It wasn’t really fair for Devon Jones, a 9th round pick sporting a 5.45 ERA in AA. He’d been used to facing sophomoric, wanna-be slashers and aging minor league lifers. Never had he had faced a player with such broad shoulders, such quick wrists, such a Ruthian swing. So its difficult to blame him when he unfurled two of his signature sliders, only to find them lofted high over the outfield wall
by Twins mega prospect Miguel Sano. The same can be said of St. Lucie pitcher Rainy Lara, who didn’t find out that the lean, boyish figure wearing a “Buxton” jersey was better than any other 19 year old he had ever seen, until after Byron’s lightning quick wrists ripped a fastball down the line for a majestic triple.
These are the faces of the 2015 Minnesota Twins and the next great baseball dynasty. After three years of bottom dwelling, minor league guru and current General Manager, Terry Ryan, has turned this farm system – and by extension, this organization – around. So while this year’s Major League club may find themselves in last place yet again, and while prospects always come with a high chance of bust, its fair to say there’s a storm brewing underneath.
Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are more than just headliners of a solid organizational farms system, they are the cream of the entire minor league baseball crop. Sano, signed at the age of 16 out of the Dominican Republic, was granted the second largest signing of any international free agent outside of Cuba or Japan. Unlike other big name Dominicans – Fernando Martinez, Michael Ynoa, to name a few – Sano did not did not disappoint.
After becoming the youngest player to ever appear on either Baseball America’s or ESPN’s top 100 prospect lists at the age of 16, Sano bopped to 20 home runs at the age of 18, 28 homers at 19, and now he stands with 33 at the tender age of 20. To put that into perspective, his 33 home runs this year are the most by a player that young since 2008. The fact that the guy who did it then was an 18 year old Giancarlo Stanton only gives more credence to Sano’s future as a home run leader. His powerful hips, and strong legs allow him to drive the ball to all fields, and as his upper body fills out in the next couple of seasons, 50 homers is not out of the question.
Projected to slot in at No.3 in the 2015 Twins Lineup, directly ahead of Sano, Buxton may be even better. If it weren’t for the Astros’ decision to save money in the 2012 draft, the 19 year old Georgia product would have become the first prep player drafted first overall since 2007, as he was the consensus most talented player on the board. Always lightning fast, with Griffey-esque range in center, Byron surprised scouts with a terrific hitting display this year. After showing what Keith Law described as, “almost no power in his senior year,” Buxton’s is hittting .333, with a .532 slugging percentage and already 12 home runs this year, prompting both Baseball America and ESPN to name him as the number one prospect in all of baseball. With quick hips and good extension, the young centerfielder has a chance to develop 25-30 homer power, but even if he doesn’t, his speed and line drive swing will yield plenty of doubles and triples. He already leads professional baseball with 18 three baggers this season.
Although Buxton was originally thought to be too raw to reach the majors quickly, his stellar play this year could put him in the majors as soon as next summer, and he’ll likely be starting year round come April 2015. A string of gold gloves to go along with a .300/30 homer/50 sb seasons would not be a farfetched projection for a player of his caliber. While he earned the moniker “buck,” in high school, “Mike Trout-Lite” may be a better name going forward.
While the rest of the prospects in Twins system can’t amount to a pair of players who may profile as the two prospects in baseball this offseason and one day become the best 3/4 Hitting combo since Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, they are still endowed with scary amounts of talent.
Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia have already made names for themselves as rookies this years, the former showing off game changing defensive chops, the latter displaying above avergae power, slugging .431 with 10 homers in 77 games at just 22 years old. With the outfield full, former CF prospect Eddie Rosario moved full time to second base this year and has been solid, posting a .903 OPS in A+ Ball before being promoted to AA. Just two levels below the majors, he should be in the big leagues soon as a solid second baseman with a possible ..290 – .300 average and 15-20 homers.
Possible more exciting than that, however, is the pitching side of this future ballclub. Despite a big league roster devoid of solid young starters, the farm system is teeming with arms. Alex Meyer, acquired from the Nationals for Dernard Span last offseason, has been battling injuries but is still posting a solid 3.41 ERA in his first tour of AA. The 6’10, 230 pound first round pick throws gas in the high 90s, allowing him to rack up tons of strikeouts; both now in AA New Britain and in the future at the big league level.
Behind him, Kyle Gibson has exceptional talent, backing up a low 90′s heater with a plus slider and above average change. While he struggled to a 6.53 ERA in a brief major league stint, Gibson has a great minor league track record and he’s just recently coming off Tommy John surgery so Terry Ryan will have patience with him before trying anything drastic.
2012 first round pick, J.O. Berrios is sliding up the rear, pitching well in his first full season in the minors. The 19 year old can touch 98 with his fastball while sprinkling in hard sliders with tight, two plane break, but he’s still raw and lacking a true third pitch. As such, he’ll likely need a few seasons of polish and won’t see the majors until the middle of 2016, when he’ll make for a very useful bullpen arm or back end starter.
Filling out the lineup and rotation of this young, team controlled ball club are SS Daniel Santana – a defensive shortstop with no power but enough bat to hit .280 in the majors, 1B Travis Harrison – a power hitting third basemen who is destined move across the diamond, C/DH Joe Mauer – no explanation needed, RHP Andrew Albers – a 27 year old who got a late start, but has great minor league numbers and RHP Liam Hendricks – an unspectacular future back end innnings eater, and RHP Trevor May – a future closer with a good fastball and lights out curve, but little control.
With free agency dying and prospects valued so highly these days, this collection young guns and talented hitters could become one of the best dynasties in recent memory, but there’s one caveat. Of all the players mentioned, injury riddled Joe Mauer is the only one to have any established history of major league success. Prospects often work out, but even more often they don’t, just ask Eric Hosmer, or Mike Moustakas, or Jayson Heyward, or even Eric Duncan, a former top prospect who never made the majors, a man current prospect Byron Buxton was once compared to.