No. 19 prospect dominating in Double-A with pinpoint control

June 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park’s Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- There’s strike-throwing… and then there’s this.

The Twins’ seeming factory of mid-round to late-round starting pitcher draftees has continued to churn out promising prospects -- and just look at go.

Many prospects have been on their way up the system, and Matthews (Minnesota's No. 19 prospect) gave the Twins little choice but to bump him up from High-A Cedar Rapids to Double-A Wichita by striking out 28 batters without a walk across four starts for the Kernels before his promotion on May 6.

Matthews’ season line remains crazy -- a 1.56 overall ERA in 63 1/3 innings, with 76 strikeouts and only three walks across the two levels. Not only is he dominating with his pinpoint control, but he’s doing it with a fastball that has bumped up to a 96 mph average, way up from the 92.1 mph he averaged in his first Statcast-tracked outing for High-A Fort Myers in ‘22.

“Everybody always wants us to throw harder, so we’re always pushing for that,” said Matthews to Jeff Johnson of The Gazette earlier this year. “But I think it was just staying consistent with what I did in the offseason working out. Throwing and that sort of stuff. Then going down to Spring Training early and working with a lot of the development staff a lot.”

The Twins have had several hits with boosting the velocity and the arsenal of late-round picks in recent years, something scouting director Sean Johnson has often called the “low-hanging fruit,” so to speak, for their player development group to work with.

Most notably, Bailey Ober (12th round in 2017), Louie Varland (15th round in '19) and Twins No. 5 prospect David Festa (13th round in '21) have taken similar paths, while others like C.J. Culpepper (13th round in '22) and Matthews (eighth round in '22) continue to make up the next wave.

Triple-A St. Paul: It sure feels like only a matter of time before Matt Wallner is back with the big league squad. After a brutally tough start to the season, Wallner finally seems to have figured something out with 11 homers and a 1.218 OPS in 19 games in June, putting him right back in the picture.

High-A Cedar Rapids: Though No. 20 prospect Ricardo Olivar is the Kernels’ catcher on the Twins’ Top 30 Prospects list and has had a great two weeks, so has his backstop-mate, Nate Baez, the organization’s 12th-rounder from 2022, who has posted a 1.475 OPS with six homers in the last two weeks.

Single-A Fort Myers: Here’s another entry in the Twins’ continued late-round wizardry: 2023 15th-rounder Spencer Bengard has dominated the Florida State League this season to the tune of a 1.23 ERA, with 41 strikeouts and six walks in 36 2/3 frames. He’s on an 11-inning scoreless streak.