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Minnesota Twins 2012 MLB Draft Review

I liked the idea of doing these draft recaps position-by-position because of the way they are designed to give an overarching idea of what kind of talent has been added to each team’s farm system. It could be that my mind works in that particular organized way – my favorite feature, strange as it sounds, of each year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook is the team-by-team positional depth chart illustrations – or it could be that I believe by thinking in terms of position, it is easier for me to see where prospects fit in in a larger, team-building context. Whatever the case is, Minnesota screwed it all up by taking pitcher after pitcher after pitcher. I literally can’t fill out a pretend lineup here. Thanks for nothing, Twins. I understand that the organization went heavy on infielders last year – worth noting that although Travis Harrison has excelled, the Twins haven’t gotten a darn thing out of the quartet of college middle infielders Levi Michael, Tyler Grimes, Adam Bryant, and AJ Pettersen – but it is still strange to see three positions (2B/SS/3B) completely ignored.

Minnesota’s 2012 infield prospects of note come down to Jorge Fernandez and DJ Hicks. Fernandez is a seventh round lottery ticket who was underscouted (i.e. missed by me) this spring. The Twins obviously saw something in him that they liked. I can’t add anything more than what Baseball America provided besides sharing that I had somebody tell me that they believe Fernandez compares favorably (he even preferred his bat) when stacked against Phildrick Llewellyn, an athletic catching prospect that I really liked prior to the draft. Llewellyn went a little bit later (13th round), but close enough that I think the comparison has some merit. Based on that comparison alone, I think Fernandez is a prospect worth watching.

I had Hicks right smack in between a pair of similar hulking college first basemen in Ben Waldrip and Matt Snyder. Both Waldrip and Snyder were off the board in the tenth round, so, if you think I have any clue what I’m talking about, then Hicks is good value for what he is. So what he is? Hicks is a large man who should slot in nicely as an organizational masher who, if all goes according to plan, should help all of the minor league teams he’ll wind up on win some ballgames. I’m down with the idea that lineup protection is a myth, especially at the big league level, but I think there is something to be said for surrounding young, impressionable minor league hitters, especially those in the lowest levels of the chain coming straight out of high school, with mature veteran teammates. The minor leagues are about development, not winning and losing; fostering a winning climate, and, more importantly, winning habits, are dismissed as being a part of the latter when it is really an important step in a player’s long-term development.

We can skip right by the rest of the infield because, as mentioned earlier, the Twins didn’t draft a single player of note at second, short, or third. You’d think a team that led all of baseball in 2012 draft spending would have gotten somebody to catch the ball up the middle, but things didn’t work out that way. Nobody will care about that so long as this next guy pans out…

So much has already been written about Byron Buxton that I’m not sure I can add anything meaningful to the conversation. He’s a phenomenal athlete with three plus to plus-plus tools (speed, arm, defense) who also has a long, long way to go with the bat. I respect the heck out of any scout that watched Buxton hit over the past calendar year and said to himself, “That kid is going to be a good big league hitter,” because projecting a bat as far away as Buxton’s is more art than science. I can’t help but remember Paul DePodesta’s blog entry published the day the Padres selected a similar prospect, Georgia prep CF Donavan Tate, with the third overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. I realize that the public nature of DePodesta’s comments kept him from divulging too much, but I think there’s still something to be learned about how a big league front office thinks here:

“There has been a lot of speculation surrounding this pick over the past few weeks, but Tate has always been in the front of our minds. He is a potential 5-tool player who plays in the middle of the diamond and is probably the best athlete in the draft. We’re taking our shot.”

As outsiders to the entire draft process, it is only natural to sometimes fall into the “appeal to authority” trap when we assume that every scouting department knows more than we do. The opposite is, of course, also true: draft analysts rush to pan a pick (Dylan Cozens, for example) without acknowledging the possibility that a scouting staff that has seen a player dozens of times may be on to something that even the best of their “unnamed sources” or limited personal viewings did not reveal. It is alright to admit that a team might have made a pick that we don’t presently understand may have been done for valid reasons. I think the larger unsaid truth when it comes to scouting is, when it comes right down to it, baseball isn’t all that difficult a game to figure out. Anybody from inside the game – whether that means a scouting director, area scout, or even a prospect/draft guru paid to write for one of the industry leading publications — who insists otherwise does so to protect their own self-interests. It’s hard to blame them for that, really; that’s how people with awesome jobs keep their awesome jobs. Admitting that what you do isn’t exactly rocket science opens you up to all kinds of unwanted criticism. If you keep saying things like “Scouting is a more intricate process than the casual fan can comprehend,” then you are keeping casual fans at a distance just far enough away so that they are less inclined to challenge the conventional wisdom. Scouting is a field that has been mythologized for no other good reason than to protect those already on the inside. I don’t think anybody would deny that scouting is a tough job done with little fanfare by people who work their butts off on a daily basis, but that doesn’t make it a job that can only be done by a select few individuals. I respect the profession enough to avoid using certain terminology whenever possible — I slip at times, but, for the most part, you won’t read about me “scouting” or writing “scouting reports” because I know I’m not a scout — but acting like only professionally trained scouts can give opinions about amateur or minor league prospects stunts positive potential avenues of discourse.

All of that is just a long way of saying that the Twins don’t really know whether or not they have a future star on their hands in Byron Buxton. They think they do, but they don’t know. If he does wind up a star, then I can guarantee you that Buxton’s biggest backers within the organization will make sure that his selection is the very first thing on their résumés, always and forever. I must make clear the following: big league scouting staffs do a tremendous amount of homework, from both a baseball and personal/home life point of view, before making the big decisions that come with early round draft picks and big money international signings. After all the hours of work, however, it ultimately comes down to DePodesta’s original line: we’re taking our shot. Do your homework, say a prayer, and take your shot.

I’m not entirely sure where all of that came from, so let’s just move on. Adam Brett Walker, or just plain Adam Walker as he’s listed on the Elizabethton Twins roster, has the physical tools to join Buxton in an exciting Twins outfield of the future. You could go one step further and add Miguel Sano into the mix as the left fielder to complete what is likely the minor leagues highest upside future outfield configuration – if all three of Sano, Buxton, and Walker reach their ceilings, look out. As much as I like Walker, I think his realistic upside is closer to useful, versatile role player (this is where I liked the pre-draft John Mayberry Jr. comps) than first-division starter.

Jake Proctor can run and field with the best center fielders in this year’s draft class, but his lack of power and well below-average plate discipline (9 BB/40 K in 183 AB) severely limit his upside as a hitter. Zach Larson has the chance to do more at the plate, but it will take time. There’s no comparing any high school prospect’s physical tools to Byron Buxton’s, but Larson does a lot of the same things well (speed, arm, defense) while exhibiting similar rawness as a hitter. Larson’s selection and overslot signing might be considered more of a coup by a team that didn’t take the super-rich man’s version with the number two overall pick, but he’s worth getting reasonably excited about all the same.

The initial reaction to Minnesota’s draft around the internet has fixated on the idea that the Twins went too heavy on pitchers without starting pitcher upside. Too many relievers/future relievers. Upon closer review, that seems like a fair assessment. JO Berrios is easily the most intriguing long-range pitching prospect drafted by the Twins – the chance for three above-average pitches, the way he holds his velocity late in games despite an improved though still less than ideal build, and his impressive performances against top competition all lend credence to this idea. Unfortunately, Berrios is the only guy you can point to as a definite long-term starting pitching prospect. An argument can be made that fellow high school pick Andre Martinez can also thrive in a starting role in pro ball, but I’m not sure I can go that far on a six-foot tall breaking ball reliant lefty. Minnesota did snag one potential back-end starter in DJ Baxendale. The Arkansas righthander fits the old standard for a Twins starting pitcher to a t: underwhelming fastball, good command of a diverse mix of pitches, and, above all else, above-average pitchability. Guys like Baxendale are interesting to me because there is very little margin for error: either he makes it as a fifth starter or he doesn’t make it at all. The typical fallback of relief work doesn’t take too kindly to pitchers with fringy fastballs who lack a legitimate breaking ball out-pitch. The same analysis could be more or less be applied to Taylor Rogers. Rogers’ lefthandedness, better showing this spring (stuff-wise), and more projectable build make him the better project going forward, as either a starting pitcher prospect or future reliever.

If you’re going to draft too many college relievers, you should at least draft good ones. The Twins did well to target and acquire a boatload of hard throwing potential big league relievers. You’d like to see these kinds of players picked later in the draft, but I’ve found that the concepts of “overdrafts” are more of a media creation than a real deal big league concern. Here’s my draft day philosophy du jour: draft who you want the round before you believe you can’t get him. If you really want JT Chargois and don’t believe he’ll be there the next time you draft, then you either draft him right this second or go a different direction and pray that he’ll still be around. Seems logical enough, right? Enough with the abstraction, let’s meet some of these real life, flesh and blood college relievers.

Luke Bard has improved significantly stuff-wise every year dating back to his high school days. His fastball was sitting upper-90s this past spring before missing time with a lat injury. It has been speculated that the Twins view him as a starter long-term, and I’ve heard positive things about his ability to throw a changeup. That said, smart money is on Bard winding up as a reliever by the time he breaks through at the upper-levels professionally. He’s good enough to excel in a late inning role, though I don’t see the classic closer stuff typically associated with relievers taken so early.  The guy with that kind of stuff is the aforementioned JT Chargois. Chargois has gotten a lot of positive pub for his plus fastball/breaking ball combo, but I don’t think enough has been said about how interesting an all-around player he is. I’ve heard him compared favorably as a hitter to former Rice 1B/LHP Joe Savery. Chargois could be utilized as a Brooks Kieschnick type of weapon, but with more emphasis on his pitching than hitting. The odds of that happening are slim to none, and not just because Chargois is on an American League team, but it is a fun possibility to dream on. Melotakis is a little bit similar to Bard in that both are almost certainly relievers with just enough of that little something extra to have you believe they could start. All three could play prominent roles in the Minnesota bullpen throughout the remainder of the decade.

The Twins also did well to grab even more hard throwers a little bit later on in the draft. Zack Jones and Christian Powell can both run their fastballs up to the mid-90s while complementing that plus heat with breaking balls that flash above-average. Like Chargois, Jones is also a good enough hitter to potentially do some damage at the plate if the opportunity ever arises professionally. Also like Chargois, Jones’ stuff looks late inning ready more or less right out of the shoot. Tyler Duffey, a teammate of Chargois at Rice, doesn’t have the premium stuff of many of the relievers taken by the Twins, but could fill a middle inning role as a sinker/slider guy at the next level.

Alex Muren fits this new Twins profile of athletic, two-way relievers. In almost the same way I feel about projecting a high school player like Byron Buxton’s hit tool, I feel about making any proclamations about a pitcher like Muren. The young righthander from Cal State Northridge hasn’t done much from a performance perspective, but his history of flashing an above-average fastball and occasionally interesting cutter was obviously enough to tempt the Twins. My rankings are far from the last word, but, for the record, I had Muren as the 560th best pitching prospect. That doesn’t make his selection as the 370th overall pick good or bad, but that’s where I had him. I prefer Travis Huber, the 700th overall pick, over Muren in the battle of the Twins two late round arms. Like Muren, Huber has underperformed relative to his stuff. The big difference between the two is that Huber’s performances haven’t been quite as disappointing and, more importantly, his stuff is flat better.

Add it all up and what do you get? One potential franchise cornerstone (Buxton), a high upside high school arm (Berrios), a strong complementary piece to a good lineup (Walker), and a plug and play near-ML ready bullpen (Chargois, Bard, Melotakis, Jones, Duffey, Powell, Rogers). It’s obvious that the success or failure of Buxton as a professional will ultimately define this draft, but the Twins hedged some of that risk by all but guaranteeing themselves eventual big league value by selecting their bevy of high floor college relievers.

Position-by-Position Breakdown of Prospects of Note

(Players are listed by draft order…included below each name, in italics, are each player’s pre-draft notes and ranking within position group)

C

7.220 Jorge Fernandez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)

1B

17.520 DJ Hicks (Central Florida)

23. Central Florida rJR 1B DJ Hicks: ugly swing, but good bat speed and college production put him in the “if it ain’t broke…” category of young hitting prospects; his bat will be what carries him as his above-average hit tool (underrated, I think, and rare for such a big man) and plus power potential help him stand out in the crowd of college bats; plus arm strength; slow moving on bases and in the field; has shown promise on the mound with a fastball that sits 86-90 (92-94 peak), decent splitter, and slider with some promise; 6-5, 250 pounds

OF

1.2 Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Georgia)

1. OF Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Georgia): 93-94 peak FB; plus-plus (80) speed; dead pull hitter; loves to swing; raw, but immensely talented; above-average to plus arm, closer to above-average now but accurate; crazy quick hands; bat speed, bat speed, bat speed; BJ Upton comp from an athletic standpoint makes sense; weirdest comp ever: Mike Schmidt, at least in terms of distance from plate and current swing; tremendous athlete; plus raw power; CF range if his instincts catch up, otherwise a potential Gold Glove winner in RF; 80 speed/60-70 arm/70 range

3.97 Adam Brett Walker (Jacksonville)

33. Jacksonville JR OF Adam Brett Walker: plus power upside; popular John Mayberry Jr. comps, especially in terms of frame makes a lot of sense; I’ll take the minority view and state that I think he has the chops to be an average RF as pro, but acknowledge that he could be very good defensively at 1B; average at best speed, but not for long as his body fills out; swing isn’t as long as you’d think and he’s a more refined ballplayer than often given credit; average hit tool; average at best arm; I think Walker gets an unfair reputation as a hulking all or nothing slugger who will have to hit 30+ homers to have any kind of long-term value; with a score of 45s/50s across the board, Walker’s game is relatively well-rounded – though, of course, it is still his power that will make him a potential big league regular or not; 6-5, 225 pounds

14.430 Jake Proctor (Cincinnati)

234. Cincinnati JR OF Jake Proctor: plus speed; good athlete; below-average arm; CF range; weird swing, but has been able to get it done at college level; 6-2, 215 pounds

20.610 Zach Larson (Lakewood Ranch HS, Florida)

156. OF Zach Larson (Lakewood Ranch HS, Florida): good athlete; good speed; good arm; CF range; raw; 6-4, 200 pounds

Pitching

1s.32 RHP JO Berrios (Papa Juan XXIII HS, Puerto Rico)

47. RHP Jose Orlando (JO) Berrios (Juan XXIII HS, Puerto Rico): 87-93 FB, 95 peak on island; easy velocity, some deception; good 71-74 CB; 75 CU; SL; 77-79 breaking ball, not sure what type; slight frame; more commonly 92-93 sitting velocity; update: 91-95 FB, 96-97 peak; 80-81 SL; 82-84 CU; holds velocity well

1s.42 RHP Luke Bard (Georgia Tech)

136. Georgia Tech JR RHP Luke Bard: 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; was up to a more consistent 95-97 before his early season lat injury; good 80 SL gives him the second pitch needed to eventually pitch in a big league bullpen; 6-3, 200 pounds

2.63 LHP Mason Melotakis (Northwestern State)

83. Northwestern State JR LHP Mason Melotakis: had him 91-95 FB, 97 peak coming into year; currently sits 94-98 much more consistently, rarely dipping below 93 in short stints; 85-87 SL that flashes plus, but is far too inconsistent; shows CU; I think he can work as a starter because of his improved breaking ball and ability to hold his velocity (92-95) as a starter, but the lack of a reliable third pitch and mechanics that scare scouts likely keep him in the bullpen professionally; 6-3, 200 pounds

2.72 RHP JT Chargois (Rice)

20. Rice JR RHP JT Chargois: 90-94 FB; easy 95-96 peak but can also get it up to 98 with a little more effort; plus 78-83 CB; average 79-81 CU flashes plus; also shows 85-87 SL, but uses it almost exclusively as a chase pitch in the dirt; really tough to pick up ball out of his hand due to nasty angle in delivery; between deception, velocity, movement, and command, Chargois’ fastball is a true plus to plus-plus pitch; as a two-way prospect – I liked him as a hitter more his freshman season – his arm is fresh and his above-average athleticism goes without saying; big question is command of offspeed stuff; despite the overwhelming consensus that he’s a reliever only in the pros, I think he has three pitches to start if his arm action is deemed acceptable by a pro team, something that has a higher chance of happening that he gets credit for when you factor in his relative newness to pitching; has arguably one of the draft’s highest floors (big league setup guy) with the chance for more (elite closer/above-average big league starting pitcher); 6-3, 200 pounds

4.130 RHP Zack Jones (San Jose State)

185. San Jose State JR RHP Zack Jones: 93-95 FB, 97-98 peak; FB moves; flashes good SL; iffy command; iffy control; profiles as reliever all the way, which is unfortunate because he swings a mean bat (2011: .316/.383/.458 – 16 BB/30 K – 155 AB)

5.160 RHP Tyler Duffey (Rice)

132. Rice JR RHP Tyler Duffey: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; good 79-82 CU; good two-seamer with above-average sink; hard 78-83 CB; average mid-80s SL that flashes plus; 6-3, 210 pounds

6.190 LHP Andre Martinez (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Florida)

8.250 RHP Christian Powell (College of Charleston)

202. College of Charleston JR RHP Christian Powell: 87-91 FB, 96 peak; up to more consistent 91-94 this year, still peaking 96; above-average breaking ball when he locates it; has worked in an emerging CU that flashes above-average; 6-4, 215 pounds

10.310 RHP DJ Baxendale (Arkansas)

174. Arkansas JR RHP DJ Baxendale: 87-92 FB, 93-94 peak; good FB movement; good 84-85 SL; solid 80-82 CU; really good 69-71 CB that is his best pitch; mid-80s cutter; stuff down in 2012: 86-89 much of season, offspeed not nearly as sharp; ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes gives him back of the rotation upside, but might be best served by becoming a primarily fastball/curveball reliever at the next level; 6-2, 190 pounds

11.340 LHP Taylor Rogers (Kentucky)

154. Kentucky JR LHP Taylor Rogers: 87-92 FB; good 75-80 CB; better 77 CU; 83 SL; good command; similar prospect to Texas LHP Hoby Milner; good mix of projection, polish, and present stuff; 6-3, 170 pounds

12.370 RHP Alex Muren (Cal State Northridge)

560. Cal State Northridge JR RHP Alex Muren: has hit as high as 95 in the past, but sitting velocity is inconsistent and not nearly as hot; interesting 82-85 cutter; pitches like a two-way prospect, for better or worse – more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point, but could be molded into something by a patient coaching staff; 6-3, 200 pounds

23.700 RHP Travis Huber (Nebraska)

241. Nebraska JR RHP Travis Huber: 88-92 FB with sink, 93-95 peak; very good 83-84 SL; good CB; raw CU; good athlete; 6-3, 225 pounds

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