The Twins’ AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats, started their season last week. The AA level is often considered the last big test for a prospect looking to make their MLB debut. The Twins are often more aggressive with their prospects once they have shown success at the AA level. Aaron Hicks, Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson have all made the jump from AA to the Majors in recent years. The Rock Cats roster has some interesting names and looks to get more impressive in the next couple months. Here are eight Rock Cats to keep an eye on in 2014.
D.J. Baxendale – SP
Baxendale remains a starter heading into 2014 and I think that is a wise decision. Baxendale was drafted in the 10th round in 2012 and had a sparkling debut in that same year. Last season, Baxendale started with Fort Myers and simply dominated, earning a promotion to AA after just nine starts. Baxendale profiles as a number 5 starter because his fastball sits in the low 90s and he isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He did show good command in 16 starts with New Britain, but he also finished with a 5.63 ERA. I’d expect that figure to improve dramatically in 2014 and if it doesn’t, a move to the bullpen may be in order.
Taylor Rogers – SP
The Twins drafted Rogers just one round after Baxendale in 2012. Rogers was also impressive in his 2012 pro debut, although his climb was set to be slower than Baxendale’s. Here we are in 2014 and both players are set for the Rock Cats’ rotation. Rogers was promoted from Cedar Rapids after three poor starts at the beginning of the 2013 season. His presence was more needed than wanted, but he proved to be a smart call-up as he went 11 and 6 with a 2.55 ERA in 21 starts with Fort Myers. Rogers is just a soft-tossing lefty, but he certainly put himself on the map in 2013.
Sean Gilmartin – SP
Gilmartin was acquired from the Braves in exchange for Ryan Doumit. He played almost all of his 2013 in AAA, but got squeezed to AA in 2014 due to a crowded Rochester rotation. The volatility of starting pitching almost assures Gilmartin of a AAA promotion, but maybe he needs some additional time with AA. He made 17 AAA starts last season and had a 5.74 ERA and 1.593 WHIP. Not great. Gilmartin is a command specialist who barely throws in the 90s. He can get knocked around, but if he gets locked in, he could become a Scott Diamond or Andrew Albers type. Not bad.
Matt Koch – C
Koch is more of a hitting prospect than a catching prospect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t develop as a receiver. Koch improved his plate discipline while moving from Low-A Cedar Rapids to High-A Fort Myers in 2013. He lowered his strikeout rate by over ten points, while statistically maintaining his walk rate. He continued to show doubles power and he’s moved up one level per season, reaching AA in his 4th professional season. He’ll share the catching duties with Kyle Knudson, but Koch is the better prospect and should get more time behind the plate to develop his defense.
Kennys Vargas – 1B
Baseball Reference finally updated his page to reflect his actual weight. Baby Papi is a big man and his size generates big power. He hit 19 home runs and 33 doubles in 125 games with Fort Myers in 2013. He added 93 RBI, 50 walks and .468 slugging percentage. Vargas’ star will grow alongside his continued development as a power hitter. He has made good contact in the past, so maybe he’ll be a more complete bat at maturity. He offers little on the bases and in the field, but if he can hit home runs, we’ll forgive him for his limitations. Vargas could be a candidate for a bench role with the Twins in 2015 if he continues to develop as a power hitter.
Eddie Rosario – 2B/OF
Rosario won’t play for New Britain anytime soon, as he’s suspended for the first 50 games of the season. However, he’ll almost certainly report to New Britain when his suspension ends. In 70 games with New Britain in 2013, Rosario hit .284/.330/.412. That’s a solid middle infield line and a suspect corner outfield line, so the potential position change is still a significant development. That said, Rosario was 21 last year and he hit .329/.377/.527 in 52 games with Fort Myers. Rosario can hit and he might have been a candidate for Rochester if not for his suspension. Instead, he’ll need a few more games at AA, but he could be gone very quickly if all goes well upon his return.
Aderlin Mejia – SS
Mejia was tabbed for extended Spring Training in 2013 but got called to Fort Myers when they needed another infielder. He ended up staying for the whole season and he more than held his own, batting .308/.359/.349 in 75 games. He played 50 games at short and only made 6 errors. As a reward for his good play in 2013, Mejia will be the primary shortstop for the Rock Cats in 2014. He’s entering his age 22 season and if he can duplicate his 2013 success with the bat in 2014, he’ll emerge as a top 30 prospect heading into 2015.
Byron Buxton – CF
This is a cheat, as Buxton is currently sidelined with a wrist injury and should be bound for Fort Myers when he’s healthy. However, he’s going to play the majority of this season at AA or higher, and the Fort Myers list is loaded. In addition, the New Britain group is somewhat uninspiring. Thus, Lord Buxton caps this list off. I imagine he’ll be in New Britain around May 1 and based on his past performance, he’ll be gone by August.
Buxton stands out as the only possible player to skip AAA on this list. That doesn’t mean these players aren’t future Twins. They simply profile as level-by-level risers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Next week, oh boy, we go to Fort Myers. I currently have a list of 12 players that I need to cut down to 8 and I’m not sure how I’m going to accomplish that. I’m going to have to make some tough decisions. That’s my burden. We can all see how I do next week. See you then!