The Twins never got the chance to impress Shohei Ohtani, as the Japanese two-way star did not include them in his list of seven desirable teams.
And he’s not the only young, talented player they missed out on.
The Twins also pursued, but were unable to land, shortstop Kevin Maitan, considered the best of the group of Atlanta's international players who were declared free agents after the Braves were found guilty of flouting signing rules.
But the Twins pivoted and rebounded by adding with two prospects on Wednesday by dealing some of their $3.25 million in international signing bonus money -- money initially earmarked for either Ohtani or Maitan (pictured). They received outfielder Jacob Pearson from the Angels and catcher David Banuelos from Seattle for $1 million apiece.
Multiple sources have confirmed that the Twins were in the hunt for Maitan, considered the top international prospect in 2016 when he signed with the Braves in for $4.25 million. He's a switch hitting shortstop with a strong arm and good power potential. According to MLB.com, some early comparisons were to Miguel Sano.
Maitan signed with the Angels for a reported $2.2 million. Indications are that the Twins offered significantly more than Los Angeles. But someone in Maitan's camp, either Maitan, his family, his agents or a combination of all of them, looked at the Twins farm system and decided to go elsewhere.
Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon, Wander Javier and Jermaine Palacios are all Twins shortstop prospects. Lewis and Gordon are ranked among the top 30 prospects in baseball. The Twins signed Javier for $4 million in 2015, and my jaw dropped when I watched him play in the minor league spring training game last year. He's already built like a major leaguer. And Palacios is no slouch, batting .320 at Class A Cedar Rapids before moving to Class A Fort Myers.
A Twins official believes Maitan's camp felt his path to the majors was easier in the Angels system than the Twins. So the Twins missed out on Maitan. The Twins had the option of signing Maitan with this year's bonus money or out of next year's bonus pool, but had not decided which pool they would have used. So it looks as if they were ready spend this year’s pool money on either Maitan or Ohtani.
I'm spending more time on the Maitan pursuit than Ohtani because the Ohtani case has been well documented. But once the Twins were out on these two, they went for the consolation prizes in Pearson and Banuelos.
The Twins liked Pearson out of West Monroe (La.) High. They love his swing and like his speed. His arm isn't the strongest, but they think he can hit. They just liked another kid of out Louisiana a little better. They selected righthanded pitcher Blayne Enlow, from St. Amant (La.), in the third round. Pearson went to the Angels nine picks later and signed for $1 million to keep him from attending LSU.
Banuelos (above) is a good catch-and-throw guy who has shown the ability to get on base at a good rate. And you can never have too many catching prospects. Mitch Garver should be the Twins backup catcher next year, but there's a gap in catching prospects after that. But Banuelos and 2016 second rounder Ben Rortvedt can be part of the next wave.
How did the Twins do? It's always hard to tell with prospects. Pearson was ranked as the Angels fifth best prospect and Banuelos was 10th in Seattle's system. Sources told me last night and this morning that Pearson should be slotted around 15-20 and Banuelos around 20-25. MLB.com has Pearson at 22 and Banuelos at 24.
The Twins have added good prospects over the last year. Don't forget, they received lefthander Tyler Watson for Brandon Kintzler, and he's ranked 18th. They received righthander Zack Littell from the Yankees for Jaime Garcia, and he's ranked 16th. And they added Gabriel Moya in exchange for John Ryan Murphy, and he ended up pitching in Target Field. They have been busy.
And they are not done. I've been told that they like their chances to of signing one of the former Braves players who were declared free agents recently. Not as highly regarded as Maitan, but someone they like. So stay tuned.