Some free advice for Derek Falvey: Take a center fielder.
The Twins have pick No. 20 in Monday’s first round of the amateur draft, and it’s the seventh time they’ll choose from that spot. They’ve never chosen from another specific spot more than four times, so this is a weird habit.
It’s a pretty successful one, though. No, they never took a pitcher who may make the Hall of Fame, like elite No. 20s Mike Mussina (1990 by Baltimore) or C.C. Sabathia (1998 by Cleveland). But if you rank (by career Wins Above Replacement) the 53 players chosen 20th since the draft began in 1965, the Twins have taken three of the top 10 (and traded for a fourth, Eric Milton). Trevor Plouffe, picked 20th in 2004, hit 96 homers in seven seasons with Minnesota. Eric Milton, chosen at 20 in 1996 by the Yankees but traded to the Twins as a minor leaguer in the Chuck Knoblauch trade, won 41 games in a three-year span with the Twins and made an All-Star team.
And the Twins hit the jackpot at No. 20 in 1993 and 2002, when they chose a couple of center fielders who manned the position for 17 seasons between them: Torii Hunter and Denard Span.
Sure, there have been misfires, too. Chris Parmelee, No. 20 in 2006, played parts of four seasons and had more strikeouts than hits, but at least he made the major leagues. The same can’t be said for 20th-pick mistakes Bob Jones in 1966 or Johnny Ard in 1988.
Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, won’t say who the Twins will take 20th this year, mostly because he has no idea. “When you’re picking past the top five picks, it’s really hard to know,” Falvey said. “My understanding of this year’s draft is that it might be even harder to know, because it seems like there are a few guys up at the top that you feel pretty good about going early, but after that, it gets unclear who goes next.”
The Twins’ scouting staff has been in Minneapolis for a week, sharing evaluations, trying to divine the intentions of teams picking ahead of them, and ranking the prospects.
They’ve compiled their own mock drafts a couple of times already, “scenario planning,” Falvey said, for reacting to what happens in the first 19 picks. “We’ll say, assume the board goes this way — these five guys go off, these are the three players available to us,” Falvey said. “Are we good what who we’ll select there? Do we have the order right?”
There are plenty of opinions about that, of course, including several from outside experts who have compiled their own scouting reports. Baseball America, for instance, expects the Twins to select lefthanded pitcher Ryan Rolison of Mississippi, saying he “has been solid more than spectacular, but college lefties get taken high.” The Twins know that’s true — they chose lefty Tyler Jay from Illinois in 2015 with the sixth overall pick.
MLB.com’s mock draft has Rolison taken eight picks before the Twins’, and asserts that Minnesota will chose a righthander, Logan Gilbert of Stetson, noting that his velocity “is starting to tick back up.”
ESPN.com’s draft board agrees with the Rolison pick, saying he “came into the year as a top-10 possibility, and while his results haven’t backed that up, his stuff has. A decent showing at the SEC Tournament [which Ole Miss won with Rolison pitching two hitless innings in the championship game] likely helped his stock.”
Falvey said the Twins won’t be picking based on what their current team needs, or what they feel is a weakness of their farm system. Give them the best player available, he said. “When we were picking No. 1 [last June], there was a lot of conversation [about] pitching vs. hitting. But those players’ impact is so many years away, that planning for need, based on the amateur draft, can lead you down the wrong path,” he said.
But the Twins will definitely use every tool they can to find the right player — including some fancy new hardware. The days of stenciling each player’s name on a magnet and keeping them on a giant metal board are over.
“We’ve installed a big electronic board in there, with matched screens that allow for a video wall. It fits well for what we need,” Falvey bragged. “A lot was made of the fact that the Vikings have one [at their new headquarters in Eagan]. Ours is bigger.”
Can you name the highest paid player on each AL Central team? Some may surprise you, and like Joe Mauer with the return of concussion symptoms, all have made news recently.
Indians: In the middle season of his three-year contract, which pays $17 million this season and $20 million next, the 35-year-old slugger has gone on a hot streak that coincides with his team’s. Edwin Encarnacion batted .400, hit four home runs and racked up nine RBI during Cleveland’s six-game winning streak (through Thursday).
Royals: Kansas City chose to keep Alex Gordon, giving him a contract worth $20 million this year and $72 million total, rather than Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer. Gordon responded by hitting .220 and .208 in the first two years of his big deal, but has somewhat rebounded in 2018. He’s hitting .274 but has only eight extra-base hits.
Tigers: This one was easy. Miguel Cabrera is a two-time MVP and signed what was once baseball’s biggest contract. Detroit will pay him $30 each of the next four years, and $32 for two more after that. Cabrera is hitting .323 with a .407 on-base, but he’s also 35, has just three homers, and missed a month with a sore hamstring.
White Sox: James Shields has only one win and a 4.54 ERA in return for the $16 million he earns in the final year of a $75 million contract, but he improved in May, holding hitters to a .173 average and posting a 3.38 ERA. That gives Chicago hope it can find a trading partner interested in the free-agent-to-be.
No AL player has been better at collecting hits to the opposite field over the past five seasons than the Twins’ Joe Mauer. The opposite-field leaders in hits from 2014-18:
DJ LaMahieu, Col 317
Joe Mauer, Min 281
Eric Hosmer, KC/SD 271
Dee Gordon, LAD/Mia/Sea 258
Nick Markakis, Bal/Atl 249
Christian Yelich, Mia/Mil 242
Jose Abreu, CWS 240
Like most teams, Twins’ pitchers are striking out more batters than ever before; through Friday, their 53-game total of 480 is 14.8 percent higher than their previous best (418 in 2016). But Minnesota is rising among their peers in strikeouts, too.
Twins pitching strikeouts through 53 games
Year Ks AL Rank
2018 480 5
2017 368 14
2016 418 8
2015 300 15
2014 321 15
2013 305 15
2012 295 15
2011 306 15
2010 340 10