Lewis headlines Twins prospects nearing Majors

February 22nd, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins' front office built up its Major League roster during the offseason with the hope of winning a championship -- but top prospect and the group of players wearing Twins uniforms for Friday's Spring Training opener already know plenty about playoff runs.

"I love all my rings that I keep getting," Lewis said with a laugh. "It's always fun, just being in those playoff pushes and on a winning team. I feel like wherever I end up going so far, knock on wood, we've been winning games and doing it at a high level."

Lewis is fresh off an Arizona Fall League championship with the Salt River Rafters and was named the league's Most Valuable Player for his torrid performance. He and several of the prospects in Major League camp this year were part of Fort Myers' run to the Florida State League title in 2018 and Pensacola's run to the Southern League semifinals last season.

The Twins would love for that trend to continue once Lewis and their other touted prospects nearing the Major Leagues finally hit Target Field in the coming years. Perhaps that's why they put those elite prospects in Twins uniforms on Friday night in an exhibition against the University of Minnesota -- a sneak preview of things to come, perhaps?

"We've got a lot of talent, a lot of depth that we're really excited about," outfielder said. "I know throughout the organization we’re excited about the present of this team that we have now because, rightfully so, with all the success they had last year ... but we think the future also looks pretty good with us guys that are kind of waiting in the Minors."

Friday night offered a great look at many of the faces Twins fans will undoubtedly grow to know over the coming years, as manager Rocco Baldelli's lineup featured six prospects ranked in the organization's top 30, per MLB Pipeline: Lewis (No. 1), catcher (No. 9), designated hitter (No. 4), left fielder Rooker (No. 7), second baseman (No. 22) and center fielder (No. 19).

Outfielder Alex Kirilloff (No. 2) was also originally penciled in as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, but was scratched for an undisclosed reason.

Project "All of the Top Prospects" was a resounding success, as the lineup cruised to a 12-0 lead through four innings before all of the starters were substituted out. Lewis led off the game with a screaming double off the left-field wall, walked twice and scored three runs. Jeffers and Larnach scored two runs apiece, and Celestino doubled as part of a three-RBI game.

Most -- if not all -- of those touted prospects should begin this season in either Double-A Pensacola or Triple-A Rochester, and several could crack the Major Leagues this season. It's a testament to the front office's ability to draft and develop players, that it has essentially a full team of top prospects ready to impact the Majors in the next two to three years to supplement an MLB squad that should already be among the game's best.

"There’s been that core of us that’s been traveling through Fort Myers this past season and Pensacola, and it's just been really fun playing with those guys and just developing those relationships on and off the field," Jeffers said. "It’s a fun group to play with, a lot of talent."

For those that haven't followed these prospects' journeys through the Minor Leagues, here's a quick capsule to catch you up:

Royce Lewis (No. 1)
Age: 20
MLB ETA: 2021
In one sentence: A former No. 1 overall pick in 2017, Lewis struggled in 2019 for Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola, but he bounced back with a huge stint in the Arizona Fall League during the offseason, while his supreme athleticism, work ethic and young age work in his favor as he slowly works up to the Majors.

Alex Kirilloff (No. 2)
Position: 1B/OF
Age: 22
MLB ETA: 2020
In one sentence: Widely considered to be one of the best pure hitting prospects in the Minor Leagues, Kirilloff took a step back from a remarkable 2018 due to a recurring right wrist sprain but should still be on track to impact the Majors either this season or next -- if the right fit on the roster were to open up at either first base or in the outfield.

Trevor Larnach (No. 4)
Position: OF
Age: 22
MLB ETA: 2020
In one sentence: The Twins challenged Larnach with an aggressive push into Double-A for his second professional season, and the 2018 first-round pick continued to impress with the easy power and eye at the plate that have played at every level of the Minors thus far and could have him knocking on the door of the Majors sooner rather than later.

Brent Rooker (No. 7)
Position: 1B/OF/DH
Age: 25
MLB ETA: 2020
In one sentence: The Twins loved Rooker's advanced bat when they selected him in 2017, and while he could be held back by strikeout issues and defensive limitations, his raw power is among the best in the Minor Leagues and he should find himself in Minneapolis at some point this season.

Ryan Jeffers (No. 9)
Position: C
Age: 22
MLB ETA: 2020
In one sentence: Seen by many as a defensively limited catcher when he was drafted out of UNC-Wilmington in 2018, Jeffers has impressed many in the organization with his improvements as a receiver behind the plate and could shoot up the system all the way to the Majors as soon as late 2020.

Gilberto Celestino (No. 19)
Position: OF
Age: 21
MLB ETA: 2021
In one sentence: Celestino isn't close to impacting the Major Leagues yet, but his defense in center field has turned heads, and he could grow into a solid contributor if he adds some more power to his line-drive ability and discerning eye at the plate.

Travis Blankenhorn (No. 22)
Position: 2B/3B/OF
Age: 23
MLB ETA: 2020
In one sentence: He doesn't necessarily look the part, but Blankenhorn carved out a well-rounded game in '19 featuring decent power (43 extra-base hits), speed (11 stolen bases) and defensive versatility that could give him plenty of utility as bench depth this season or next.