JC’s Top 15 Twins Prospects: 2014-15

Ho Ho Ho. Tis the season for being merry and jolly and all that stuff.

It’s also the season for publishing “top prospect” lists. Actually, it’s a bit late in the season for doing this, but I just haven’t felt like doing a lot of writing lately. So sue me.

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

This is the fourth year that I’ve put out my own list. I’m not really sure WHY I do it. It’s not like we really need yet another such list and the other people who tout their lists know their stuff better than I do (in many cases, anyway). So let’s just say I do this for fun.

As I was preparing this list, I went back and looked at the lists I’ve put together previously. I did a Top 10 before the 2012 season and Top 15 lists before 2013 and 2014.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) that this is the third consecutive season that I’ve had the same three prospects ranked 1 through 3 in some order or another. They have swapped spots a bit between them, but Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer have been in my top 3 spots for three straight years.

It’s more than a little exciting to realize that all three have the potential to make their Major League debuts in 2015.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

  1. Miguel Sano – 3B – Why? I’m more optimistic that he won’t be a liability defensively than I have been previously, but more importantly, I believe his injury is highly unlikely to preclude him from reaching his ceiling.
  2. Byron Buxton – CF – Why? I have some (not a lot, but some) concern that his wrist injuries could become chronic wrist issues that certainly could affect his ceiling as an outfielder and as a hitter. It’s not a huge concern, for me, but it’s enough that I gave the top spot to Sano, who I have no such concerns about.
  3. Alex Meyer – SP – A lot of people are dropping Meyer and moving Berrios up ahead of him based on a year when Meyer didn’t break through as hoped and had some injury issues, while Berrios had a breakout year. I still think Meyer’s ceiling is a notch above Berrios’.
  4. Jose Berrios – SP – But, yeah, Berrios DID have a really good year. He’s a workout fiend and clearly is intent on getting the most out of his opportunity to pitch professionally, despite not being the prototypically tall athlete that is in vogue around the league.
  5. Eddie Rosario – OF – It was nearly a lost year for Rosario after his suspension and only getting half a season in during the summer, but he reclaimed his value with a strong Arizona Fall League. I’m probably a litte higher on him than most people.
  6. Jorge Polanco – MIF – Yes, his cup of coffee with the Twins was more a matter of convenience, since he was on the 40-man roster, than reflective of his current abilities, but he did have a very strong season.
  7. Trevor May – SP – His ceiling might be as a #3 starter, but he’ll seriously contend for a Twins rotation spot in spring training this season. That, in itself, warrants a spot in the top 10 prospects.
  8. Kohl Stewart – SP – Unlike May, Stewart is at least a couple of years away from even being considered for a spot with the Twins, but even though his strikeout rate in 2014 was lower than hoped for, he remains a top of the rotation prospect.
  9. Nick Gordon – SS – The 2014 first round pick had a very good short-season at Elizabethton. If he shows even more in a full season this year, he’ll move up this list quickly.
  10. Nick Burdi – RP – The 2014 2nd round pick has legitimate 100 mph potential and an unfair slider. Should pitch for the Twins at some point in 2015.
  11. Max Kepler – OF – We are seeing more flashes of promise on the potential that’s been talked about for years. He needs a breakout season in 2015.
  12. Stephen Gonsalves – SP – The lefty showed real talent against Midwest League hitters after joining Cedar Rapids and was very young for the level.
  13. Chih-Wei Hu – SP – I’m probably the only one you will find ranking Hu in the top 15, but he showed me more command  – of more pitches – and more mound maturity – than any other starting pitcher in Cedar Rapids in 2014, and that’s saying something.
  14. Travis Harrison – OF – Harrison is dropping out of the top 15 on some lists, seemingly due to his lack of home runs in 2014. I understand that, but I felt Harrison’s biggest need going in to last year was to cut his strikeouts down and develop more as a hitter who can deliver to all fields with some authority. He did both. The home runs will come, he didn’t get “weaker.”
  15. Stuart Turner – C – I have to say, it is very difficult to pick a #15 for this list. I’m going with Turner primarily because he skipped low-A and went to the Miracle and, after a slow start at the plate, he hit better later and reports are he was as good as advertised as a receiver.

It is almost impossible for me to believe that I’ve created a Top 15 Twins Prospects list that does not include Lewis Thorpe, Jake Reed, Mitch Garver, Adam Brett Walker and Taylor Rogers.

I want to see Thorpe recover from his elbow issue without requiring surgery before I give him a spot in the top 15 which he otherwise deserves and I want to see Walker be successful against pitchers at least one level higher, given his issues with the strikeouts.

With Reed, Garver and Rogers, though, it was simply a case of running out of room. If they stay healthy, I expect every one of those guys to play Major League baseball (hopefully for the Twins). If you have an organization where those guys are not among your top 15 prospects, you’ve got a damn good pipeline going.

The Twins have a damn good pipeline going.


What to do with Kurt Suzuki?

Kurt Suzuki is out producing the expectations of even the most optimistic Twins fan.  He’s 30 years old and coming in to 2014 had a career line of .253/.309/.375, and even that is rosy considering what he’s done the past two seasons, .234/.282/.332 (for reference, Talk to Contact favorite, Drew “Boat Anchor” Butera, is hitting .231/.300/.385 in 2014).  So the Twins bought low on a guy and brought him in with the hopes that he could help out Josmil Pinto, and because Suzuki is seen as a good “clubhouse guy.”

Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt  Suzuki (8) hits a two-run single against the Chicago White Sox in the third inning of an opening day baseball game at U.S Cellular Field in Chicago on March 31, 2014. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (8) hits a two-run single against the Chicago White Sox in the third inning of an opening day baseball game at U.S Cellular Field in Chicago on March 31, 2014. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

Through his first 34 games of the year, Suzuki is hitting .332/.388/.430.  He has an OBP north of .380 against both left and right handed pitchers. The Twins like what he’s doing with the bat so much they have stuck him in the lineup four times as the starting designated hitter.

Maybe just a hot start, right?  He’s actually been better in May than he was in March and April.  He started hot, and now he is getting hotter. Over his entire career, Suzuki has played better in the first month of the year than any other month, exactly what you might expect from a catcher that the Oakland Athletics ran out as their everyday catcher at least 117 times for five straight years (he caught his fewest games since his rookie season last year, 93).

Kurt Suzuki is doing all of this on a one-year, $2.75 million dollar contract.  the Twins bought low and now they are in a great position to turn Suzuki into some surplus value via trade.  Or, because he is only 30 years old, the Twins might consider signing him to a modest contract extension, just as they did with Ryan Doumit.*

*Ryan Doumit hit .275/.320/.461 in 2012 in his first year (age 31 season) with the Twins.  The Twins extended him for two additional years with an extra $7 million dollars in late June 2012, making his total deal with the Twins three years/$10 million.  With Doumit, the Twins were basically getting output from Doumit in line with his career numbers, so there was a little less risk, but in two of the three seasons prior to coming to Minnesota, Doumit either hit poorly or was injured (or both), so they were able to sign (what looks like now) such a team friendly deal.  The Twins ultimately flipped Doumit to Atlanta** following a poor 2013 season which saw Doumit struggle at the plate and with concussion issues.  He’s hitting .200/.217/.222 for the Braves.  

**The Twins received LHP Sean Gilmartin in return for Doumit, a former first round draft pick (2011), who is currently performing well at AA New Britain (3-2, 3.63 ERA 39.2 IP, 12 BB, 37K) and if the Twins raid the AAA roster for pitching prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer this summer, Gilmartin should be one of the logical selections to move up to AAA, where he pitched for parts of 2012 and 2013 in the Braves Org.  

I would guess that the Twins do not expect Kurt Suzuki to continue avoiding outs in almost 40% of his plate appearances, but ZiPS projects the 30 year old catcher to produce as a MLB regular the rest of the way.  Combined with with he’s already done in 2014, he’ll end up with a nice 2014 line.  If Suzuki keeps up his current pace into the All-Star break, or even just keeps his line to something like .300/.350/.400, which would represent some fairly significant regression over the next month plus, there will be a handful of teams calling Terry Ryan/Rob Antony looking to acquire the veteran catcher for a post season run.  Because the Twins have Josmil Pinto (even with his raw defensive skills), and because they are not in a win-now situation, the Twins could feel relatively comfortable flipping Suzuki.

In a trade scenario, the Twins would probably hope to fetch an intriguing Minor League player, as well as some MLB outfield depth, maybe a fourth outfielder capabale of playing center field and aleviating some of the Twins’ current outfield issues (especially if Sam Fuld experiences setbacks returning from the concussion disabled list).  Of course, what the Twins ultimately receive for Suzuki will depend on who their trading partner is, and where the Twins think they can add the most value.

If the Twins look to extend Suzuki, I think that something similar to the Ryan Doumit deal is realistic, but with a slightly higher annual value.  I would not be surprised if he received two additional years for $10 million dollars, bringing his total package in Minnesota to three years and just under $13 million.  He’s younger than Doumit, and he is a much more complete player, providing value on both sides of the ball.

If I am the Twins, I would attempt to extend Suzuki.  The extension would not keep the Twins from trading Suzuki in a year or two, and if Josmil Pinto cannot live up to the hype from his 2013 call up when he hit .342/.398/.566, then the Twins have some hope of a bridge to the arrival of their next young catcher (who might be 2013 third-rounder Stuart Turner).  If the Twins can make the extension team friendly then there is not a lot of risk in a deal like that, but if Suzuki and his agent (MVP Sports Group) are looking for a larger deal coming off of a big 2014, then the Twins should feel comfortable walking away.

What would you do?