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Mining the Minors: LaMonte Wade showing power; Zack Littell promoted

The last piece of the puzzle may be falling into place for LaMonte Wade.

Wade’s an on base machine, reaching base at a .400 clip throughout his minor league career. In addition to drawing a ton of walks, he rarely strikes out, and has a career average near .300. The one tool he hasn’t shown much of is power.

In 519 plate appearances last season, he hit just seven home runs, and has never reached double-figures in home runs in a season. This season, in just 127 plate appearances, he already has four. That would put him on pace to hit around 17 home runs this season, if he got the same number of plate appearances as he did in 2017.

If Wade can demonstrate an improved ability to hit for power, while maintaining his elite walk rate, he projects as a solid big league bat. Although seen as a corner outfielder, he’s split his time this season at all three outfield spots. If playing a serviceable center field is in his skill set, Wade could provide a lot of value as a fourth outfielder. He could fill in at all three spots and serve as a pinch hitter off the bench. In my view, he has the potential to be Robbie Grossman with a better glove.

Like Nick Gordon, Wade is in his second year in Chattanooga, and has more or less conquered the level. In his age-24 season, he seems like a prime candidate to move to Triple-A, with an eye towards a September call-up and bench role next season.

Stephen Gonsalves

Gonsalves was promoted to Rochester in late-April, and has generally pitched well.  Although he didn’t fare well in his most recent start, Gonsalves has a 3.94 ERA, 26.7% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate in 16 innings for the Red Wings. That follows up yet another fantastic stint in Chattanooga—he also had excellent numbers there in 2016 and 2017–in which he had a 1.77 ERA, very good 32.9% strikeout rate, and 13.2% walk rate.

Gonsalves said last week he was sent back to Double-A because his velocity was down in spring training. After injuries delayed the start of last season, he said he only threw two bullpens in the offseason so he’d be fresh coming into the year. That may have contributed to the decreased velo, but he’s now back in the 89-93 range where he typically pitches, and seeing good results.

It’s hard to say exactly how far away he is from the big leagues. With Fernando Romero already up and having early success, the Twins have shown a willingness to bring up prized pitching prospects without much Triple-A time. Minnesota, though, is about to get two rotation arms—Ervin Santana and Trevor May—back in late May. Barring injuries, that likely means Gonsalves will be in Rochester for the next couple of months.

If he keeps putting up good numbers, a second-half call-up is within reason. If the Twins end up selling at the deadline, impending free agents Lance Lynn and Ervin Santana would be candidates to be moved, opening up a spot. If they’re in contention, he’d likely be at the top of the list to make a spot start in a double-header, or be inserted into the rotation if one or more starters struggle or hit the DL.

In 2019, Gonsalves, Romero and J.O. Berrios should form a talented starting pitching core that will be under team control for a number of years. Assuming good health, it’s a decent bet all three will be in the opening day rotation next year. Speaking of young, talented starters…

Zack Littell

With Fernando Romero graduating to the big leagues, Zack Littell will replace him in this space moving forward. I wrote a piece on Littell in spring training, arguing that based on his numbers, he gets undervalued in prospect rankings. In his age-21 season last year, Littell had a 2.12 ERA and 22.5% strikeout rate across High-A and Double-A. Those numbers bested the 2017 numbers of Romero and Gonsalves, and he did it at a younger age.

Littell doesn’t have the velocity and stuff of Romero, and thus probably has a lower upside. Even at a young age, though, he has a track record of success, and now finds himself in Triple-A after being promoted earlier this month.

Although he had just a 5.87 ERA in 23 innings at Chattanooga this year, his peripheral numbers suggest he pitched much better than that. He had a 3.38 FIP, 31.7% strikeout rate, and 6.9% walk rate with the Lookouts. In 12 innings with Rochester, he has a 0.75 ERA, 30.4% strikeout rate, and 13.0% walk rate.

Littell is probably behind Gonsalves in the starting pitching pecking order, but in my view, he has just as much upside, and will likely be a candidate for the 2019 opening day rotation if he puts up a good year at Triple-A.

Tyler Jay

Jay is back from injury and pitching well in Double-A. In nine innings, he’s yet to allow a run, while striking out eight and walking three.

In the case of Jay, his numbers in a small sample size are less important than his velocity and stuff on the fastball and slider. Those two pitches made him a coveted player coming out of Illinois, with the Twins selecting him sixth overall three years ago. He hasn’t been healthy for much of his time in the Minors, and as a result those pitches haven’t consistently been the plus pitches they were in college.

If Jay stays healthy and his stuff returns to where it was in college, he remains a candidate to be fast-tracked to the big leagues, but my guess is he’ll have to be productive for at least a couple of months before the Twins would consider bringing him up.

Wild Card: Nick Anderson

You may not have heard of Anderson—he’s a 27-year-old relief pitcher signed by the Twins out of independent ball. The last two seasons, though, he’s been lights out at three different levels. In 2017, he had an ERA of 1.00 and 28.5% strikeout rate in High-A and Double-A. This season at Rochester, he has an 1.65 ERA and 36.5% strikeout rate in 16.1 innings, while flashing a mid-90s fastball. Like Trevor Hildenberger, he’s an unheralded late-bloomer who’s putting up video game numbers in the high-minors. Don’t be surprised if he surfaces in Minnesota at some point this summer, which, by the way, is where he’s from.


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