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Gonsalves leads still-loaded Twins system
For beleaguered franchise, plenty of help on the way from the farm
11/18/2016 10:00 AM ET
Stephen Gonsalves tied for 12th in the Minor Leagues with 155 strikeouts across two levels this year. (Chattanooga Lookouts)

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

In a way, this was the year for which Twins fans had been holding their collective breath. Byron Buxton, baseball's perennial top overall prospect, graduated to the big leagues and played 96 games there. He wasn't the rookie outfielder who took the league by storm and changed the chemistry of the lineup overnight, but Max Kepler played that role, socking 17 homers among 39 extra-base hits while posting a .309 on-base percentage in 113 games.

Yet Twins fans are still waiting for more help from below. The club finished 35 1/2 games out of first place, and its 59-103 record was the Majors' worst. But Minnesota was nominated for a Best Farm System MiLBY and its affiliates combined to go 408-351 (.538) with Class A Cedar Rapids and Rookie-level Elizabethton reaching the playoffs. Recent first-round picks Tyler Jay, Alex Kirilloff and Kohl Stewart -- not to mention the prospects listed below -- suggest the wait will be worth it.

Twins Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Mitch Garver, Chattanooga (95 games), Rochester (22 games): Garver, who batted .270/.342/.422 with 12 homers and 30 doubles this season, once was expected to develop into a defense-first backstop. Although he threw out 53 percent of would-be thieves at the Double-A level, Chattanooga hitting coach Tommy Watkins thinks of the University of New Mexico product in a different light.



"I never looked at Mitch as just a defensive catcher; I've always thought he has a good bat. His defense is pretty good, and that's getting better, too, but I look at Mitch as an offensive player," Watkins said. "He has a mature approach at the plate and he uses the whole field well. Using the whole field is the key for him because he has good power going the opposite way."

First baseman -- Zander Wiel, Cedar Rapids (128 games): A 2015 12th-rounder out of Vanderbilt, Wiel led the Midwest League with 86 RBIs and ranked second with 19 homers that placed him third in the system while totaling 27 doubles and posting a .333 on-base percentage. He found his stroke as the season evolved, batting 18 points higher in the second half than the first and belting 15 of his homers after the All-Star break.

"The thing was, he had a really good Spring Training, so we decided coming in he was just off to a slow start, and I think he was pressing a little bit to get out of it," Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman said. "Then he made a couple of adjustments and when the second half came, he just went off."

Honorable mention: Lewin Diaz and Edgar Herrera were stellar in short-season ball.

Arraez
Luis Arraez rocketed 31 doubles. (Rich Guill/MiLB.com)

Second baseman -- Luis Arraez, Cedar Rapids (114 games): Arraez, who turned 19 over the season-opening weekend, led the Midwest League and the system with a .347 batting average, which was fourth among all full-season Minor Leaguers, and he collected 165 hits in 114 games.

"For such a young age, he has such an advanced approach at the plate," Dinkelman said. "He knows his abilities and he has a short swing, so he's not going to get fooled on lots of pitches. He has a knack for finding the ball with the barrel."

Third baseman -- Nelson Molina, Cedar Rapids (94 games): Molina started his first full professional season in extended spring training and didn't get to the Midwest League until the last day of April, but he hit .348 in May and finished with a .300/.374/.381 slash line in 94 games.

"He was probably the biggest surprise for us. He didn't even make our team [out of Spring Training] and then, after the first month, he pretty much hit the whole season," Dinkelman said. "He puts together good at-bats, looks for the ball in the zone and doesn't miss real often."

Shortstop -- Nick Gordon, Fort Myers (116 games): Gordon continued to show strong instincts and above-average tools at shortstop, turning 90 double plays and generally looking smooth, despite committing 26 errors in 519 total chances. At the plate, he was fifth in the Florida State League with a .295 average, produced 23 doubles and 19 stolen bases.

"The thing that sticks out with me the most is his consistent at-bats," Miracle manager Jeff Smith told MiLB.com in August. "It's great to see. He had good at-bats and hard contact right from the start. You don't usually see that kind of consistency."

Outfielders -- Daniel Palka, Chattanooga (79 games), Rochester (54 games): Acquired from the D-backs for catcher Chris Herrmann last November, Palka led his new system with 34 homers and 90 RBIs. The Georgia Tech product, who turned 25 on Friday, kept hitting with power after a promotion to the International League, slugging 13 homers in 54 games even as he struck out 86 times.

"I think he's definitely on the high end with the overall power. I think his power plays. He's another guy with power to all fields, and it plays in games," Watkins said. "The big thing with him is going to be to continue to become a complete hitter, continue to evolve so he's more than just a power hitter. I think he can cut down on the strikeouts a little bit and still have the power."

Zach Granite, Chattanooga (127 games): The Twins' Minor League Player of the Year stole 56 bases, which led the organization and the Southern League. He also topped the circuit with 155 hits, ranked second with 86 runs scored and third with a .295 batting average. The Seton Hall product fanned 43 times all year and his 13.58 total plate appearances-per-strikeout ratio was the lowest in the league.

"He was the spark plug of our team. He was our heartbeat," Watkins said. "He has a simple approach. Him, [manager] Doug [Mientkiewicz] and myself, but Doug especially, we were trying to get the bat head out a little more so he wasn't just hitting to the opposite field. He did that well. He started to pull the ball hard and he hit a couple of home runs. He's great on defense and he has great speed. When he gets on, he wants to run."

Adam Walker, Rochester (132 games): A 2012 third-round pick, Walker hit 14 long balls in 58 games that year and hasn't hit fewer than 25 in a season since. This year, his first at the Triple-A level, he was second in the system and the International League with 27 homers, driving in 75 runs and putting up a .305 on-base percentage. He struck out 202 times, leading the Minor Leagues for the second straight season. The 225-pound slugger isn't particularly troubled by that.

"I'm not trying to change who I am just to put the ball in play," he told MiLB.com in the middle of the season. "But sometimes I've been trying to do too much, trying to hit a ball 600 feet when what I should do is try to put the barrel on it. If I barrel a pitch up, usually good stuff happens."

Utility player -- LaMonte Wade, Cedar Rapids (56 games), Fort Myers (32 games): Spending his time in center field, left field and at designated hitter, Wade batted with 26 extra-base hits in 88 games in his first full professional season. Among Twins players who appeared in at least 65 games, Wade ranked second with an .841 OPS, trailing only Palka (.848).

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jose Berrios, Rochester (17 games, 17 starts), Minnesota (14 games, 14 starts): Berrios had an underwhelming first crack at the Major Leagues, going 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA. With the Triple-A Red Wings, however, the 22-year-old was as tough as ever. He held IL foes to a .191 average while going 10-5 with a 2.51 ERA and 125 strikeouts against 36 walks over 111 1/3 innings.

More Organization All-Stars

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Stephen Gonsalves, Fort Myers (11 games, 11 starts), Chattanooga (13 games, 13 starts): The 6-foot-5 southpaw followed a breakout season with an equally impressive 2016, holding opponents to a .179 average over 140 innings across two levels and going 13-5 with a 2.06 ERA.

"I think he's progressing," said Lookouts pitching coach Ivan Arteaga, who also worked with Gonsalves at Cedar Rapids in 2014 and Fort Myers in 2015 and is paired with him again in the Arizona Fall League. "He's very competitive and he's very deceptive. He's always got a pitch in mind. He understands hitters and he knows himself and he knows how to get people out. He did everything we asked him to do and more."

Relief pitcher -- Trevor Hildenberger, Fort Myers (six games), Chattanooga (32 games): Hildenberger led the system in saves for the second straight season, recording 19 in 21 chances while going 3-4 with a 0.75 ERA in 38 appearances.

"He's able to throw the ball sidearm or go overarm and he can throw 94 [mph] over the top and 89 sidearm, and with sliders, changeups, everything you'd want out of that sidearm angle and they're all good pitches. How many guys can do that?" Arteaga said. "The one thing we wanted him to work on -- making sure he stayed unique, work on his craft and throw every pitch. He did so well that he was basically unhittable at one point at Double-A."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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