The 2020 season may have been a lost one in terms of real reps for prospects all across baseball, but a trio of Twins pitchers who showed encouraging progress at the alternate training site and/or in instructional league play last year have shown that those improvements may not have been non-competitive aberrations.
All three right-handers -- Matt Canterino, Blayne Enlow and Josh Winder -- are currently in the top half of the Twins’ Top 30. Increases with all of their stuff has continued this spring. Winder, who made the biggest jump up the list, was up to 97-98 mph at instructs last fall, a large tick upward. But he’s not alone, with Canterino up to the mid-90s and Enlow touching 97 mph as well. That’s continued in the early going this spring.
“There’s improved velocity for all three guys from the last time we saw them in games,” Twins farm director Alex Hassan said. “We’re excited where those guys are at.”
Hassan also mentioned Enlow’s curve as gains beyond just fastball velocity. His breaking ball was one of the best in the 2017 Draft class, but he lost the feel for it. It’s back and perhaps better than before.
“There’s more depth in the breaking ball,” Hassan said. “There’s improved movement on that pitch and he’s throwing it harder. That’s been a pleasant development.”
The Twins went heavy on college position players in the 2019 Draft. After taking high school infielder Keoni Cavaco in the first round, five of their next seven picks were of the college bat variety. That group included third-rounder Spencer Steer, an infielder from Oregon, and Seth Gray, a Wright State product taken one round later.
Steer had a solid pro debut in 2019, reaching full-season ball and finishing with a .280/.385/.424 slash line.
Gray has really taken steps forward. Same goes for Steer. Gray also reached Cedar Rapids and while he wasn’t quite as productive overall (.231/.337/.436), he did homer 11 times. Both infielders are learning how to use that tool more consistently.
“There’s been good power from both guys,” Hassan said. “That’s an area that’s improved from the time we drafted them. They had been showing glimpses of it, but it’s improved.”
Alternate training site report
The usual suspects were hitting well, with Alex Kirilloff hitting his way up to the big leagues again and fellow outfielder Trevor Larnach showing he’s probably ready to contribute offensively as well. On the mound, there’s been a more surprising standout in the very big form of Bailey Ober.
The club’s No. 24 prospect is 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, but since joining the Twins in 2017, he’s stood out for his advanced feel for pitching, not his pure stuff. We’re talking a fastball that typically sat in the upper-80s, albeit with good cut and carry up in the zone. He’s never going to light up radar guns, but after arriving a bit later on the scene, he’s showing he might be ready to take a step forward in 2021.
“His velocity has ticked up into the low 90s,” Hassan said. “He throws a ton of strikes and has been missing bats.”
Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2022
The Twins obviously have high expectations for outfielder Emmanuel Rodriguez. It is, after all, why they gave him $2.5 million to sign at the start of the 2019-20 international signing period. The team’s No. 20 prospect has yet to play a real game and this spring is his first time in the United States. He obviously needs reps to see how he’ll play once the lights are on, but the early returns have been very good.
“It’s really impressive tools and impressive power at his age,” Hassan said. “He’s super young still and we need to see him in games, but he’s been really impressive. He has a beautiful swing. The ball explodes off the bat. He’s really mature, has great aptitude and has an idea of what he’s doing at such a young age.”
Something to prove
Wander Javier first appeared on the Twins’ preseason Top 30 list in 2018, at No. 5 overall. He spent three years in the top 10, largely on potential, though he did play well during his U.S. debut in 2017. Injuries and poor performance have plagued him otherwise, a big reason why he’s now down at No. 22 on the current Top 30. At 22, he still is young enough to figure it out, but it’s time for him to start showing what the fuss was about.
“He’s been on lists for a number of years, had a tough 2019 and missed 2020, which wasn’t his fault,” Hassan said. “Hopefully he’ll show some strides this spring. He looks good with some of the same tools. There are some questions about his feel for the game and picking up pitches, his feel for contact. Those are question marks he still needs to answer.”