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Twins Prospect Primer: Buxton, Sano return

Minnesota's top two prospects back in game after injury-riddled 2014
April 1, 2015

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2015 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Back and healthy: Byron Buxton, OF, and Miguel Sano, 3B

The Twins ended a 20-year affiliation with New Britain and moved their Double-A affiliate to Chattanooga this offseason. And that's where Buxton and Sano will start 2015.

Don't expect the duo to come flying out of the gate, though. Both players are coming off injury-plagued seasons -- Sano missed all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery, while Buxton played in just 31 games due to a wrist injury, a concussion and a broken finger. Both are finally healthy and ready for Opening Day, but Twins director of Minor League operations Brad Steil dubbed both "rusty" last week, hedging expectations for the Twins' top two prospects.

For Buxton, the exposure to Double-A will basically be his first -- he suffered the concussion in his Rock Cats debut and missed the rest of the season.

"It was a very frustrating year for him," Steil said. "He's a very competitive guy. He's a team guy, so he felt like he was letting his teammates down, the organization down by not being on the field. He handled it okay."

Sano, meanwhile, already has 67 Double-A games under his belt. The third baseman clubbed 19 homers and posted a .915 OPS in half a season there in 2013. He also hit just .236 and struck out in almost 30 percent of his plate appearances.

"I think we're hoping you see better at-bats from him, a little more discipline and that average should come up, strikeouts maybe come down some," Steil said. "I think those are the things you're looking for. I think he showed over at big league camp that he was taking pretty good at-bats over there, so I would expect that would carry over into the season."

Major League-ready: Eddie Rosario, OF/2B

Buxton and Sano weren't the only prospects for whom 2014 was a disaster. In early January last year, Rosario was suspended for 50 games for a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Then he hit .215 in his first 23 games back with New Britain. Rosario spiraled from there, and suddenly it was a lost season.

"To me, it seems like coming off that suspension, everybody else is in midseason form. He was just trying to play catchup," Steil said. "Then, I think his numbers weren't where he expected them to be, then he started pressing and trying to catch up and just dug himself a hole."

Rosario managed to clear his head when the season ended, and the team gave him a chance to make up ground in the Arizona Fall League. He capitalized, hitting .330 with 10 stolen bases in 24 AFL games. He's ridden that momentum into Spring Training this year, where despite a .233 average, he's played well enough to earn serious consideration for an Opening Day big league job.

Ranked ninth in Minnesota's system, Rosario has long earned plaudits for his stick -- he batted .302 with 32 doubles across two levels in 2013. His defense has been tougher to project. He's played second base and the outfield as a pro. At this point, Minnesota thinks he's a much better bet to stick in the outfield, especially after current Twins second baseman Brian Dozier penned a contract extension last week.

"He can do either. We're confident in that," Steil said. "He's a good outfielder. He's probably a little better defensively in the outfield than at second base, but we don't have any issues with his defense at second base."

Loudest tool: Alex Meyer, fastball

Few Minor Leaguers can bring heat as hard and consistent as the 6-foot-9 Meyer. It's arguably the best fastball thrown by any Minor League starter right now and stands out in a system loaded with outrageous tools -- Buxton's speed and Sano's power could also fit in this slot.

Drafted 23rd overall in the 2011 Draft by Washington, Meyer came to Minnesota in exchange for Denard Span in 2012, and last year, he unleashed his mid- to upper-90s fastball on the Triple-A International League. He was dominant at times, posting a 3.52 ERA over a career-high 130 1/3 innings.

Meyer is going to be a Major League pitcher at some point, probably this year. His ultimate role is to be determined, though. A starter for now, Meyer would be an excellent fit in a big league bullpen thanks to his heater and a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Both he and the Twins would prefer him stick as a starter, but Minnesota thinks he needs to sharpen his changeup and improve his mechanics if that's going to happen.

He's made strides with the former thanks to some tips from teammates and new Twins pitching coach Neil Allen. The latter is always going to be a struggle for the tall Kentucky product.

"He goes through stretches where it's just not right [mechanically]," Steil said. "That's probably what affects his command and falling behind in counts more than anything else."

Meyer also thinks he can work in the strike zone more with some mental adjustments.

"I just have to get ahead of hitters and attack them and not let them feel like they're attacking me," Meyer said. "I give them too much credit, which is something I probably do need to address, is quit giving the hitters so much credit and realize that they can get themselves out. I don't need to go out there and try to nibble so much. Really simplifying things would be an advantage for me."

Full-season debutants: Nick Gordon, SS

The Twins picked Gordon fifth overall in last year's Draft and let him get his feet wet with Rookie-level Elizabethton after he signed. His debut was promising. The 19-year-old hit .294 with 11 stolen bases in 57 games while showing encouraging defensive tools and skills at shortstop.

Listed at 6 feet, 160 pounds, the infielder packed on a bit of muscle this offseason.

"He's looked good," Steil said. "You can tell he's noticeably stronger, moving around a little better, a little more athletic. I think there's probably a little more bat speed there now, just with the added strength. I think also it's just him growing, maturing. That's been good to see."

Minnesota sees him as a no-doubt shortstop defensively and thinks highly of his makeup. His ultimate offensive profile will depend on how strong he can get, but he should make an impact with Class A Cedar Rapids this season regardless.

Breakout prospect: Stephen Gonsalves, LHP

Minnesota's 2013 fourth-rounder impressed the Twins last Spring Training, but the team still held him in extended until the short-season leagues opened. As it turned out, he was too good for the Rookie-level Appalachian League, posting a 2.79 ERA in six starts with Elizabethton before earning a promotion. Sent to the Class A Midwest League, he struck out more than a batter per inning while managing a 3.19 ERA in eight starts.

Prospect Primer

Listed at 6-foot-5, the Twins' No. 12 prospect has merely average velocity right now. The 20-year-old is long and lanky, though, leading the Twins to believe he could add some heat to his fastball with age. Even without it, he's managed to miss bats with solid control and a quality changeup.

The left-hander will have a new weapon in his arsenal this year. Gonsalves spent the offseason working with big leaguers Stephen Strasburg and James Shields, and Shields was kind enough to divulge some info on how he throws his slider. Gonsalves has added the slider to his arsenal, and it should be a useful addition.

More to keep an eye on: Few players exude confidence quite like right-hander Jose Berrios. In a Q&A earlier this offseason, he welcomed comparisons to Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez. Minnesota loves his competitiveness. "I think Jose's naturally kind of a quiet person, and he has quiet confidence to go with that," Steil said. Berrios should start the year with Chattanooga, but Minnesota expects he could move quickly to Triple-A or beyond. … Nick Burdi, Minnesota's second-round pick from 2014, missed time this spring after slicing open his shin and requiring 15 stitches. He's expected back for Opening Day, though. Both he and 2014 fifth-rounder Jake Reed are competing this spring to start the year in Chattanooga's bullpen. … Left-hander Taylor Rogers has developed dramatically since Minnesota took him in the 11th round of the 2012 Draft. The 24-year-old posted a 3.29 ERA in 24 starts with New Britain last season and should open 2015 in Triple-A. … The Rochester rotation could feature three University of Kentucky products in Rogers, Meyer and left-hander Logan Darnell. … News broke late last week that Australian left-hander Lewis Thorpe will miss all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his UCL.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.