Prospects in the Twins’ 2020 player pool
As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an
As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an alternate training site in the hopes of staying fresh for a potential callup or getting in much-needed development time.
The MiLB.com staff is rounding up the notable prospects in each organization’s 60-man player pool and analyzing what the new system will mean for their 2020 seasons.
After surpassing the 100-win mark for the first time in 54 years last year, it seemed the Twins would be able to emerge from their postseason drought. But another first-round sweep has the club seekting its first playoff series win since 2004.
Minnesota added some firepower to an already loaded lineup by signing Josh Donaldson, and brought in Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill to shore up the pitching staff. The Twins are in a unique position where they’re ready to contend again while maintaining a stockpile of excellent prospects on their taxi squad in St. Paul.
"We felt that putting them in this environment and being around guys who are going to continue to develop for the Major Leagues, that was the best way to advance their development for this year given the circumstances," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told MLB.com. "In the absence of games, it was better for them to be playing and to be around our coaches and getting a little bit more hands-on instruction."
The initial release of the 60-man Summer Camp roster included one unclaimed spot as well as 13 of the Twins' top-30 prospects, including six of their top 10. Much like the Major League club, this group of relies heavily on position players. But there's plenty a talent in that bunch and, although none of them are on the active roster, there are candidates for the expanded 30-man roster.
Royce Lewis, SS: After ascending to Double-A as a 20-year-old last year, it wouldn’t have been too lofty to expect MLB Pipeline's No. 9 overall prospect to make his Major League debut at some point this season. Obviously, the pandemic threw a wrinkle in that timeline, but Lewis is still the most intriguing prospect on the taxi squad. He didn’t catch on quickly in the Southern League, but he claimed MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League after batting .353/.411/.565 with 12 extra-base hits, 21 runs scored, 20 RBIs and five stolen bases. The 2016 No. 1 overall Draft pick has a lot of moving pieces to his swing, but he’s shown an ability to make consistent hard contact as a pro. While his bat, as good as it is, needs the most development, his athleticism has allowed him to progress quickly through the system. He has 68 stolen bases in three Minor League seasons and his 70-grade speed helps his range at shortstop. The Twins moved Lewis around the diamond a bit in the AFL, where he saw some time at second base, third and center field in addition to his regular shortstop. That versatility should obviously help him get to the Majors, maybe even at some point this season.
Alex Kirilloff, OF: When the No. 32 overall prospect is healthy, he’s shown he can be one of the best hitters in the Minors. After Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2017, Kirilloff batted .348/.392/.578 with 71 extra-base hits, including 20 homers, and 101 RBIs across two levels the following year. But wrist injuries prevented him from fully capitalizing on that monster season. Even so, he was a force when he was in the lineup. The 22-year-old batted .283 with a .756 OPS, nine homers and 43 RBIs in 375 at-bats with Double-A Pensacola. The lefty-swinging Kirilloff has power to all fields and does not strike out much. He profiles as a typical right fielder, but, like Lewis, he brings some defensive versatility with experience at first base. Lewis and Kirilloff have moved together through most of their careers and both could contribute to the Twins in 2020.
Trevor Larnach, OF: After hitting big on a pair of high schoolers in 2016, the Twins went the college route in the 2018 Draft and found another fast-rising outfielder. A little more than a year after winning a College World Series championship at Oregon State, Larnach was promoted to Double-A in his first full season. The 23-year-old performed well in 43 games with Pensacola, hitting .295/.387/.455 with seven homers and 22 RBIs, but his strikeout rate jumped to 27.6 percent in the Southern League. Like Kirilloff, Larnach has shown an ability to drive the ball to all fields, which has helped him produce a .853 career OPS. He’s not the swiftest of foot, but his arm is serviceable and he should fit comfortably in a corner outfield spot.
Jhoan Duran, RHP: When a team acquires a pitcher with “raw” and “projectable” in his scouting report, it waits for a season like the one Duran produced in 2019 to know that things really started coming together. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, sporting a 3.76 ERA in 23 games, including 22 starts, with Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Pensacola. Duran seems to have harnessed his upper-90s fastball and hard-dropping sinker, complementing that combo with good depth on a curveball. Minnesota’s strengths are on the offensive side of the ball, so any pitching help should be welcomed. Duran, who came over from the D-backs in the Eduardo Escobar deal, eclipsed 100 innings in back-to-back years and could force his way into the Twins’ rotation.
Ryan Jeffers, C: The Twins got an excellent year out of Mitch Garver last season and he’ll likely retain his role as the club’s primary backstop. But the initial roster included six catchers. Jeffers forced his way to Pensacola in his first full season last year. His defensive tools might be louder than his bat – he threw out more than 26 percent of would-be basestealers in 2019 and the club has praised his receiving skills. But Jeffers also has enough attention-grabbing power. Should he make the big club this year, he wouldn’t be the only player in the lineup with power-over-hit skills, but he’s got enough discipline to get on base at a high clip.
Lewis Thorpe, LHP: Nearly seven years after Thorpe signed with the Twins, the 24-year-old Australian finally debuted with the big club. Although he did run into some difficult outings, he didn’t pitch as poorly as the numbers would indicate. Thorpe strung together 31 strikeouts over 27 2/3 innings, and the Twins won in eight of his 12 appearances. However, he didn’t distinguish himself as a southpaw who’s particularly tough on lefties at that level. Still, those 10 relief appearances and two starts for Minnesota were redeeming for Thorpe, who missed all of 2014 and 2015 to recover from Tommy John surgery. He’s been there before and he very well could be back in 2020.
Brent Rooker, OF: The aggressive path that put Larnach and Jeffers on the fast track to the Majors was first blazed by Rooker, who was drafted 35th overall after receiving Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors in 2017. He opened his first full season with Double-A Chattanooga and bashed 22 homers in 2018, then batted .281/.398/.535 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs in 65 games with Triple-A Rochester before a groin injury essentially ended his season in mid-July. Rooker returned to rehab in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League but was limited to two games after the playoffs were wiped out by Hurricane Dorian. Obviously, Rooker’s biggest need is live at-bats – he went 6-for-21 in 13 Grapefruit League games this spring – and he’s shown an ability to produce at the Minors’ highest level. His loudest tool – power -- is one the Twins obviously value. Rooker could be the first from the group called to contribute in 2020, even if it’s as a designated hitter. The 25-year-old also struck out in 34.7 of his at-bats last year and will have a hard time proving he can improve that trend without playing in formal games.
Gilberto Celestino, OF: The 21-year-old signed with the Astros out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, then came to the Twins with right-hander Jorge Alcala in the Ryan Pressly deal at the 2018 Trade Deadline. He didn’t play a full season until last year, his fifth as a pro. Celestino’s best tool has long been his glove, but he put together a good enough second half last year to earn a promotion from Class A Cedar Rapids to Fort Myers and a spot on the 40-man roster. He batted .336/.403/.504 with six homers, two triples, 19 doubles and 33 RBIs over the final 63 games of the season, then went 4-for-23 this spring. Celestino’s angle to the big club in 2020 likely would be as defensive help.
Edwar Colina, RHP: At this point in his career, it’s safe to call Colina a safe investment. The Twins inked the then-18-year-old for $8,000 in 2015 and the 5-foot-11, 240-pound fireballer climbed three levels in the Minors last year. Colina can reach triple digits with his fastball and gets a lot of swings and misses with his power slider. In 19 appearances for Fort Myers, Pensacola and Rochester last year, he posted a 2.96 ERA with 102 strikeouts over 97 1/3 innings. Colina has made only eight relief appearances in his career and his future may be as a starter, but his profile might best be suited as a bullpen option in a shortened season.
Dakota Chalmers, RHP: If Chalmers can show he can consistently find the strike zone, he could be an intriguing big league option in 2020. The 23-year-old has a filthy fastball-curveball combination that’s produced a 10.67 K/9 and .193 opponents’ batting average over 156 Minor League innings. But he’s also averaged 6.57 walks per nine innings. Chalmers pitched only five innings in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned last July and made nine starts between the GCL and Florida State League, compiling a 3.63 ERA. He kept that trend in the AFL, recording 25 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings.
Other notables: No. 17 prospect Nick Gordon played 169 games with Rochester over the past two seasons, batting .298 with 36 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs last year. He could be among the first to shift to the Twin Cities should the Major League squad need an infielder. … 18th-ranked Travis Blankenhorn mashed 19 homers and recorded a .787 OPS across two Minor League levels last year. He also has some defensive versatility with experience at five positions in his career. … Alcala, the club’s No. 25 prospect, reached the Majors in 2019, yielding a hit and a walk over 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. The 24-year-old’s fastball sits in the upper 90s, and he uses a wipeout slider as his out pitch.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GerardGilberto._