If there has been one place to look for hope when it came to the Twins in recent years — in spite of five 90-loss seasons in the past six — it was in various rankings of the organization’s minor league system.
Fans became accustomed to seeing a handful of increasingly household names dominate the lists — from Byron Buxton (at the top of some MLB-wide lists) to Miguel Sano to Jose Berrios to Max Kepler, just to name a few, talented prospects gave Twins fans genuine hope for the future.
That hope still exists, of course … but they guys we also became so accustomed to thinking of as “prospects” are no longer that — at least not in the truest sense of the word. They’ve all received somewhere between a taste and a big bite of major league action. And while the Twins’ fortunes this season and beyond still largely hinge on their development, it is also time for fans to get more acquainted with the next wave of prospects now populating those rankings.
Keith Law at ESPN, for instance, just put out his top 100 prospects list for 2017 (Insider required). You won’t find an Twins players in the top 50, but you will find five of them between 51 and 100. Three of them are pitchers — the area where one could argue the Twins are currently most deficient at the major league level — meaning these young guys could have just as much influence over the future as all the names we had been hearing about (and waiting for) over the past handful of years.
The five on Law’s list are: shortstop Nick Gordon (No. 53); right-handed pitcher Fernando Romero (No. 65); right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart (No. 87); left-handed pitcher Stephen Gonsalves (No. 91); and outfielder Alex Kirilloff (No. 97).
All of them are 22 or younger, meaning there is still plenty of development ahead. That said, some of them could make it to Target Field sooner rather than later.
In particular, Gonsalves and Stewart both had extended runs at Class AA Chattanooga last season. And if we’re being even more specific with the analysis, Gonsalves — named the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year for 2016 — is burning through his levels at an impressive pace.
After Gonsalves dominated high-A Fort Myers to start 2016, he was moved to Class AA — where he was even better. In 74 1/3 innings at Chattanooga, he went 8-1 with a 1.82 ERA while striking out 89 batters. He’s only given up 6.2 hits per nine innings during his minor league career, which started in 2013 after he was a fourth-round pick out of Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego.
Gonsalves accepted his minor league pitcher of the year award last week at the Diamond Awards — and was introduced by new Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, who couldn’t stop saying good things about Gonsalves. Once Gonsalves took his turn at the microphone, it seemed apparent he’s quite mature for 22 — seemingly just as good off the field as he is on it.
A lot can happen, of course, between now and the majors. But this time next year, Gonsalves might have joined Buxton, Sano and co. in the transition from prospect to big league player — the first of the next wave.