Walker, Berrios excite Twins with bat, ball

Outfielder, right-hander leading by example in Minnesota's system

Adam Brett Walker hit 25 homers and plated 94 runs in 132 Minor League games this year. (Tom Hagerty)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | November 26, 2014 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Today, continuing with the Minnesota Twins, we're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

The Twins ranked sixth in baseball -- and fourth in the American League -- with a combined .536 winning percentage across its Minor League affiliates.

Only the organization's Gulf Coast League affiliate posted a losing record. Class A Cedar Rapids advanced to the postseason but fell in the semifinals of the Midwest League playoffs, but Class A Advanced Fort Myers posted the best record in the Florida State League en route to winning the championship.

Double-A New Britain missed the playoffs in the Eastern League and Triple-A Rochester fell two games short of a Wild Card berth in the International League.

Twins Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Mitch Garver, Cedar Rapids (120 games): Garver led all Twins catchers with 16 homers and 79 RBIs. Though he saw a lot of time as a designated hitter, he had more at-bats behind the plate than at any other position. He hit .298 in 120 Midwest League games -- his average was second-best in the Twins system -- and he also topped all signal callers with 65 runs scored and 29 doubles. In addition, he drew 61 walks compared with 65 strikeouts and also swiped seven bases.

The 23-year-old, a ninth-round Draft pick out of New Mexico last year, was in his first full season of pro ball. He hit .243 with two homers and 30 RBIs in 56 Appalachian League contests for Elizabethton in 2013.

"We were extremely pleased," Kernels manager Jake Mauer said. "He was one of, if not the, most important piece of our offense. He's very disciplined and that's why he's such a good hitter. He's got good command of the strike zone and doesn't go outside too often."

First base -- Kennys Vargas, New Britain (97 games), Minnesota (53 games): Vargas led all full-time first basemen with 17 homers, the third-most among any Twins player, and he chipped in with 63 RBIs and 50 runs scored in 97 games. He had a .281/.360/.472 slash line in his first trip through the Eastern League, and parlayed his Double-A success into a Major League callup.

In 53 appearances with the Twins, Vargas batted .274 with nine homers and 38 RBIs. Adding his stats from the two levels together, his 26 dingers and 101 RBIs are both career highs.

"The jump from the Florida State League to the Eastern League isn't easy, so it was nice to see Kennys perform so well as quickly as he did," said Twins director of player development Brad Steil. "After trading Kendrys Morales, and with Mauer on the DL, we needed some help at first base. With what he had done in Double-A for four months, we thought Kennys was ready for the opportunity."

Second base -- Tony Thomas, New Britain (129 games): Thomas offered the Double-A Rock Cats flexibility in 2014, playing the outfield corners and shortstop in addition to second base, where he spent the most time. His career-best 12 homers were the most of any Twins second baseman in the Minors, and he complemented his power stroke with 29 doubles, six triples and 14 stolen bases.

The former third-round Draft pick scored 71 runs, also a personal best, in his first season with the Twins after coming over from the Red Sox before the season. Age (28) and strikeouts (141 in 453 at-bats) aren't on his side, but few middle infielders offered the pop and versatility that Thomas did this season.

"Having a middle infielder that can provide double-digit home runs and steals is beneficial for any lineup," said Steil. "Tony has the versatility to play around the field and can contribute in multiple ways offensively, so he can fit on a team in a number of different roles. I think he's probably most comfortable at second base, but he really did a nice job filling in wherever we needed him this year."

Third base -- Bryan Haar, Cedar Rapids (108 games), Fort Myers (10 games): Haar had a breakout year playing in his first full-season leagues, hitting 14 homers and plating 68 runs -- both No. 1 among third basemen -- between the two A-ball levels. He combined for 42 extra-base hits and 49 runs scored and posted a .923 fielding percentage at the hot corner.

"He went up to Fort Myers and did OK," said Mauer. "I don't think he got quite as much of an opportunity to play because they had a pretty good club, but he held his own with us and put up some power numbers. He was probably slated to play first base out of Spring Training, but we had a need at third and he took to it. He made the routine play, nothing too fancy, but he'd catch the balls hit at him."

Shortstop -- Jorge Polanco, Fort Myers (94 games), New Britain (37 games), Minnesota (five games): Polanco spent all of 2013 with Class A Cedar Rapids and made his Major League debut in June. The Twins were not afraid to aggressively promote the 21-year-old switch-hitting shortstop through the system, and he ended the year with the Double-A Rock Cats.

Polanco hit .288 across the two Minor League levels, sixth-best in the organization. His seven homers and 17 stolen bases were career highs and he contributed 74 runs and 61 RBIs. No Twins full-time shortstop had more homers, RBIs or steals. Despite moving up a couple levels, his on-base percentage only dropped nine points from his 2013 season, proving his discipline and eye could play at the higher levels.

"Jorge has handled the progression through the Minor Leagues very well," Steil said. "Offensively, he has a good swing from both sides of the plate, with a little more power from the left side. On the defensive side, he played shortstop on a regular basis this year, after playing a lot of second base the two previous seasons. He has enough athleticism and arm to play short and made a lot of progress this season."

Outfield

Max Murphy, Elizabethton (35 games), Cedar Rapids (32 games): In his first year of pro ball, the ninth-round Draft pick out of Bradley University in Illinois batted .309 across two levels. In 243 at-bats between the Rookie-level Appalachian League and Class A Midwest League, the 21-year-old slugged 14 homers and plated 41 runs while drawing 30 walks and fanning 74 times.


More Twins insights we couldn't fit here »


"He's a guy that put up eye-popping numbers in the Appalachian League, and we got a chance to see Max for about six weeks," Mauer said. "Played mostly center field for us and showed some pop to the pull side. He had an unorthodox approach, but he knows where the barrel is. He started to get a little tired in the month of August, which is to be expected, but I would chalk that up to playing college and then his first pro season."

Reynaldo Rodriguez, New Britain (126 games), Rochester (10 games): Rodriguez continued to offer the Twins a power bat in the middle of their Double-A lineup with a career-high 22 homers this season. He recorded 70 RBIs and posted a .278/.337/.495 slash line. An Eastern League mid- and postseason All-Star, only Adam Brett Walker had more homers (25) than Rodriguez among Twins farmhands.

"Rey had arguably the best year of his career and was a big reason the New Britain club came back to finish above .500 after a slow start," said Steil. "To his credit, Rey has worked very hard to improve at first base in the last two years. However, with Vargas also at New Britain most of the year, he ended up playing in the outfield most of the time. He has enough range to play out there, but a shoulder injury limited him to [designated hitter] at the end of the season."

Adam Brett Walker, Fort Myers (132 games): Walker proved that his power numbers from Cedar Rapids 12 months ago were no fluke as he put up huge statistics in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He ranked first among Twins Minor Leaguers with 25 homers and 94 RBIs, batting .246 with 45 extra-base hits.

Though his strikeout numbers jumped from 115 to 156 at the higher level, he also drew more walks (44 compared with 31 in 2013) in fewer plate appearances.

"While a lot of young players struggle with the big parks in the Florida State League, he has the power to hit the ball over the fence there," Steil said. "He's still learning, and as he moves up, he will be challenged by better pitching. It's something that you work on, but you don't want to limit the strength of his game and you still want him to be aggressive."

Utility -- Amaurys Minier, GCL Twins (53 games): Minier doesn't turn 19 until January and will make quite a splash if he's able to replicate his Gulf Coast League success next season. A native of the Dominican Republic, Minier batted .292, the fifth-best in the organization, with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 53 GCL games this year. He increased his on-base percentage from .252 to .405 by raising his walks from six in 112 at-bats last year to 29 in 171 at-bats this time around.

The switch-hitter made strides defensively at both first base and the outfield after playing almost entirely at third base in 2013.

"He has impressive power from both sides of the plate for someone his age," said Steil. "He really came a long way at recognizing offspeed [pitches] this season, which was a key to the success he had.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Jason Wheeler, Fort Myers (13 games), New Britain (12 games), Rochester (one game): Wheeler led all qualifying Twins pitchers with a 2.67 ERA this season, ranking third with 11 wins and fourth with 115 strikeouts. Selected in the eighth round of the 2011 Draft, Wheeler saw time at three different levels, splitting the majority of his time between the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. In total, Wheeler held opponents to a .248 batting average, the lowest in his three years in the Minors.

"Probably the thing that stands out is how well he pitched after the promotion to Double-A," Steil said. "The move didn't faze him at all, and he did a better job of utilizing his offspeed stuff, which was a big part of his success there. He also has command of three pitches and has learned to be more aggressive with his fastball. His fastball velocity and his changeup both improved this year, which was really nice to see. Developing a little more depth to his slider is something he will continue to work on."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jose Berrios, Fort Myers (16 games), New Britain (eight games), Rochester (one game): Berrios' 12 wins were one short of Twins organization leader Tyler Duffy. He ranked second with 140 K's and third with a 2.76 ERA. Berrios' season was pretty similar to Wheeler's in that he saw time at three levels. He struck out as many batters as he had innings pitched and posted a sharp 1.11 WHIP.

"It's good to see him getting better in all areas -- pitchability, stuff, command," Steil said. "I don't think he's concerned with expectations or draft status. He has tremendous drive and work ethic and he's focused on becoming a Major League pitcher.  

"I think he pitched well enough to warrant consideration for Triple-A. We'll know more after we go through Spring Training and see how our rotations stack up. As with all of our players, we'll try to put him in the best spot for his development."

Relief pitcher -- Lester Oliveros, New Britain (26 games), Rochester (24 games), Minnesota (seven games): Oliveros led all Twins pitchers with 18 saves. The 26-year-old right-hander posted a 1.64 ERA in 65 2/3 innings across 50 appearances between two levels and he returned to the Majors for the first time since 2012. Oliveros struck out 88 batters compared with 27 walks, held opponents to a .187 average and converted all but three save opportunities.

"He got a lot of big outs for both [Minor League] clubs," Steil said. "He's still only 26 years old and the Tommy John at the end of 2012 set him back a year. I think he's still in good position to be a part of our bullpen in Minnesota going forward. He only pitched about six innings in 2013 because of the surgery, so it was good to see his velo and stuff get back to 'normal' this year. I think he's still getting better at this point in his career."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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