FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new spin on the classic prospect rankings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already in the bigs, farm systems alone can’t tell the whole story. So we’re diving deep into every single MLB club, ranking them all by the players in an organization entering their age-26 season or younger — from the bigs to the farm. Each weekday through March 24, we’ll count down from last to first.
No. 16 Minnesota Twins
26-and-under total score: 16 (out of 30)
Of all places, the biggest story of the baseball offseason came to a celebratory end in Minneapolis. After a tumultuous winter, two collapsed contract agreements and a whole lot of conjecture about his ankle, Carlos Correa ended up where he started: on the Twins.
His improbable return to Minnesota gives the franchise a centerpiece they can build around and lifts some pressure off the team’s group of young big leaguers and top prospects. That’s a good thing, because while the organization is flush with current and future valuable big-league contributors, it lacks an MVP-level superstar among its under-27 crop. That’s what Correa and Byron Buxton are for.
So despite a disappointing 2022, Minnesota expects itself to be an annual contender for division titles over the next five seasons. Cleveland has a player development juggernaut, but is limited by ownership’s lack of willingness to spend. The White Sox boast a relatively large payroll and an impressive offensive core, but last year showed just how shallow their organizational depth is. Detroit and Kansas City both have new general managers facing uphill battles. The division is for the taking, but only if Minnesota’s young players are ready to take it.
Big-league position players: 5 (out of 10)
Besides Ryan Jeffers, who’s settled in as a capable backup catcher, the Twins’ other young big-league bats are of a similar flavor: solid, if unspectacular hitters, limited to life in a defensive corner.
Let’s start with infielder José Miranda, who had one of the league’s most impressive rookie campaigns a year ago. During his time as a prospect, most evaluators believed that Miranda could really hit, but also held doubts about whether he would hit enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings. A sturdy 116 OPS+ combined with shaky defense at first and third in his debut season confirmed both of those suspicions. An iffy shoulder that forced him to withdraw from Puerto Rico’s WBC roster might limit him to DH in the near term, but he’s slated to see significant time at the hot corner this year and will be a crucial cog of the Twins lineup in the coming seasons.
Then there’s the left-handed hitting outfield/first base/DH trio of Alex Kiriloff, Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach. Wallner has the most raw juice of the three and a good track record of getting on base, but is also the worst defender and struck out a whopping 37% of the time across three levels last season. Larnach’s defensive metrics in left field were outstanding, and despite a low batting average he provided league average offensive value in a small sample. But he’s also been a bit of a strikeout machine so far (33.5% in 481 MLB PAs). Then there’s Kiriloff, who might start at first base for Minnesota on Opening Day. Nagging wrist injuries have limited the former first-rounder over the last few seasons, but he boasts the highest ceiling of this group when healthy. He eviscerated Triple-A last year before underwhelming in the bigs until the wrist acted up again.
This trio, alongside free-agent acquisition Joey Gallo and incumbent right fielder Max Kepler, means the Twins have a notable redundancy of lefty outfielders who might not hit above .250. If any of the youngsters break out, expect a trade. Honestly, expect a trade anyway.
Big-league pitchers: 4 (out of 10)
The most important pitching development to happen at Target Field in 2022 was Jhoan Duran blossoming into a soul-snatching, ticket-punching monster at the back of Minnesota’s bullpen. The 25-year-old righty averaged 101 mph last year on his heater, making him the hardest thrower in MLB. He pairs that 12-alarm fireball with a nasty high-80s curve and a mid-90s splitter that works against lefties.
In 67 2/3 innings of work across 57 appearances, Duran was transcendent, striking hitters out at a 33.5% clip with a miniscule .187 expected batting average against. Relievers are volatile beings, up one year, down the next, but Duran looks like he has the raw stuff to buck any significant year-to-year fluctuations. This is already one of the best relievers in baseball.
The only other arms that qualify for this list who saw big-league innings in 2022 are Louie Varland and Josh Winder, a pair of control-over-stuff right-handers in the typical Twins mold. Both project as back-end of the rotation types who could take a leap if they experience a jump in fastball velocity. Winder was a replacement-level pitcher in 11 starts last year while Varland, a born-and-raised Minnesotan, showed a bit more in his five outings. While Varland’s pitch mix is merely average, his command drew plaudits from opposing evaluators who think he has a chance to turn some heads as a reliable rotation piece.
It’s worth mentioning that Joe Ryan, Pablo López and Chris Paddack all missed the 26-and-under cutoff by less than six months. Ryan and López will be in the club’s 2023 rotation, while Paddack could return in the second half as he rehabs a May 2022 Tommy John surgery.
Prospect position players: 4 (out of 5)
This is a strong group led by 2018 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis. After a long recovery from a torn right ACL suffered during spring training of 2021, Lewis made his big-league debut this past May. He was dynamite for his first two weeks in The Show and looked to be solidifying himself as a cornerstone of the 2022 Twins. And then, inexplicably, he re-tore his right ACL forcing him back onto the shelf yet again. He’s slated to return at some point this season and barring an unforeseen setback, there’s no reason to believe he won’t return to what he was. Drafted as a shortstop, Lewis will likely be more of a super utility player in the bigs with a focus on third base.
Brooks Lee was the eighth overall pick out of college in last year’s draft and might have gone even higher if not for concerns about a lingering back issue that’s bothered him since high school. A switch-hitting shortstop who might have to move to third or second down the line, Lee can flat out hit. There’s power here, too, but scouts say the homers are more a result of good old-fashioned hitting than new school loft-driven bleacher hunting. Lee went to high-A Cedar Rapids right after the draft and excelled there in 25 games. He’ll go to Double-A to start this season and could be a contributor in Minnesota’s lineup at some point this season if all goes well.
Edouard Julien is a sneaky, dark horse AL Rookie of the Year candidate. An 18th round pick out of Auburn in 2019, Julien will become the first big leaguer born in Quebec City when he debuts this year, which could be sooner rather than later. Though he’s kind of a position-less butcher out in the field — Minnesota has tried him at first, second, third and left, none of which have particularly stuck — Julien has perhaps the most refined approach in minor-league baseball. His 19.3% walk rate, second among qualified hitters in Double-A last year, and his 144 WRC+, fourth in that same group, should both translate swimmingly to the big leagues. He obliterated the Arizona Fall League last year and the Twins would love for him to rake his way through spring onto the Opening Day roster.
A year ago, Austin Martin was considered the organization’s top prospect, but a horrid 2022 has the industry way down on the former No. 5 overall pick. His plate discipline is still good, but the hit tool took a notable step back this past season and his burgeoning power completely evaporated. It’s too early to give up on the Vandy product, who was acquired from Toronto in the José Berríos deal, but at this point he’s tracking more like a utility infielder than an impact bat.
The last guy to know is Emmanuel Rodríguez, a 20-year-old Dominican power-hitting outfielder who hit absurdly well in low-A (.272/.492/.551 in 47 games) before an injury ended his season. He won’t reach Minnesota for another few years, but he’s already popping up on top 100 prospect lists.
Prospect pitchers: 3 (out of 5)
Jordan Balazovic is a tall right-hander who has been in this system since 2016, who struggled mightily in 2022 and then got punched in the jaw by a stranger a few weeks ago at spring training, complicating a potential bounceback. He’s a back-end starter if he figures it out. Matt Canterino got Tommy John surgery last August, but he has huge stuff and was dominant (check the stats) while pitching through injuries the past two seasons. He’s a late inning arm if he comes back healthy and could even contribute toward the end of this year.
Connor Prielipp was in the mix for the top overall pick in the ‘22 draft, but blew out at the end of ‘21 and fell to the Twins in the second round. He hasn’t appeared in a game since May 2021, but has shown legit heat in bullpens since. Ronny Henriquez is an undersized righty with a 92-94 mph fastball and two good secondaries who reached the bigs in ‘22. He’s a solid long-relief option. Simeon Woods Richardson was a part of the Berríos deal, but is tracking like a low-velocity, light-on-stuff No. 5 starter even though he’s still only 22.
The future, unlike the winter sky, looks bright in Minnesota. An infield of Correa, Miranda, Lewis, Lee and Julien is a real difference-maker if everyone stays healthy. One of the corner outfield bats probably turns into something and becomes a reliable starter. And while the young pitching isn’t transcendent by any means, that was also the case on good Twins teams of the past.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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