FOX Sports MLB Analyst
FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.
number 16 Twins from Minnesota
Total score for under 26s: 16 (out of 30)
Of all places, the biggest story of baseball’s offseason came to a celebratory close in Minneapolis. After a tumultuous winter, two collapsed contracts and a lot of speculation about his ankle, Carlos Correa ended up where he started: with the Twins.
His unlikely return to Minnesota gives the franchise a centerpiece they can build around and lifts some pressure on the team’s pool of young big leaguers and top prospects. That’s a good thing, because while the organization is loaded with valuable current and future 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 hopes to be an annual contender for division titles for the next five seasons. Cleveland has great player development, but is limited by ownership’s unwillingness to spend. The White Sox have a relatively large roster and an impressive offensive core, but last year showed just how shallow their organization is. Detroit and Kansas City have new general managers facing uphill battles. The division is up for grabs, but only if Minnesota’s young players are ready to take it.
Big League Position Players: 5 (of 10)
Besides Ryan Jeffers, who has settled in as a capable backup catcher, the Twins’ other young big-leaguers are of a similar flavor: solid, if unspectacular, hitters limited to life in a defensive corner .
Let’s start with outfielder Jose Miranda, who had one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in the league a year ago. During his time as a prospect, most evaluators believed Miranda could really hit, but also had doubts about whether he would hit enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings. A robust 116 OPS+ combined with shaky defense at first and third in his rookie season confirmed both of those suspicions. A questionable shoulder that forced him off Puerto Rico’s WBC roster could limit him to DH in the short term, but he’s slated to see significant time at the hot corner this year and will be a crucial cog in the formation of the Twins in the coming seasons. .
Then there’s the lefty/first base/DH batting 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 he’s also the worst defender and hit 37% of the time in three levels last season. Larnach’s defensive metrics in left field were excellent, 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 PA). Then there’s Kiriloff, who could start at first base for Minnesota on opening day. Nagging wrist injuries have limited the former first-rounder in recent seasons, but he has the highest ceiling of this group when healthy. He eviscerated Triple-A last year before underwhelming in the majors until his wrist acted up again.
That trio, along with free agent acquisition Joey Gallo and starting right fielder Max Kepler, means the Twins have a notable redundancy of left-handed outfielders who may not hit above .250. If any of the youngsters break out, expect a change. Honestly, expect a trade anyway.
Major League Pitchers: 4 (of 10)
The biggest pitching development to happen at Target Field in 2022 was Jhoan Duran becoming a soul-crushing monster in the back of Minnesota’s bullpen. The 25-year-old righty averaged 101 mph last year with his heater, making him the hardest hitter in MLB. Combine that 12-alarm fireball with a nasty 80s curveball and a mid-90s splitter that works against lefties.
In 67 2/3 innings of work in 57 appearances, Duran was transcendent, striking out batters 33.5% with a minuscule .187 batting average against. Relievers are volatile creatures, up one year and down the next, but Duran seems to have the raw stuff to overcome major 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 righties who control things in the typical Twins mold. Both project as back-end-of-the-rotation types who could make a jump if they experience a jump in fastball velocity. Winder was a replacement-level pitcher in 11 starts last year, while Varland, a born-and-bred Minnesotan, showed a bit more in his five starts. While Varland’s pitch combination is only average, his command has drawn plaudits from opposing evaluators who believe he has a chance to turn some heads as a reliable rotation piece.
It’s worth mentioning that Joe Ryan, Pablo Lopez and Chris Paddack all missed the 26-and-under cutoff by less than six months. Ryan and Lopez will be in the club’s rotation in 2023, while Paddack could return in the second half as he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery in May 2022.
Potential position players: 4 (of 5)
This is a strong group led by 2018 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis. After a lengthy recovery from a torn right ACL suffered during 2021 spring training, Lewis made his big league debut last May. He was dynamite in his first two weeks on The Show and looked set to cement himself as the Twins’ cornerstone in 2022. And then, inexplicably, he tore his right ACL again forcing him back on the shelf once 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 be back 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 he was the eighth overall college pick in last year’s draft and could have gone even higher if not for concerns over a nagging back problem that has bothered him since high school. Lee can be a stopper who needs to be moved to the third or second line of the line. There’s power here, too, but scouts say the homers are more the result of good old-fashioned hitting than new-school driven bullpen hunting. Lee went to high-A Cedar Rapids right after the draft and excelled in 25 games there. He will 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.
Edward Julien is a wily, dark 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. While he’s something of a positional butcher (Minnesota has tried him at first, second, third and left, none of which have particularly stuck), Julien may have the most refined approach to minor league baseball. His 19.3% walk rate, second among hitters ranked in Double-A last year, and his 144 WRC+, fourth in that group, should translate strongly to the big leagues. He swept the Arizona Fall League last year and the Twins would love to have him open the spring on the Opening Day roster.
A year ago, Austin Martin was considered the top prospect in the organization, but a horrible 2022 has the industry well below the former No. 5 overall pick. His plate discipline remains good, but the hitting tool took a noticeable step back last season and his growing power completely evaporated. It’s too early to give up on the Vandy product, who was acquired from Toronto in the Jose Berríos deal, but right now he’s tracking more as a utility infielder than an impact bat.
The last man he has met is Emmanuel Rodríguez, a hard-hitting 20-year-old Dominican who hit absurdly well in low-A (.272/.492/.551 in 47 games) before an injury ended his season. He won’t make it to Minnesota for a few years, but he’s already on top 100 prospect lists.
Potential pitchers: 3 (of 5)
Jordan Balazovic is a tall right-hander who has been in this system since 2016, who struggled mightily in 2022 and then was punched in the jaw by a stranger a few weeks ago in spring training, complicating a potential rebound . It’s a fund holder if you find out. Matt Canterino had Tommy John surgery last August, but he has huge stuff and was dominant (check out the stats) while pitching through injuries the past two seasons. He’s a late-round arm if he gets back healthy and could even contribute towards the end of this year.
Connor Prielipp he was in the mix for the top overall pick in the ’22 draft, but sold out in the late ’21s and fell to the Twins in the second round. He hasn’t appeared in a game since May 2021, but has shown legitimate heat in bullpens since then. Ronny Henriquez he’s an undersized righty with a 92-94 mph fastball and two good secondaries who reached the majors in ’22. It is a solid long relief option. Simeon Woods Richardson was part of the Berríos deal, but remains a slow, light No. 5 starter, even though he’s still only 22 years old.
The future, unlike the winter sky, looks bright in Minnesota. A field of Correa, Miranda, Lewis, Lee and Julien is a real difference maker if everyone stays healthy. He will likely become one of the bats in the corner outfield something and becomes a reliable beginner. And while the young pitching isn’t transcendent by any means, that was also the case with good Twins teams of the past.
Jake Mintz, the stronger half @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and thus 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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