Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tops On The Twins Farm: The Best In The Organization

Monday marked the end of the regular season for the Twins minor league affiliates at the Triple, Double, and Single-A levels. Only Double-A Chattanooga and Single-A Cedar Rapids will play in the postseason, so it also marked the end of the season for the majority of the farm. With the Twins having one of the best crops of talent in all of baseball, it's time to look back at each team's star on the mound and at the dish.

With the Twins having drafted high, as well as grabbing quality prospects in recent years, there's plenty to get excited about on each farm team's roster. Starting at the rookie league level in Elizabethton, here's who I've tabbed as the standout performers in the Twins system for the 2015 season.

Elizabethton Twins (34-34)

Pitcher: Dereck Rodriguez

In his first full season as a starting pitcher, the son of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, did everything asked of him. In claiming the Appalachian League's pitcher of the year award, Rodriguez compiled a 2.85 ERA across 12 starts. He owned an 8.3 K/9 while walking just 1.5 per nine innings. Rodriguez totaled 75.1 IP and was the clear-cut ace for E-Town.

Rodriguez should start next season at Low-A Cedar Rapids, with the opportunity to move somewhat quickly. He'll be 24 midway through the year, and if he can carry some of his Rookie League success, he could end up finishing 2016 with Fort Myers. There's plenty of bloodline pedigree here, and Rodriguez put himself on the map as a pitcher to watch.

Hitter: LaMonte Wade

The Twins took wade in the 9th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball draft. A college kid out of the University of Maryland, Wade did nothing but hit for E-Town. He played in 64 of the 68 rookie league games and owned a .312/.428/.506 slash line. His nine home runs were impressive, and his five triples flashed plenty of speed as well. Wade is finishing his 2015 helping to add offense to the Low-A Cedar Rapids team in the playoffs.

Wade has plenty of speed in the outfield, and should start the season in Iowa with the Kernels. He'll be 22 and would be another left-handed outfield prospect for the Twins. A sure-handed fielder that came up with 11 assists for E-Town, he could force his way into the future youth movement. He's a ways away from gaining real steam, but it was an impressive debut.

Cedar Rapids Kernels (77-63)

Pitcher: Felix Jorge

For a team that had a good amount of solid pitching performances this season, it was a key player that really showed up in 2015. Felix Jorge has been a notable Twins prospect for some time, and 2015 could be a nice launching point. A career best 2.79 ERA, low 2.0 BB/9, high 142.0 IP, and best of 114 strikeouts, Jorge finally started to look the part.

Still just 21 years old, Jorge will get playoff experience this season for the Kernels, and that should only help the maturity process going forward. He'll join the Miracle rotation in 2016, and has a chance to push towards Double-A Chattanooga if he can make it two strong years in a row. At this point, Jorge has to be back on the prospect radar.

Hitter: Nick Gordon

This might have been the easy, or unfair choice, but on a team struggling for offense his production can't be ignored. The former 1st round pick and potential shortstop of the future slashed just .277/.336/.360 on the season. From June 1 onwards though, Gordon slashed .304/.355/.406 with 18 doubles, five triples, a home run, and 35 runs batted in.

Gordon's glove has always been noted to be ahead of his bat, and that trend has continued. His bat has began to show though, and will be tested again next season at High-A Fort Myers. I would have been behind giving him a promotion the last month of the season, but 2016 he'll end up spending the majority of the year playing for the Miracle. Still just 19 (20 in October), he's a couple of years away, but nothing has deterred his top prospect status at this point.

Fort Myers Miracle (76-63)

Pitcher: Stephen Gonsalves

There are a handful of good options to choose here as the Miracle had one of the best rotations in the entire system. Gonsalves was just too good to overlook though. After owning a 1.15 ERA in nine starts for Cedar Rapids, the 20 year old compiled a 2.61 ERA across 15 starts for the Miracle. His strikeout rate dipped (6.2 K/9) but adjustments were expected. His 134.1 IP were double his 2014 output, and his 132 strikeouts were impressive.

Fort Myers will likely call Gonsalves their ace to start 2016, and that may be the case even if Kohl Stewart is asked to repeat the level from the get go. Gonsalves had a great 2015, and continued success could see him finishing the year making a start or two for Triple-A Rochester. He probably is two years away from helping the Twins, but a lefty with strikeout stuff is going to turn heads.

Hitter: Engelb Vielma

Of all the Twins farm teams, the Miracle are probably most void of that go to batter. For a prospect generating some buzz with his glove, it was his bat that started to show up this season. Putting up career offenses numbers nearly across the board, Vielma owned a .270/.321/.306 slash line with nine doubles and 29 runs batted in.

Not a power guy, or even much of a gap hitter, Vielma is going to need to continue to allow his offensive game to evolve. There's untapped potential there, and he'll get an opportunity to showcase it in 2016 at Double-A Chattanooga. Not the prospect that Jorge Polanco is, it could be Vielma who's called up in a pinch over the next season or two, with an outside shot at a utility spot in the not so distant future. His career could be spring-boarded by his 2015 performance, and Vielma is definitely a player to watch.

Chattanooga Lookouts (76-61)

Pitcher: J.T. Chargois

The Lookouts generated plenty of spring training buzz due to their flame-throwing relievers. While it was Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and Zack Jones generating most of the buzz, it has been Chargois pacing the pack. In 32 games (33.0 IP), he owned a 2.73 ERA along with a 9.3 K/9. Pitching in his first season since 2012, the 24-year-old looked dominant much more often than not.

Chargois probably should have been given stronger September call-up consideration this season than he likely was. Being a 40 man candidate next season, he should find a way to help the Twins out relatively early in the year. Chargois has good stuff, and getting time at Triple-A Rochester to settle in, should benefit him in the long run.

Hitter: Max Kepler

On a team that featured both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, as well as a player in Adam Brett Walker that launched 31 home runs, it's Max Kepler that was no doubt the best hitter. The German stud cruised to a .322/.416/.531 slash line while tripling 13 times, doubling 32 times, and launching nine home runs. Kepler also stolen 18 bases, drove in 71 runs, and scores 76 times on his own. By all offensive standards, Kepler was a beast in 2015.

Had the Lookouts not been in the playoffs, Kepler (who's already on the 40 man roster) likely would be finishing his 2015 season with the Twins. He has the ability to play all three outfield spots, while also being capable at first base. It will be interesting to see how the Twins work him in, but you can bet he'll see time at Target Field in 2016. Whether he starts at Triple-A or not (he should), he's going to rocket up national prospect ratings.

Rochester Red Wings (77-67)

Pitcher: Jose Berrios

As much of a no-brainer as it get, Berrios was the organizations most impressive player at any level in 2015. He owned a minor league leading 175 strikeouts, compiled a 9.5 K/9 and walked just 2.1 batters per nine innings. He was 6-2 at Triple-A Rochester (14-5 overall), while owning a 2.87 ERA (2.62 at Triple-A). His 166.1 IP we the most of his career, and his offseason routine helped to make the output look easy.

Heading into 2016, Berrios should absolutely be in the Twins rotation from the get go. Whether he is or not remains to be seen. There are some hurdles for the Twins to sort through, but Berrios has major league ready stuff right now. Topping out on prospects lists at 32 (by MLB.com) he should be in the top 10 next season. As untouchable prospects go, Berrios has vaulted himself into that conversation with Buxton and Sano, cornerstones for the Twins turnaround in years to come.

Hitter: James Beresford

While it wasn't flashy by any means, Beresford had a "lunch-pail" type 2015. Coming to the field every day ready to work, all the Aussie did was hit. Despite being snubbed when it came to a September call up, the 26 year old slashed .307/.341/.359 on the season. With 21 doubles, and 58 runs scored, his bat was scrappy enough to matter.

Beresford probably tops out as a utility player in a best case scenario. He's not a 40 man guy, and he isn't going to force himself into the Twins long term plans. What he can do though is take over for an Eduardo Nunez type, and provide Minnesota some positional flexibility off the bench. No matter what the future looks like for Beresford, his 2015 at the dish was impressive.

The Twins had plenty of strong performers throughout the organization this season. While this is just a snapshot of a few, it's pretty easy to see that there is plenty of positive performers on the horizon.

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