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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Revisiting 1st Twins draft under Derek Falvey, Thad Levine (and Sean Johnson)

When Derek Falvey took over the Twins, he spoke of a strong core group of players assembled by his predecessor, Terry Ryan. It was a good team, some thought, that had such a bad year in 2016 that the result was the No. 1 overall pick and a franchise icon shown the door before the trade deadline.

For Falvey, that meant two new opportunities. One in for the form of the next step in his baseball career. And the other in the form of a should-be top prospect added to the top of the Twins’ list with pick 1-1.

One of the first major moves that Falvey and GM Thad Levine made once they started was to promote Sean Johnson to scouting director. He was well regarded in scouting circles and clearly bright. Still, I think even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s fair to call the move a risk. In his first draft, Johnson would run a room in charge of picking at the top of the draft.

This column presents 5 thoughts on that 2017 draft for the Minnesota Twins. 

The first pick – Royce Lewis

The first overall pick was a bit of a surprise to many (all?) Twins fans. I’d heard that the Twins had narrowed their focus to maybe a half-dozen targets as the draft approached. But you’ll remember that many people outside the organization were writing and talking about teenaged flamethrower Hunter Greene as a logical choice. Or maybe two-way player Brendan McKay? Or how about polished college pitcher Kyle Wright? While the latter two are more likely to contribute to a shortened 2020 season than Lewis, we’re still too early to judge the final results from the 2017 draft class.

Lewis, 20, hasn’t yet dominated statistically in the minor leagues, although he was a force in the Arizona Fall League. He played third base, outfield and middle infield and won the fall league MVP. He’s fast, seems like a strong leader and has remained a shortstop. He ranks highly on many prospect boards and Twins leadership seems to believe that in time he’ll deliver more with the bat than his current minor league batting line of .266/.331/.409.

Next up – Brent Rooker

Rooker was a very big bat in his final college season, and the Twins liked what they saw. Injuries have cost him some time and because he was drafted out of college, he’s yet to surface despite being the same age as José Berríos. Some would consider that old for a prospect, but we’ll point out here that not everybody arrives at the same time, development isn’t linear, and some things like opportunity and injuries are hard to control.

Stats-wise, Rooker had an awesome year at the plate for Triple-A Rochester in 2019. He batted .281/.398/.535 and injuries limited him to 65 games. Only five hitters who qualified for the league batting title had a higher slugging percentage than Rooker, and only three such hitters had a higher OBP.

The Twins took Rooker in the supplemental round (35th overall) and they drafted pitcher Landon Leach two picks later. Leach missed 2019 with a shoulder issue.

The creativity – Blayne Enlow

Enlow was a fascinating pick at the time. Believe it or not, there were people who were convinced the Twins passed on hyped high school pitcher Hunter Greene with the top pick only to save money. True story. Even if you took those claims at face value as true, in this case the “save money” part is not quite right. A better term would be “re-allocate” draft pool money, which brings us back to Enlow.

The high school pitcher with a great breaking ball was headed to hometown LSU, and it was going to take some convincing to get him to break that commitment. The Twins offered $2 million to their third round pick, a signing bonus more than two-and-a-half-times the “slot” value for that draft position. That kind of signing bonus is more in line with a late-1st or early-2nd round pick, so between Rooker, Leach and Enlow, the Twins might have felt like they got 3 early-2nd-round draft choices that year. (Lewis signed for more than $1 million less than the expected slot value for the top overall pick, a clear sign that it was not all about the money for the California shortstop.)

The non-luck components of the MLB draft center on scouting, learning, having a plan, being flexible, and managing dollars in the early rounds to load a system with talent. Teams might say it’s more than that. It’s true but the clubs that nail everything listed above would be considered Good Drafters.

Anyway, Balyne Enlow has a 3.36 ERA in 225 minor league innings, and just earned his promotion to High-A Fort Myers in late-May last year. He’s mostly been a starter. That breaking ball that the Twins loved so much at the time hasn’t led to a huge strikeout total so far in his young pro career; Enlow has punched out 19.3% of the hitters he’s faced in the low minors. I remember liking the pick at the time, and I remain curious to see where Enlow’s career takes him.

Digging a little deeper – Bailey Ober

Speaking of re-allocating draft funds, the Twins might have adjusted in the mid-rounds to the way things had fallen for them early in the draft. As the first pick in the draft, the Twins were basically the financial power that draft year, because of the way bonus pools are assigned. After spending “over-slot” on Enlow, as well as their fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks, Minnesota spent dramatically less than slot value on their selections in rounds eight, nine and 10. They did not sign their 11th-round pick. But sitting there in the 12th round on the draft board was Bailey Ober, a 6-foot-9 righty from the College of Charleston.

Ober in the 2019 season climbed to Double-A, and basically just refused to give up runs. Spanning 3 levels, Ober pitched 78 2/3 innings and allowed just six earned runs all year. He snuck onto the top-40 Twins prospects on a list published by FanGraphs over the winter. He fanned 34% of the hitters he faced last year, including 34 of the 84 (40%) he faced in Double-A Pensacola.

Not many right-handers get by with a fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper-80’s, so that’s what is currently working against Ober. But with numbers like that, plus command and a good changeup, he continues to give himself a shot as a former 12th-round draft pick.

The worthwhile dart – Max Meyer

The Twins took the local kid Max Meyer in the 34th round out of Woodbury (No. 1,006 overall). Instead of signing that contract, he declined and stayed in Minnesota to star for the Gophers. Now Meyer could find himself in the first round of this summer’s draft, if things shake out right for him.

Find me on…

Twitter: @derekwetmore

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