• Twins Spring Training Prospect Watch

    As spring training games are set to begin for the Minnesota Twins, fans will finally be able to see how the players perform against other teams. As we’ve learned time after time, actual spring training statistics mean very little. Most positions are already accounted for. However, as we have documented the last two weeks at Twins Daily, there are still a few position battles we will be watching.

    Spring performance also is noteworthy for prospects and other players who just want to make an impression on the Twins coaching staff and brass.

    It may not mean making the Opening Day roster, but it might mean getting a look when a need arises through the season. Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the prospects who are in Ft. Myers looking to make an impression.

    THE BIG THREE

    There’s no question the Twins have one of the most highly rated minor league systems in all baseball. This is largely due to the Twins' Big Three. Byron Buxton is rated baseball’s #1 prospect by every outlet. Miguel Sano is touted as the top third base prospect in large part because he is generally considered the minor leaguer with the most power potential in the game.

    For me, Alex Meyer fits into the elite prospect category as well. As great as the potential may be for Buxton and Sano, Meyer is arguably the most important prospect in the Twins' farm system. Meyer represents what Twins fans (and coaches and front office personnel) have been awaiting for years, an ace. Not just a #1 starter, but a true ace. Blessed with a fastball that can hit triple-digits, Meyer also has a devastating slider and two other major league pitches.

    All three of these prospects are in big league camp. It is the first go ‘round for Buxton and Sano while Meyer was invited last spring after coming to the organization from Washington. All three are non-roster invitees. (Sano and Meyer would need to be added to the 40 man roster following the 2014 season while Buxton would not need to be added until after the 2016 season.) Because they are not on the 40 man roster, it is more likely the Twins will take a long look at them. It is also possible all three will surface with the Twins sometime in 2014.

    QUICK GLANCE

    If a player on the 40 man roster happens to get hurt while in major league camp, he would go on the major league disabled list. Because of that, players on the 40 man roster with little (or no) chance of making the Opening Day roster are quickly sent to minor league camp. Minor leaguers report to Ft. Myers on March 4 and their first full workout is March 6. The Twins first round of cuts will likely be soon after that. There are several players that fit in this category:

    Max Kepler – The outfielder/first baseman is young (20) and very raw, but he has a world of talent. He will start the season in Ft. Myers after playing just a half-season at Cedar Rapids last year before his Arizona Fall League stint.

    Jorge Polanco – The infielder is just 20 years old and played all 2013 in Cedar Rapids. He’ll move up to Ft. Myers for 2014. His prospect status has risen quickly the past two years, so he was an easy choice to be added to the 40 man roster. He’ll also be an easy choice to send to minor league camp right away.

    Kennys Vargas – If you thought the 6-5, 250 pound Miguel Sano was a large man, wait until you see Vargas. He is 6-6 and about 275 pounds. He (specifically his batting practice prowess) has made quite an impression this spring. He had a solid season in 2013 in Ft. Myers and will begin the 2014 season in AA New Britain.

    Danny Santana – Even with Pedro Florimon’s appendectomy and missed time in spring training, Santana will not be an option for Opening Day. I think he’ll start the 2014 season back in New Britain, but we could see him by season’s end. However, with Eduardo Escobar, Jason Bartlett and James Beresford in camp, I think he’ll be sent down quickly.

    Logan Darnell – The left-hander pitched for New Britain and Rochester in 2013. He is likely to spend the season starting in Rochester in 2014. Due to the logjam for the 5th starter spot already, Darnell likely gets sent back to minor league spring training pretty quickly.

    LONG LOOKS

    If they are still qualified as “prospects”, there are a few prospects who are on the 40 man roster and will still get long looks this spring. Kyle Gibson, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks fall into this category.

    Josmil Pinto has a chance to be the Twins starting catcher. That offensive talent made a strong impression last fall in his big league debut. However, he was shut down quickly from winter ball due to a sore shoulder. On arriving in Ft. Myers, he was delayed by a back problem too. He’ll get a chance to compete though.

    Trevor May, like Darnell, is not going to make the Opening Day roster due to the crunch at the back of the Twins rotation. Also, he has only pitched in one game at AAA. The Twins will want to take a long look at him to get a better feel for whether or not he will be able to start long term.

    Michael Tonkin could also be around big league camp for a little while. Though he struggled at AAA and in the big leagues, he still has a big arm and the potential to pitch at the back-end of the Twins bullpen for years.

    ORGANIZATION’S NEW ARMS

    In the offseason, the Twins added a few pitchers to the organization. They will likely want to see them for a little while in an attempt to see what they have.

    Sean Gilmartin is not on the 40 man roster. He came to the Twins from the Atlanta Braves in the Ryan Doumit trade. A first-round pick just three years ago, he was injured in 2013 and hopes to show what he can do again when healthy.

    Brooks Raley was claimed by the Twins just two weeks ago. He had appeared in games for the Chicago Cubs each of the last two seasons, but he was removed from their 40 man roster and claimed by the Twins. The left-hander has started, but he also has pitched out of the bullpen. He certainly does fit the mold of soft-tossing lefty.

    Kris Johnson came to the Twins in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Twins sent reliever Duke Welker back to the Pirates in exchange. Recall that the Twins sent Justin Morneau to the Pirates in late August for Alex Presley and a player to be named later. Shortly after the season, the teams announced that the PTBNL was reliever Welker. Then a month or so later, something happened and the Twins decided they would send Welker back to Pittsburgh for Johnson. Though already 29, Johnson made his big league debut in 2013. He showed that he isn’t just a soft-tosser. He capable of hitting 92 on the radar.

    ROAD TO RECOVERY

    There are two pitchers at Twins camp who came to the organization in controversial trades. They were both on the 40 man roster at one point, but injury cost each of them time and a spot on the 40 man roster.

    Last spring, Deolis Guerra was ready to pitch for Team Venezuela in the WBC. Unfortunately, a blood clot in his shoulder required surgery and he missed the entire season. He became a free agent following the 2013 season but chose to stay with the Twins.

    The same is true of Lester Oliveros. He could have gone elsewhere but stayed with the Twins. In September of 2012, he had Tommy John surgery and rehabbed throughout the 2013 season.

    Both pitchers are still 25 or younger. Guerra has a tremendous changeup while Oliveros was a hard-thrower. Both could fit into the Twins bullpen in 2014 if a need arrives.

    NON-ROSTER INVITES WHO CAN IMPRESS

    James Beresford put together his best offensive season in 2013, hitting over .300 while splitting time between New Britain and Rochester. The second baseman may compete (or should be allowed to compete) for a second utility infield position.

    Every spring training, teams need a lot of catchers at big league camp. The reason? There are a ton of pitchers at big league camp. There are four non-roster catchers in Twins camp.

    This is the fourth time Rohlfing has been a non-roster invite to big league camp. Last year, he split his time between New Britain and Rochester. He also is a terrific athlete who split his time between catcher and the outfield. Rohlfing became a free agent after last season but signed back with the Twins.

    Kyle Knudson was invited to spring training for the second time. The former Gophers star was healthy for the first time in his career last year and came through with a very solid season between Ft. Myers and New Britain.

    Matt Koch spent 2013 in Ft. Myers. He’s more of an offensive catcher, though, showing good power and an ability to hit for average.

    Stuart Turner was the Twins 3rd round pick just last year. He was the Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation’s top catcher. He is a guy who could move quickly.

    As we’ve learned, all the Twins home games this spring will be shown on FSN. Now when you see players wearing uniforms with numbers generally worn by offensive tackles and wide receivers, you’ll know a little bit about them. We are certain to learn even more about them throughout the 2014 season.
    Comments 19 Comments
    1. Carneal&Gordon's Avatar
      Carneal&Gordon -
      Good stuff Seth, still confused by the Johnson/Welker trade and it's reasoning but excited to see reports of the prospects over spring training and the year to come.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Johnson's a starter and left-handed... that's all I need to know.

      We'll definitely have the minor leagues covered in 2014!! I think people are becoming more and more aware that Twins Daily is the best place for Twins minor leave coverage, and we take that really seriously!
    1. whosafraidofluigirussolo's Avatar
      whosafraidofluigirussolo -
      I still don't really get the addition of Kepler to the 40-man roster. He hasn't yet hit to match his scouting reports, if I remember correctly he hasn't played a full minor-league season yet, and at his rate of progress through the minors he may run out of options before he's even ready for the majors. Not that some of the potential everyone loved isn't still there, but that doesn't look like a player who would get claimed for a major-league roster.
      Good luck to him, though.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      Nice write-up sir!

      Always fun when ST just begins and everybody is there.
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      Yes indeed, great article, Seth. You guys do such a great job keeping us informed of the youngsters in the minors. As we know all too well, that has been our only bright spots of optimism these last few years in Twins territory. Looking forward to keeping tabs on these kids in the minors and hopefully more than a couple of them with the big boys this season.
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      Looking forward to seeing them play in 5 days.
    1. Intramural Legend's Avatar
      Intramural Legend -
      Quote Originally Posted by whosafraidofluigirussolo View Post
      I still don't really get the addition of Kepler to the 40-man roster. He hasn't yet hit to match his scouting reports, if I remember correctly he hasn't played a full minor-league season yet, and at his rate of progress through the minors he may run out of options before he's even ready for the majors. Not that some of the potential everyone loved isn't still there, but that doesn't look like a player who would get claimed for a major-league roster.
      Good luck to him, though.
      I know it is a bit premature, but I just get an ugly feeling that Kepler is our next Joe Benson. Will struggle to put together all of the tools that he clearly has. I hope I am wrong, and it could just be that it seems like we have been talking about him forever.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by whosafraidofluigirussolo View Post
      I still don't really get the addition of Kepler to the 40-man roster. He hasn't yet hit to match his scouting reports, if I remember correctly he hasn't played a full minor-league season yet, and at his rate of progress through the minors he may run out of options before he's even ready for the majors. Not that some of the potential everyone loved isn't still there, but that doesn't look like a player who would get claimed for a major-league roster.
      Good luck to him, though.
      The Brewers picked Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule V and he'd only pitched in Rookie League.

      It's a little different situation than Kepler, but there's still a risk of losing him. The terrible teams these days acknowledge they are rebuilding, there's a chance that a team like the Marlins would grab a guy they knew couldn't help this year, the Twins did it with Johan Santana after all, he had never pitched above A ball. I know if another team left a high ceiling prospect available to snag, I'd campaign for the Twins to keep a spot open for him. After all, how much are you truley losing having dead weight in Kepler on your bench instead of Mastroianni, or Clete Thomas or Wilkin Ramirez?
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Intramural Legend View Post
      I know it is a bit premature, but I just get an ugly feeling that Kepler is our next Joe Benson. Will struggle to put together all of the tools that he clearly has. I hope I am wrong, and it could just be that it seems like we have been talking about him forever.
      There's nothing really to base that on other than the fact that most prospects/minor leaguers don't become stars.

      You make an interesting point. With the increased knowledge and discussion of prospects, especially 16-year-old international signings, we are going to hear their names for a long time. He's 20 and will be starting in Ft. Myers this season... by that, he's progressing very well... But, since we've known about him since July 2009, it seems like he's moving slowly. He's so young, and so talented.
    1. Deduno Abides's Avatar
      Deduno Abides -
      Trevor May should be considered to go North with the team in a long relief role. Predicting pitcher success and health is difficult, but, as of today, the Twins' 2015 rotation will likely be composed of Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey, Gibson and Meyer. At least one of Deduno, Worley and Diamond likely will also be around. That slots May in, at best, the seventh starting position for 2015, while there are also other starters that are rising through the organization and could be ready to pitch in the majors in 2015. Therefore, keeping May as a starter may not be in his or the team's best interest. Reports are that May has a talent that would be unique on the 2014 Twins - a heavy fastball. The AFL provides a small sample, of course, but he had great stats as a reliever last fall. Promising pitchers on Earl Weaver's Orioles used to begin their major league careers in long relief. May's fastball is going to slow down as he ages, so this may be an opportune time to take advantage of his talent by initially using him in appropriate situations. If he succeeds, he can move either into the rotation or into a higher-leverage relief role. If he doesn't succeed initially, he could still go down to Rochester and work on the lessons he learned in the majors.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by whosafraidofluigirussolo View Post
      I still don't really get the addition of Kepler to the 40-man roster. He hasn't yet hit to match his scouting reports, if I remember correctly he hasn't played a full minor-league season yet, and at his rate of progress through the minors he may run out of options before he's even ready for the majors. Not that some of the potential everyone loved isn't still there, but that doesn't look like a player who would get claimed for a major-league roster.
      Good luck to him, though.
      I asked Baseball America a while back about this exact scenario, and J.J. Cooper answered and spoke about the process as it relates to Kepler and other prospects of his type. It's an interesting look at what goes into such decisions:

      http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/ask-ba-2/
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      And as Seth says, Kepler may be disappointing in the fact he's been in the system for so long already. But in that same breath, he's still only 20, which makes him younger than guys like Eddie Rosario, Alex Meyer, Josmil Pinto, and Trevor May, who all made this very websites Twins Top 10 prospects, a list in which I suspect Kepler would be just outside.

      I'd have him in my own Top 10, and I'm a very big believer in Kepler. Every time I've seen him play he's done nothing but impress. 2 years ago at Spring Training, he was playing with the Beloit roster that included Sano, Rosario, and Vargas. He was without-a-doubt the best in-game hitter on that roster in the 3 games I watched, and to be honest, it wasn't particularly close (nobody was pitching to Sano or Vargas, and Rosario was acting very frustrated). I have a notebook on all those games, and even some video of Kepler hitting a double: http://twitpic.com/8zswq4

      Needless to say, I was both disappointed and shocked that Kepler did not play for Beloit that season, so I also think they have held him back some to this point. But his injury last year didn't help either. I expect big things from Max this year, and look for him to play 1B moving forward. He resembles more of Morneau to me these days than an OF-er (size-wise).
    1. The Green Monster's Avatar
      The Green Monster -
      For my 1st post on the site I just have to say that you need to go to bed Seth! 3:51 AM post? Haha, just playin', keep up the great work. Your loyal friend and reader, The Green Monster.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      You think Arcia will get a long look? I would say he is a certainty to make the 25 man roster.

      Kepler is nothing like Benson. Not the same player at all. Kepler is a Corner OF/1B prospect with better plate discipline but Benson was a good fielding CF'er with pop who struck out too much. Kepler needs at bats to see what kind of player he will be. Benson's problem was he got too many at bats and he showed he can't make contact and couldn't take walks

      Santana - Why do you think he is at New Britain? Why should roster fillers like Breinier hold him back?
      That would make me annoyed.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by clutterheart View Post
      You think Arcia will get a long look? I would say he is a certainty to make the 25 man roster.

      Kepler is nothing like Benson. Not the same player at all. Kepler is a Corner OF/1B prospect with better plate discipline but Benson was a good fielding CF'er with pop who struck out too much. Kepler needs at bats to see what kind of player he will be. Benson's problem was he got too many at bats and he showed he can't make contact and couldn't take walks

      Santana - Why do you think he is at New Britain? Why should roster fillers like Breinier hold him back?
      That would make me annoyed.
      I think Arcia should be a lock... I'm not certain he is yet.

      Benson's minor league IsoD was about .100 which is tremendous. He took a lot of walks. Struck out a bunch. Plays great defense. Very strong arm. I have Kepler in my personal top 10 Twins prospects still. Benson was actually more of a prospect. He struck out too much, but he also walked a ton.

      Santana could start at New Britain. I don't know that pushing him to AAA is a big deal. Part of me wants to see Buxton, Santana, Sano, Vargas, Meyer all on the same team and move together. Also, Santana needs to figure out how to walk once in awhile and make more routine plays. He also has the 2014 option and 2015, so there's no rush at all.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      Kepler had a nice day today, and played the entire game. He was 2-4, both line drives to right center, one a double. He did take a bad route on Hick's triple, but then charged and dove in to rob Colabello of a hit. Also made a nice catch near the stands. He's got a sweet swing. No comparison at all to Joe Benson.
    1. clutterheart's Avatar
      clutterheart -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I think Arcia should be a lock... I'm not certain he is yet.

      Benson's minor league IsoD was about .100 which is tremendous. He took a lot of walks. Struck out a bunch. Plays great defense. Very strong arm. I have Kepler in my personal top 10 Twins prospects still. Benson was actually more of a prospect. He struck out too much, but he also walked a ton.

      Santana could start at New Britain. I don't know that pushing him to AAA is a big deal. Part of me wants to see Buxton, Santana, Sano, Vargas, Meyer all on the same team and move together. Also, Santana needs to figure out how to walk once in awhile and make more routine plays. He also has the 2014 option and 2015, so there's no rush at all.
      You're right about Benson's walks. His BB% was not terrible I agree with you he was more of a prospect.

      Santana - Why do you think AAA would be pushing him? He has red flags, but I can't see why he should be blocked. As prospects get better guys like Bernier need to be gone. Those types of "good story" guys have no place in an organization that is trying to get better and has prospects who can replace them.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Deduno Abides View Post
      Trevor May should be considered to go North with the team in a long relief role.... Promising pitchers on Earl Weaver's Orioles used to begin their major league careers in long relief....
      So you're saying he should spend this season as Anthony Swarzak's shadow. I like that idea. May could learn a lot from Swarzak, whose pitching style relies on mound poise, quick delivery, and hitting his spots. If May could learn to do that, plus a few more mph, he'd be a pretty valuable asset.
    1. highlander's Avatar
      highlander -
      "when you see numbers worn by offensive tackles and wide receivers" i had to chuckle. nice article.
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