break. Among the biggest culprits were Kenta Maeda, who failed to approach his 2020 breakout, and free agent imports J.A. Happ (71 ERA+) and Alex Colome, who quickly pitched his way out of the closer’s role with early blowups.

Just as notable was that beyond No. 1 starter Jose Berrios, the Twins had received replacement level contributions—or worse—from homegrown starters Bailey Ober (5.45 ERA in 33 innings) and Randy Dobnak (7.83 in 44) as well as Lewis Thorpe and Griffin Jax in a handful of innings.

The Twins made trades to address their dearth of homegrown pitching at the trade deadline. They made four July trades, each bringing back at least one pitching prospect.

First, they shipped Nelson Cruz to the Rays for Triple-A righthanders Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. Then at the deadline, Minnesota traded Berrios to the Blue Jays for Austin Martin, the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, and Double-A righthander Simeon Woods Richardson. Smaller trades of Happ and reliever Hansel Robles brought back Double-A pitchers Evan Sisk and Alex Scherff.

Ryan, Strotman and Woods Richardson slot into Minnesota’s top 10 and give the organization the promise of at least league-average potential, possibly as soon as this summer.

Ryan and Woods Richardson were pitching for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics at the time of their trades. They join the Twins’ incumbent upper-level pitching depth—Jordan Balazovic, Josh Winder, Matt Canterino and Jhoan Duran—to give the organization hope of a more sustainable pitching staff of the future.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Austin Martin, OF/SS
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Wichita

Martin fell to the Blue Jays at No. 5 overall in 2020 but pulled down a $7 million bonus that was second highest in the draft. Toronto assigned him to Double-A this season to make his pro debut. Martin showed fine barrel control and a disciplined eye, leading to a .281/.424/.383 batting line. The Twins added him and New Hampshire teammate Simeon Woods Richardson in their deadline deal that sent Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays. Martin is a strong athlete who runs well and gets on base, but he faces questions about impact power potential and future position. His arm may limit him to the outfield or possibly second base.

2. Royce Lewis, SS/3B
Age:
22. Team: Double-A Wichita (injured list)

Out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Lewis has set his sights on 2022 to make his big league debut. The No. 1 overall pick in 2017 has flashed power, speed and defensive versatility in the minors. Lewis worked to make his swing more direct and his hitting approach more middle of the field at the alternate site last year. Answering questions about how much he will hit for average and get on base must wait until next year.

3. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
Age:
22. Team: Double-A Wichita

Sidelined until June with a back injury, Balazovic was rounding into form at Double-A in July as he upped his pitch counts and swinging-strike totals. He throws a firm fastball in the mid 90s with a curveball with increasing depth. His changeup usage is improving and is the final piece of the puzzle.

4. Josh Winder, RHP
Age:
24. Team: Triple-A St. Paul

Drafted in the seventh round in 2018 out of Virginia Military Institute, Winder had only pitched as high as Low-A entering this season. He worked hard to improve his physicality and pitch quality during the 2020 shutdown and headed to instructional league that fall throwing harder and mixing four pitches. He pitches in the mid 90s and tops out at 98 mph, while leaning on a slider to attack righthanded batters and a curveball and changeup to combat lefties.

5. Joe Ryan, RHP
Age:
25. Team: Triple-A St. Paul

NEW One of two pitchers the Twins acquired from the Rays for Nelson Cruz, Ryan is the more successful of the two but also more divisive. While it's easy to see Drew Strotman's varied secondary offerings, Ryan attacks hitters with a fastball that always plays better than its velocity, spin and movement profile would seem to indicate it should. He hides it well, which helps it play better because hitters pick it up late, but his plus control also helps. His fringe-average slider and below-average curveball are nothing to rely on. He throws an average changeup almost exclusively to lefthanded hitters. Some evaluators see him as a solid No. 4 starter because of his control and that fastball. Others think he’s best suited for the bullpen, where hitters won't get as much time to get accustomed to him.

6. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP
Age: 20. Team: Double-A Wichita

A Mets second-rounder in 2018, Woods Richardson was traded to the Blue Jays a year later in the Marcus Stroman deal. He reached Double-A this season at the tender age of 20. Woods Richardson struggled with control this season but projects to have three average big league pitches in his low-90s fastball, solid curveball and changeup.

7. Matt Canterino, RHP
Age:
23. Team: High-A Cedar Rapids (injured list)

Drafted in the second round in 2019, Canterino topped out at Low-A prior to the pandemic. He came out firing this spring and notched 35 strikeouts through 18 innings at High-A to open this season, but then came down with a sore elbow and had not pitched since May 28. Canterino combines many attributes the Twins value: a power fastball that plays up in the zone, a slider with plus depth, a changeup that has come a long way and an ability to fill up the strike zone. His funky mechanics aid his deception.

8. Jose Miranda, 3B/2B
Age:
23. Team: Triple-A St. Paul

Drafted as a shortstop out of Puerto Rico in 2016, Miranda had previously shown good bat-to-ball skills and gap power, but this season he emerged as one of the top breakout prospects in the minors. Miranda put in work during the 2020 shutdown to become more athletic and to improve his pitch selectivity. The end result was the nimbleness to play every infield position and the ability to hunt his pitch and establish a new career high for home runs.

9. Jhoan Duran, RHP
Age: 23.
Team: Triple-A St. Paul (injured list)

Duran receives high grades for the quality and unique nature of his stuff, but he might have made his big league debut by now had he been available in 2020 or 2021. He throws a high-octane fastball that misses bats and a splitter-sinker hybrid he calls a “splinker.” Duran came down with a forearm injury in mid June and opted for rest and rehab with a goal of returning in six weeks in order to ramp up for the end of the season.

10. Chase Petty, RHP
Age:
18. Team: TBA

NEW Petty is one of the hardest throwing high school pitchers ever. He touched 102 mph in a workout and 101 mph in a game this spring. His fastball and slider give the potential for two well above-average pitches, but he has plenty of work to do on refining his control and adjusting to pro ball.

Prospects 11-30

11. Nick Gordon, OF/2B
Age:
25. Team: Minnesota

The fifth overall pick in 2014 finally appears to have found a home in the big leagues. Gordon battled Covid last year and had dealt with gastritis for years that affected his ability to keep weight on. With his digestive issues behind him, Gordon flashed enough defensive versatility, offensive competitiveness and speed to project him to a future big league role, potentially as a utility player.

12. Drew Strotman, RHP
Age:
24. Team: Triple-A St. Paul

NEW Strotman bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2019, and joined the Twins in the Nelson Cruz trade this July. Strotman’s stuff is every bit what it was before the surgery, but his control has not been as sharp. He mixes a 92-95 mph fastball with a hard, high-80s slider that sometimes has depth. He’s added a high-80s/low-90s cutter that is equally effective and also throws a slow curveball on occasion. His changeup has improved to the point that it gives him a third average offering and has played effectively at Triple-A.

13. Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF

14. Blayne Enlow, RHP

15. Gilberto Celestino, OF

16. Cole Sands, RHP

17. Keoni Cavaco, SS

18. Chris Vallimont, RHP

19. Brent Rooker, OF

20. Noah Miller, SS

NEW The younger brother of Indians prospect Owen Miller, Noah is a standout defender with a high baseball IQ whom the Twins drafted in the supplemental first round this year. The Wisconsin high school product has a short, simple swing from both sides of the plate with a hit-over-power approach.

21. Steven Hajjar, LHP

NEW The Twins drafted the Michigan standout in the second round this year based on the strength of his four-pitch mix that the organization values. Hajjar remained effective in college this season even as his velocity ticked down a bit to 89-91 mph with a high of 94 with good vertical movement. He shows feel for his tumbling changeup, 12-to-6 curveball and swing-and-miss slider.

22. Misael Urbina, OF

23. Bailey Ober, RHP

NEW Ober pitched to incredible success in the minors—a 2.41 ERA in nearly 200 innings with 244 strikeouts and just 26 walks—and made his big league debut this season as a fill-in for Michael Piñeda. Ober is 6-foot-9 but is more finesse than power. He sits 92 mph and tops out near 94, relying mostly on throwing his breaking pitches for strikes and locating his changeup. He could be an internal rotation option for the 2022 club if he finishes the year strong.

24. Aaron Sabato, 1B

25. Danny De Andrade, SS

26. Alerick Soularie, OF

27. Spencer Steer, 2B/3B

NEW The 2019 third-rounder from Oregon hit his way to Double-A by improving his control of the strike zone and driving the ball in the air more frequently. His defensive versatility is another asset that could help him land a big league role one day.

28. Edouard Julien, 2B/3B

NEW An 18th-round pick in 2019 out of Auburn, Julien hit his way to High-A early this season. More appropriately, he walked there. Julien ranked among the minor league leaders for walks and had demonstrated more ability to make contact and drive the ball. His position is undetermined as he tries his hand at second base, third base and left field.

29. Matt Wallner, OF

30. Jovani Moran, LHP

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Rising

RHP Josh Winder showed off a four-pitch mix that played well up to Triple-A and in the Futures Game.

3B/2B Jose Miranda had been one of the more productive minor league hitters, especially when considering his low strikeout rate and high rate of damage.

Dominican OF Emmanuel Rodriguez shined at extended spring training and had shown power and discipline in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. He injured his shoulder 10 games in and was sidelined.

The offensive and defensive gains made by 2B Spencer Steer made him a prospect of interest who could shoot up this ranking if he hits at Double-A.

The Twins are desperate for controllable starting pitchers, so trade pickups Simeon Woods Richardson, Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman should get ample opportunity for the big club as soon as this season.

Falling

The Twins’ first-round picks in 2019 and 2020 had not delivered the expected power output at Low-A Fort Myers. Shortstop Keoni Cavaco, taken 13th overall in 2019, was flattening his swing path to not work so uphill. First baseman Aaron Sabato, taken 27th overall in 2020, was working to get in a good position to meet the inside fastball out front after looking for pitches away in college.

Graduated

Preseason No. 1 prospect Alex Kirilloff had settled into an everyday role rotating between first base, right field and left field. His successful rookie season came to an end in July when he had season-ending wrist surgery.

The Twins pressed Trevor Larnach, the 2018 first-rounder from Oregon State, into duty in May and he carved out a large share of playing time in left field.

Catcher Ryan Jeffers was demoted to Triple-A for the month of May but returned to Minnesota after Mitch Garver’s injury to provide solid power for the position.

Relievers Cody Stashak and Jorge Alcala had pitched their way out of prospect status.

Hurting

In a best-case scenario, Royce Lewis will be ready for instructional league in the fall. He was preparing to head into the final third of his rehab from ACL surgery.

The Twins were building righthander Jhoan Duran up to return for the end of the season.

Righthander Matt Canterino was eyeing an August return from his elbow strain.

Righthander Blayne Enlow had Tommy John surgery in June and will miss most or all of 2022.

Outfielder Alerick Soularie, a 2020 second-rounder from Tennessee, had yet to make his pro debut. He rolled his ankle in spring training and then broke his foot going down stairs. He was projected to make his debut in the second half.

Righthander Edwar Colina had an arthroscopic debridement of his posterior elbow in May and is out for the season.

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