|Photo Credit: Linwood Ferguson, Captive Photons|
A year after players like Byron Buxton and Max Kepler impacted the big league squad, there's a chance that none of the players below will debut this year. Who will be number one?
5. Tyler Jay, LHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A
Jay's first five 2016 starts were rough as he was knocked around for 11 earned runs in 19.1 innings. He failed to pitch more than five innings in any of these starts and opponents were getting on base 33% of the time. Over his next 38.1 frames, he posted a 0.70 ERA with 42 strikeouts and nine walks. He went 4-2 during this stretch as batters were held to a .OPS of under .500. He made his Double-A debut on July 10 and over his next two starts he allowed eight earned runs across 10 innings. His final three appearances came out of the Lookouts’ bullpen where he allowed one earned run on three hits. Jay, a left-handed pitcher, struck out lefties in 22 of their 66 at-bats while limiting them to a .645 OPS. Right-handed batters hit .249/.306/.355 with a 55 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio. His season would be done on July 30 after dealing with some neck and shoulder issues. In August, doctors diagnosed him with neuro praxia, or nerve irritation, in his neck.
4. Alex Kirilloff, OF
Age: 19/ Highest Level: Rookie
The Twins recently announced Kirilloff will miss the entire 2017 season as he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery. This takes little away from his promising future. Kirilloff skipped the GCL and headed to the Appy League. He was 2.5 years younger than the competition at this level. In fact, he never faced a pitcher younger than himself in over 230 plate appearances. He came out hitting well in his first full month as a professional. He batted .373 with a .919 OPS for the month of July. This included four home runs and seven doubles. He cooled a little in August as his average dipped to .232 but he was still getting on base over 30% of the time with six extra-base hits. Kirilloff, a left-handed batter, posted an OPS that was 155 points higher against right-handed pitching. Kirilloff started games at all three outfield positions while the majority of his appearances came in right field. In the outfield, he combined for four errors in 86 chances with seven assists.
3. Fernando Romero, RHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: High-A
Romero made his presence known on his return to the mound in 2016. Even after missing all of 2015, he was almost a year younger than the competition in the Midwest League and he was over two years younger than FSL opponents. This resulted in 85% of his at-bats coming against older batters. He started the year by making five starts for the Kernels. He allowed six earned runs over 28 innings (1.93 ERA) with 25 strikeouts and five walks. Near the end of June, he was promoted to Fort Myers where he allowed seven earned runs across 29 innings (five starts). He posted a 26 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio while holding batters to a .225 average. From July 23 to August 25, he compiled a 1.62 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. Left-handed batters struck out in 29% of their at-bats. He struck out 26 or more batters in every month where he made four starts or more. For the season, he set career best marks in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. He made it an easy decision for the Twins to add him to the 40-man roster at season’s end
2. Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
Age: 22/ Highest Level: Double-A
For the third consecutive season, Gonsalves split time between two different levels. His first 11 starts came back in the FSL, where he finished the 2015 campaign. After allowing three runs in his first outing, he combined to allow three runs over his next six starts (36.2 IP). Overall at High-A, he had a 2.33 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP and a 66 to 20 strikeout to walk ratio. Gonslaves had one bad Double-A start in his second appearance (6 ER in 3.2 IP) before going on a dominant stretch for the rest of the season. Across 65.2 IP, he allowed seven earned runs (0.96 ERA) with 75 strikeouts and a 0.95 WHIP. He held opponents to batting .144/.263/.177 during that stretch. Batters never hit higher than .228 against him in any month. He struck out 20 batters or more in any month he made at least three starts. Over 80% of his at-bats came against older batters. Even though he is a lefty, left-handed batters hit 20 points higher than righties but they also struck out in 34% of their at-bats.
1. Nick Gordon, SS
Age: 21/ Highest Level: High-A
For the third consecutive season, Gordon was over two years younger than the competition. In 494 total at-bats, he faced a younger pitcher twice. At the beginning of the season, only three players were younger than him in the FSL. Gordon got the season off to a good start as he hit .333/.363/.483 with nine extra-base hits in April. He ended June on a nine game hit streak. July saw him set season highs with 17 runs and 20 RBI. He got on base over 31% of the time in every month except August. Gordon, a left-handed batter, hit .315/.356/.431 against righties. A year after stealing 25 bases, he stole 19 and was caught 13 times. Overall, he had 35 multi-hit games and reached base in 74% of the games he played. After posting fielding percentages of over .960 in both of his professional seasons, he saw that number dip to .952. He was charged with 24 errors in 503 chances. Gordon carried over his strong regular season to the Arizona Fall League. As one of the younger players in the 2016 AFL, he hit .346/.418/.444 with six extra-base hits and 15 runs in 21 games.
Who is too high? Is anyone too low? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.