Next week the Twins will add the No. 4 pick to their stacked farm system, making a top-10 pick in back-to-back drafts for the first time since taking Adam Johnson second in 2000 and Joe Mauer first in 2001.
Johnson was a bust, and Mauer is on a Hall of Fame path, which is the draft in a nutshell even when picking so high. Their other top-10 picks since 1990 are B.J. Garbe, Ryan Mills, Michael Cuddyer, Travis Lee, Todd Walker and David McCarty. You get the idea.
Last year, having the No. 2 pick worked out perfectly for the Twins when the Astros passed on the consensus top high school player and the consensus top college player with the No. 1 pick, leading to the Twins choosing Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton over various high-end college arms. They could use a similar break this year because most draft analysts agree on three players standing out above the class, possibly leaving the Twins to choose among the best of the rest.
Let’s get to know the players who could potentially be the Twins’ choice with the fourth pick:
Mark Appel, Stanford University right-hander
Last year at this time, Mark Appel was widely projected as the No. 1 pick, but when his hometown Astros passed on him in favor of high school shortstop Carlos Correa, the Stanford right-hander fell all the way to the Pirates at No. 8. Appel and agent Scott Boras then played hardball with the Pirates, ultimately turning down a $3.8 million offer.
He returned to Stanford for his senior season and was fantastic with a 2.12 ERA and 130-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106 innings. Appel is once again projected as the potential No. 1 pick, although if Houston passed on him there once, it seems likely to happen this year, too.
That probably won’t be enough for Appel to fall to the Twins at No. 4, although with Boras in the mix anything is possible. It’s also unclear if the Twins would actually take Appel at No. 4 even if he’s there, because just like the Astros they’ve already passed on him once in favor of Buxton. Keith Law of ESPN writes that Appel has improved his off-speed pitches, which were often cited as a relative weakness last year, and calls him “clearly the draft’s top talent,” thanks to “top-of-the-rotation stuff and great command.”
Baseball America rates him as the draft’s No. 2 prospect and calls Appel “everything scouts look for in a frontline pitcher” with a 6-foot-5 frame, mid-90s fastball and plus slider “that generates swings and misses.”
Jonathan Gray, University of Oklahoma right-hander
At the beginning of the season, Jonathan Gray wasn’t even rated among Baseball America’s top 50 draft prospects, but the University of Oklahoma right-hander has vaulted all the way to their top spot by throwing 110 innings with a 1.55 ERA and 127-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. According to BA, he was “a live-armed but chubby high schooler” whose raw stuff now compares to Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA in 2011.
Law rates Gray second behind Appel, but says he “might have better pure stuff … touching 100 miles per hour regularly, with a plus slider.” Last year, Gray was good but not great for Oklahoma and he came into this year as his own team’s No. 2 starter, which is why he’s generally viewed as less of a sure thing than Appel. However, his odds of actually falling to the Twins at No. 4 seem even lower than Appel’s, and right now Gray looks like the favorite to go No. 1.
Kris Bryant, University of San Diego third baseman/outfielder
Considered the best college bat in the draft, Kris Bryant is a 6-foot-5 right-handed slugger with huge power and an excellent eye at the plate. He’s hit .340/.500/.860 with an NCAA-leading 31 homers and more walks (62) than strikeouts (40) in 58 games for the University of San Diego as a junior.
As a sophomore last year, Bryant hit .366/.483/.671 with 14 homers and more walks (39) than strikeouts (38) in 57 games. In addition to topping a 1.000 OPS in each of his three college seasons Bryant was also projected as a potential first-round pick out of high school, so there are no holes to poke in his track record offensively. Defensively is another issue. His arm strength draws positive reviews, and it’s possible he could stick at third base, but both BA and Law expect him to wind up as a right fielder or first baseman. If he falls, would the Twins pass on pitching help for another high-upside bat?
Kohl Stewart, Texas high school right-hander
Considered the top high school pitcher in the draft, Houston right-hander Kohl Stewart is also a star football player signed to play quarterback at Texas A&M. Like most high school aces Stewart throws in the mid-90s, but he’s unique in that Law says he “has four legitimate pitches,” including a hard slider that’s considered his best offering.
Even in citing his inconsistent control, Law calls Stewart “by far the best prep arm in the class.” Baseball America quotes one MLB scouting director who says Stewart has better raw stuff than Appel or Gray but also notes that “some clubs could shy away from Stewart because he’s a Type 1 diabetic.” BA has published two mock drafts, and both have the Twins taking Stewart, but it’s worth noting that J.O. Berrios last year is the only high school pitcher they’ve selected in the top 50 picks since 2005. Even more so than the draft in general, high school pitching is boom or bust.
Colin Moran, University of North Carolina third baseman
Colin Moran can’t compete with Bryant’s raw power, but the University of North Carolina junior is a helluva college hitter and may have better odds of remaining at third base long term. Moran has hit .352 in three college seasons, including .357/.485/.579 with 55 walks versus just 20 strikeouts in 60 games this year. And the left-handed hitter is certainly not without power, smacking 13 homers this season and 25 total homers in 650 college at-bats.
In ranking Moran seventh in the class, BA says “he covers the plate, lays off pitcher’s pitches, has excellent hand-eye coordination, and drives the ball to all parts of the ballpark.” That’s evident in his great production and strikeout-to-walk ratios, but Law raises questions about an “unorthodox” and “not pretty” swing, which includes “a long stride forward in the box.” And if Moran is forced to move down the defensive spectrum, any lack of power development would hurt a lot.
Braden Shipley, University of Nevada right-hander
Assuming that Appel and Gray are both off the board, Braden Shipley would be the best available college pitcher and the Twins have targeted a ton of college right-handers in recent years. They’ve chosen the following college righties within the first 50 picks since 2000: Adam Johnson, Aaron Heilman, Matt Fox, Matt Garza, Shooter Hunt, Carlos Gutierrez, Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, Luke Bard.
However, choosing Shipley this year might be a stretch. He ranks among the top 10 according to BA, ESPN and MLB.com, but none have Shipley in the top five, and everyone seems to agree he’s a clear step below Appel and Gray. Shipley starred for a bad Nevada team as a junior, posting a 2.77 ERA and 102/34 K/BB ratio in 107 innings, which is impressive for a guy who moved from shortstop to the mound as a sophomore. Shipley reaches the mid-90s with his fastball and BA praises his changeup as “one of the draft’s best.”
Austin Meadows, Georgia high school center fielder
Last year, the Twins selected Buxton out of a rural Georgia high school, and the consensus two best high-school position players in this year’s class are also Georgia outfielders. Austin Meadows was considered the best of the bunch coming into the season, although his stock has seemingly dipped a bit since then.
Meadows is 6-foot-3 and already pretty big at 210 pounds, so sticking in center field long term may be an issue despite good speed and athleticism. Baseball America praises Meadows’ “mature” approach at the plate and calls his left-handed swing “smooth and easy” while questioning how much power he’ll develop. Law reports that some scouts are put off by Meadows’ lack of energy and notes that his “fringy” arm would likely limit him to left field if he outgrows center field. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com cites Meadows’ “five-tool potential,” which is the most common trait attached to high-school center fielders.
Clint Frazier, Georgia high school center fielder
Clint Frazier is the other stud high-schooler from Georgia and rates slightly higher than Meadows, according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. He’s much smaller than Meadows, and Mayo cites Frazier’s “lack of physicality” in wondering how much room he has to develop.
He does have plenty of power potential as a right-handed hitter, and Law says Frazier “has the best bat speed in this draft … maybe the best I’ve seen on an amateur prospect.” He’s a center fielder now, but Law is convinced he’ll wind up in right field, and that puts Frazier’s long-term upside in some question.
No team drafts more toolsy high school outfielders than the Twins, and they’ve stressed a “best player available” approach, of which I’m definitely in favor. But given their outfield-heavy prospect crop, it’s hard to see Meadows or Frazier being a top target. According to BA scouts don’t consider Meadows or Frazier to be on the same level as Buxton.
Reese McGuire, Washington high school catcher
It never would’ve occurred to me to have a high school catcher in the mix, but Jim Callis reported in the aforementioned mock draft that “rumors persist that Minnesota could cut a deal with Reese McGuire and spend heavily further down in the draft.” He’d be an overdraft at No. 4, but perhaps not by a ton. BA, ESPN.com, and MLB.com all have McGuire in their top 20 and all rave about his defense behind the plate. And all question his offensive potential.
The track record of high school catchers drafted in the top 10 isn’t encouraging to say the least, although Mauer being one of the biggest success stories probably makes the Twins less wary of that than most teams. McGuire, like Mauer, is a left-handed hitter with a good glove, but unless the Twins have something big up their sleeve with the money they’d save, it would seem awfully risky to use a top-five pick on a catcher who may not hit a ton.