Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Twins Next Breakout Prospect

Over the past few seasons, I've found myself having a player or two that emerges out of nowhere to be a key cog for the Minnesota Twins during the regular season. In 2015, it was Eddie Rosario, and last year, I was in on the Max Kepler bandwagon prior to Spring Training starting. This season, I can't seem to pinpoint someone I feel as confident about, but there's a guy that I think has a shot to help the Twins in a big way.

Before we get to that though, this season should provide some competition when it comes to an emerging offensive prospect. Down the stretch a season ago, I found myself frustrated that Mitch Garver wasn't given some time behind the plate. It was clear that Juan Centeno wasn't a big leaguer, and he was taking away at bats that could've been more productively utilized. On top of that, Garver absolutely earned his way to the big leagues.

In 117 games across Double and Triple-A last season, Garver posted a .764 OPS. While it wasn't the .880 OPS he tallied at Cedar Rapids in 2014, it was a great deal better than his .688 OPS at Fort Myers in 2015. On top of his offensive season (which was capped with an .815 OPS across 22 Triple-A contests), he was stellar behind the dish. Catching 60 games, he made just three errors, allowed only seven passed balls, and threw out 48% (26 of 54) of would be base stealers.

Working against Garver this season though is the Twins acquisition of Jason Castro. Castro was brought in to start now, and for the forseeable future. I have Garver tabbed as the backup catcher on Opening Day, but his path to playing time could be limited for the bulk of the season.

The next in this conversation is a guy I like a lot, but has a significant caveat to him. Should Brian Dozier be dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers or elsewhere, Engelb Vielma immediately becomes the starting shortstop for the Twins in my eyes. As things stand currently, Minnesota has Jorge Polanco slated to play out of position up the middle with Dozier. There's also reason to believe that Eduardo Escobar is more than capable to handle shortstop should the Twins call upon him. Vielma would bring another level defensively however.

Owning just a career .636 OPS across five minor league seasons, Vielma probably isn't ever going to hit. He has a decent speed tool although he doesn't swipe a lot of bases. Primarily a contact hitter that relies on singles, Vielma's glove is his ticket to a starting role. He'd be the least sexy of the breakout candidates being a leather first option, but if the door opens, he should have the chops to walk through it.

Given the circumstances and the entire landscape though, I think it's Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year Zach Granite that emerges through opportunity. He was a 14th round pick out of Seton Hall in 2013, and has been relatively consistent throughout his minor league career. While he's not a power guy or even a gap hitter, his speed will cause problems on the basepaths.

In 127 games at Double-A last season, Granite stretch 18 doubles to go with eight triples, but most impressively, swiped 52 bases. He's a legit threat every time he gets on, and that speed plays in the outfield as well. He would immediately pair with the likes of Byron Buxton and Max Kepler to make a ridiculously good trio defensively, and that alone should get him an extended look for Opening Day.

It's a decent amount to ask a 23 year old to jump from Double-A to the big leagues, and Granite has progressed one level at a time in his tenure with the Twins, but if there's a skillset that makes sense, it's his. He gives Paul Molitor a speed threat off the bench, and is reliable with the bat to battle in the box. Over his career, he's struck out just 149 times in 337 games while drawing 130 walks. He battles at the dish and causes havoc for opposing pitchers.

Unlike Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler before him, Granite doesn't have the high ceiling or prospect status. He does possess some pretty strong projectable tools though, and is someone that should have a really safe floor. On a Twins team looking for consistency, and always in need of defensive help, Granite seems to fit the bill.

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