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TD Top Prospects: #4 Kohl Stewart

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ID:	6472The 2013 Draft is going to be judged almost completely on the ascension of pitcher Kohl Stewart. That’s as intriguing as a $4.5 million bet on a roulette ball, hopping red to black. So much reward. So much risk. So little control.

The 100 Word Primer
Stewart was last year’s first round draft choice, fourth overall. After signing with the Twins, his first couple of months as a professional did not disappoint. He had the mid-90s fastball. He struck out 24 guys (both as a reliever and as a starter) and walked only four in 20 innings. He made one start in the higher of the two rookie leagues, a level below A-ball.

He’s high reward, high risk. The high risk is that he’s an 18-year-old pitcher – and there are lots of risks, both developmental and physical, associated with pitchers that young. On the other hand, it's hard to pass up someone with his upside and athleticism, either. They don't come along very often.

200 Words Deeper
The Twins have been criticized plenty for focusing on control pitchers without big arms, but with this draft pick (and the $4.5M price tag that went with it) they got the consensus highest upside arm in the draft. Stewart’s fastball supposedly works around 93 mph and can go as high as 97, and he’s still just 18 years old. That’s the good news.

The better news is that it’s not his best pitch. Stewart’s slider moves at 80mph, has a hard, late break, and looks a lot like his fastball until it’s too late. And he has worked with a changeup and a curveball too.

But what really gets people excited is that he could become much, much better. He’s very athletic, turning down a scholarship to play quarterback at Texas A&M to sign with the Twins. He’s still considered a thrower instead of a pitcher – an athlete who has never really focused solely on baseball or the craft of pitching. To have someone already be so talented and also so raw – that’s the stuff daydreams are made of.

Of course, it’s also the stuff of nightmares. Another word for “raw” is “crude”, which is how Keith Law described him in his prospect rankings this year.

He still listed him as #76 overall, though.

The 300 Word Question
When does the roulette wheel stop?

If you listen to Law, not very soon. Law posited that Stewart could be “a good five years away from the majors.” That would likely mean putting in a full year at Low-A Cedar Rapids this year. Then he would spend another year at Fort Myers, New Britain and Rochester, as well as maybe a repeat year as he irons some things out ala Trevor May or Alex Meyer. (Or – shudder – losing a year to an injury ala Kyle Gibson or Alex Wimmers.) That means waiting until 2018 or 2019. Ugh.

I suspect that might induce a little grumbling for those interested in a more Kershawesome path to the majors. When the Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw seventh overall in 2006, they also started him in rookie leagues, just like the Twins did Stewart last year. And they started him the next year in Low-A, just like Stewart probably will this year.

But that’s where things changed. After dominating Low A for 20 starts, Los Angeles promoted Kershaw straight to AA to end the season. The next years, he began the season in AA, made 11 starts, and was promoted to the majors as a 20-year-old.

That’s super-aggressive for any team, let alone the Twins. If Stewart strikes out 134 batters in 97 innings like Kershaw did in the Midwest League, then maybe it’s worth some debate. But given the Twins history, Stewart’s initial condition and a healthy dose of caution, Law’s scenario is far more likely. Put the over/under at July of 2018 for now.

And even that much optimism has me looking for wood to knock. The assumption implicit in that estimate is that he makes it at all, which is far from guaranteed. Don’t let it be said that the Twins are not willing to gamble when the opportunity presents itself.
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