Minnesota Twins Top 10 Prospects

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1. Byron Buxton, of
2. Jose Berrios, rhp
3. Max Kepler, of/1b
4. Nick Gordon, ss
5. Tyler Jay, lhp
6. Jorge Polanco, ss/2b
7. Byung Ho Park, 1b
8. Kohl Stewart, rhp
9. Stephen Gonsalves, lhp
10. Nick Burdi, rhp

Ending an embarrassing run of four straight seasons with 92 losses or more, the Twins chased a postseason berth until the final weekend of the 2015 season before ultimately falling short.

An 83-win debut for rookie manager Paul Molitor was encouraging on many levels and earned him a third-place showing in American League manager of the year voting. Rookie third baseman Miguel Sano, called up from Double-A Chattanooga on July 2, also finished third (behind stud shortstops Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor) in voting for AL rookie of the year.

First-year pitching coach Neil Allen, hired from the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate, guided a significant turnaround on the Twins’ big league staff, which saw rookie righthanders Tyler Duffey and Trevor May make solid contributions amid the pressure of a pennant race.

The debut season of center fielder Byron Buxton, the system’s top prospect, was less satisfying. Called up on June 14 to much fanfare, he struggled at the plate and went two months between big league at-bats after spraining his left thumb while sliding headfirst into second base.

While Sano posted a park-adjusted 146 OPS+, Buxton finished the year batting just .209 and two at-bats shy of losing his rookie eligibility.

With the retirement of Torii Hunter after a successful homecoming and the trade of 2008 first-rounder Aaron Hicks—who brought young catcher John Ryan Murphy in return from the Yankees—the floor appears open for Buxton to seize a starting job in 2016.

Flanking him in the outfield should be Eddie Rosario, who enjoyed a successful rookie season in which he led the majors in triples and fell one outfield assist shy of the overall lead.

Despite forfeiting a second-round pick in 2015 for signing free agent righthander Ervin Santana, who missed the first 80 games with a steroid suspension, scouting director Deron Johnson found value in the draft once again. Illinois lefthander Tyler Jay went to the Twins at No. 6 overall, but righthander Kyle Cody, selected in the supplemental first round, failed to sign and returned to Kentucky.

On the international market, the Twins signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Javier for $4 million. That exceeded their previous record for an international amateur, which was $3.15 million for Sano in 2009.

The Twins also surprised many by winning the bidding ($12.85 million) for the negotiating rights to 29-year-old Korean first baseman Byung Ho Park. The Twins eventually signed Park on Dec. 1 for four years and $12 million. They plan to use him as their primary DH.

Double-A outfielder Max Kepler earned the Twins’ minor league player of the year award and made his big league debut in September. As MVP of the Southern League, he helped guide Chattanooga to the league title, long after Buxton and Sano had graduated to the majors.

Last Year’s Twins Top 10 Prospects

1. Byron Buxton, of

Batting: 70
Power: 60
Speed: 80
Defense: 70
Arm: 70
Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.

Born: Dec. 18, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 189. Drafted: HS—Baxley, Ga., 2012 (1st round). Signed by: Jack Powell.

Year Player, Pos. 2015 Org.
2006 Francisco Liriano, lhp Pirates
2007 Matt Garza, rhp Brewers
2008 Nick Blackburn, rhp Did not play
2009 Aaron Hicks, of Twins
2010 Aaron Hicks, of Twins
2011 Kyle Gibson, rhp Twins
2012 Miguel Sano, 3b Twins
2013 Miguel Sano, 3b Twins
2014 Byron Buxton, of Twins
2015 Byron Buxton, of Twins

Background: Plagued by health issues since destroying two Class A levels in 2013, Buxton encountered more of the same in 2015 shortly after making the jump from Double-A Chattanooga for his big league debut in mid-June. This time a sprained left thumb landed him on the shelf for six weeks after he slid headfirst into second base. He returned in early August but still retained his rookie status for 2016, falling two at-bats shy of the cutoff. Previously, Buxton’s two trips to the Arizona Fall League had been shortened by a strained left shoulder (2013) and a fractured finger (2014) that required minor surgery. In between AFL stints, he missed close to four months in 2014 with a sprained left wrist, including a setback after just five games at high Class A Fort Myers, followed by a season-ending concussion after just three plate appearances at Double-A New Britain. The BA High School Player of the Year in 2012 and Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, Buxton jumped onto the fast track after the Twins drafted him second overall (behind the Astros’ Carlos Correa) in 2012. They signed him for a $6 million bonus that remains the largest in franchise history. He helped Rookie-level Elizabethton win the Appalachian League title in his first pro summer.

Scouting Report: Considered one of the game’s elite prospects since his breakout 2013 season, Buxton is eager to justify that lofty reputation with similar production in the big leagues. While it’s unfair to say he flopped in his first crack at the majors, he struggled to recognize high-end breaking stuff and struck out in a club-record 21 straight games on either side of his DL stint. Twins general manager Terry Ryan openly admits he rushed Buxton due to need in center field, and the club hopes he’ll fare better in his second go-round. Using quick hands and strong wrists, he generates tremendous bat speed and keeps the bat in the zone longer than most. Throughout the minors he showed an advanced approach at the plate and good plate discipline along with power to all fields. Timed at 3.9 seconds to first base from the right side, Buxton is a top-of-the-scale runner who puts pressure on opposing defenders. However, he still must improve his bunting along with his reads and instincts. In the field, he has double-plus arm strength and range and chases down balls in both gaps with relative ease. He has become more comfortable in media settings and with teammates as he has matured.

The Future: With the retirement of Torii Hunter and the trade of Aaron Hicks, the Twins project to have two starting spots open in the 2016 outfield. Provided Buxton makes a solid showing in spring, he should be the Opening Day center fielder. If the Twins opt to play it safe and use Danny Santana in center, Buxton could open 2016 back at Triple-A Rochester. A fast start there should expedite his return engagement at Target Field. When he does return, the Twins hope it’s for good.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Chattanooga (AA) .283 .351 .489 237 44 67 7 12 6 37 26 51 20
Rochester (AAA) .400 .441 .545 55 11 22 3 1 1 8 4 12 2
Minnesota (MLB) .209 .250 .326 129 16 27 7 1 2 6 6 44 2

2. Jose Berrios, rhp

Born: May 27, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 189. Drafted: HS—Bayamon, P.R., 2012 (1st round supp). Signed by: Hector Otero. Video

Background: Not only did the Twins grab Byron Buxton second overall in 2012, but at No. 32 overall they signed Berrios for $1.55 million as the highest-drafted pitcher ever from Puerto Rico. Named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2014 and 2015, he also started the Futures Game in both season for the World team. The Twins strongly considered inserting Berrios into a pennant race in September, even if just in a bullpen role, but ultimately decided to limit his innings.

Scouting Report: An excellent athlete who fields his position and holds runners well, Berrios tops out at 97 mph with his fastball, which typically sits 93-95 and shows late life. Throwing from a three-quarters arm slot, he sharpened his 80-82 mph curveball, varying its speed and break. His changeup is an out pitch that allows him to keep lefties in check. Berrios led the minors with 175 strikeouts while continuing to slice his walk rate. He gave up 12 homers, double his previous career high, and some worry that his fastball may lack sufficient plane.

The Future: Highly competitive and a workout fiend, Berrios should bid for a rotation spot out of spring training. It’s possible he will open the year back at Triple-A. At worst, he projects as a mid-rotation starter.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Chattanooga (AA) 8 3 3.08 15 15 1 0 91 77 6 24 92 .232
Rochester (AAA) 6 2 2.62 12 12 0 0 76 59 6 14 83 .212

3. Max Kepler, of/1b

Born: Feb. 10, 1993. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 207. Signed: Germany, 2009. Signed by: Mike Radcliff. Video

Year Player, Pos. 2015 Org.
2006 Chris Parmelee, 1b/of Orioles
2007 Ben Revere, of Blue Jays
2008 Aaron Hicks, of Twins
2009 Kyle Gibson, rhp Twins
2010 Alex Wimmers, rhp Twins
2011 Levi Michael, ss Twins
2012 Byron Buxton, of Twins
2013 Kohl Stewart, rhp Twins
2014 Nick Gordon, ss Twins
2015 Tyler Jay, lhp Twins

Background: Kepler singled on the final day of the 2015 season to become the first player born and raised in Germany with a big league hit. Signed for $800,000 in 2009, then a record bonus for a European position player, he has added nearly 20 pounds since signing but still carries little body fat. A strained left forearm in 2015 forced Kepler to the disabled list at high Class A Fort Myers, and shoulder weakness limited him to first base at other points. He enjoyed a breakout year regardless, claiming the Southern League MVP award.

Scouting Report: Kepler has some length to his swing but shows excellent pitch recognition and the ability to barrel the ball, no matter where it’s pitched. He projects to add more power as he learns to punish mistakes, but his gap power helped him pound out 56 extra-base hits. Some liken Kepler to Christian Yelich for his modest power numbers while showing the ability to play center field and run down balls in the gaps. His arm is accurate but opinions vary on its strength. He runs well for a big man with good instincts on the bases.

The Future: With Torii Hunter’s retirement and the trade of Aaron Hicks, Kepler has an opportunity to win a starting corner-outfield job in 2016. More likely, the Twins will send him to Triple-A Rochester for a little more seasoning, but he might not be there long.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Chattanooga (AA) .322 .416 .531 407 76 131 32 13 9 71 67 63 18
Minnesota (MLB) .143 .143 .143 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0

4. Nick Gordon, ss

Born: Oct. 24, 1995. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 173. Drafted: HS—Orlando, 2014 (1st round). Signed by: Brett Dowdy. Video

Background: The son of former pitcher Tom Gordon and younger half-brother of Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, Nick was drafted fifth overall in 2014 after a standout prep career in Orlando. The Florida State signee received a $3.851 million bonus as the first high school position player drafted. Low Class A Midwest League managers voted him the best defensive shortstop in the circuit in 2015.

Scouting Report: Gordon’s range is merely average, but he’s sure-handed and makes all the routine plays while flashing an above-average arm. He compensates with anticipation and smart positioning and should stay at shortstop. An average runner out of the box, Gordon is an instinctive basestealer who runs better underway. Along with excellent hand-eye coordination, he shows good plate discipline and barrel awareness, and his offense took off after the all-star break (.763 OPS) once he reined in his aggressiveness. His line-drive swing projects to add power but for now it remains confined to the gaps. He handles lefties well enough but produced just three extra-base hits against them.

The Future: Gordon should open 2016 back home in the high Class A Florida State League. He won’t turn 21 until after the season, so it’s possible he will spend another full year the same level as the Twins slowly groom their future big league shortstop.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Cedar Rapids (Lo A) .277 .336 .360 481 79 133 23 7 1 58 39 88 25

5. Tyler Jay, lhp

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

Byron Buxton, 2012 $6,000,000
Joe Mauer, 2001 $5,150,000
Kohl Stewart, 2013 $4,544,400
Wander Javier, 2015 $4,000,000
Tyler Jay, 2015 $3.889,500

Background: Taken sixth overall in 2015, Jay signed for $3,889,500 as the Twins completed a four-year run of top-six picks. A reliever for all but two of his 71 career outings at Illinois, he was the Big 10 Conference pitcher of the year as a junior. A wide receiver and kick returner on the football powerhouse at Lemont (Ill.) High, Jay prides himself on taking a football mentality to the mound.

Scouting Report: Jay recorded 24 career saves for the Illini, and the Twins had visions of fast-tracking him to the majors, a la the Royals with 2014 first-rounder Brandon Finnegan. Pushed to high Class A Fort Myers, Jay struggled to a 7.56 ERA through July before striking out 13 and allowing five hits and one run in his final 10 innings. His fastball sat 92-94 mph and touched 98. Yet his best pitch is a late-breaking, wipeout slider to lefties that comes in at 88-92 mph and earns double-plus grades. Jay mixes in an above-average curveball and shows a feel for his changeup. He has surprising strength and durability, given his modest frame. He has a tremendous work ethic and an aggressive approach on the mound.

The Future: After seeing other fast-track relievers struggle to make the jump to Double-A, the Twins probably will start Jay back at Fort Myers. If he polishes his changeup, he would have the weapons to start, which should be his role at the outset of 2016.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Myers (Hi A) 0 1 3.93 19 0 0 1 18 18 0 8 22 .247

6. Jorge Polanco, ss/2b

Born: July 5, 1993. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2009. Signed by: Fred Guerrero.

Background: Polanco has been called to the majors four times in 2014 and 2015, though he has totaled just nine games. He grew up in San Pedro de Macoris with Miguel Sano, his teammate at various times since they were 12 years old. While Polanco plays mostly second base in the Dominican League, the Twins have given him a long look at shortstop.

Scouting Report: Some Twins people see a young Tony Fernandez at the plate, where Polanco gets the most from his lightning-quick hands. Others see more pop in his bat because he uses the whole field and has learned to punish pitches on the inner half while maintaining solid contact and walk rates. Polanco has above-average speed but still lacks basestealing instincts. He has averaged 34 errors the past two seasons since moving to shortstop, showing fairly soft hands but an average arm that strains to match the added burden of the position. His range is merely average and his play clock gets sped up, leading to unforced errors.

The Future: With second baseman Brian Dozier locked up through 2018, Polanco is blocked at his best projected position. His bat is potent enough that he could fill a super-utility role, but for now the Twins will let him play shortstop every day at Triple-A Rochester.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Chattanooga (AA) .289 .346 .393 394 55 114 17 3 6 47 35 63 18
Rochester (AAA) .284 .309 .352 88 7 25 6 0 0 6 4 10 1
Minnesota (MLB) .300 .417 .300 10 1 3 0 0 0 1 2 1 1

7. Byung Ho Park, 1b

Born: July 10, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 222. Signed: South Korea, 2015. Signed by: David Kim.

Best Hitter for Average Byron Buxton
Best Power Hitter Adam Brett Walker
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Max Kepler
Fastest Baserunner Byron Buxton
Best Athlete Byron Buxton
Best Fastball J.T. Chargois
Best Curveball Jose Berrios
Best Slider Tyler Jay
Best Changeup Jose Berrios
Best Control Jose Berrios
Best Defensive Catcher Stuart Turner
Best Defensive Infielder Engelb Vielma
Best Infield Arm Engelb Vielma
Best Defensive Outfielder Byron Buxton
Best Outfield Arm Byron Buxton

Background: Rushed to the Korean major league at age 18, Park struggled to establish himself with the LG Twins. He missed two full seasons (2007-08) to fulfill his military obligation and failed to produce until after his trade to Nexen early in 2011. He blossomed over the next four seasons into one of the most feared power hitters in Asia. The Twins surprisingly won the negotiating rights to Park by paying a $12.85 million posting fee to Nexen, then signed him for four years and $12 million.

Scouting Report: Park’s top tool is his plus power, which he showed with the first back-to-back 50-homer seasons in Korean history. Below-average as a hitter and a below-average runner, he can put on a show in batting practice and punish mistakes in games. He likes the ball out over the plate and shows power to all fields but can get beat with fastballs up and in. Originally signed as a third baseman, Park has at least an average arm and is agile enough at first base. He is considered a good teammate and has already made it clear he will tone down the bat flips that are practically expected in Korea. He has worked hard to improve his English comprehension in recent years.

The Future: Park’s former Nexen teammate Jung Ho Kang paved the way for Korean position players in the U.S. majors with his successful transition in 2015. Barring a terrible spring, Park figures to see the vast majority of his playing time at DH.

2015 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Nexen (KBO) .343 .436 .714 528 129 181 35 1 53 146 78 161 10

8. Kohl Stewart, rhp

Born: Oct. 7, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 208. Drafted: HS—Houston, 2013 (1st round). Signed by: Greg Runser.

Background: An accomplished high school quarterback who was recruited as the eventual successor to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Stewart was taken fourth overall in 2013 and signed for $4,544,400. A type one diabetic, he saw his first two pro seasons curtailed by second-half shoulder soreness. He missed three weeks in April 2015 with elbow inflammation, but still managed to increase his career-high innings total by nearly 50 percent.

Scouting Report: Somewhat curiously, Stewart doesn’t generate nearly as many swings and misses as his pedigree suggests. His strikeout rate fell sharply for the second straight year in 2015, dipping to 4.9 per nine innings at high Class A Fort Myers, while his walk rate climbed to 3.1 per nine. Stewart increasingly relied on his low-90s, two-seam fastball, though he still can reach back for 96 mph when needed. He has been content to use his hard sinker to induce early-count groundballs. Stewart’s mid-80s slider and 12-to-6 curveball are reliable weapons but tend to produce weak contact rather than whiffs. He needs to trust his changeup more because it shows good sink and fade, and lefties hit him hard in 2015.

The Future: After behind handled with caution through his first three seasons, Stewart should open 2016 atop the rotation at Double-A Chattanooga. The Twins hope he’ll start to miss more bats as he learns more about pitch sequencing.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Myers (Hi A) 7 8 3.20 22 22 1 0 129 134 2 45 71 .273

9. Stephen Gonsalves, lhp

Born: July 8, 1994. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—San Diego, 2013 (4th round). Signed by: John Leavitt.

Catcher John Ryan Murphy
First Base Joe Mauer
Second Base Brian Dozier
Third Base Miguel Sano
Shortstop Nick Gordon
Left Field Max Kepler
Center Field Byron Buxton
Right Field Eddie Rosario
Designated Hitter Byung Ho Park
No. 1 Starter Ervin Santana
No. 2 Starter Jose Berrios
No. 3 Starter Phil Hughes
No. 4 Starter Kyle Gibson
No. 5 Starter Kohl Stewart
Closer Nick Burdi

Background: Gonsalves was suspended for eight games as a senior at Cathedral Catholic High and threw just 48 innings. The preseason All-American fell to the fourth round and signed with the Twins for an above-slot $700,000 bonus. He finished fourth in the minors in ERA (2.01) in 2015, which he finished at high Class a Fort Myers.

Scouting Report: Lanky and athletic with a loose arm, Gonsalves is an accomplished surfer with projection to his frame. Ticked off at returning to low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2015, he dominated the Midwest League with an 88-92 mph fastball that he can run up to 94. Willing to work inside and able to spot his fastball to both sides of the plate, Gonsalves is still working to maintain his delivery deep into outings. His spike curveball was his best secondary pitch after a June promotion to Fort Myers, but his split-changeup has a chance to be an above-average offering. He threw more sliders in 2015 but rival scouts wonder if he might need to go to a cutter due to tight wrists.

The Future: After seeing his strikeout-to-walk ratio narrow considerably in the Florida State League, Gonsalves could start back at Fort Myers in 2016 and should reach Double-A Chattanooga by midseason at the latest.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Cedar Rapids (Lo A) 6 1 1.15 9 9 0 0 55 29 2 15 77 .154
Fort Myers (Hi A) 7 2 2.61 15 15 1 0 79 66 2 38 55 .225

10. Nick Burdi, rhp

Born: Jan. 19, 1993. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Louisville, 2014 (2nd round). Signed by: Alan Sandberg.

Background: The Twins drafted Burdi out of high school in 2011 but did not sign him. They got their man in 2014, signing the second-rounder for $1.22 million after he reached the College World Series with Louisville. After being pushed to Double-A Chattanooga in 2015, he earned a July demotion after recording a 5.93 ERA over his first 30 innings. Burdi spent six weeks at high Class A Fort Myers, then returned to finish strong by recording a 1.77 ERA over 20 innings.

Scouting Report: After his rocky first half, Burdi made a concerted effort to smooth his delivery, which gets into max-effort territory. Even with a high-90s fastball, he tends to fall behind in the count when command eludes him. Getting ahead sets up Burdi’s devastating slider at 87-90 mph, which he also has learned to throw with more of a slurvy action for early strikes. He incorporated a two-seamer more down the stretch and in the Arizona Fall League, getting weak early contact on the ground, and also forced himself to polish his mid-80s changeup.

The Future: Burdi didn’t give up a run in the AFL until allowing a solo homer while closing out the championship game for Scottsdale. Back on the fast track after his first-half hiccup, he could debut at Target Field early in 2016 as the Twins seek to increase their reliever whiff rate.

2015 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Myers (Hi A) 2 2 2.25 13 0 0 2 20 13 1 3 29 .179
Chattanooga (AA) 3 4 4.53 30 0 0 2 44 40 3 32 54 .242

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