With the regular season concluding, we've decided to take a look at each team's future -- not by using a crystal ball or other psychic abilities, but by evaluating their farm systems. Below you'll find our ranking of the top five prospects in the organization -- sorted by perceived future potential -- as well as five other players who fit various categories. Those categories are:
2020 contributor: A player who is likely to play a role for the big-league team next season.
Analyst's pick: A player who is a strong statistical performer and/or whose underlying measures are better than the scouting reports suggest.
Riser: A player on the way up.
Faller: A player on the way down.
One to watch: An interesting player to keep in mind (for whatever reason).
These rankings were compiled after talking with various industry sources about the systems (and players) in question. It should be acknowledged that this process is more art than science, and that there are limits to ordinal rankings. Still, it's an intuitive system, and our hope is that the write-ups will answer any questions by providing additional context and analysis of each player -- such as their pluses and minuses; the risk factors involved; and their estimated arrival date.
One last word on eligibility: we're following MLB's rookie guidelines by disqualifying any player with more than 130 big-league at-bats or 50 innings pitched.
The Twins have graduated some quality players in recent years, but there are more on the way.
1. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B
Alex Kirilloff will play all of the 2020 season as a 22-year-old. It's possible that by the end of the year, he'll also identify as a big-league outfielder.
Kirilloff was the 15th pick in 2016 draft. He had his development delayed after undergoing Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2017. A big 2018 landed him in Double-A to begin the 2019 season, and that's where he spent the entire year, hitting .283/.343/.413 in 94 games while doubling as one of the younger hitters in the Southern League.
Kirilloff has an unorthodox swing, as he's prone to stepping in the bucket -- or striding away from the plate. This is often frowned upon, since it theoretically makes it tougher to hit outside pitches, but some batters -- e.g. Khris Davis -- have made it work. Kirilloff might be the next thanks to his feel for hitting and the natural loft in his swing.
Provided Kirilloff keeps hitting, the development worth watching here is where the Twins stick him defensively. They've had him crosstrain between first base and the corner outfield, and it's possible that he could ping pong back and forth as needed, giving him a little additional value.
2. Royce Lewis, SS
The No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, Royce Lewis just couldn't seem to get going, no matter what. Lewis hit .238/.289/.376 with more than three times as many strikeouts as walks during a repeat assignment in High-A. (To be fair, it was the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.) He was pushed to Double-A in late July, and he responded by … hitting even worse: .231/.291/.358 with a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio of three on the nose.
Lewis did play better in the Arizona Fall League, which, hey, take the victories you can.
The hope here is that Lewis can figure out what ailed his swing and get back to his old offensive standing over the course of the 2020 season -- a standing that made it OK that he might not remain at shortstop for the long haul, but might instead land in center field. If not… well, he'll turn 21 in June. Given his pedigree, he's worth permitting the mulligan.
3. Jordan Balazovic, RHP
Jordan Balazovic built upon his breakout 2018 by turning it into a two-year event.
In 19 appearances over Single- and High-A, Balazovic tallied 93 innings (a new career-high) and posted a 2.69 ERA and 5.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He permitted just four home runs all year.
Originally a fifth-round pick out of Mississauga, Canada, Balazovic is a tall right-hander with a high-quality fastball and slider combination, an improving changeup, and an uptempo delivery that, when combined with his long limbs, makes for a frenzied visual effect.
The Twins have mostly taken it slow with Balazovic, so he's probably another year away from debuting. But he could end up as a mid-rotation starter come 2021.
4. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
Brusdar Graterol already made his big-league debut, pitching in 10 games for the Twins out of the bullpen. There's at least a chance that he's going to make many more appearances in relief.
Graterol averaged 99 mph with his fastballs during his stint in the majors, illustrating how much arm strength he has to spare. His main secondary offering was an upper-80s slider that missed bats on about a third of the swings taken against it. That makes for a promising combination.
Less promising is Graterol's delivery. It's high on effort, upright, and comes complete with a lot of recoil on his follow through -- to the extent that it looks like a last-ditch yank on his parachute. Those things tend to impact command and durability. Perhaps that's why the Twins were willing to throw him in the bullpen late in the year, even though he only turned 21 in August.
The Twins will presumably return Graterol to a minor-league rotation to begin 2020. But don't be shocked if he ends up pitching high-leverage innings for the big-league club before long.
5. Trevor Larnach, OF
Trevor Larnach was the 20th pick in the 2018 draft, but that didn't prevent him from reaching Double-A in his first full professional season.
Larnach isn't blessed with great athleticism, and he's unlikely to ever be a factor on defense or the basepaths. But he still has a path to the majors in front of him thanks to his bat. An idealized version would be able to pitch in across the board. Larnach has a mature approach and has the raw strength to produce much better power numbers than his 18 home runs in his first 700-plus professional plate appearances suggest.
Provided Larnach keeps hitting -- and jeez, he better -- he could reach the majors in late 2020.
2020 contributor: Brent Rooker, 1B
Brent Rooker likely would have debuted in 2019 during one of Nelson Cruz's absences were it not for his own injury woes. He was limited to just 281 plate appearances all season, and in those he hit .282/.399/.530 with 14 home runs. Rooker is essentially a one-trick pony, but that trick -- hitting for power -- tends to go a long way. The Baltimore Orioles seem to have a monopoly on this type, so maybe he'll end up with them someday down the road. Until then, Rooker will try to overcome his obvious limitations and latch on with the Twins as a bench bat.
Analyst's pick: Ryan Jeffers, C
Minnesota's second-round pick in 2018, catcher Ryan Jeffers reached Double-A in his first full season as a professional. Strength is the selling point here both ways: he hit for more of it after his promotion (and batted .264/.341/.421 overall between High- and Double-A), and he has an above-average arm -- even if his caught-stealing rates don't support that assertion. Jeffers's ability to make consistent contact and to remain limber behind the dish will ultimately determine if he's able to become more than an offensive-tilted backup.
Riser: Jhoan Duran, RHP
You could make the case Jhoan Duran belongs in the top five. He's here instead because of concerns about his viability as a starter. Duran has big-time arm strength and a big-time fastball. He also had a breakout 2019, during which he fanned more than 27 percent of the batters he faced. His delivery isn't pleasant to watch, but to his credit he has always thrown a fair amount of strikes. Another year like last, and he'll probably be in the top five for real.
Faller: Nick Gordon, 2B
The fifth pick in the 2014 draft, Nick Gordon is the brother of Dee and the son of Tom. It's always tempting to compare brother to brother, or father to son, but Nick is his own individual. To wit, he doesn't possess top-of-the-chart speed like Dee. He does, however, have more raw pop than Dee. Nick fared better in his second run at Triple-A, hitting .298/.342/.459. Interestingly, the season saw him turn back the clock on his batted-ball tendencies: he hit the ball on the ground and to the opposite field more often than in recent seasons. With Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez forming Minnesota's double-play combination, Gordon might have to settle for a bench role -- or a different organization. Either way, it's not what Minny expected on draft day.
One to watch: Chris Vallimont, RHP
The Twins acquired Chris Vallimont as part of the Sergio Romo trade -- yes, it was the rare deadline deal where one team netted the big-leaguer in the trade as well as an additional piece. Vallimont has scorched the lower minors, striking out 150 batters in 127 innings across multiple levels, after being drafted in the fifth round out of Mercyhurst College -- a Pennsylvania school whose biggest big-league products have been … um, John Costello, David Lee, and Dan Altavilla. Vallimont has a chance to join them in due time, perhaps in a relief role.