So much for playing it safe.
With the virus-abbreviated amateur draft slashed to just five rounds, a consensus grew that teams would take fewer gambles on young prospects, and especially the Twins, who possessed only four picks.
Instead, on Thursday the Twins chose a 20-year-old outfielder with barely more than one season of major-college experience, and a pair of 17-year-olds with extraordinary power: one a power arm, one a power bat.
“We feel great about how the board fell,” Twins scouting director Sean Johnson said.
Minnesota chose Tennessee outfielder Alerick Soularie, who owns a .336 career average with the Volunteers, with the 59th overall pick.
After sitting out the third round, having forfeited their pick in order to sign free agent Josh Donaldson last winter, they followed up by choosing hard-throwing high school righthander Marco Raya of Laredo, Texas, in the fourth round, and outfielder Kala’i Rosario of Waiakea, Hawaii, in the fifth.
Along with power hitter Aaron Sabato, a first baseman from North Carolina who was chosen in Wednesday’s first round, the Twins drafted for raw skills, counting on their development system to turn those talents into major-leaguers.
“We feel like our player development is at the top of the industry, from a staffing perspective, from a technology perspective, [and] facilities,” Johnson said.
Given that, drafting for tools over experience made sense, Johnson said, especially since the Twins, after a 101-win season, chose near the end of each round.
Especially since the unrefined talents of the quartet of draftees are obvious. Sabato and Rosario have launch angles and exit velocities that hint at home runs to come.
Soularie, who led the Vols in batting average and on-base percentage as a sophomore, then led them in home runs when the 2020 season suddenly ended in March, is versatile enough to play all three outfield positions and perhaps, after taking ground balls there this spring, second base. And Raya has a fastball that can reach 94 mph, even though he has yet to turn 18.
The Twins now must figure out how to allocate the $4.528 million they are allowed to spend on bonuses for their four draft picks; teams are given “slot figures,” or recommended bonus sizes, and cannot exceed the total but can dole out the money as they see fit.
The Twins are allocated $2.57 million to spend on Sabato as the 27th overall pick, and another $1.18 million is budgeted for the 59th overall pick, Soularie.
Raya signed to pitch for Texas Tech next season, and Rosario was set to attend California Baptist. The Twins will try to change their minds by offering them pro contracts.
As the 128th overall pick, Raya has a slot figure of $442,900, and $330,100 is allocated for Rosario, the 158th pick, though the Twins could beef up those bonuses by negotiating below-slot contracts with their other picks.
“We expect to sign all four players,” Johnson said.
The brief two-day draft, shortest in MLB history, now gives way to a free-agent free-for-all. Starting Sunday, teams are allowed to sign as many undrafted eligible players as they want, but with a catch: None can receive a bonus of more than $20,000.
The small bonuses figure to persuade dozens, perhaps hundreds, of players who might have signed, if drafted, to play in college next year instead, in hopes of improving their draft position next summer. But the Twins hope to lure several players by emphasizing their commitment to development.
The Twins’ history of finding future big leaguers after the first round is particularly strong, but not lately. The Twins once obtained future standouts such as Frank Viola, Butch Wynegar and Jacque Jones in the draft’s second round, but no Twins’ second-rounder has appeared in more than 100 games with Minnesota since 2005 choice Kevin Slowey.
And only one player from each of the next three rounds has made an impact in this century: third-rounder Brian Duensing, who was drafted in 2005, fourth-rounder Eddie Rosario in 2010, and fifth-round pick Tyler Duffey in 2012.