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Mining the Minors: Is Zack Granite ready for a call-up to the Twins?

Rochester outfielder Zack Granite has put together a pretty remarkable run this month. In June, Granite is batting .500/.561/.759 through play Friday. That’s not a typo—he’s hitting .500 this month.

Obviously numbers like that aren’t anywhere close to sustainable, but nevertheless, Granite’s having quite a season. Overall this year, he’s hitting .341/.395/.482 with 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Those would be fantastic numbers for a corner outfielder, but they’re even more valuable because Granite plays a solid center field. Center field, like shortstop and catcher, is a position in which teams are willing to sacrifice offensive production for strong defense (see: Buxton, Byron). If players at those premium defensive positions are also able to put up solid offensive numbers, they become some of the most valuable players in the game. Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, and early 2000s Joe Mauer are three examples that come to mind.

Now, I’m not trying to compare Granite to the best players in the game. What I am suggesting, though, is that he’s beginning to profile as a guy who could be a legitimate big league starter soon rather than later. The (good) problem for the Twins is, where do you put him?

There isn’t an obvious spot for Granite at the moment. Buxton’s shown improvement at the plate, and he’s going to win a gold glove in center this year. Max Kepler is already an above average player in right. Robbie Grossman is the greatest hitter who ever lived.

The only outfielder who could even be considered a candidate to be sent down is Eddie Rosario. I’ve been critical in the past of Rosario’s approach at the plate, and some of the mistakes he makes throwing to the wrong bases and making outs on the base paths. He has areas he needs to work on, in my opinion, before he’s a true big league starter. But I also think he’s done enough to deserve a major league roster spot. The OBP (.299) continues to be low, but he’s now slugging .460, and despite the defensive miscues, he still adds plenty of value in the field. He may be the most vulnerable of the four outfielders, but I think he’s earned a place on the team.

So, Granite waits. My guess is that either through injury, trade, or ineffectiveness, he’ll be up at some point in the next couple of months. In the meantime, he’s an intriguing player whose stock continues to rise.

Stephen Gonsalves, LHP: Rumor has it the Twins need pitching help. Although there are a number of intriguing arms—Alan Busenitz (who just got called up), Trevor Hildenberger, Mason Melotakis, John Curtiss—in Double-A and Triple-A who can help the bullpen now, starting pitching depth is a much bigger concern. With Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes on the DL, the Twins have been forced to ad lib with their fifth starter, giving starts to Adam Wilk and Nik Turley. Turley’s a good story and has strikeout stuff, but the results have been poor in his first two starts. Wilk has struggled even at Triple-A. Gonsalves, though, is a legitimate prospect who may have already been up had a shoulder injury not delayed the start of his season by almost two months.

He’s back now, though, and pitching well at Double-A Chattanooga. In 34 IP, Gonsalves has a 3.18 ERA, 0.912 WHIP, and 11.1 K/9. Those numbers are very strong, and in line with the outstanding numbers he’s put up throughout his minor league career. Because he’s only had six starts this year, and he’s coming back from injury, the Twins probably want to slow play Gonsalves to some extent. If they’re serious about lingering in the AL Central and wild card races, though, Gonsalves could fill that 5th starter role later this season. Long-term, he and Fernando Romero could pair nicely with Jose Berrios as cost-controlled, mid to top-of-the-rotation arms for the next few years. Speaking of Romero…

Fernando Romero, RHP: Like his rotation-mate Gonsalves, the 22-year-old Romero continues to impress. Overall, Romero has a 3.27 ERA, 1.312 WHIP and 8.8 K/9 over 71.2 IP. Those numbers were good enough to earn him a spot in the Southern League all-star game (teammates Nick Gordon, Mason Melotakis, John Curtiss, LaMonte Wade and Edgar Corcino were also named all-stars). In his last five starts, though, Romero has taken his game to another level. Over those five starts, Romero has a 1.42 ERA and 33 strikeouts, while holding opposing hitters to a .192 average and giving up just one home run. There are some in the organization who believe Romero, with a mid to upper 90s fastball that complements a slider and changeup, has top-of-the-rotation potential. Over the past two seasons, his numbers have backed that up. I’ve stated here in the past that I’d be shocked if the Twins brought him up this year, because he’s never pitched even 100 innings in a season, but a strong end to this season and solid spring could find Romero on the 2018 opening day roster.

Nick Gordon, SS: Offensively, what’s left to say? I keep waiting for him to come back to earth a little bit, but he just keeps mashing. He’s now up to .313/.375/.498. The power numbers are way up, as are the walks. He has more walks (26) than he had all of last year, and his six home runs this season are more than he’d hit in his entire career coming into the season. The strikeout rate is up for Gordon, but I’m guessing the Twins would gladly trade a few more strikeouts for the huge surge in power, especially if he can maintain a .300+ batting average. His bat is legit, and at 21, he’s still 5-6 years from reaching his prime. The offensive ceiling is very high.

Defensively, I think the jury is still out. Defensive metrics aren’t great, and I haven’t watched enough of him to feel confident even giving an “eye test” take. The errors, for what it’s worth, are high. Gordon’s committed 15 errors this season in 255 chances, mostly at shortstop. To put that in some context, Jorge Polanco has committed four errors in 199 chances with the Twins. Now, errors is a very flawed stat. Guys with great range get to more balls, and thus are going to commit more errors. But Gordon’s range as a shortstop, at least based on the scouting reports I’ve read, isn’t elite. That suggests there’s still work to be done defensively, and Paul Molitor said this spring Gordon’s offense is ahead of his defense. Whether he sticks at short is important, but regardless, he’s going to force his way into the big leagues with the bat alone, probably next season.

Engelb Vielma, SS: Vielma continues to hold his own offensively since his promotion from Chattanooga to Rochester. The lens through which I view his hitting is very different from someone like Gordon, of course. His offensive numbers across the two levels–.277/.338/.317—are encouraging for him, but would be disappointing for Gordon. That’s because most of Vielma’s value comes from his defense, which by virtually all accounts is big league caliber. I think a good comp to what Vielma could be is Ehire Adrianza. Adrianza is a slick-fielding middle infielder who plays above average defense at multiple positions. His career minor league numbers, offensively, are similar to those of Vielma, albeit with slightly more power. I’m not sure Vielma will ever hit enough to be an MLB regular, but he could certainly carve out a career as a utility man, if he can get on base at a reasonable clip. He’s shown enough progress in that area this year to put him in the mix for that type of role next season.

Wild card: Mason Melotakis, LHP: I’ve written about Melotakis’ solid year a little bit here in the past, and the soon-to-be 26-year-old continued to put up strong numbers in Chattanooga. This week, he earned a promotion to Triple-A Rochester. Melotakis currently has a 2.42 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 10.7 K/9. Melotakis is on the 40-man, and I was a little surprised when the Twins decided to call up fellow Lookouts lefty Randy Rosario a couple weeks ago. Rosario had better numbers, but is younger and less seasoned than Melotakis, and struggled in limited duty with Minnesota. The Twins are desperate for front-end bullpen help, and Melotakis, I believe, would be a good addition.


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