The Twins are a veteran team.
But ... several established players needed to ease their way into spring training after recovering from injuries over the offseason, giving manager Rocco Baldelli the opportunity to evaluate top prospects.
There was a lot to see.
Baldelli watched Trevor Larnach launch home runs. He saw Alex Kirilloff handle tough pitches like he belonged. He saw Royce Lewis show off the athleticism that makes him one of the top prospects in the game. He saw Ryan Jeffers show signs that could come up and catch a few games if needed in a pinch.
He saw the best of the Twins farm system, a system that is ranked seventh in the game by MLB.com and eighth by Baseball America.
“It’s fun to throw a lot of our really good young players out there and watch them play together,” Baldelli said. “It’s cool to see these guys out there, and it’s fun regardless.
“But it’s fun when you really get to see them team up, and you watch them run around at the same time and watch them interact with each other.”
Training camp in Fort Myers, Fla., ended suddenly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A two-month delay — at least — is in place. When the season resumes, the Twins minor league system will be sprinkled with potential future stars.
Of the players who made the Star Tribune’s list of top 10 Twins prospects, five were part of major league camp and another — outfielder Matt Wallner — was brought over from minor league camp as an extra player in three games. And the group backed up all the rankings by showing skills that the major league club could benefit from in the near future.
Here are the Twins’ top 10 prospects:
1. Royce Lewis, SS, 20
Lewis’ 2019 season was largely one he would like to forget. He hit only .236 in 127 games between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA Pensacola as he dealt with failure that he said made him more determined. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft is still considered the Twins’ top prospect and ninth overall by MLB.com. His year ended on a positive note as he hit .353 in 22 games in the Arizona Fall League and was named its Most Valuable Player. He continues to make progress defensively, where he looks more like a shortstop than an athlete. His bat still carries plenty of promise, as he popped two home runs during Grapefruit League play. He will likely open the season at Pensacola but could end it at Class AAA Rochester, which could be loaded with top prospects by the end of the season.
2. Alex Kirilloff, OF, 22
Kirilloff was slowed last year by a sprained right wrist, but he still hit .283 with nine homers and 43 RBI in 94 games. Some of the “hot prospect” steam has dissipated but can easily be regained. When asked about the wrist early in camp, Kirilloff said, “It might not ever feel the same.” But Kirilloff, showing the swing that made him the 15th overall pick in 2016, then went out and hit .429 in 10 spring training games with two home runs. He squared up tough pitches with ease and looked like a player who could fill in at the big leagues. He was drafted as an outfielder but has played some at first base. Being flexible could be helpful because his bat, at least in camp, looked ready to help the Twins out. The Twins, during spring training, were considering sending Kirilloff to Class AAA Rochester to start the season.
3. Trevor Larnach, OF, 23
Larnach came from Oregon State, where he made opposite-field home runs look easy. But he knew he needed to adapt to better pitching as a pro, and has worked on pulling the ball more. He showed power to all fields during camp, going 8-for-24 in 13 games with three home runs and six RBI. He hit only 13 homers between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA Pensacola last season, but don’t be fooled — there’s plenty of power in his bat. Like Kirilloff and Brent Rooker, Larnach is a corner outfielder, which could lead to a logjam down the road, but that’s a good problem to have. Along with Kirilloff, Larnach looked like he belonged during Grapefruit League games.
4. Jordan Balazovic, RHP, 21
While the Twins worked out at Hammond Stadium, Balazovic was over on the minor league side, looking like the best pitching prospect in the organization. The Canadian continues to grow into his 6-5 frame, and his fastball has ticked up to the mid-90s to go with a curveball and a developing changeup. His fastball has good life to it and is one reason he struck out 129 batters in 93 ⅔ innings. He’s developing a good feel for pitching and doesn’t rely on one pitch to put away hitters. He’s in position to start the season at Class AA Pensacola or get there by midseason.
5. Jhoan Duran, RHP, 22
The most promising of the three prospects the Twins received from Arizona for Eduardo Escobar in July 2018, Duran immediately took to the Twins’ instruction and pitched his way to Class AA Pensacola in his first full season in the organization. The Dominican’s fastball tops 95 miles per hour, he has refined his curveball and he throws a split-fingered sinking fastball called a “splinker” that helped him strike out 136 batters in 115 innings in 2019. He also earned his high school diploma on Jan. 29.
6. Ryan Jeffers, C, 22
The Twins liked Jeffers’ bat coming out of North Carolina-Wilmington, and he tore up the Appalachian League shortly after being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, batting .422 at Elizabethton. But the Twins have been very pleased with how he has developed as a catcher. In addition to his strong arm, he has good skills behind the plate, and his handling of pitchers and calling games are improving. They feel they are molding an all-around prospect who, under normal circumstances, would be looking at a late-season call-up.
7. Blayne Enlow, RHP, 21
Enlow is just a solid pitching prospect, going 8-7 with a 3.82 ERA between Fort Myers and Class A Cedar Rapids. His fastball stays in the low 90s, he has a solid curveball that drops straight down and also throws a good slider. As he moves up the system, he will have to continue to improve his command and quality of those pitches. And there’s a chance he will add a couple of miles per hour to his fastball. He’s pitching with a screw in his right ankle, stemming from an automobile accident suffered while in high school.
8. Matt Wallner, OF, 22
Wallner definitely has power. He showed it on March 6 when he hit a walkoff three-run homer in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay. The Twins drafted him with the 39th overall pick out of Southern Mississippi last year, but Wallner is also from Forest Lake and grew up a big Twins fan. Can he hit enough? That’s the question. He’s a solid outfielder with a strong arm — he used to be a pitcher.
9. Matt Canterino, RHP, 22
Blessed with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider, Canterino went 1-1 with a 1.14 ERA in seven starts between the Gulf Coast League and Class A Cedar Rapids. He struck out 31 batters in 25 innings for a nice ratio of 10.8 per nine innings. Yes, seven starts aren’t many. That’s because Canterino, who was taken in the second round last year, pitched collegiately at Rice, where starters get worked hard. The Twins took it easy with him during his first pro season.
10. Keoni Cavaco, 3B, 18
Cavaco was the Twins’ first-round pick a year ago after finishing strong during his senior year at Eastlake High in Chula Vista, Calif. His first pro season didn’t go well; he battled some minor injuries and hit only .172 in 29 games in the Gulf Coast League. He is supposed to hit, run and defend well, so the Twins hope to see more in the future. Cavaco is the classic high school prospect with a lot of tools who will need time to develop.