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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins 2015 MLB Draft Picks

I’ve done all of this so far in a non-linear way, jumping from player to player with only the slightest bit of organizational thought spent on an attempt to go around the diamond by position at times. Minnesota’s draft has inspired me to actually take a closer look at their top ten round picks in order. I just like their top ten rounds that much.

1.6 LHP Tyler Jay

My only real question with LHP Tyler Jay (5) going forward is how Minnesota is planning on handling him. That’s a testament both to how confident I am in his ability to pitch effectively at the big league level (and soon) and how uncertain I am about how the Twins honestly perceive his long-term role. He’s currently on track to start next year in AA and I see no reason why he won’t be up in the big leagues by early to mid-summer, but the starter or reliever question remains an open one. Personally, I’m all-in on Jay as a starter as you can read about in my in-season take below; he wouldn’t be ranked as the fifth overall draft prospect if I thought he’d be a reliever professionally. The Twins, however, have yet to ask me what I think, so where I see him heading holds no bearing on reality. I’ll assume Minnesota also views him as a starting pitching prospect since they took him with the sixth overall pick. There is, however, a wrinkle. Read on and see (or skip past the quoted text and I’ll give the short version)…

Even though I included him in the tier with Fulmer, Funkhouser, and Bickford and ranked him in the seven spot on my “preseason” draft rankings, I still think I’ve given short shrift to Tyler Jay. It’s fairly stunning to me that so much was made before the year by many (Keith Law, most famously) about UCSB’s curious decision to leave Dillon Tate in the bullpen, but I haven’t heard one peep about Jay’s usage. We all know by now that a last minute injury opened the door for Tate to start and the script has more or less written itself since then. What I don’t understand is how quiet the internet has been concerning Jay, a wildly talented young lefthander left to pitch only in short, unpredictable outings as Illinois’ closer. I’m not particularly interested in getting into the moral debate about what is best for the player versus what will most benefit the team (fine, real quick here’s my non-morals, all-baseball take: it’s crazy not to start a pitcher like Jay if the pitcher can in fact start), but I’d really like to see a potential first round player play on a regular schedule that would more easily allow as many well-earned eyeballs on him as possible. It’s nuts that literally everybody I’ve talked to, most everything I’ve read, and my own dumb intuition/common sense hybrid approach to this kind of thing (four pitches? great athlete? repeatable delivery?) point towards Jay entering pro ball as a starting pitcher despite never getting an opportunity to take the mound in the first inning in three years of college. If he’s good enough to start professionally three months from now, then he’s damn sure good enough to start in the Big 10. (This is the part where I’ll at least mention that Illinois’ pitching staff is loaded and whatever the coaches want to do with their team is their call. Still, for both short-term [Jay is awesome, so give him more innings] and long-term [Jay getting more innings will show everybody he is awesome, he’ll go higher in the draft because of it, and you can tell recruits you had a guy go top five rather than top twenty-five] reasons, I’d think the decision to start your best pitcher would be a no-brainer. I won’t kill them because it’s quite possible that the Illini coaching staff has information about Jay’s ability to start [relative to his teammates, if nothing else] that we don’t know from the outside looking in. Either that or they are being irrational and buying into old school baseball tropes that will only make their team worse anyway. Where were we?) If Jay goes as high as his raw talent merits (he’s easily a first round pick), then we’re talking about a college reliever being drafted right into a professional rotation. Such a move feels unprecedented to me; a quick check back through the archives reveals only one other similar first round case in the six drafts I’ve covered in depth since starting the site. The only first round college reliever drafted with the idea of converting him to the rotation professionally was Chris Reed. More on that from back in November 2011…

As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.

I swear I didn’t copy/paste that just because it’s one of my few predictions to have held up really well so far. I mean, that was a big part of it, sure, but not the only reason. I guess I just find the case of Jay continuously flying just under the radar to be more bizarre than anything. I’m almost at the point where I’m starting to question what negatives I’m missing. A smart team in the mid- to late-first round is going to get a crazy value when Jay inevitably slips due to the unknown of how he’ll hold up as a starter. Between his extreme athleticism, a repertoire bursting at the seams with above-average to plus offerings (plus FB, above-average CB that flashes plus, above-average SL that flashes plus, average or better CU with plus upside), and dominant results to date at the college level (reliever or not), there’s little doubt in my mind that Jay can do big things in a big league rotation sooner rather than later. There two questions that will need to be answered as he gets stretched out as a starter will be how effective he’ll be going through lineups multiple times (with the depth of his arsenal I’m confident he’ll be fine here) and how hot his fastball will remain (and how crisp his breaking stuff stays) when pitch counts climb. That’s a tough one to answer at the present moment, but the athleticism, balance, and tempo in Jay’s delivery give me hope.

It’s hard to mention Jay without also mentioning Tate (multiple times, apparently), the fastest rising of this year’s college group of starter/reliever question marks (Carson Fulmer being the third). Tate’s turn in the rotation this year has allowed him to begin to answer all of those questions emphatically in the positive. His fastball has dipped some late in games so far this year (95-98 early to 91-93 late), but that’s less of a problem when you’re already starting at easy plus to plus-plus velocities; we should all be so lucky to throw in the low-90s when tired. Jay has shown similar velocity to Tate so far out of the bullpen (mid- to upper-90s), so even knocking a few MPHs off his peaks in short bursts would allow his fastball to play at a more than acceptable level in the pros. Just because Tate has done it obviously doesn’t mean Jay is a lock to do it when he gets his chance, but it’s a nice parallel to draw from two fairly similarly talented prospects.

To reiterate (or to mention it to anybody who wisely skipped that wall of text): the only first round college reliever drafted with the intention of converting to the starting rotation since I began the site in 2009 is Chris Reed. I’ve long argued that draft precedent is overrated — factors that typically create precedent don’t really apply to the act of drafting, especially as more forward-thinking front offices take power — but the complete lack of recent historical successful attempt (or any attempt, really) to convert a reliever to a starter is striking. It might sound crazy, but I’m a little concerned that the Twins will give into peer-pressure (like managers who are afraid to go against “The Book”) and take the easy, safe way out with Jay in the bullpen.

A worthwhile recent example to consider, for better or worse, is Brett Cecil. Cecil came out of the pen in 66 of his 74 college appearances at Maryland including 28 of 30 times in his draft year. He then went right into the rotation as a pro and remained a starting pitcher through his first three big league seasons. After a disappointing third season in the rotation, Toronto opted to return him to the pen starting in 2012. That’s where he’s lived since. There’s a happy ending now that Cecil has established himself as one of baseball’s nastier lefthanded relievers — something I’m sure Jay could match if it came to it — but there’s a part of me that wonders if the Jays pulled the plug on him as a starter too soon. I know there are injury questions with him and the not insignificant matter of some guys having stuff that plays up above and beyond in the short bursts, but Cecil’s peripherals as a starting pitcher were decent. They weren’t anywhere as good as he is as a reliever, but an argument for more patience for a lefty with 6.45 K/9 and 3.13 BB/9 as a starter can be made.

That said, three years watching a pitcher up close get the ball every fifth day is ample time to come up with a decision on his future. I’d be thrilled if Jay got three seasons in a big league rotation to show everybody how good he really is. If that happens, I think he seizes a job and keeps it until he’s ready to hang ’em up. If it doesn’t happen, then I’m really not sure Minnesota had quite the long-term vision required for a team drafting such a unique prospect. Let him start. Watch him do number two starter things.

2.73 RHP Kyle Cody

I didn’t love the pick of Chris Paul, as you’ll soon read. I also don’t fully understand Sean Miller in the tenth, but questioning picks down close to anything that starts with a 3 and ends in multiple digits is nit-picky even for me. Those two aside, the Twins top ten rounds are a thing of beauty. They checked almost every box: quick-moving college arm, well-rounded high school standouts, a power lefty and a finesse lefty, a slugger with arguably the best raw power in his class, and a college bat off to as good a pro debut as even the most enthusiastic supporter could hope. It’s a diverse blend of talent — 2 college arms, 1 HS arm, 3 college bats, 3 HS bats — that shows exactly what a team can do with a little scouting creativity. The big bummer here is the math involved: 2 + 1 + 3 + 3 = 9. Signing nine out of your top ten isn’t necessarily a killer, but whiffing on your second round pick hurts a whole heck of a lot.

Missing out on RHP Kyle Cody (66, unsigned) isn’t so much about Cody himself, but about the wasted opportunity to add somebody. The Twins are on the verge of another nice long run of sustained success, so maximizing early picks while you still are in a spot to get them is more important than ever. As for the player in question, Cody will return to Kentucky for a senior season. It’s a lazy but unmistakable comp, but Cody reminds me of a less explosive Alex Meyer with a better shot to continue starting as a pro. He’ll give pro ball a try next June.

3.80 3B Travis Blankenhorn

4.110 3B Trey Cabbage

Getting 3B Travis Blankenhorn (99) and 3B Trey Cabbage (104) with back-to-back picks is really nice. Both struggled some in their pro debuts — less so Blankenhorn, both in terms of raw numbers and contextually (he was a level ahead) — but retain plenty of their pre-draft future big league regular sheen. I saw Blankenhorn this spring and had this to say…

Blankenhorn played home games about ninety minutes from where I grew up, so I saw him a fair amount this spring. Again, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I really, really like Blankenhorn’s game. It’s a bit of a lame hedge to rank a guy fourth on a given list and then call him a FAVORITE prospect (for what it’s worth, Nevin was the only other HS third basemen to get the all-caps FAVORITE treatment in my notes), but here we are. Blankenhorn is a favorite because of his athleticism, approach, and phenomenal feel for hitting. Perfect Game recently threw out a fascinating Alex Gordon ceiling comp. I’ll throw out the name he reminded me of: lefty Jeff Cirillo. If it all comes together I can see a high average, high on-base hitter who will wear out the gaps at the plate and play above-average to plus defense in the field.

Neither Blankenhorn nor Cabbage profile as big power bats, but the well-roundedness fundamental to both of their overall games makes them very appealing prospects. I’ve long advocated for “stacking” at draft positions (e.g., following the selection of a HS catcher early with a mid-round college catcher) and the Twins took it to another level with two high school third basemen in a row. The one year age gap between the two — something to keep in mind now that I didn’t pay close enough attention to pre-draft — should help the two progress at different levels throughout the system, as will the positional versatility (Blankenhorn played 3B, SS, LF, and 1B; Cabbage played 3B, SS, LF, and RF) both men possess. You’d still want both to stay at the hot corner as long as possible, obviously, though getting them at bats at a level appropriate for their hitting ability should be the top priority at the moment. The expectation here is that both players could one day hit enough to be big league regulars; more realistically, by taking two similarly talented prospects this early, the Twins tilted the odds in their favor of getting at least one long-term keeper. Job well done.

5.140 LHP Alex Robinson

LHP Alex Robinson (213) in bad haiku form…

kind of young for class
northeast arm out of New York
so far, yeah, it shows

Robinson keeps with recent Twins history as a power-armed reliever who looks like a shutdown reliever when it all works. The problem with Robinson is that those times when it all works are too few and far between. Arm strength lefties with deception and his temperament (“pitches like a closer” was a remark I heard this spring) don’t grown on trees, so the thought process behind the pick is sound. If pro instruction can help Robinson find something in his delivery or approach that helps upgrade his control from dangerous to effectively wild, he’s a future late-inning reliever. Even improving his command a touch — he’s a classic case of a guy with a fastball that moves so much that it vacillates between a great pitch and a useless one — would make him a viable big league pitcher. I tend to think that’s what will happen here, but it’s going to take time and perhaps a few different organizations before it clicks for him.

6.170 OF Chris Paul

I’ve been the low guy on OF Chris Paul (273) for some time now, but it’s nice to see him get off to a nice start in pro ball. I still don’t see a big league future for him — he’s more senior season mirage than accomplished college bat and I question his patience and long-term defensive home as a pro — though he’s already exceeded my modest expectations for him, so who knows. I mentioned pre-draft that I would have loved to see his drafting team give him an honest shot at second or third before shipping him more permanently to first or a corner outfield spot. He dabbled at third (3 games), so maybe there’s hope for him as a funky utility player yet.

7.200 LHP Jovani Moran

The first of three high school prospects taken out of Puerto Rico, LHP Jovani Moran is a crafty young lefty with solid stuff (86-90 FB, chance for average mid-70s CB) and a little bit of growth left. You can debate the merits of the actual pick all you’d like, but I’m most excited by the Twins flexing their international scouting muscle beyond the scope of the international free agency period. Minnesota does international free agency exceptionally well (with not enough fanfare, I’d say), so it only makes sense to utilize some of the same personnel to potentially unearth some underscouted gems from outside the continental US during the draft.

8.230 1B Kolton Kendrick

Plus to plus-plus raw power with a questionable approach that might make it difficult for him to ever hit enough to tap into said power. That was the pre-draft Twitter-sized scouting report on the bat of 1B Kolton Kendrick (87). Then he went out and had one of the weirder debuts I’ve seen: .200/.371/.271 with 18 BB/24 K in 89 PA. So that’s surprising plate discipline with minimal power…got it. It should go without saying that 89 PA doesn’t render the scouting reports obsolete, so consider the preceding bit more amusing aside than cogent point about Kendrick’s professional future. Weird pro start or not, I remain high on him as a hitter. It took me almost all spring to get there, but power like his is so hard to find that I’m not sure why a team wouldn’t at least considering him in round three or so. Getting him all the way down in round eight is a major draft victory for Minnesota. It’s clearly a high boom/bust profile (not entirely dissimilar to Greg Pickett, taken just four picks later by the Phillies) to gamble on, but impossible to dislike as it was done at the perfect time.

9.260 OF LaMonte Wade

OF LaMonte Wade (134) is coming off as good as a debut as I’ve noticed so far, especially in terms of non-first round players. He consistently showed off all of what made him great throughout his run at Maryland in the Appalachian League: power, patience, speed, and defense. I thought before the draft that he profiled as somebody with enough ability to make it as an everyday player and nothing he’s done on the field since has changed my mind. At worst, I think you’re getting an elite fourth outfielder who tears up righthanders and is capable of playing all three outfield spots (and first base!) at a high level. I’m bullish on his future as a regular.

10.290 SS Sean Miller

As much as I value a good glove, I have a hard time using a top ten round pick on a player that will never approach an honest big league caliber bat. That’s how I see SS Sean Miller: big-time glove, small-time bat. The usual caveat that Miller hits better than 99.99% of the general population applies, of course, but that .01% represents his direct competition going forward. I get a little bit of an Emmanuel Marrero (7th round pick last year) vibe from him. I could be wrong, of course. John McDonald played 16 seasons and made over $13 million on the strength of a plus glove alone.

For as much as I praised Minnesota’s top ten selections (nine signed, technically), rounds eleven to forty were a bit underwhelming. There are a few hidden gems (hopefully), but anecdotally the talent here doesn’t match what other teams were able to pull. I realize the constricting rules of draft signing slots likely has something to do with it, but at the end of the day I only care about the talent brought in, however it may have been accomplished. It’s not a bad group by any stretch — I’d put the over/under on future big league players here at 2.5, which is pretty damn all right all things considered — so let’s get into it.

We’ll start off with some good news in the way of two power-hitting college guys who ranked in my top 500. 1B Zander Wiel (229) was a nice find as a 12th round pick (350 overall) with above-average to plus raw power, ample physicality, and a decent approach. Like Ziel, C AJ Murray (456) has big raw power. In fact, the two had very similar college numbers at big time programs (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech respectively). Despite my pre-draft rankings, I think you could easily flip-flop Wiel and Murray as prospects; Murray’s pedigree intrigues me to no end and the Twins willingness to try him behind the plate again has me back on the bandwagon. He’s such a great athlete that I have a hard time betting against him.

OF Daniel Kihle has more swing-and-miss in his game for a player of his type, but his tools are impressive enough that he’ll have a long pro career even if he doesn’t clean up the approach. He has a plus arm, above-average speed, and average or better raw power. Not a bad set of tools for an 18th round pick. Speaking of toolsy mid-round college draft picks, come on down OF Jaylin Davis. Davis didn’t get a chance to make his pro debut this year due to his recovery from a torn labrum, so Twins fans haven’t had the chance to see him just yet. When they do, I think they’ll be impressed at what their scouting staff managed to find and sign with pick 710. His pre-season report…

Appalachian State JR OF Jaylin Davis has as many 55’s on his card as any outfielder here. He’s above-average or better in center, throwing, and in terms of raw power, and just a touch above average as a runner. I think he’s smart enough, athletic enough, and in possession of a quick enough bat to hit enough to make all those tools work, so don’t forget the name.

Unfortunately his labrum injury cut short his junior season (only 65 AB), so we really don’t yet know how far along he is when it comes to putting his considerable physical ability on display at a more consistent basis. There’s way more upside with Davis than your typical college 24th round pick. Just ask Carlos Rodon.

C Brian Olson was a pre-season favorite who didn’t have quite the breakout senior season needed to push him up into top ten round money-saving consideration. Still, he continued to show strong plate discipline, steady defense behind the plate, and enough power to be a threat on mistake pitches. Getting a potential big league backup catcher in the 34th round works for me. C Brad Hartong didn’t catch a ton after signing, so it remains to be seen what Minnesota’s long-term plan with him will be. He’s a good enough athlete to get real playing time in the outfield, but the bat looks a heck of a lot better if he’s a catcher. Bold take, right?

SS Alex Perez is a long shot — he is a 23rd round pick, after all — but you can see what Minnesota was thinking taking a chance on a middle infielder (he’s played 2B as a pro) coming off a monster senior season. There’s little to suggest in his skill set or overall track record that said senior year was the start of a new trend, but why not find out for sure firsthand at the low cost of pick 680?

Puerto Rican prospect C Kerby Camacho struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June. Puerto Rican prospect OF Lean Marrero struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June.

RHP Cody Stashak was a workhorse at St. John’s who has a solid track record of missing bats with average or better stuff (88-92 FB, usable CU and SL). LHP Anthony McIver is an older prospect (24 in April), but with good size and a history of missing bats (10.6 K/9 his senior year, 10.2 K/9 in his pro career) he’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. RHP Logan Lombana has missed bats (8.4 K/9 at Long Beach, 9.6 K/9 in Elizabethton) as well. RHP Rich Condeelis is a bit wild, but has maintained a reputation as a guy who can miss bats. RHP Max Cordy, unsigned as of MLB.com but clearly signed by the Twins (clear assuming you have any common sense and a willingness to Google as pitching in pro games is a pretty good clue a guy signed), throws hard (up to the mid-90s) with an average or better slider that flashes even better than that. Control is his biggest problem by far, but it’s the kind of stuff that has missed bats in the past and should continue to do so. Noticing a trend here? As I’ve said in other team draft reviews, I’d be surprised if any of these mid- to late-round picks even become factors at the big league level, but it’s admirable when a club puts an emphasis on production (not to mention solid stuff and strong, physical frames) to find a potential hidden gem.

Here are the pre-draft top 500 players selected by Minnesota…

5 – Tyler Jay
87 – Kolton Kendrick
99 – Travis Blankenhorn
104 – Trey Cabbage
134 – LaMonte Wade
213 – Alex Robinson
229 – Zander Wiel
273 – Chris Paul
456 – AJ Murray

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