After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructional leagues have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Jordan Balazovic, RHP (No. 4 prospect); Charlie Barnes, LHP; Tanner Brubaker, RHP; Yennier Cano, RHP; Matt Canterino, RHP (No. 11); Blayne Enlow, RHP (No. 10); Kody Funderburk, LHP; Regi Grace, RHP; Ben Gross, RHP; Tom Hackimer, RHP; Griffin Jax, RHP; Cody Laweryson, RHP; Jovani Moran, LHP; Juan Pichardo, LHP; Marco Raya, RHP; Luis Rijo, RHP; Bryan Sammons, LHP; Cole Sands, RHP (No. 19); Austin Schulfer, RHP; Chris Vallimont, RHP (No. 28); Tyler Watson, LHP; Josh Winder, RHP (No. 29)
Balazovic and Canterino didn’t start at the alternate training site, but got to participate for part of the summer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both are continuing to get their work in Fort Myers during instructional league play and are throwing very well. Balazovic, No. 81 on the Top 100, just turned 22 last month and is still growing into his body.
“He’s put on some weight,” Twins farm director Alex Hassan said. “The extra work in the weight room has benefited him. His velocity is up a tick. He already threw in the low-to-mid 90s, he’s now comfortably in the mid 90s and he’s locating his fastball well.”
Canterino, the club’s second-round pick in 2019 out of Rice, has continued to work on and improve his offspeed stuff. He gets high marks for his work ethic, both during the shutdown and at instructional league.
“He had four pitches, but the changeup was the one furthest behind,” Hassan said. “It’s a testament to him and the coaching staff to identify that was an area to improve. He worked on adding more vertical movement to it and it now has considerable depth. That went from his fourth-best pitch to what appears to be a real out pitch at this point.”
Hassan also was excited about the improvement Enlow has shown in getting his curveball back to what it was purported to be during his Draft year in 2017, adding more depth to it. Enlow has also been up to 95 mph with his fastball at instructional league.
Don’t sleep on Winder. He’s been up to 97 mph this fall with a low-80s curve, in addition to a slider and changeup, with good feel for all of them.
“The improvement in the velocity has been encouraging,” Hassan said. “His performance has been very, very good here. He looks like a starting pitcher. He’s not a household name, but he’s been exciting to watch.”
Jair Camargo; Yeremi De La Cruz; Charlie Mack; Jeferson Morales; Ben Rortvedt (No. 27); Chris Williams
The Twins saw No. 6 prospect Ryan Jeffers start to establish himself in the big leagues this year. Having the 23-year-old backstop in Minnesota gives the Twins the ability to be patient with the catching in the system, most of which is very far away. The one exception is Rortvedt, who reached Double-A in 2019. No one questions that his defense will play in the big leagues, but with a career .662 OPS, how much his bat can improve will determine what kind of role he can serve once he gets there.
“He’s worked really hard on his swing here,” Hassan said. “He’s always had good at-bats, there are enough good ingredients, we’re trying to help him take the next step. He has a tendency to pull across with his swing so he hooks to the pull side. He needs to stay directional so he’s through the zone more. He’s trying to drive the ball with better trajectories a little bit more.”
After being taken by the Twins in the first-round in 2019, Cavaco seemed a bit overmatched during his pro debut, with a .470 OPS in 25 Gulf Coast League games. It appears he’s used that as motivation, looking like a different player during instructional league.
“He did a great job with his body during the shutdown,” Hassan said. “He looks leaner and more athletic. Offensively, he had a tendency to get too uphill last year, which led to a lot of swing and miss. We worked with him to flatten his swing a little, stay in the zone more and make more contact. He’s putting more balls in play against pretty good competition.”
While it remains to be seen if Cavaco stays at shortstop long-term, he’s playing there now. So is Javier, who will almost certainly stick at short and is at instructional league trying to put his own rough 2019 full-season debut behind him.
“He’ll admit last year was not his best season,” Hassan said about Javier’s .177/.278/.323 line in the Midwest League. “He’s worked to simplify his wing; it’s easier to execute and a little more direct. He’s swung the bat well here. He’s still working on controlling the zone and putting more balls in play. When he is, he’s making better contact compared to last year.”
Baddoo had enough on his plate, coming back from Tommy John surgery last May. Then add in the shutdown and the talented outfielder has missed nearly two seasons. He’s getting as many reps as possible as the Twins face a 40-man roster decision with him this offseason.
“He’s working on getting his timing back,” Hassan said. “We’re trying to recoup as much missed time as possible here. He hits the ball really hard, and he can really play center field.”
So far, so can Urbina. He’s only 18 and has yet to play an official game in the United States, so it remains to be seen what he’ll be come. But so far, he’s impressed the Twins with how he’s carried himself.
“He’s young but he has good feel for the game,” Hassan said. “He’s a contact-oriented hitter at the plate and he doesn’t strike out, even against advanced competition. His skill set is advanced for his age.”