Twins stock up on hard-throwing pitchers

Using their highest pick since 2001 to choose Georgia high-school center fielder Byron Buxton over Stanford right-hander Mark Appel will understandably be the focus of the Twins’ draft. But along with the No. 2 pick, they also had five other top-100 selections in one of the most stacked collections of early picks in draft history.

Minnesota TwinsThat included No. 32 and No. 42, which are essentially first-rounders and not far off from where they’ve usually made their first picks. For instance, last year their top choice was No. 30, and from 2002-2011, they chose higher than No. 20 just once.

This year, thanks to a combination of last season’s 63-99 record and losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to free agency, they had picks at 2, 32, 42, 63, 72 and 97. That provided a unique and much-needed opportunity to restock the farm system and after taking the best player available in Buxton, the Twins loaded up on high-velocity pitchers.

Buxton being the focus of everything means No. 32 pick Jose Berrios will get considerably less attention than No. 30 pick Levi Michael received last year, but in a draft where Carlos Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be the top pick, Berrios also became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher of all time.

Berrios threw a no-hitter against Correa’s team in April and the Twins snagged the high-school right-hander sooner than most draft analysts expected. Baseball America ranked Berrios as the 49th-best player, including 25th among pitchers, while ESPN.com ranked him 73rd overall and 27th among pitchers. That suggests the Twins may have reached a bit for him, although that’s much more common in MLB than the NFL or NBA, and the scouting reports on Berrios are encouraging.

Baseball America noted that he added significant muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame and “his fastball now sits in the 93-95 mph range.” ESPN had a similar review of his raw stuff, noting that “he’ll touch 96 and works at 92-94 with a hard downward-breaking curveball at 80-82 and a straight changeup in the same range.”

When I watched the first round of the draft unfold Monday night, it became apparent that there weren’t many top-ranked college pitchers left on the board for the Twins at No. 32, and that may have played a part in choosing Berrios, but he certainly sounds like a high-upside arm.

Ten picks later, the Twins took Georgia Tech reliever Luke Bard, who’ll be given a chance to start. His brother, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard, emerged as a top setup man for the Red Sox before struggling in a move to the rotation. Luke doesn’t quite have Daniel’s overpowering raw stuff, but in ranking him as the 93rd-best player, Baseball America noted “plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph” and “a power breaking ball with depth and late bite.”

Bard’s college numbers were fantastic, with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings to go along with zero homers allowed, but he missed much of the season with an injured lat muscle that ESPN.com speculated may have kept him out of the first round. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called the injury “a low to moderate risk” and expressed optimism that Bard can develop his changeup enough to be an effective starter.

Berrios was compensation for losing Cuddyer, and Bard was compensation for losing Kubel, so with their own second-rounder, the Twins took Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis with the 63rd pick. ESPN actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63 while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88, following a junior season in which he threw 62 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Melotakis made the occasional start in college, but Baseball America calls him “a true power relief arm” with “short arm action” who works in the mid-90s and has an inconsistent but potentially solid slider. ESPN calls him “one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft” and offers more praise for “a hammer curveball” while suggesting that he might have a future as a starter. So, like with Bard, the Twins may let him try it in the low minors.

With their second compensatory pick for losing Cuddyer, the Twins selected yet another college reliever in Rice right-hander J.T. Chargois, whom Baseball America rated 77th and ESPN rated 64th. As a junior, Chargois threw 38 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and according to ESPN, he has the mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider, and high-effort delivery “that virtually demands he get to the majors as quickly as possible.”

Chargois also played first base for Rice and hit .323 with a .411 on-base percentage, but he failed to homer in 51 games, and his future is on the mound. Unlike with Bard and Melotakis, there’s no chance of Chargois starting, and concerns about his mechanics appear in every scouting report, but ESPN says he’s “someone to sign and send right out to Double-A” and praises his slider for being “almost comical in how quickly it appears to dive down out of sight.”

After selecting three consecutive college pitchers, the Twins used their third-round pick on a college hitter, taking Jacksonville first baseman Adam Walker with the 97th pick. Rarely have the Twins used high picks on college sluggers, but the Wisconsin native whose father was a replacement player for the Vikings in 1987 apparently caught their eye by hitting .343 with 12 homers, 14 doubles, and a .581 slugging percentage in 56 games as a junior.

And he was even better as a sophomore in 2011, hitting .409 with a .682 slugging percentage in 61 games. Unfortunately all that power came with 110 strikeouts in 117 games, which along with far fewer walks than strikeouts is often a red flag for a college bat. Sure enough, Baseball America notes that Walker “struggles to lay off breaking pitches or fastballs up and out of the zone.” Despite that they rated him as the 58th-best player in the class.

After snagging a potential power bat in Walker, the Twins went back to the well for more college relievers, using their fourth-rounder on San Jose State right-hander Zack Jones and their fifth-rounder on Rice right-hander Tyler Duffey. Jones started occasionally, but Baseball America says “scouts view him as a reliever” because he lacks a quality third pitch to go with a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. As a junior, he threw 54 innings with a 60/17 K/BB ratio.

Twins scouts apparently saw a lot of Rice games, because Chargois and Duffey were the Owls’ co-closers and now they have both of them. Duffey can’t match Chargois’ dominant raw stuff, but Baseball America says he throws in the low-90s with a good slider and his numbers were even better with a 1.93 ERA and 68/21 K/BB ratio in 51 innings. And unlike Chargois, there’s apparently some hope that Duffey’s changeup is good enough to make it as a starter.

Stepping away from the college ranks, the Twins took Florida high-school left-hander Andre Martinez and Puerto Rico high-school catcher Jorge Fernandez in the sixth and seventh rounds but then went to college with their next eight picks.

That included big, hard-throwing College of Charleston right-hander Christian Powell and good-hitting, iffy-fielding Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, whose father, Lee Mazzilli, played 14 seasons in the majors. They went high school heavy at the top, putting their faith in Buxton over Appel and using the No. 32 pick on Berrios, but the Twins took college players with 14 of their next 16 picks.

And within all those college players, the theme is clear: After years of hoarding low-velocity strike-throwers, the Twins have finally focused on adding more big-time velocity and bat-missing ability. Powers arms is what the fan base has wanted, and powers arms is what they got.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a deep draft for high-end college starters, and by the time the Twins were ready to start picking again after Buxton, the cupboard was pretty bare, so they went heavy on college relievers.

Normally that’s not a great investment in the top 100, but the lack of highly touted college starters available beyond the first round forced their hand, and they seem confident that at least some of those college relievers can develop into starters as pros.

This group isn’t the amazing collection of high-upside talent you’d like to see come from such a stockpile of early picks, but that has more to do with the weak draft class than any decisions the Twins made. They deserve credit for addressing the organization-wide pitching issues, albeit several years later than they should have and with relievers instead of starters.

It’ll be years before we can properly pass judgment on this draft, but the approach was a good one.

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