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Mining the Minors: Which Twins minor leaguers saw their stock rise in 2017?

Way back in February, I wrote about five minor leaguers in the Twins’ system I found intriguing. The idea was to follow the progress of those five players as they worked their way to the big leagues.

In choosing the five prospects–Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves, Nick Burdi, Daniel Palka and Engelb Vielma—I tried to give weight not just to their prospect rating, but also their proximity to the majors and whether they possessed at least one elite tool. For example, Burdi (velocity), Palka (power) and Vielma (defense) each have a unique skillset that makes them worth tracking, even though none of them are among the top 20 prospects in the organization according to MLB.com.

Despite a number of prospects debuting with the Twins this season, none of the five in the above list made the big leagues this year. (Assessing proximity to the majors is apparently not my strong suit). After a really strong start to the season, Nick Burdi tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery in late May. The other four, however, experienced varying degrees of success as they grinded their way through the minor league season. With their minor league seasons now over, let’s recap how each did, and whether their stock rose or fell over the course of the season.

Nick Gordon

Gordon had a phenomenal first three months of the season offensively. On July 1, he was slashing .308/.379/.481, and hit more home runs (6) during that time than he had in his first three professional seasons combined. Gordon was hitting for average and power, drawing walks, and doing it all as one of the youngest position players in the Southern League. His performance earned him a spot in the prospect-rich Futures Game, where he started at shortstop and hit leadoff. Gordon’s first three months of his age 20 season exceeded even the lofty expectations bestowed upon him, and it was easy to envision him slotting into the Twins’ lineup in 2018.

The last two months of the season were more of a struggle, as he slashed .219/.290/.313. His overall line, though, remains impressive. In 122 games, he hit .270/.341/.408 while setting career highs in doubles, triples, and home runs and leading Chattanooga to a 91-49 record. The uptick in power for Gordon was perhaps most encouraging, and as he continues to mature the power should keep going up. Offensively, he projects as a future top-of-the-lineup threat capable of putting up strong numbers in the big leagues.

The big question with Gordon is which position he’ll play once he gets to Minnesota. Gordon played shortstop almost all season (he started 14 games at 2B early in the year), and the reviews on his defense were mixed. He isn’t thought to have elite range, which makes it even more critical that he’s able to make the routine play. In 104 games at shortstop, he committed 19 errors, which is about in line with what he’s done throughout his career. To put that in context, Jorge Polanco has committed 17 errors in 110 games this year. Errors is a very flawed stat, of course, but the numbers do suggest that he hasn’t yet seen a large improvement in that area, which is concerning for someone who doesn’t possess huge range.

He is, of course, only 20. There’s plenty of time for Gordon to prove he’s an MLB-caliber defensive SS. If he can do that, his value to the Twins would be much higher than if he ultimately landed at 2B. Either way, though, Gordon’s had an outstanding year and projects as a future star. He’ll likely start 2018 as Rochester’s starting SS, perhaps knocking on the door of the big leagues by mid-season.

Stephen Gonsalves

Like Gordon, Gonsalves’ stock remained strong in 2017. After starting the season late due to a shoulder injury, he put up his typically great numbers at Double-A Chattanooga, with a 2.68 ERA, 1.031 WHIP and 9.9 K/9. Those numbers are similar to his career numbers, and help make him arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Gonsalves was promoted to Rochester in mid-August, and I thought that may have been a sign the Twins were planning on adding him to the big league roster for the playoff push. When the Twins had an opening in their rotation in late August, there was talk of a promotion, but ultimately the Twins passed on him then, and in September call-ups. Had Gonsalves performed better with Rochester perhaps he would have gotten the nod, but he posted a 5.56 ERA in a small sample size there.

Last week, Derek Falvey talked about some of the factors that went into their evaluation of Gonsalves and fellow top pitching prospect Fernando Romero. Falvey said Gonsalves may have been suffering from a bit of late-season fatigue, and as one of the organization’s prized prospects, it’s easy to understand why they wanted to protect him.

Gonsalves, though, will certainly be in the mix for a rotation spot next spring. It’s probably more likely than not he starts in Rochester, but if he continues to do what he’s done throughout his career, he’ll be in Minnesota before long. As long as he stays healthy, he projects as a solid mid-rotation starter for a team that continues to search for starting pitching. Twins fans should be excited about his future.

Developing top prospects: Derek Falvey on Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero 

Daniel Palka

Palka came into the year as a prospect on the rise, and I thought he’d almost certainly make his MLB debut this season, particularly after a blistering start at Rochester in which he mashed five home runs over his first 12 games. Palka has massive power, and with a career slugging percentage over .500 coming into the season, he seemed like a pretty good bet to contribute in the big leagues.

Unfortunately for Palka, a couple of factors slowed his progression. First, a fractured index finger caused him to miss nearly 2 months of the season. Second, left-handed hitting outfielders Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler stayed healthy and hit well all season, and fellow lefty Zack Granite tore up Triple-A. Ultimately, Palka didn’t even get a September call-up, which I was a little surprised by given he’s on the 40-man roster. On the season, he finished with a .274/.330/.431 batting line.

There’s a lot more in the bat than he showed this year, and I think Palka will be a big-leaguer eventually. Whether that’s for the Twins, though, is an open question, as he plays a position in which the Twins are stacked. Don’t be shocked if he gets traded this offseason.

Engelb Vielma

Vielma was worth tracking this year because of his outstanding defense at shortstop. That’s an incredibly valuable skill, and if he could hit just enough to hold his own, I thought he could be a contributor off the bench in the big leagues. Unfortunately, he didn’t really hit, and his stock probably dropped this year. After a promising start to the season in Chattanooga, Vielma ended up hitting just .229/.273/.280 combined across Double-A and Triple-A. He’s still just 23, but given his lack of progress at the plate, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was taken off the 40-man in the offseason.

Other risers

Briefly, here are a few players that weren’t featured prominently in Mining the Minors whose stock rose this year:

Fernando Romero: Romero finished with good, not great, numbers for Chattanooga (3.53 ERA, 1.352 WHIP, 8.6 K/9), but he was outstanding most of the year, before fading late and being shutdown to protect his arm. Romero set a career high in innings as he came back from Tommy John surgery, and that number should go up next year. He’s a legit high-end pitching prospect with a very high ceiling.

Zack Littell: We all know win-loss record is basically meaningless, but including the playoffs, the 21-year-old Littell finished 20-1. That’s ridiculous, and his other numbers (2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.1 K/9) suggest the Twins got a good return in the Jaime Garcia trade.

Gabriel Moya: Moya, acquired in the John Ryan Murphy trade, put up video game numbers at Double-A. Over 58.1 IP, he had a 0.77 ERA, 0.771 WHIP, 13.4 K/9 and notched 24 saves. The Twins called up Moya Tuesday.

LaMonte Wade: Wade is interesting because of his Robbie Grossman-like approach at the plate. The corner OF walked more often than he struck out while slashing .292/.397/.408. That performance earned him an invite to the Arizona Fall League in November.

Other notables: Luke Bard, Niko Goodrum, Tom Hackimer, Max Murphy, Jermaine Palacios, Jake Reed, Brent Rooker, Lewis Thorpe.





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