Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 Twins offseason top 40 prospects list: 11-15

Today is the sixth installment in the top 40 Twins' Off-season prospects countdown, and the descriptions of the player and rationalization of their rankings continue to a bit more detailed.  You can find all installments here in reverse chronological order.  Previous rankings: 36-40, 31-35 , 26-30 , 21-25 and 16-20.  You can find the 2014 off-season summary list here   In these listings in parenthesis, I am including their ranking in the last prospect list, which was the 2014 mid-season list, with "--" if not ranked.  You can find that list here.   This list has 3 prospects that were not featured in my top 40 lists before:

15. Max Kepler OF/1B (12) LHB,  DOB: 2/10/1993, 6'4", 205 lbs

Kepler does not need much introduction, since he has been a top prospect after  was singed by the Twins as an amateur free agent from Germany in 2009 for an $800,000 bonus, the highest ever for a European baseball player. What was different this season than the rest was the addition of 25 lbs to his 6'4" frame as a 21 year old.  He played the whole season at Fort Myers and played in 102 games (407 PAs) which were about twice as many as he previously did in a season.   Furthermore, he played in an additional 18 games (72 PAs) in the Arizona Fall League.  At Fort Myers he hit .264/.333/.393 and at AFL he improved to .307/.366/.440. 

Kepler has been touted as a five tool prospect since he signed with the Twins; however he has not quite reached his potential and there are some concerns in his game:   He tends to be neutralized by LHPs (.273/.301/.390 with 26:3 K:BB ratio in 80 PAs this season vs. .263/.344/.396 with 36:31 K:BB in 316 PAs against RHPs.)  With the major difference is the strikeouts (33.8% against LHPs vs 12.6% against RHPs) and his walks.  He has problems seeing the ball from LHPs and this might be a fatal flaw that could turn him into a platoon player.  Overall his power has decreased as he developed, despite the muscle gain, his IsoP going from .241 in 2012 in Elizabethton, .186 in 2013 in Cedar Rapids (and .078 in the AFL) to .129 last season in Fort Myers and .133 in the AFL.  Thirdly, he is a man with no position with a bat that does not play for a DH.  In 2014 he started most of his games at CF, 61, a position he clearly does not have the range to handle (based, in addition to seeing him take bad jumps or being tentative and waiting for the corners to catch the ball, on 125 POs in these 61 games, compared to the 80 POs in 28 games that Buxton had in the same league.)  He played 18 games at RF, 8 at LF and 12 at 1B, but the starters for the Miracle at those positions were Walker, Harrison and DJ Hicks.   There might be a numbers game going against Kepler in the organization, with at least 4 corner OF and/or 1B prospects ahead of him in this list, and this does not count players already in the majors.   Kepler will likely start in Chattanooga in 2015, and likely playing first base mostly, with the premise that the starting Chattanooga OF will be (L to R) Harrison, Buxton, Walker and DJ Hicks will be their full time DH.   Kepler does have the potential, but he has to realize it soon.  2015 will be a critical year for him and his development, otherwise he could be a trading chip for the Twins, since he is occupying a valuable 40-man roster spot.


14. Travis Harrison OF/3B (16) RHB, DOB: 10/17/1992, 6'1", 215 lbs.

Travis Harrison was the second Twins 1st round pick (after Michael) in the 2011 draft from Tustin High School (CA.)  Harrison is a lot like Max Kepler (and Adam Walker) in the respect that they have not yet realized their potential.  Harrison, Kepler and Walker have been ranked 13th, 16th and 17th in the 2014 off-season list, 16th, 12th and 13th in the 2014 mid-season list and now are ranked 14th, 15th and 21st.  For Harrison and Kepler (primarily, Walker is a year older,) it might just be age, because both of them have been one and a half year younger than league average.  They do have time and cannot be considered yet as busts.  This is what I wrote about Harrison in the 2014 off-season prospect list :

Power has been touted as Harrison's best tool, and there have been flashes of it, and his IsoPs have been around .160, which is okay for a 20 year old in pro ball, but has to increase as he grows.  Harrison has some trouble with breaking balls, especially of the in-the-dirt variety, and that is reflected by his consistent so far about a strikeout a game rate.  He has to improve his pitch recognition and contact to go to the next level.  Position-wise he has played almost exclusively at 3B (just a single game at LF finishing the game) but he will be squeezed from Sano ahead of him and potentially Minier behind him who are both better fielders.   Moving across the diamond or at an OF might be an option, but he needs some reps at those spots soon, and first base might be spoken for for a while.

Harrison took a step back in the power department in 2014 hitting .269/.361/.365 at Fort Myers compared to .253/.366/.416 at Cedar Rapids.  Like Kepler he is tentative at LF (but it is his first full year in the position,) but unlike Kelper (and thus the ranking a step ahead) he does not have a fatal flaw against same side pitching. His 2014 splits against RHPs were .272/.359/.376 with 62:46 BB:K in 392 PAs and against LHP .255/.362/.327 with 24:17 K:BB in 127 PAs.  Another thing that sets him slightly ahead of Kepler at this point is his durability, playing in 129 games in each of the past 2 seasons vs. Kepler's 102 in 2014 and 61 in 2013.  Still, like Kepler, he has a lot of development to do.  Will likely start 2015 as Chattanooga's starting leftfielder.  Third base is not an option anymore; he made 7 errors in the 15 games he played there in 2014.


13. Stephen Gonsalves LHP (20) LHSP, DOB: 7/8/1994, 6'5", 190 lbs.

Stephen Gonsalves was drafted by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2013 draft from the Cathedral Catholic High School (CA).  I think that I surprised everyone (including himself) by ranking him as the Twins' 10th best prospect and the best LHP in the 2014 off-season rankings  based on him dominating both Rookie Leagues at an age  2.5 years younger than their average, with a 32.1% K% in the GCL and 38.1% K% in Elizabethton.  However his ranking dropped to 20 overall in the 2014 mid-season list  based on what I saw from him during Spring Training, which was being very tentative and lacking command.  In 2014 he started 6 games in Elizabethton (29 IP, 26 K, 10 BB, 1.138 WHIP and 2.79 ERA) and was promoted to the Cedar Rapids rotation, where, at a full 3 years younger than the league, he started 8 games for 36.7 IP, struck out 44 and walked 11.  His WHIP was 1.145 (with a .326 BABIP,) ERA 3.19 and FIP 2.50.  His K% in the Midwest League was 29.8%. 

Gonsalves and Thorpe are very close in the race for the top Lefty prospect in the organization, but at this point the 19 year old Australian has a sight edge over the 20 year old Californian based on stuff and age.  Gonsalves came in the organization with a high 80s low 90s fastball with good action, a mid 70s change up, which was his best pitch, a slow curve and a slider, both of which were works in progress.  Now his fastball moved up a few ticks to low to mid 90s retaining the good downward movement, making it at least above average to plus, his changeup is fully plus and he dropped both breaking balls for a better slurvy sharp breaking curve, which still needs work.  Very tall and lanky, he is the post boy of "projectibility".  The command stil needs a bit of work, but he is young.  Will likely repeat Cedar Rapids to start 2015, but he might be pushed to Fort Myers depending on the recovery from TJ surgery of other pitchers who would also need a home.

12.  Nick Gordon SS (8) LHB, DOB: 10/24/1995, 6'0", 160 lbs.

The Twins drafted Nick Gordon in the first round of the 2014 draft (5th overall) from Olympia High School (FL).  Mainly because he is the son of Flash Gordon and the brother of Dee Gordon (of Dodgers' and Marlins' fame and a career .272/.314/.345 MLB slashline and 86 OPS+,) he was propelled very high in all Twins' prospect rankings after the draft, all the way up to the 6th spot in the 2014 Baseball America list.    I would have to see more that his .294/.333/.366 line in Elizabethton (which, btw, was worse than his brother of 86 career OPS+ first pro slash line of .331/.371/.430) to think of him as a top 10 prospect in this organization.  Also his 11:45 BB:K in 256 PAs is somewhat worrisome for a non-power hitter.  Why 12th instead of 20th then?  He does have a nice compact swing with doubles power and makes good contact.  He does have good speed, but nothing close to his brother and he does have good hands and good range as an infielder.  I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point and want to see more to determine whether he is more like Levi Michael or like Byron Buxton.  Also he was 2.2 years younger than the Appalachian League average.

If shortstop does not work for Nick, he has a low to mid 90s fastball and a curveball allegedly close to wickedness to his father's, so that might be an option for the Twins down the road, if the bat does not work out.  For 2015 I think that the Twins (unless they saw something to hold him for EST) will have him start as the starting SS in Cedar Rapids, where he will be around 3 years too young for the league.  Time will tell whether Gordon becomes and elite prospect, but right now, in my opinion, he is not.  

11. Lewis Thorpe LHP (15) LHSP, DOB: 11/23/1995, 6'1", 160 lbs.
Thorpe was signed on July of 2012 by the Twins to the largest bonus ever given for an Australian player, $500,000.  He played his first professional season in the GCL in 2013, pitching 44 innings, striking out 64 and walking just 6 for a 2.05 ERA (1.43 FIP) and 0.86 WHIP, despite a .319 BABIP  His 38% K% and 10.7 K/BB were just phenomenal and (with the addition of about 5 mph to his fastball) propelled him really high on Twins' prospect lists, including 7th in the Twins 2014 list by Baseball America .   Thorpe was ranked 18th best prospect a year ago in my list, then moved up 3 spots to number 15 mid-season and he is now up to 11.  This might seem contradictory to his performance in Cedar Rapids this summer (71.2 IP, 80 K, 36 BB, 1.367 WHIP, 3.52 ERA, 4.24 FIP) until someone realizes that he was a full 4 years younger than the league average. In addion, he went to Cedar Rapids from EST, to fill in for the starting pitcher injuries there and was rushed.  Furthermore, to UCL bug hit him as well and was diagnosed with a "strained UCL" that did not require surgery.  I discussed a bit in the Gonsalves entry why Thorpe is my top ranked lefty prospect in the organization.  I think that he young enough so, even if he requires surgery, it will not be a huge set back. 

Thorpe has four pitches:  A plus fastball with a lot of lateral movement that sits at 92-95 mph, a plus changeup and a curve and slider, which both are works in progress.  His elbow will dictate where Thorpe will start in 2015, but if all (including the temperature) checks out, he will likely return to Cedar Rapids' rotation.

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