20. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Chattanooga/Rochester
2017 Stats: 82 IP, 4.28 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 46/57 BB/K
Info: Stewart is a guy who has the stuff to be an elite starter, with a legit plus fastball and slider along with a curve and change that both flash plus and sit average to above-average. Instead, Stewart struggles to use his upper 90s four-seam fastball in concert with his 91-93 MPH sinker. He is incredibly fastball dominant in his pitching, leaning heavily on the sinker, which is a big reason his walk rate is so low. Stewart reminds me a lot of a description that John Smoltz once mentioned about guys with big fastballs that were top athletes (Stewart was also an elite football player in high school) rarely had to use anything else but the fastball, and until they truly fail with the fastball, they’ll continue using it. Once that failure happens, that’s when the pitcher learns to pitch with everything he has. Smoltz related that this didn’t happen to him until he got to the major leagues, and rally, Stewart has been able to get outs up to this point in spite of his lack of strikeouts, so that could be a similar story for Stewart. After missing some time with injury in 2017, Stewart will likely need another season in the upper minors before he’s ready for a big league trial, whether that will be at Chattanooga or Rochester to open 2018.
19. Akil Baddoo, OF, GCL/Elizabethton
2017 Stats: .323/.436/.527, 4 HR, 9 SB, 36/32 BB/K
Info: Considered raw due to his age as one of the youngest players in the 2016 draft, Baddoo has developed physically into a guy that many tag with future plus (or even higher) power projection while still keeping his ability to handle center field after filling in some. What Baddoo did this year was exceptional in the ability to control the strike zone as a hitter, walking more than he struck out between two rookie levels, and he showed excellent power, not just home run power, but also gap power, hitting 19 doubles and 5 triples to go with his 4 home runs. Baddoo has a plus arm and the speed to cover center currently, but enough defensive instinct to handle a corner at a high level if he’s moved off of center. Baddoo is a guy what is very, very exciting right now, and Twins fans should be keeping a close eye on him.
18. Tyler Jay, LHP, GCL/Fort Myers/Chattanooga
2017 Stats: 11 2/3 IP, 3.09 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4/19 BB/K
Info: Many will have Jay much higher on their lists, and often I’m not sure if they’re still trying to validate the Twins’ #6 overall selection of Jay in the 2015 draft, but with a move to the bullpen, this is about as high as Jay could go for me. His work in 2017 was quite impressive in the games he did throw, but injury issues have once again derailed a Jay season in 2017. Jay does have an impressive four-pitch mix that he can use out of the bullpen, though his Fastball and slider are by far his two best pitches. His fastball can run up to the upper 90s when healthy, and his slider out of the bullpen did flash plus-plus out of the bullpen as well. He’ll get some time in the Arizona Fall League this winter. He could possibly be an option for the 2018 Minnesota Twins bullpen, but he’ll most likely open the season in the upper minors, working his way quickly to the Twins, as long as he can maintain health.
17. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/3B, Cedar Rapids
2017 Stats: .251/.343/.441, 11 3B, 13 HR, 13 SB, 47/119 BB/K
Info: Blankenhorn was a guy who came out of nowhere for many, even though he was a 3rd round selection in 2015, when he had a big season in 2016 with Elizabethton. The Twins hoped that would translate to his first full season with Cedar Rapids in 2017, and instead saw growth as a player that could be even more important long-term for Blankenhorn’s growth as a player and a person. After the first two months of the season, Blankenhorn was hitting .230/.320/.362 with a 15/51 BB/K ratio. After hitting for plenty of power in Elizabethton, he was struggling to show that same level of power, even to the gaps. From June 1st to the end of the season, Blankenhorn swung a much more powerful bat, hitting .265/.358/.492 with 13 doubles, 10 triples, and 9 home runs, also posting a 32/68 BB/K ratio. Blankenhorn also showed steady defensive play at both second base and third base on the season, though he really began to settle in at second base on the year. While the end of season numbers end up looking just “okay”, Blankenhorn made plenty of progress this season and should be a guy to keep an eye on at Fort Myers in 2018.
16. Zack Littell, RHP, Chattanooga
2017 Stats: 157 IP, 2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 41/142 BB/K
Info: Littell was an offseason acquisition by the New York Yankees from the Seattle Mariners, but he was off to an incredible start with their system before the Twins acquired him in the Jaime Garcia deal. Overall, he went 19-1 on the season, winning 20 games total when you add in his playoff victory for the Twins. Littell is not just a guy who racked up wins, either, as he has a collection of impressive pitches. In my views, I was impressed with his fastball/slider/change trio in how he could control and command all three. However, Littell’s best pitch as far as grade in many views is his curve, which I simply docked due to struggles to locate it in the zone in my views, but he did still generate swing and miss on the pitch often. Littell works off of a fastball that sits 91-93 and can touch 95 with excellent life on the pitch. Littell’s quality command allows his above-average stuff to play up, and he could work very well in the middle of a rotation down the road. After success with both the Yankees and the Twins at the AA level, he could start the season with Rochester and push for time in the majors if he is able to continue to excel.