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Mining the Minors: LaMonte Wade Jr. makes an impact; Brent Rooker raking

LaMonte Wade Jr.’s first opportunity in the big leagues didn’t last long — he was called up Thursday and sent back to Triple-A Rochester on Saturday when the Twins activated Byron Buxton and Marwin Gonzalez — but his rise in the organization is interesting.

The way he’s done it is the antithesis of the 2019 Minnesota Twins.

Wade, a ninth-round pick out of Maryland by the Twins in 2015, doesn’t hit many bombas. He has just 40 in five minor league seasons, though he did hit a career high 11 last year, and has five so far this season. He really doesn’t rack up a ton of doubles and triples either—he slugged .380 last season (11 doubles, 4 triples) and is slugging .366 so far this season (11 doubles, 1 triple). But Wade has one very elite skill—he gets on base.

Wade is the Twins’ version of Kevin Youkilis (AKA The Greek God of Walks). He has a career OBP of .391, and his ability to draw free passes hasn’t waned as he’s gotten to higher levels. This year in Triple-A, his OBP is .393. He also rarely strikes out; his 292 career walks outpace his 268 career strikeouts.

I’ve been intrigued by Wade throughout my time writing this column, because of his willingness to make an impact in a different way than the prototypical 2019 hitter. Wade knows he doesn’t have the power to match the corner outfielders he’s competing with to get to the big leagues, so rather than ambushing balls and trying to do damage when that approach doesn’t match his skill set, he’s developed an outstanding eye that earns him a ton of free passes. That approach, he told me last year, dates to college. Wade credits the coaching staff at Maryland with molding his offensive approach.

Maryland’s program really emphasized on-base percentage, and Wade said the only way to earn consistent at-bats was to get on base at a high rate. That philosophy worked well for the Terrapins during Wade’s tenure; they made two Super Regionals in his three seasons in College Park.

“I started working on it in college, being aggressive but under control,” he said. “Coach [John] Szefc and coach [Rob} Vaughn really preached working the count, having good at-bats, tough at-bats. Not giving away outs. So I really take pride in my at-bats and try not to give anything away.”

It’s difficult to see Wade earn a starting role on this Twins team, barring injuries. The Twins have arguably the best outfield in the game (Boston can make a pretty good case for that, as well), and Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff will eventually be ready to make an impact at the corner outfield spots, where Wade spends most of his time. But reports suggest Wade’s a strong fielder, and while he’s a bit stretched in center, he can play that position in a pinch.

All that adds up to a serviceable fourth outfielder in the big leagues. He’s behind Jake Cave in that role for now (Cave also was sent to Rochester on Saturday), and Marwin Gonzalez complicates his path further. But Wade should get some consistent service time in the big leagues at some point, either with the Twins or another team with less outfield depth.

Rooker Raking

With the Twins shorthanded in the outfield, it made sense to call up Wade for his defense, and because he’s on the 40-man roster. If the Twins had a need for an extended replacement in one of the corners, though, Rooker would make the most sense.

Since coming off the Triple-A IL on June 1, he’s been absolutely raking. In 113 plate appearances through June 26, Rooker’s slashing .354/.522/.659, good for a 1.181 OPS. Overall on the season, he’s hitting .285/.410/.564. Because he’s not on the 40-man roster, his shot of getting called up for a short-term stay is more remote than Wade’s. However, if he keeps putting up these numbers, the Twins will be forced to find a place for him at some point.

Rooker’s always been a tremendous hitter. He put up huge numbers in the pitching-rich SEC, and has skyrocketed up the Twins system since being drafted in 2017. Unlike Wade, Rooker’s looking to ambush the ball with his upper cut swing. He strikes out a lot, but when he gets barrel the ball goes a long way.

His approach fits in perfectly with what the Twins have done all season. Without having seen him a ton, one comp that seems to fit is C.J. Cron. Like Cron, Rooker is a big, strong, right-handed masher with power to all fields, and a willingness to take a walk. He’s in a tough spot with the outfield depth the Twins have, and while he’d be a nice bat off the bench in September, there also aren’t many guys the Twins would want to pinch-hit for in their lineup.

With those numbers, he’ll get his chance eventually, either in Minnesota or perhaps another organization looking for young, controllable power at the trade deadline.

Jaylin Davis

As if the Twins don’t have enough outfield depth, prospect Jaylin Davis is having a great year. The Twins thought enough of Davis to send him to the Arizona Fall League last year, and he’s now earned his way to Triple-A after slashing .274/.382/.458 with Double-A Pensacola. He’s made quite the impact in his brief time in Rochester, hitting three home runs, two doubles and a triple in his first nine games.

Davis is predominantly a right fielder, though he has logged a few games in left and center over the last couple of years. Davis is farther down the pecking order than Wade and Rooker right now, and it’d take a bevy of injuries for him to get called up this season. He’s a name to keep an eye on heading into 2020, though, if he’s able to sustain his offensive production throughout the season.

Gordon a trade candidate?

Rochester SS/2B Nick Gordon has been mentioned as a possible piece in a trade to get bullpen and starting pitching help at the deadline. In theory, it makes sense. Gordon’s a former first-round pick and top 100 prospect who’s put up consistently strong offensive numbers in the minors, other than a bad four-month stretch in his first go-around in Triple-A last year. This season, he appears back to his old self, slashing .271/.310/.426 in 38 games.

Long thought to be the Twins’ second baseman, or shortstop, of the future, Gordon’s path to the bigs has gotten more complicated. Jorge Polanco is clearly entrenched as the shortstop for the next five years, given both his contract extension and phenomenal play there. And Luis Arraez, who flew a bit under the radar during most of his time in the minors, has arrived on the scene in a big way. Arraez has been spectacular in his brief time in the big leagues, looking completely comfortable against the best pitchers in the world. His numbers in the minors (.331 career batting average) suggest this is no fluke, and at 22, he’s years away from entering his prime. It’s too early to say Arraez is going to be a star, or even a starter, but he’s certainly trending in that direction.

So where does that leave Gordon? Certainly he provides nice depth for Minnesota, and if he’s still in the organization next year he could open the year as a backup infielder. But barring injury, there is no longer an obvious spot to slot him in as an everyday player with the Twins. There are a lot of teams who would love to get their hands on Gordon, who would be under team control for at least six seasons once he debuts. If the Twins could flip him as part of a package for a starter or late-inning reliever, it would make some sense.

Either way, it’s good to see Gordon again showing the skills that made him such a highly rated prospect going into 2018.


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