Monday, June 13, 2016

Palka Powering The Farm

Over the winter, the Minnesota Twins didn't make a ton of moves. They had a bad bullpen that they looked at more fliers than sure things. Minnesota won a surprising bid for KBO slugger Byung Ho Park. Then there was a move that was somewhat surprising in that it was able to happen at all; the Twins dealt Chris Herrmann to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a prospect named Daniel Palka.

In coming to the Twins, Palka was a heralded power prospect who'd yet to play above High-A in the Arizona organization. He was dealt to Minnesota during the Arizona Fall League, and he ended up finishing that schedule with the Salt River Rafters (who were affiliated with Twins prospects just a year earlier).

During the fall season, Palka had a nice showing. Despite not jumping off the stat sheet, he put up a .278/.330/.444 slash line with three homers. He's always been a high strikeout guy, but his power has made that more of a footnote. It wasn't until he joined the Twins organization to start the season that things really took off for the Georgia Tech alum.

After a season in which the Chattanooga Lookouts were blessed with top Twins prospects like Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano, the team has been gifted Palka in 2016. Through his first 59 games at the Double-A level this season, he owns a .277/.355/.563 slash line. His 16 homers lead the Southern League, and his .918 OPS is the best mark of his four year professional career. He's still striking out at a healthy clip (76/28 K/BB), but Palka has become something Twins fans have hoped another prospect may be.

To find a safe comparison for Palka, you have to look back only one year at the 20155 Lookouts roster. On it, you'll find Adam Brett Walker, a player cut of virtually the same cloth. It was Walker who used the home run to power his game a season ago, and has long been clamored for among prospects lists throughout Twins Territory. The unfortunate thing for Walker is that his numbers don't look remotely sustainable, and if anything Palka is providing the blueprint for what he should be.

At Double-A last season, Adam Brett Walker had a 0.06 HR/AB with a 0.39 K/AB. Palka owns a 0.07 HR/AB and a 0.34 K/AB rate this season for the Twins double a club. The difference in minimal, but when considering the approach, it's drastic enough to make a difference. In heading to Triple-A this season, things have only gotten worse for Walker. In Rochester, Walker owns a 0.07 HR/AB but a 0.5 K/AB. In striking out in 50% of his plate appearances, he's on pace to blow by his previous career worst 195 K set a season ago.

Sure, there's plenty to suggest Palka will see a similar uptick in strikeouts when heading to the next level. Much like Walker, his approach is always going to lend itself to swinging and missing. Palka actually struck out more often than Walker at the High-A level, but is on pace to come in right around 20 strikeouts lower at the Double-A level.

During June, Palka has ripped the cover off of the baseball. He owns a .341/.415/1.068 slash line with two triples, nine homers, and 19 RBI. His strikeouts have been present to the tune of a 17/7 K/BB ratio, but it's hard to find fault with his current results. Looking further back though, his past 162 games have been nothing to scoff at either. The last 162 comes out to total a gaudy .281/.356/.561 line with 35 doubles, six triples, 43 home runs, and 125 runs batted in. Pretty safe to say those numbers would equate to a top tier prospect at nearly any level.

Considering where he's at, Palka is going to have to continue to substantiate his production. The Twins may keep him at Double-A all season, but regardless, his Triple-A production will have to follow suit. He'll need to avoid a serious uptick in strikeouts, unlike Walker has done, and continue the power production. For now though, there's no doubt Palka needs to be taken seriously.

Among Twins outlets, I've probably been the most skeptical on Walker. He may get a cup of coffee this season due to being on the 40 man roster. However, I'd suggest anyone ranking Walker ahead of Palka in their prospect lists to strongly reconsider. Although very similar styles, Palka is currently doing it better, and it's time he gets his due for doing so.

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