Minnesota's farm loaded with upper-level prospects capable of contributing in 2016
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Minnesota Twins.
FORT MEYERS, Fla. -- After four consecutive losing seasons, the Minnesota Twins emerged as a surprise playoff contender in 2015, finishing three games behind the Astros for the second AL Wild Card spot with an 83-79 record.
The arrival of slugger Miguel Sano was key to the club's sustained success, as he provided a threatening, middle-of-the-order bat from the moment he was called up from Double-A on July 2. The Twins also unexpectedly received significant contributions from outfielder Eddie Rosario and right-hander Tyler Duffey.
The Twins were hopeful that Byron Buxton, who fell one spot to No. 2 on MLBPipeline.com's most recent Top 100 list, would follow in the footsteps of Sano and Rosario when they promoted him in June, but instead he spent nearly two months on the shelf with a left thumb sprain and hit just .209 in 46 games. Fully healthy this spring, Buxton, along with outfielder Max Kepler (No. 44 overall), is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster, and both players are expected to make an impact in 2016.
Beyond Buxton and Kepler, the Twins' farm system, ranked No. 5 in baseball by MLBPipeline, is loaded with upper-level prospects capable of contributing in 2016.
"We have a nice crop of position players who are already up in the big leagues -- Buxton and those guys -- but I think the next wave for us will be pitchers. We've got [Jose] Berrios leading the way, as well as a bunch of hard-throwing relievers who can impact our big league pitching staff," Mike Radcliff, Twins Vice President of Player Personnel, said.
"Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, Mason Melotakis, Yorman Landa, Alex Meyer -- there's a lot of them who have already reached Double-A and are in big league camp right now, and they're guys who can come up and help us whether it's this year or the next."
Radcliff also is encouraged with the overall health of the Twins' system this spring, noting that the organization set records on the physical tests -- running the mile, a 300-yard shuttle, baserunning drills, etc. -- administered when players first show up to camp.
"We had nearly everyone come here at their prescribed weight levels. Many of our players arrived at our Spring Training facility early to work with our strength-and-conditioning staff, so we came into camp in really good shape from top-to-bottom," he said.
When the Twins drafted University of Illinois closer Tyler Jay with the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, they did so with the intention of developing him as a starter in pro ball. But after a long and grueling college season, he spent his pro debut pitching out of the bullpen at Class A Advanced Fort Myers to limit his workload.
"We're expecting big things from Tyler Jay," said Radcliff. "He's transitioning to a starter, which will be different for him, and there probably will be some speed bumps along the way, which, really, is a good thing. When you have to use your full mix and not just throw power as he did as a closer in college, it might take him some time to settle in and figure some things out."
The Twins No. 4 prospect (No. 60 overall) was sharp in his spring debut Wednesday in a Minor League game against the Orioles, striking out five hitters over four innings in his (unofficial) first pro start. He pounded the zone with his 92-95 mph fastball in the outing, showing advanced command of the pitch to his glove side, and exhibiting good feel for his curveball and changeup. His mid-80s slider, regarded by scouts as his best pitch, was inconsistent overall, though he still kept it below the knees.
That the Twins decided to add Melotakis, the club's No. 20 prospect, to the 40-man roster last November speaks to his perceived upside, as the left-hander missed all of 2015 while working his way back from Tommy John surgery. When healthy, the 2012 second-rounder boasts a heater that reaches 97 mph and a swing-and-miss curveball in the low- to mid-80s -- two pitches that could get him to the big leagues relatively quickly in spite of his missed developmental time. While his durability remains the primary concern, the organization is encouraged by his showing this spring.
"Melotakis hadn't pitched in a game in nearly 16 or 17 months, so were pleased to see him pitch well in big league camp. He's got his velocity back as well as his breaking ball, but we need to get him through the season healthy," Radcliff said.
A second-round pick in 2013 out of LSU, Ryan Eades struggled in his 2014 full-season debut at Class A Cedar Rapids (5.14 ERA in 133 innings) but turned the corner last season in the Florida State League, finishing with a 3.11 ERA in 118 2/3 frames. The right-hander has continued to make strides this spring in Minor League camp, where his uptick in velocity and improved pitchability has caught the eye of club officials.
"Eades looked very sharp in his first outing the other day. His fastball was up to 97 mph and he was mixing four pitches in a two-inning stint," Radcliff said. "It's the hardest we've seen him throw, and it'll be interesting to see if he can sustain that velocity."
Daniel Palka, whom the Twins acquired from Arizona in a trade last fall, also impressed Radcliff this spring. The team's new No. 29 prospect enters the organization after an impressive 2015 campaign at Class A Advanced Visalia in which he posted an .885 OPS with 29 home runs and 24 stolen bases in the face of a position change.
"We feel like we got a Major League prospect in [Palka]. He came to our spring facility several weeks early in order to integrate himself into the system," Radcliff said. "He's got some advanced hittability and obviously quite a bit of power, and we like that he made a successful transition back to the outfield last season."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.