Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rise And Fall: The Twins Youth

The 2015 Minnesota Twins were an exceptional story and breathed life back into baseball fans throughout Twins Territory. From veteran contributions, to rookie additions, Paul Molitor's club had it all. In the year of the rookie, the Twins did their part promoting a handful of youngsters. It's going to be that core, that carries the Twins will into the future.

While Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario were the young names that highlighted the Twins 25 man roster, it's been noted for a while that the farm system has plenty of top tier talent. Excluding those two as well as the Byron Buxton, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey types, taking a closer look at what's coming for the Twins is a fun exercise. It wasn't all pretty this season however.

For every Sano-type story, there's a Joe Benson type flop. Now, with all the games in the rear view mirror, it's time to take a look at a handful of risers and fallers among the Twins prospect ranks.

3 Up

Max Kepler (#6 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

What isn't there to say about the 22 year old German? Kepler slashed .322/.416/.531 in 112 games for Double-A Chattanooga. He added 13 triples and smashed nine home runs with 71 runs batted in. His 32 doubles were a career high, and he actually walked (67) more than he struck out (63). On the prospect radar since being signed as a teenager, it was quite the coming out party.

At this point, it's pretty hard to argue Kepler being any lower in the Twins organization than right behind Buxton and Jose Berrios. He's going to get a shot for an extended stay with Minnesota next season, and if he can use his 2015 as a launching point, he'll be off to a good start.

Stephen Gonsalves (#9 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Following the same progression he's enjoyed each year as a professional, Gonsalves advanced through two levels in 2015. After nine games with Low-A Cedar Rapids, he made 15 starts for High-A Fort Myers. On the season, the 20 year-old owned a 2.01 ERA across 24 starts. He struck out batters at an 8.8 K/9 clip and walked 3.6 per nine. Allowing just four homers and 34 runs in 134.1 innings, Gonsalves enjoyed an exceptional campaign.

Adding to the Twins already impressive minor league pitching depth, Gonsalves put together his best season as a pro. Still just 20 at the beginning of next season, his meteoric rise could have him in the big leagues in record time. He needs to work on command issues that showed in Fort Myers, but there's no doubt this kid looks special.

J.T. Chargois (#11 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Chargois has been with the Twins organization since 2012, but was pitching in just his second season after suffering injuries. At Double-A Chattanooga, he was generally regarded as behind relievers like Nick Burdi and Jake Reed, but put together an impressive season of his own. Despite a few hiccups along the way, he compiled a 2.62 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 in 48 innings. He gave up only 38 hits, and just one home run all season, and looked the part of the dominating pitcher the Twins drafted out of Rice University.

Regardless of where he starts the season in 2016, Chargois should find himself with a ticket to the big leagues in short order. His stuff will no doubt be an asset for the Twins bullpen, and he's got arguably higher upside than almost anyone at Triple-A Rochester. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Chargois is the first pitcher that surfaces with the Twins next season.

3 Down

Jorge Polanco (#4 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Polanco was sent up and down and all around during the 2015 season, and he actually put together a solid year. He moves down though because of what showed up as some concerns. Following his trip back to Double-A Chattanooga after a brief stint with the Twins, Polanco slashed just .261/.344/.357 in his final 28 games. He had just six extra base hits in that time period, and struck out nearly once a game (26). For a guy known for his bat, that's not ideal. Then there's his glove. Polanco made 28 errors in 2015, and eight of them came in just 19 games a Triple-A Rochester.

The reality is that Polanco isn't a shortstop. His arm is questionable there, and he's a second basemen without a doubt. The Twins already have one of those, and that makes him somewhat expendable. If Minnesota is going to look at some bigger trades this offseason, Polanco's name is one I would dangle. He's going to hit for someone, and probably well, but I don't think it will be the Twins.

Kohl Stewart (#7 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

After the way his 2014 ended (with an injury), Stewart no doubt wanted to take a big step forward in 2015. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The 2013 first round draft pick compiled a 3.20 ERA across 22 starts. He owned a 1.384 WHIP and a 3.1 BB/9 rate, while his strikeouts plummeted to a paltry 4.9 K/9 mark with High-A Fort Myers. To say the 20 year old took a step backwards would probably be an understatement.

Right now, Stewart is still young, and has that on his side. The issue though, is that regression has set in significantly already, and he has yet to hit Double-A. For Stewart to get back to the top of the rotation starter projection he was once billed as, an immense turnaround is going to need to be coming. He's another name prospect the Twins could use as a trade chip, but there's probably no time his value will be less. The Twins have to want more from Kohl, as no doubt he does from himself as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall off top 100 lists, but hopefully that is motivation for the year ahead.

Travis Harrison (#19 on MLB Pipeline Twins Top 20)

Back in 2011, the Twins made Harrison the 50th overall selection in the draft. Out of high school, Harrison was going to have plenty to prove prior to getting to the big leagues. Now 22, Harrison played in 115 games at Double-A Chattanooga this season. He slashed a career worst .240/.363/.356 hitting just 23 doubles, five homers, and driving in 54. It was his fourth year in the organization, and the 4th level he's been at. After a career best season at Fort Myers in 2014, expectations were much higher this time around.

Moved exclusively to the outfield this season (he played one game at first), Harrison needed to continue being the doubles hitter he became a season ago (33). Instead, his average dropped, while the power remained the same. As a first round selection, the growth and development should be ahead of where it is now. Harrison still has some time on his side, but he's on the verge of becoming more depth than anything else.

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