MINNEAPOLIS -- While top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol was called up to the Twins in September to be part of Minnesota's playoff push of the present, two heralded prospects who could lead the Twins' playoff pushes of the future were already getting set to make a postseason impact for Double-A
MINNEAPOLIS -- While top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol was called up to the Twins in September to be part of Minnesota's playoff push of the present, two heralded prospects who could lead the Twins' playoff pushes of the future were already getting set to make a postseason impact for Double-A Pensacola.
Outfielder Trevor Larnach and right-hander Jordan Balazovic saw their paths converge with the Blue Wahoos at the end of ascendant 2019 seasons for both young players, during which Larnach dominated two Minor League levels and was named the Florida State League's Player of the Year, while Balazovic rocketed up prospect rankings and represented the Twins at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland.
For their emergence in 2019, MLB Pipeline's staff named Larnach, the Twins' No. 5 prospect, and Balazovic, No. 4, as Minnesota's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year.
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey acknowledged that it was a "pretty aggressive push" to promote Larnach to Class A Advanced Fort Myers to begin his first full-length season in the organization after he was selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft. But after a slow start in April, the 22-year-old exploded in May, when he was named FSL Player of the Month by MiLB.com, and he never looked back.
Larnach tore up the pitcher-friendly FSL, hitting .316/.382/.459 with six homers, 26 doubles and four stolen bases in 84 games before he was promoted to Pensacola in mid-July. At the time of his promotion, he was the league's leader in batting average, OPS and doubles. Though he briefly slowed down after moving up to Double-A, he again heated up and hit .295/.387/.455 with seven homers in 43 games as part of Pensacola's playoff push.
"I think what he showed is once you get to that Double-A level, that Double-A or Triple-A level and show you can mature at the pace that the pitchers are, I think that puts you in a really good place," said Falvey of Larnach, who is ranked No. 78 in MLB Pipeline's Top 100. "We couldn't be more happy with how the year went for him. And now, it's just another building block to go into next year."
That sustained sucess for Larnach, following an adjustment period at each level, is a welcome sign to Falvey. The Twins already loved Larnach's raw strength, advanced approach and selectivity at the plate when they drafted the outfielder out of Oregon State, and his 2019 season also showed a promising ability to adapt to more advanced pitching approaches at new levels.
"I think what it is is a sign of growth and maturity as a hitter," Falvey said. "He's got a pretty good understanding of what he's trying to do at the plate relative to his peers at that age. ... He is someone that is closer to a Major League hitter in terms of his approach and what he's thinking when he's at the plate."
Balazovic was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Twins' No. 29 prospect as recently as last season, but he shot all the way up to No. 4 this season -- and No. 77 on the Top 100 -- after enjoying another significant step in his development at the lower levels of the Minors. The Canadian right-hander posted a 2.69 ERA with 129 strikeouts across 93 2/3 innings at Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Fort Myers.
Balazovic finished the season by posting seven strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings against Biloxi, the Brewers' Double-A affiliate, when he was called up to contribute in the Southern League playoffs for Pensacola.
Falvey isn't particularly surprised to see the 21-year-old's rise to national prominence. Balazovic was a fifth-round Draft selection out of a Canadian high school in 2016, meaning that he was a less refined and experienced pitcher relative to his peers from climates more favorable to baseball. But the Twins always liked Balazovic's frame and delivery, and his hard work allowed him to build up his strength and refine his secondary pitches as he progressed toward this breakout campaign.
"Over the last couple of years, he's continued to take feedback, our programming, things around strength and conditioning and development, and all of this stuff that is mostly natural at his age, but you have to commit to it to really make an impact," Falvey said. "I think Jordan saw the benefits of that and continues to get better. So I'm not surprised that he made that leap, necessarily, because of the work he put in with all the staff that have worked with him to get there."
Balazovic's fastball now more consistently sits in the mid-90s throughout his starts, and his execution of the slider has improved when he is ahead in counts. As Balazovic gets exposure to the high Minors in 2020, the next step for the right-hander is to learn to execute his fastball and offspeed pitchers in different situations across different counts to combat the more advanced approaches of hitters at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
"There's times where, whether it's sequencing, location or otherwise, you've got to find a way to get hitters that aren't going to swing out of the zone," Falvey said. "[Hitters'] approaches get better as you go through [the Minor League levels], and I think that's going to be the next step for him, is consistently doing that."
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.