Minnesota Twins Prospect Octopus: Year-End Review Week 14
Aug 21, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Michael Tonkin (59) pitches in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to the penultimate edition of the Prospect Octopus year-end review. Today, we have eight more tasty prospects including a lefty specialist who had a sparkling MLB debut, two powerful dudes, a possible Drew Butera replacement and the most exciting man from Australia since Leigh Ellis. Let’s rock and then roll.
Thielbar made a name for himself in 2013 when he started his MLB career with 19.2 innings of scoreless relief for the Twins. Thielbar was on the radar with Twins fans, likely because he is from Minnesota and we absolutely love that. However, his MLB debut and his entire 2013 season justify our Provincial love. Thielbar was great for Rochester, throwing 26.1 innings, striking out 34 and walking just 8. He actually improved his ERA from 3.76 to 1.76 upon being promoted to Minnesota. In 46 innings with the Twins, Thielbar struck out 39 and walked 14. Lefties mustered just a 48 OPS+ against Thielbar. If he can continue to dominate lefties, he’ll provide great value to an improving Twins team.
Thorpe went from intriguing young lefty before the 2013 season to consensus top 10 Twins prospect at the end of the 2013 season. Thorpe may even find his way into some well-known top 100 prospect lists, including Baseball Prospectus’ list. There is a lot to love here. He can hit mid-90s with his fastball and adds a nice curve and change. He has good command and an advanced approach, according to BP’s reports. They list his upside as a number 2 starter, although that future is far away. Thorpe made his pro debut in 2013, at age 17. He threw 44 innings, struck out 64, walked just 6 and basically won the love of Twins prospect aficionados everywhere. You can make the argument that Thorpe is an equally good prospect as first-round pick Kohl Stewart. I know for sure that he’ll be high on my top prospect list (coming in January!).
The Twins selected Tomshaw in the 42nd round back in 2011. Tomshaw has exceeded any expectations that could have possibly came with a pick at that stage of the draft. Tomshaw hasn’t been perfect, but he has shown great control throughout his MiLB career. He has walked just 52 batters in 257.1 career innings. He isn’t a strikeout pitcher (just 176 in his career), but the Twins have fallen in love with good control, low strikeout pitchers in the past. Tomshaw faced High-A pitching for the first time last season and had a 3.94 ERA in 96 innings pitched. He turns 25 tomorrow (Happy Birthday, Matt!) and likely still needs a season or two before he’s even close to MLB ready.
Tonkin made his MLB debut in 2013, joining Thielbar as another promising relief prospect who should contribute in 2014. Thielbar projects as more of a lefty specialist, but Tonkin might be a future set-up man or even closer. He’s a fastball/slider reliever, and that fastball can hit 96. Tonkin was the Twins’ 30th-round selection back in 2008 and has slowly climbed the ladder as he converted from high-upside starter to reasonably safe reliever. He owns a career K/9 of 9.2, but that figure is closer to 11 since he converted to relief. His walk rate has remained good, at 2.4 per nine in 358.2 career innings. Tonkin is 6’7″, throws hard, racks up strikeouts and will be very cheap for the next few seasons. He could work his way into a set-up role as soon as 2014, especially if the Twins decide to move Jared Burton.
Catcher! Turner was the Twins’ third-round pick this past June. Turner is a pure catcher, with the size, arm and skills to stay at the position long-term. With his defensive skills, he could reach the Majors as a backup catcher, even if his offensive skills do not improve. Turner had a really nice pro debut with Elizabethton, posting a .264/.340/.380 triple slash, with 22 strikeouts and 12 walks. Honestly, if Turner could maintain that level of plate discipline and hit in the .240 range, he could be a really valuable catcher at the MLB level. As long as his defense ages well, Turner is a safe prospect and could return better value than some of the higher upside names who will certainly appear higher than he does on prospect lists.
Do you like power? Do you like David Ortiz comps? Do you like jumping the gun? Vargas is a first base prospect who profiles better at DH. He has awesome raw power and crushed the ball in the Florida State League in 2013. He hit 19 home runs and 33 doubles, good for a .468 slugging percentage. That’s nice, but he did slug .610 with Beloit in 2012. Vargas struck out 105 times in 520 plate appearances. That’s a lot, but power hitters tend to strike out a lot. Vargas was just 22 last season and carried his over-the-fence power up another level. Hopefully, he can continue to hit bombs with New Britain in 2014. There’s a .00001% chance that Vargas becomes Ortiz, but it’s still fun to think about.
The only type of prospect I like more than a catching prospect is a shortstop prospect. Vielma is a 19-year-old shortstop prospect who completed his second season of pro baseball in 2013. While Vielma is a shortstop prospect, he doesn’t seem to have the glove for the position right now. He has committed 29 errors in just 354 chances at short, good for (bad for?) a .915 fielding percentage. I know that stat isn’t considered reliable in measuring defense, but a rate that low is very scary. He also owns a career .251/.336/.293 triple slash and he had just three extra-base hits in 2013. So, he has no power and a shaky glove, but he does have youth. He’ll always have youth.
Do you like power, part II? Walker crushed 27 home runs and added 31 doubles in 2013. He slugged .526 for Cedar Rapids in 2013, proving that his short-season debut with Elizabethton was no power fluke. The Twins’ 3rd-round selection in 2012, Walker has an odd power profile. He does hit bombs, but he doesn’t draw walks. He does rack up strikeouts though, finishing 2013 with 115 whiffs in 553 plate appearances. That isn’t a jaw-dropping number, but combined with just 31 walks, there is some legitimate concern about Walker’s plate discipline. That said, if he can continue to launch balls out of these Minor League stadiums, he will continue to climb the organizational ladder and live in the hearts of the power-hungry fans.
That’s all folks. Next week, we finish our journey with our final eight prospects. We’ll discuss a former first-round pick, some guys named Williams, a Walker, a Wheeler and a couple of new Twins Minor Leaguers. It’s going to be really nice. Have a great week, everyone!