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Jeremy Nygaard

Draft Series - Part 2: The Top

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This is the second in a series of (somewhat) weekly installments leading up to the June 5th through 7th draft. The focus is intended to be very Twins-specific.
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We’re getting to the point of the draft season where the focus really gets scaled down to a handful of players. Teams drafting at or near the top will send out their most-trusted decision makers to get an idea of how they stack up compared to the best around the nation. The Twins are no different.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the early-season rumors and rankings, you can start right here. There’s a ton of draft stuff out – not only on this site – but everywhere. I’m going to do my best to get you caught up to date on the guys most likely to hear their name called by the Twins in early June.
Last week I previewed the local prospects that could get drafted.
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We entered this season with what was perceived to be a sure-fire 1.1 in Carlos Rodon. Jeff Hoffman made waves in the Cape Cod League and early in the college season Tyler Beede showed that his command issues might be a thing of the past. Then the high school season kicked off and the top right- and left-handed pitchers (Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken) both took significant steps forward. Not to mention, the lone position player that we’ll talk about, Alex Jackson, has answered some questions about his bat that seemed to pop up earlier this spring. There have also been some other college pitchers who have gained some steam lately.

So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with six (and you could make the argument for more) names that should figure to be front and center a handful of Thursdays from now.

Before we go through the names, let’s look at the teams that draft before the Twins.

#1 – Astros – This marks the 3rd straight season that the Astros have the pick of the litter. But this year should be different. The window should begin to open for the Astros to compete. They recently called up top-prospect George Springer and more may on the way up in the near-future. The Astros went high-ceiling in 2012 and followed that up with best current player in 2013. Which way will they go this time? It’s hard to say, but history suggests that the least likely route to go with 1.1 is a prep pitcher. Could they buck that trend?

#2 – Marlins – Who knows what this group is thinking? This group also has the most available money to spend on the draft. I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I’d bet they try to make a splash. (See what I did there?)

#3 – White Sox – This is the pick that intrigues me the most because it’s a team that Twins face roughly 67 times each year. The White Sox have typically shied away from prep pitchers and, really, prep players in generally, for the last 20 years. Of course, this is the highest the White Sox will have picked since 1990.

#4 – Cubs – Theo and Co. have only been in charge a few years, but the patterns still remain: When picking in the single digits, they Cubs go with bats. There have been a couple notable exceptions over the last 25 years (Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), but those are the only exceptions. It might be hard to argue against too. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez figure to be the heart of the Cubs order for years to come and they’ll be driving in Albert Almora in frequently. Those three guys? The Cubbies last three draft picks.
So again, where does that leave the Twins? Well, actually, it leaves the Twins in a pretty enviable position. Maybe.

In their most recent draft rankings, all of Perfect Game, Baseball America and ESPN (Keith Law) ranked prep LHP Brady Aiken as the #1 prospect. A former high-school teammate of current Twins farmhand Stephen Gonsalves, Aiken came out of the chute with improved velocity to go with two other quality pitches. Earlier reports indicated that Aiken had been clocked as high as 97 mph, but in his latest start was low-90s with his max speed hitting 94 mph.

My personal take on Aiken is that if the draft were today and he made it to the Twins at #5, they would take him. My other take is that he won’t, and the Twins will be ok with it. The UCLA commit, who is being represented by Casey Close (he of the recent $700 million summer), will never step foot on campus. If the Astros pass (I think they will), I think the White Sox are Aiken’s landing spot.

Entering the season, prep RHP Tyler Kolek was the big body with the big fastball. He was also the most highly-regarded prep pitcher in the 2014 class. Despite being jumped by Aiken by all of Perfect Game, Baseball America and ESPN, Kolek has still seen his prospect star rise and is the consensus #2 prospect on all the draft boards. One report had him clocked at 103 at one point in his last start, though that’s been disputed by a reputable source. Regardless, 100 mph fastballs, 90 mph sliders and 80 mph curveballs coming from a big, durable frame is not going to get passed up by many teams. (Keith Law offers a slightly different scouting report in his latest piece, but point remains the same: He’s a stud.)

According to a recent draft chat at Perfect Game, one area scout said there is no way that the Twins don’t take Kolek if he is available to them. I’d believe that as there is no way they have a lower grade on Kolek than they did on Kohl Stewart last year, the #4 overall pick. The problem is, I don’t see any way that Kolek falls past the Cubs and he probably doesn’t even make it that far. Kolek doesn’t live far from Houston and I could see him going first overall.

North Carolina State LHP Carlos Rodon had been one of the best collegiate pitchers in both his freshman and sophomore years. The problem is that Rodon hasn’t been nearly as consistently good this spring. He doesn’t throw the gas that either Aiken or Kolek do, but he’s got a nasty slider. Also in the nasty column: his pitch count. He’s been abused this year, but I don’t think it’s going to matter at the end. It almost makes too much sense for the Marlins to take him and pair him up with Jose Fernandez (somewhat quickly) and try to make a run before Giancarlos Stanton hits his walk year. Rodon was drafted by the Brewers out of high school and is advised by the one and only Scott Boras.

This is where, from the Twins perspective anyway, things get interesting.
RHP Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina) had a crazy Cape summer. In his first go-around in the league (2012), he pitched 30 innings and struck out 30. He had two rough outings in the walk category, but still only ended up with 10. To go along with the 21 hits he allowed, his WHIP was still barely over 1.00. Fast-forward to 2013, down went the walks (5) and up went the strikeouts (33) in 24.1 innings. After starting off this spring slower than expected, Hoffman really picked it up in his last start, fanning a career-high 18 batters in eight innings. If he was the guy that fell through to the Cubs, I figured that would be his landing spot. Today, however, news broke that Hoffman started experiencing pain in his throwing arm – with some reports saying it’s his elbow – and that he’ll miss his next two starts. This could be a monkey wrench that really screws with the Twins plans.

Someone that could enter the mix is prep C Alex Jackson. Jackson, who is committed to Oregon, is also represented by Scott Boras. His tools, which consist of a strong arm, the ability to stick at catcher, and a bat that offers both average and the potential for power, could get him into the Top 5 picks. There’s also some who believe he could take the Wil Myers path to the bigs. You know, the path that starts at catcher but the bat plays so well you have to move him quickly. The Cubs could be chomping at the bit to add him to the shed of talented hitters.

So, what if Hoffman’s injury is more serious and the three pitchers and Jackson are off the board?

Enter Evansville LHP Kyle Freeland. Get this: Freeland has thrown 64 innings so far this year and only walked four batters. I’m not going to say those words. But the Twins value guys that don’t issue walks. But wait there’s more! He’s struck out 87 batters, too. You might say, “Evansville?” But I might say, “San Diego State?” or “FGCU?” Freeland could be a stud. Are there questions right now? Sure. Delivery questions due to a lower arm angle that takes more effort that you want to see. But the combination of a low-90s fastball with a swing-and-miss slider/cutter and a changeup in the works, don’t sleep on this guy at #5.

There are other players too that should get some consideration. Guys like RHP Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt and RHP Aaron Nola, LSU are guys that should come off the board in the Top 10 picks.

Feel free to leave your thoughts, comments and questions below.

Comments

  1. twinsfan34's Avatar
    Out of all these guys, I've only seen Nola and Rodon pitch a full game. I've seen a few innings of Koleck and Beede.

    I don't like Hoffman. I just don't like someone that eratic control wise who hasn't 'put it together' with the velocity and the hook he supposedly has. If either one were close to plus or better and the other average, he'd easily have 9+ K/9 at the collegiate level of competition he's facing. He's just now creeping over that number and his BB/IP is getting better 20/67, but still not enough for me to take a chance on him near the top end of a seemingly talented pitching heavy draft.

    I know Rodon is falling...but I'd take him over Hoffman easily at #5.

    I like Koleck. Can't teach velocity and size. If he has no seemingly apparent injuries he could be good. Not worried about not having much of a curve/slider. He's just turning 18. And the cutter, according to many MLB pitching coaches I've inquired of or heard speak on it, the cutter is easily teachable. And we've seen guys like Mariano Rivera to Jensen (Dodgers) to Eck etc do pretty good with that pitch, then to add it to his 4-seamer. He has the downhill angle that Michael Wacha and others have while throwing 80%+ fastballs with success. If he learns a changeup he'll be dangerous...curve, slider all the more.

    I'd be fine with Aiken. Dont know much.

    I've seen Nola pitch...he knows what he's doing, but definitely don't see him being anything more than a #3/#4 guy in MLB - granted, I think there's a 90% chance that's his floor and his ceiling. I could see a team in the middle to late 1st RD grabbing him and he's in their rotation by end of 2015/spring 2016.

    Haven't seen Freeland pitch, but you can't ignore those Lewis Thorpe-like numbers. Ironically, Thorpe wouldn't even be a freshman in college, but could probably post those numbers his freshman year at college.

    Brings up a quick question - would anyone trade Thorpe for any of these pitching prospects?
    Which one(s)?

    I'm intrigued with Jackson. If he's got a solid head on his shoulders and a chance to show some glove somewhere...it's not like he's not facing solid high school competition. I'd have no qualms about taking him #5.

    Guys I'm curious about Luke Weaver (FSU), Sean Newcomb (Hartford), A.J. Reed (Kentucky)...

    We may draft a guy who isn't on TD's radar though...
  2. Lonestar's Avatar
    I'm glad you mentioned FGCU becauseFreeland has been comped to Florida Gulf Coast University's Chris Sale. In partdue to the handedness and the command/control, but also the arm slot and the slider. He might be a poor man's Chris Sale but he does have someprojectability left. Not a bad comp.

    With Hoffman sidelined, the first four look more and more [to me] like Aiken,Kolek, Rodon, and Jackson in some order. Boras would have to be factored in for anyone drafting Rodon and Jackson.
  3. AM.'s Avatar
    I am hopeful Rodon somehow falls to the Twins, but I am not sure how. Free land looks like a good bet to be the Twins' pick right now.
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