Twins top prospect Lee moving fast, likely to try 3B
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Twins selected Cal Poly star Brooks Lee eighth overall last July. Carlos Correa opted out of his contract in November. Minnesota’s line of succession at shortstop seemed clear.
After a tumultuous offseason, Correa ended up re-signing with the Twins on a six-year, $200 million. The move brought plenty of excitement to an organization desperate to get back to the postseason and win its first playoff game since 2004. But it also brought an obvious question -- where will Lee play now?
It’s worth noting that Lee is in first spring camp, and while they’ve given their top prospect 11 Grapefruit League games under his belt on the Major League side, the Twins aren’t about to act like Lee is really threatening Correa for playing time at the six just yet.
That said, they don’t have their blinders on either, and they know it’s likely Lee will see more time at a new position in the Minors before anyone even thinks about taking a two-time All-Star and 2021 Gold Glove winner off his preferred position. They won’t wait too long to expose Lee elsewhere.
“You never want someone playing their position for the first time in the big leagues,” said director of player development Drew MacPhail.
His 55-grade throwing ability lends a strong hint for the long term.
“With his arm, he could easily play some third base,” MacPhail said. “We'll probably expose him to that a little bit just to get comfortable over there. But I think on our end, we want to make sure that he knows he’s a shortstop and he's playing there a lot since obviously, that's one of the most difficult positions in the field to play. Let’s get him a ton of reps there, and we're confident he’d be able to shift to third base pretty easily.”
This is all a point of order with Lee because the switch-hitter has the chance to be one of the fastest movers in his Draft class.
The 22-year-old hit .351 with a 1.073 OPS over his three seasons at Cal Poly and showed a remarkable approach in his junior spring with a 28/46 K/BB ratio. The Twins sent him to three levels after he signed, and he topped out with a prominent role with Double-A Wichita during its run to the Texas League Finals.
Lee finished with a .303/.389/.451 line over 31 games in his first taste of the Minors, forcing his new organization to continually find him fresh challenges offensively. There may have even been times when his hit tool was too good at High-A and Double-A.
“I think the only thing we've focused on with Brooks, which he's all in on, is when you have that incredible bat-to-ball skill, there are times where you see that pitch on the outer third or on the black 2-0, and you feel like you can just flick that thing to left-center and collect your hit,” MacPhail said. “If we can, let’s narrow the zone at times to pitches you're confident you can drive early and in hitter’s counts.”
If Lee can indeed find better ways to incorporate his power – only 10 of his 37 Minor League hits went for extra bases – then he could be knocking on the door of Minneapolis before long.
The Twins already had one special shortstop prospect nudging Correa last year in Royce Lewis, and he was moved to the outfield before suffering a torn ACL. He could slide back to second for safety reasons, and Lee gets more action at the hot corner once he reaches Triple-A St. Paul.
That’s a lot more sliding doors than perhaps the Twins were expecting when they drafted Lee, but it’s an issue they’re willing to tackle head-on.
“Obviously the guy playing shortstop right now for the Twins is pretty good,” MacPhail said.
Camp standout: Ben Ross
Ross may have gone overlooked last summer because he’d hailed from Division II Notre Dame College. Minnesota selected the utility player, who owned a .405/.471/.758 line over three years in school, in the fifth round and got him a good chunk of time at Single-A Fort Myers, where he had a 134 wRC+ in 22 games.
The 21-year-old already had a disciplined approach that helped him reach base, but some mechanical adjustments that started early in his transition to pro ball have helped him make better cover all parts of the zone with his swing. Primarily a shortstop, the No. 29 prospect saw time at five other positions in Fort Myers to keep his bat in the lineup.
“He might surprise some people,” MacPhail said.
Something to prove: Austin Martin
It’s going to be a bit longer for Martin to prove anything after he was shut down with a sprained UCL in his right elbow earlier this month -- an injury he hopes will only need rest and rehab. But it did throw a wrench in what could have been a promising spring for the 2020 fifth overall prospect.
Martin has talked about trying to get back to being the high-OBP, line-drive hitter he was during his successful run at Vanderbilt, and after hitting just .241 with a .683 OPS in 90 games at Wichita last season, the No. 12 prospect felt like he found a reset in the Arizona Fall League. By no longer hunting for power, Martin hit .374/.454/.482 with a 7/8 K/BB ratio over 97 plate appearances during the autumnal campaign, bolstering Minnesota’s hope he could be a productive bat up the middle at short, second or center.
“We’ve loved where his swing was coming into camp,” MacPhail said before the UCL diagnosis. “We’re pretty confident with pushing him to Triple-A.”
Breakout candidate (again): Emmanuel Rodriguez
Currently ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 88 overall prospect, Rodriguez already had his true breakout season in 2022, having hit .272/.482/.551 with nine homers, a 28.6 percent walk rate and 196 wRC+ over 47 games with Fort Myers -- numbers that would have made him a possible Top 50 prospect over a larger sample. But a torn right meniscus ended his season in June, and he stuck on the back half of the list instead.
He has returned to the field this spring and even made two Grapefruit League appearances in the last week. Rodriguez is expected to open at High-A Cedar Rapids to begin the march toward an even more prominent placement within the Top 100.
“He had an incredible eye, and he showcased power that I think you rarely ever see from a teenager in the Florida State League,” MacPhail said. “In our mind, he proved all he needed to prove at Single-A, and now he’s ready for that next challenge once we break camp.”