MINNEAPOLIS -- The way Twins scouting director Sean Johnson sees this Draft class, the depth of the college bats is as thin as he can remember. There's a good number of high school hitters out there, he says, but the true depth of this year's prospective draftees lies in its college pitching.
That should make the first day of the 2021 Draft a bit more interesting for the Twins, who hold the No. 26 pick in the first round and also the No. 36 overall selection with their pick in Competitive Balance Round A. The last three times the Twins have had picks that low in the first round, they've selected college bats -- and that's no coincidence.
"That’s not to say we won’t take pitching in this first round, but if you miss on the bats early, you just can’t get those guys later down the road," Johnson said. "That’s kind of the way we’ve looked at it for a long time."
Day 1 of the 2021 Draft will take place live from Denver’s Bellco Theatre on Sunday. It will feature the first 36 picks and will air on MLB Network and ESPN at 6 p.m. CT. Day 2, which will span rounds 2-10, begins at 12 p.m. CT on Monday. The Draft will conclude with rounds 11-20 on Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m. CT. MLB.com will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast and provide live coverage on all three days.
In line with Johnson's stated philosophy, the Twins have, indeed, taken hitters with their first-round selections in the last five Drafts -- and it's tough to argue with that strategy, considering that two of the anchors of an otherwise disappointing 2021 Twins roster have been former first-round picks Alex Kirilloff (2016) and Trevor Larnach ('18), who have more than held their own as rookies and figure to be cornerstones of Minnesota lineups for at least the next half-decade.
Long before Kirilloff and Larnach, Twins first-round hitters like Byron Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer established themselves as longtime big leaguers, while Kyle Gibson and Matt Garza stand out as the Twins' only first-round pitchers of the last 20 years to carve out lasting careers.
"The way we look at it is, it’s about opportunity cost," Johnson said. "You can take pitching in the first round, but you’re missing out on those bats -- the Kirilloffs, the Larnachs, the Cuddyers, I’ll go way back. I mean, those guys aren’t available in the second round. They’re just not."
Though the Twins haven't necessarily had too many strong homegrown arms in that time, the crop of pitchers that have been cultivated by this front office is just around the corner. Johnson pointed to second-round selection Matt Canterino (No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and seventh-rounder Josh Winder (No. 12) as deeper picks who have benefited from targeted work with the organization's player development operation.
That's not to mention Jordan Balazovic, a former fifth-round selection who has risen all the way to No. 2 in the Twins' prospect rankings due to his development.
Plus, with the increased prevalence of training academies and facilities, along with the proliferation of information regarding velocity and pitch creation, the Twins aren't worried about finding raw stuff among the pitchers in the later stages of the Draft.
"You can probably draft a guy in the 20th round who throws 95 miles an hour," Johnson said. "We’ve probably got guys turned in -- not even turned in that throw 95. Velocity is rampant around America at the college level, at the high-school level. A lot of hard throwers, but we’re still trying to stay disciplined in picking out guys we think can start."
Whatever the case with their pick, the Twins will be at the mercy of what happens ahead of them, considering they pick late in the first round. And in a Draft in which there isn't a clear-cut, potentially generational talent to be grabbed at the top of the first, the Twins are just fine with that.
"I think, looking at it from a high overview, there’s not a big drop-off from, say, pick five or 10 to when we pick, so we feel like at 26, 36, we’re getting pretty good value and quality of player at those picks," Johnson said. "Whoever goes at 10 or 12, we don’t think is a way better player on the surface."
With their scouting operation having more or less returned to normal by March and the Twins feeling that they've used both traditional and Zoom-oriented meetings to their advantage, they feel good about their short list of players and their Draft board as things return to normal around the league following the COVID-impacted year.
"I think we feel pretty good about the pool and who they are, especially at the top of the board," Johnson said.