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Mining the Minors: With top prospects struggling, who shined brightest in season’s first half?

While the Twins played excellent baseball in the first half, the same can’t be said for many of the top prospects in their farm system.

It’s been a discouraging start to the season for most of Minnesota’s highly-touted prospects. MLB.com’s No. 1 Twins prospect, Royce Lewis, is slashing just .233/.279/.352 for High-A Fort Myers, after hitting .255/.327/.399 at the same level last year. An oblique injury that cost him most of spring training could be partially to blame for his slow start.

In Double-A, No. 2 prospect Alex Kirilloff has also dealt with an injury (wrist) that’s limited him to 48 games this season. After a slow start, he’s picked it up recently, and is slashing a solid .285/.370/.435 on the season. Those numbers are a bit below expectations, but Kirilloff’s bat is certainly legit, and as he gets more at-bats in prospect-rich Double-A and moves past the wrist injury, those numbers should rise in the second half.

No. 3 prospect Brusdar Graterol—the top pitching prospect in the organization—was having a great year in Double-A (1.89 ERA, 1.049 WHIP) before a shoulder injury sidelined him in May. The extent of the injury is still unclear, but it’s always concerning when a young pitcher is dealing with an injury in that area.

No. 6 prospect Wander Javier, a top-100 prospect in baseball last season, has come back from shoulder surgery that wiped out all of his 2018 season, but has yet to return to form. The shortstop is slashing just .151/.257/.218 at Single-A Cedar Rapids.

No. 13 prospect Akil Baddoo, a speedy centerfielder currently in High-A, is done for the year after having elbow surgery.

In Triple-A, No. 11 prospect Nick Gordon has had two stints on the IL, though he’s healthy now and playing well. No. 12 prospect Stephen Gonsalves has pitched just two innings all year as he deals with an elbow injury. No. 26 prospect Luke Raley was slashing .302/.362/.516, but he’s going to miss significant time after undergoing surgery on his ankle.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There have been notable performances from a number of prospects. Here’s a look at five Twins fans should be excited about.

Jordan Balazovic, RHP

Balazovic has had an eye-opening 2019 season, and he’s now being mentioned among the better pitching prospects in all of baseball. The tall righthander’s numbers are impressive: 2.74 ERA, 12.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 in 65.2 IP across Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers. He’s allowed just four home runs all season, and participated in the Futures Game Sunday.

The Canadian throws a mid-90s fastball, slider, and changeup, and the low walk rate suggests he has control of all three pitches. Balazovic is a bit of a late bloomer. He was a fifth round selection in 2016, and spent two seasons in Rookie Ball. Last year, he saw an uptick in velocity, and that’s continued into 2019. His name is already starting to appear on top-100 prospect lists, and if his second half rivals his first, that trend should continue heading into 2020.

Brent Rooker, OF

Rooker is a quintessential corner outfield masher. In other words, his bat is going to get him to the big leagues. Rooker put up huge numbers in college at Mississippi State, and the Twins liked him enough to take him in the first round in 2017. Since then, it’s been a meteoric rise through the system. In 2017, he hit .281/364/.566 in Rookie Ball and High-A. Last year, he slashed .254/.333/.465 in Double-A. This season, he’s upped his game again, hitting .286/.406/.550 (.956 OPS) at Triple-A Rochester.

Rooker’s always had a good idea of the strike zone, but he’s taking a ton of walks this year, and doing damage when he puts the ball in play. Of his 63 hits, nearly half (16 doubles, 14 home runs) have gone for extra bases. The bat certainly appears big league ready.

The big question with Rooker is whether there’s a spot for him in the big leagues. With Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario entrenched in the corner outfield spots, Rooker is unlikely to see consistent playing time, barring an injury. He can’t play center field, so he doesn’t really fit the profile for a fourth outfielder. Further, top prospects Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach play the same position and have a similar offensive profile.

For those reasons, don’t be surprised if Rooker ends up getting traded, either at the deadline or in the offseason. He needs to get consistent big league at-bats, and with that unlikely to happen in Minnesota, trading him for pitching help could make sense.

Trevor Larnach, OF

Larnach, like Rooker, is showing why he was taken in the first round. He and Rooker are both bat-first corner outfielders who put up big college numbers playing in elite conferences, and their bats have both translated to pro ball.

Larnach spent his first half with High-A Fort Myers, where he’s hitting .302/.369/.443. He hasn’t shown the power Rooker has yet (he has just five home runs), but has demonstrated a strong ability to draw walks and hit the ball in the gaps. Larnach may be a bit more of a line drive hitter, while Rooker looks to elevate.

Don’t be surpised if Larnach ends his season playing with Kirilloff in Pensacola. He’s already in his age-22 season, and with three years of high-level college ball under his belt, the Twins will likely be aggressive in promoting him. He, too, could be a trade candidate at some point.

Jhoan Duran, RHP

Don’t be fooled by Duran’s 1-7 record at Fort Myers (better advice: don’t even look at W-L record). He’s been very good. In 62 IP, Duran has an 11.3 K/9, 1.177 WHIP, and has been clocked at 100 MPH with the fastball. The walk rate is slightly elevated (3.8 BB/9), but not overly concerning.

Duran came to the Twins in the Eduardo Escobar trade, and was arguably the best prospect the Twins got in the Ryan Pressly and Escobar trades, though Jorge Alcala and Gilberto Celestino also rank among the top 20 prospects in the organization. Duran could receive a promotion to Double-A later this year, where he’d be in a rotation with Alcala and, if healthy, Graterol. Those three, along with Balazovic, represent the next wave of Twins starting pitching prospects, though don’t expect to see any of them in the big leagues this season.

Gabriel Maciel, CF

Also included in the prospect haul of last July was Maciel, a speedy centerfielder who was part of the Escobar trade. In his age-20 season, Maciel has impressed. He’s hitting .319/.406/.403, and earned a promotion from Cedar Rapids to Fort Myers in June, where he’s continued to hit.

Maciel and Akil Baddoo, who’s sidelined for the season with an injury, are two intriguing prospects because of their ability to hit and potentially stick in center. Both are a ways away (think: 2021), but if they continue to hit as they progress to higher levels they’ll become intriguing prospects with high upside.





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