Sep 29, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (25) celebrates with third baseman Miguel Sano (22) after scoring in the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Minnesota won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

TWINS BASEBALL: Part 3 – Starting Fielders in 2019, Under 25 in 2017

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Well, here we are.  The moment we have all been waiting for…

You have seen the Starting Rotation and Bullpen Pitchers (links at bottom if you missed them) who will try to claim roles in the Twins’ starting lineup over the next couple years.  Well, I have saved the best for last.  Most will agree that the young Twins’ hitters are the brightest spot of the future roster.  The best part: most are already here.  It is the pitching that is trying to catch up.

We waited a lot of years while we salivated over the reports coming from the minors on how good Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton were.  I don’t know if I will forget the first homerun I saw Sano hit.  I saw it on social media.  It went viral because Sano got suspended by Terry Ryan for 2-3 games because of how long he stared it down before slowly jogging the bases.  It would have been hard for Sano to argue because in the video: the camera, which was from a phone, watched the MONSTER blast leave the park before panning back to Sano.  He had barely left the box.  That, though, was an afterthought.  The ball was SLAUGHTERED.  You could tell it was a blast, even by his standards, with how he reacted.  You could also tell he was used to hitting them out. (See the video here.)  Who wasn’t excited about the Twins’ prospects at that time? But now, those guys are here, and Sano looks like everything he was cracked up to be.  Sano wasn’t the only one we were watching back then.  Buxton was the #1 prospect in baseball for a long time.

The only order to this list is fielding position.  These are your Minnesota Twins’ players and prospects, who are age 25 and under (mostly), that will be trying to make their MLB name in the next 2 years.  These guys all will have all the opportunities needed to be staples in the lineup for Opening Day 2019… mostly.

Catcher: Mitch Garver – Age 26 – (AAA) – Alright, so I am cheating again. Garver isn’t 25 or under.  Here is the thing though; Garver is really the only guy, anywhere near the right age, that fits this thought process.  AND, he might be the most underrated.  Garver was a 4 year college guy.  He was dominant in his final 2 years of college, posting a combined .383 / 48 doubles / 16 HR according to the 2017 Twins’ Prospect Handbook.  He was runner up for the Johnny Bench Award in his senior season (college top catcher).  Since then, for the Twins, all he has done is continue to improve his hitting and play great defense.  He started slow in Chattanooga AA last year, but later his bat got hot and he was called up to the Rochester AAA club. There he continued the hot streak.  He finished last year with a .322 BA in 22 games with Rochester.  That is where he will start 2017 and any MLB catcher struggles or injury will bring him to the MLB this year, most likely.

1B: Lewin Diaz – 20 yrs old – (A – Cedar Rapids) – Alright, so this one may be a stretch. The prospect handbook has Diaz reaching the majors by 2019.  Opening Day 2019 is probably pushing it.  This shows the weakness the Twins have at the position, in their prospect pool.  Kennys Vargas and ByungHo Park will have plenty of opportunities, between now and then to claim first base, but those two are too old to be relevant for this piece.  Diaz is VERY intriguing.  At 20 years old, Diaz already stands at 6’4″ and 251 lbs.  That was earlier this year when the 2017 Prospect Handbook came out.  The future is likely bright for this young man.  The problem: he is just too young to do too much projecting.  This year will be his first year of upper level A ball where he will start at Cedar Rapids.  The next step is Fort Myers before he even gets a shot at AA Chattanooga. Last year, Diaz hit .310 with 9 HR in 174 at-bats in the Appy League, the Twins’ low A affiliate.  Diaz is an above average defender at 1st base too.  He is ranked as high as #6 best Twins’ Prospect by the writers of the Prospect Handbook.  We will be keeping a close eye on Diaz the next couple years.

2B: Jorge Polanco – 23 yrs old – (MLB) – Readers are going to be surprised at how young some of the Twins’ top talent is when they read this.  Polanco has now spent about half of a full season, when at-bats are concerned, with the big league club.  He has been impressive thus far. Last year, in 69 MLB games, Polanco hit .282 with 27 RBI and 15 doubles.  At just 23, Polanco seems to have a bright future at the plate.  He needs some work on defense.  He was mostly groomed as a second baseman coming up through the minors and he was average at that position.  However, he is trying to play shortstop for the Twins’ this year and it will be very interesting to see how he does there as the year plays out.  At the end of the day, we have a top shortstop prospect about to break through (keep reading) so I see Polanco at second base eventually, where his defense won’t be a sore spot.

3B: Miguel Sano – 22 yrs old – (MLB) – Seriously.  Only 22 years old.  Sano is going to be a PHENOM.  A top 5 MLB prospect as he charged through the minors CRUSHING pitchers along the way. He hit 35 HR in A/AA in 2013 and then sat out 2014 with an injury.  Saying Sano “bounced back” in 2015 would be an insult to his season.  Sano hit 15 bombs in 66 AA games in Chattanooga before being called up to the Twins’ where some were giving him Rookie of the Year votes.  After being called up, Sano opened all of our eyes batting .269 with 18 bombs and 52 RBI in just 80 games.  The Twins’ old front office made a big mistake last year when they opted to keep Trevor Plouffe as a full-time starter at 3rd base, moving Sano to right field. It was a disaster.  Sano was visually uncomfortable in the outfield.  They ended the experiment, before the season was over, but Sano never looked comfortable anywhere in the field the rest of the season.  In the few games so far, Sano has looked solid and much more comfortable at 3rd.  His bat will be there.  This year will be the test on where his future lies in the field.  His other options are 1st base or DH.

SS: Nick Gordon – 21 yrs old – (AA) – Dee Gordon’s younger brother, Nick Gordon was drafted 5th overall by the Twins in the 2014 draft straight out of high school.  Gordon has been really consistent so far in his young career.  He has hit just under .300 consistently.  He is seen by many as the Twins’ #1 prospect.  Gordon started in the FSL All-Star Game last year where he batted leadoff.  Gordon is another 5 tool athlete who has above average range in the field, a really good bat, and great speed.  He hit 6 triples last year in Fort Myers.  He gets caught stealing too much, though.  He was thrown out 13 times while being successful just 19.  Gordon has some things to work on but we should see him next year, at the latest.

LF: Eddie Rosario – 25 yrs old – (MLB) – I love the way Rosario plays baseball. He has fun and you can see it.  The game needs more of that. His career with the Twins, now most of two seasons, has been something of a roller coaster… just like the Twins as a whole.  He has been hot and cold but looks consistent when taking his full body of work over two season. He hit .267 in 2015 and .269 in 2016.  The average isn’t terrible but the troubling thing is his OBP (on-base percentage) compared to AVG.  With an average like that, his OBP should be over .300. His problem: he swings at EVERYTHING. In his first two MLB seasons (784 AB), he has walked just 22 times, while striking out… wait for it… 209 TIMES.  He will need to fix that, but if he can, he will be a stud. He is a really good left fielder defensively and can hit with the best of them when he is connecting.

CF: Byron Buxton – 23 yrs old – (MLB) –  If you haven’t heard of Byron Buxton, you are going to have some explaining to do on your fanhood.  Buxton was the MLB #1 Prospect for most of his minor league career. The epitome of a five-tool player, you might be able to find one or two MLB players who can keep up with his speed.  He can hit for power and will be one of the best defensive CF in the Big Leagues this year, if he can stay healthy.  He has a hose for an arm.  Buxton has been clocked at 98-99 MPH in throwing home from CF last season, according to MLB.com.  Buxton’s MLB career hasn’t gotten off to the start he had hoped.  He has had problems adjusting to MLB pitching, especially off-speed stuff.  In his first 427 MLB at-bats, Buxton hit .220 with 162 K’s.  With that being said, you can see the talent that oozes from Buxton’s pours when he steps on the ball field, and I still believe he will be the player we always thought he would be.  Saving this part of the series until now has allowed us to watch the first few games of the season.  Buxton NEEDS to get on base more.  Thats where he does the most damage.  More patience will be the biggest thing to watch as he seems to fall behind in every at-bat.

RF: Max Kepler – 24 yrs old – (MLB) – Kepler finishes off our starting outfield, and what a fast one it is.  Also, all of them are already in the MLB.  Kepler got off to a pretty good start in his first season with the big club.  It was very interesting.  He was a different hitter in the MLB than he was in the minors.  Kepler hit for an average of .288 in 2014-2016, as he rose from A (Ft. Myers) to AAA (Rochester). In parts of 3 minor league seasons, Kepler had 905 at-bats and hit just 15 HR.  So, he hit for average but wasn’t scaring anyone with his power.  Fast forward to his first major shot at the big leagues in 2016: He had 396 at-bats with 17 HR… but hit just .235.  Kepler needs to bring that average back up to the .275 range.  Continuing the power would be a nice bonus but the Twins need him to get on base.  Kepler, like the other young outfielders, will be fine in the field where He, Buxton, and Rosario make up the best young defensive outfield in the MLB.

Utility OF: Zach Granite – 24 yrs old – (AAA) – If it weren’t for the young talent on the Twins’ current roster, Granite would have been in my starting outfield.  Hell, he won the Twins Daily 2016 Minor League Player of the Year.  Granite has an advanced approach at the plate and a really good glove in CF.  He was a 14th round pick so some are comparing him to Brian Dozier who was an 8th round pick.  He will definitely have opportunities to show he belongs in the big leagues soon. (More on Granite and comparison to Dozier)

Utility IF: Engelb Vielma – 22 yrs old – (AA) – Vielma is the perfect person to have in this spot when looking to the next couple years.  He can play 2nd, 3rd, and SS as well or better than anyone in the organization.  With that being said, don’t underestimate his bat either.  Vielma had an injury riddled 2016 but, because of how good of a fielder he is, I see him up with the big league club next year, by the latest.  He will start the year next to Nick Gordon, in AA Chattanooga, playing 2nd base….and other spots I’m sure. (More on Vielman from TwinsDaily.com)

WOW…. There you have it.  You have now seen how much talent the Twins have, that is just below the surface of the MLB.  The talent looks like it is getting ready to burst.  You will want to be watching when it does.  There is certainly the possiblilty that I wasted days and weeks of my time writing this, while you wasted minutes reading it. We know how cruel Minnesota Sports Reality can be. But that’s not me right now.  I am pumped to watch this team grow up and mature right before my eyes.  You should be too.

Missed Part 1 (Starting Rotation) and/or Part 2 (Bullpen) in this series?  Read those here.

Eric Strack

MinnesotaSportsFan.com

@RealMNSportsFan

Sources: 2017 Twins’ Prospect Handbook, Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, TwinsDaily.com, Fox Sports

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