Feb 25, 2014; Ft Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Kennys Vargas (68) poses during photo day at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Last week, we looked at the 8 best Minor League performances in the Twins’ system. The eight players highlighted last week have basically continued their hot starts as they look to continue to improve their standing within the organization. This week, we’ll look at four players who had rougher starts, but will mix in four players who have been surprising as well. I don’t want anyone in tears or anything. Let’s start!
Up – Levi Michael
The Twins used a first-round pick on Michael back in 2011. He was seen as a nearly-MLB ready middle infielder who might be able to play short at the highest level while providing decent offensive production. So far, Michael’s pro career has been a mixture of injury and disappointment. However, he has impressed so far in 2014, leading some to think that he may be getting back on the right path. He’s hitting over .300, striking out far less and hitting for some power. The comeback would be that he’s repeating High-A for the third time. He can only play the games he’s scheduled for, but he probably needs to be moved to AA before long.
Down – Max Kepler
Kepler was a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system prior to the 2013 season. He struggled after returning from Injury in May, leading some to question his long-term future. Unfortunately, his struggles have continued into 2014. He’s hitting just above .200 and it’s not as though he’s a power-hungry hacker. He doesn’t strike out a ton and he hasn’t shown much power. He just can’t seem to make contact. His hit tool was always a concern and unfortunately without it, it’s very hard to perform. He is in his first stint with High-A, so he may just need time to adjust, but I can’t see him as a top ten prospect any longer unless something changes soon.
Up – Kennys Vargas
Vargas was clearly hurt that I didn’t highlight him last week as he’s absolutely murdering AA pitching in the month of May. I’m starting to wonder if Vargas doesn’t have a .275/.370/.520 season in his future, and I’m talking in the Majors. He obviously has great power, but his contact and plate discipline seem to be improving as he’s going through AA for the first time. He’s on the 40-man roster and he’s probably due a AAA promotion in the next month or so. I think there’s a really good chance that Vargas makes his MLB debut this September and I would not have predicted that before the season.
Down – Engelb Vielma
Is Vielma down, or were my expectations too high? I usually resist the temptation to compare 20-year-olds to current MLB players, but it’s hard to separate Vielma from Pedro Florimon because of their profiles. Vielma is an excellent defender and he’s making fewer mistakes this year. That’s good. However, he’s not hitting much at all. Pedro Florimon was 20 and playing his first season in Low-A back in 2007. Florimon hit .197/.257/.272, which is putrid. Vielma isn’t topping that by much at all. Their strikeout and walk rates are similar too. Vielma has a much higher ceiling, but I’d really like to see him hit more in the very near future.
Up – Kohl Stewart
I think Stewart is starting to come on. He has gotten good results all season, but now he’s flashing the dominant stuff that led the Twins to take him fourth overall last June. In his past three starts (as of 5.7), he’s thrown 15.2 innings, allowed just one earned run with 16 strikeouts and just 5 walks. He’s going deeper into games and getting better results. Stewart has immense potential and it seems like he might be figuring professional hitters out to an extent. He may never look back at this point.
Down – Felix Jorge
Jorge could be excused because he’s making his full season debut and he’s just 20. However, you can say the same things about Stewart and Jorge actually has more professional experience. Jorge’s ERA is unsightly. He’s giving up a lot of hits and he’s not generating enough strikeouts. His walk rate looks fine and his home run rate is so high that it has to be at least somewhat unlucky. He’s certainly going to improve over the course of the year, but his first six starts have been troubling.
Up – David Hurlbut
The Twins drafted Hurlbut twice and their affection might be paying off. He’s off to an impressive start, sporting an ERA below 2. His start on Thursday was outstanding, as he threw a complete game, gave up just six hits, zero walks, one earned run and recorded three strikeouts. The stat-head in me looks at his strikeout rate and thinks that he can’t possibly keep this up, but why not just enjoy it while it lasts instead? I can bury my head in the sand for a little while. The guy has earned our praise with his performance, even if I don’t think it will continue forever.
Down – Stuart Turner
This is a case where my personal expectations were not aligned properly. I got excited about Turner’s pro debut and his college stats and I forgot that those things are just parts of the equation but not everything. Through Saturday, Turner Is hitting below .200. His OPS is below .500. The Drew Butera comparisons are blooming like May flowers. I was hopeful that Turner would be a more complete player, but he hasn’t proved it at High-A just yet. Now, he did skip an entire level, so some adjustment should be expected. In addition, defense was always his calling card and he can always fall back on that. I penciled him in as a 2017 backup catcher just a few weeks ago, so this start is either a blip on the radar or a reminder that sometimes I need to calm down about twenty notches.
Not every prospect impresses at all times. Some go through prolonged stretches of struggles. If that player can overcome their struggles, all is forgiven. We had four examples of players who are overcoming early struggles and four who hopefully are well on their way down that path. Next week, we’ll investigate an 8-pack of prospects, a plan that should get us pretty close to draft season. Have a great week, everyone!