MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Draftees, international signings lead Twins' crop at instructs

Draftees, international signings lead Twins' crop at instructs

High school players taken in the Draft often face a steep learning curve when adjusting to the pro game. After signing, they get thrown into the proverbial fire by playing every day for the first time. Some adjust well, others take a bit longer.

Nearly all then head to instructional league play, which is typically the first time an organization has to actually work with the players and help them take their first pro experiences and build on that foundation with a plan to help them move forward.

"It's a learning process, they're getting used to pro baseball," Twins Minor League field coordinator Joel Lepel said. "That's been the process in my 11 years here. That's what they have to do to learn.

"We try to educate them and get an understanding of how we do things and how we prepare for next year, for the long haul. You always have to be patient with younger players."

Twins Top 30 Prospects at instructs
8. Ben Rortvedt, C
12. Wander Javier, SS
17. Travis Blankenhorn, 3B
23. Trey Cabbage, 3B
26. Akil Baddoo, OF

These 2016 draftees, and others, have been in the Twins' instructs camp since Sept. 14, getting that important work in. Instructional league games have been going on for a week, so Lepel and the player development staff are still getting to know this new wave of Twins.

"Everybody is just getting in the groove of things," Lepel said. "We have one group that plays a game and the other group works out. They're just getting their feet wet this first week."

The group of new draftees is led by second-round pick Ben Rortvedt and Competitive Balance Lottery Round B selection Akil Baddoo. Rortvedt, a catcher from the Wisconsin high school ranks, is the Twins' No. 8 prospect, while Baddoo, an athletic outfielder from Georgia, comes in at No. 26 on that list.

Both got more than 30 games in under their belts over the summer. Baddoo stayed in the Gulf Coast League and scuffled a bit, hitting .178 in 107 at-bats. Rortvedt began the year in the GCL as well, but moved up to Elizabethton in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Combined, he hit .222 and threw out 28 percent of would-be basestealers. If organizations need to be patient with high schoolers, that might be doubly true for prep catchers. There are so many demands for the position, it's understandable if it takes someone like Rortvedt a bit longer to develop. That said, the young backstop has looked good thus far.

"I've been impressed with his ability to catch on, getting a feel for what we're doing, handling pitchers," Lepel said. "We've been pleased with how he's been doing that."

One 2015 draftee not participating in instructs is the one who had the best debut. First-rounder Alex Kiriloff, No. 4 on the Twins' Top 30 (No. 93 on the overall Top 100) hit .306/.341/.454 and finished with seven homers and 33 RBIs, even though he slumped in his second month in the league. He also landed on the disabled list with a sore left elbow, so he's in Fort Myers to rehab instead of get at-bats in instructional league play.

"We're trying to lay off swinging and throwing, so he's just rehabbing and getting ready for the season next year," Lepel said. "He's just doing some strengthening, taking some pressure off, building his arm back up so he's ready to go. We'll see how it goes. The goal to have him ready for Spring Training."

Wander Javier nursing hamstring back to health

After giving Javier $4 million to sign in July 2015, the Twins were understandably excited to see what the Dominican shortstop could do in game action. The 17-year-old did hit .308 in the Dominican Summer League, but it was only in 26 at-bats, as he was shut down with a hamstring injury and didn't play after July 1. There is still some tightness, so Javier has been held out of action so far at instructs.

"We're trying to educate him now to make that stronger, how to do it every day," Lepel said. "We're taking our time with him. He's not playing in games right now. He's trying to learn what it takes to get his body right for an entire year.

"Strength and conditioning are important lessons all young players learn at instructs, and so far, the Twins are pleased how Javier has taken to the importance of taking care of his body so he can avoid future injury.

"We've been very pleased with Wander," Lepel said, adding that he's swung the bat well with good pop in batting practice. "He wants to get out there. He has to learn what it takes to do it every day."

Hamilton trying out a new position

Caleb Hamilton is used to playing a number of positions. During his junior year at Oregon State, he moved around the outfield and infield quite a bit. Then the 23rd-round pick of the Twins played all three outfield spots, third, second and even a game at shortstop during his pro debut this summer with Elizabethton in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

So when the Twins talked to Hamilton about giving catching a try during instructs, there was no hesitation. Hamilton isn't a complete stranger to the position, having caught some as a freshman. The early returns have been positive.

"He's pretty athletic," Lepel said. "He kind of profiles well back there. He has some arm strength. He's been handling himself well."

Hamilton hasn't hit particularly well, with a career .223/.326/.314 line at Oregon State, followed by a .207/.351/.329 line with Elizabethton, though he did show solid on-base skills during that pro debut. If he can stick behind the plate, perhaps he can develop into a defensive-minded backup backstop, or a super-utility type who can help a team out at a number of positions.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.