October 5, 2022

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Royce gets rolling with 3 extra-base knocks

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Welcome to the Twins prospect update, where you’ll find news, promotions and standout performances, all year long.

Royce gets rolling (April 16)
It was just a matter of time until Royce Lewis broke out in a big way at the plate, and the top Twins prospect did just that on Saturday with his first three-hit game of the season — each going for extra bases. The 22-year-old tallied seven total bases as he doubled to right in the opening inning, motored around the bases for his first triple of the year in the sixth and scored, and drove in the go-ahead run with another two-bagger in the seventh.

After going hitless on Tuesday and Wednesday, MLB Pipeline’s No. 45 overall prospect now has multiple hits in back-to-back games. Lewis is sporting a .324/.415/.647 slash line with eight extra-base hits, 11 runs scored and four RBIs this season. — Rob Terranova

Encarnacion-Strand, Rodriguez double down on power stroke (April 15)
A pair of top Twins prospects turned their power dials to the max on Friday with two-homer efforts. Twins’ No. 29 prospect Christian Encarnacion-Strand continued his scorching start with his fourth and fifth dingers of the season in seven games with High-A Cedar Rapids. The 22-year-old got the Kernels on the board with a two-run blast to left in the first inning against Quad Cities, and then drove in his 20th run of the season with a solo blast the other way to right in the seventh. The 2021 fourth-round Draft pick is sporting a .467/.500/1.033 slash line.

Minnesota’s 18th-ranked prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez clubbed a pair of solo homers for Single-A Fort Myers. The 19-year-old mashed the first to straightaway center in the seventh and then cleared the fence in left in the eighth. Rodriguez has collected seven knocks over his past four games with three of those finding the seats. — Rob Terranova

Varland fans 10 in stellar start (April 14)
Louie Varland rebounded from allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings in his season debut with a stellar performance in Wichita’s 7-1 win over Northwest Arkansas.

The 24-year-old fanned 10 batters in 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch in his first victory of the year. It was Varland’s fifth career game with 10 or more strikeouts.

Varland, a 15th-round selection in the 2019 Draft, has been impressive on the mound in his four-year career. He has a 2.21 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 122 career innings and sports a 3.48 ERA this season. If he continues his Minor League success in 2022, the right-hander could rise up the Twins’ top 30 prospects list. — Nick Trujillo

Povich is feeling 22 (April 12)
Left-handed pitching prospect Cade Povich turned 22 years old Tuesday and celebrated by spinning five runs of scoreless ball in his first start of the 2022 campaign, complete with eight strikeouts. 

The Twins’ No. 27 prospect settled in after early activity on the basepaths, retiring the final 14 batters that he faced, including the last six by strikeout. 

Selected by Minnesota in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft out of the University of Nebraska, Povich tossed 10 innings in his professional debut last year and compiled 19 strikeouts across stints in the Florida Complex League and Single-A. — Jesse Borek

Duran reaches 102 mph on the radar gun (April 11)
MINNEAPOLIS — Following Taylor Rogers’ departure to San Diego, it’s unclear what the Twins’ ninth-inning situation will look like for now.

Jhoan Duran got his first chance to make his case for the job in the 4-0 victory over the Mariners — and he made it in historic fashion by throwing the hardest tracked pitch in Twins history, a 102 mph fastball to J.P. Crawford, the final hitter of the game.

“I’m glad I’m not hitting it, I’ll tell you that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And I know every coach in the dugout is sitting there thinking the same thing, and maybe a few players, too, all over the field. But I haven’t seen 102 too many times. I know guys throw hard these days, but that’s some next-level stuff.” Full story »

Encarnacion-Strand has five hits, on fire to start 2022 (April 9)
Christian Encarnacion-Strand is raking to start the season and that may be an understatement. After a four-hit game with two homers and nine RBIs on April 8, the Twins’ No. 29 prospect went 5-for-5 with a homer, a double and five RBIs in High-A Cedar Rapids’ 9-3 win over Beloit on Saturday. In his first two games of the season, the 22-year-old is 9-for-10 with three homers and 14 RBIs. Encarnacion-Strand flashed his offensive skills for Single-A Fort Myers last season, batting .391 with four homers, eight extra-base hits and 18 RBIs in 22 games. — Nick Trujillo

Lewis hits first Triple-A homer (April 9)
Royce Lewis, the Twins’ No. 1 prospect, hit his first homer of the year as part of a multihit effort in Triple-A St. Paul’s 11-1 win over Louisville. Lewis, who finished 2-for-3 with a trio of walks, went deep to right in the third inning, marking his first homer since 2019.

The first overall pick from the 2017 Draft, was named the Arizona Fall League’s MVP in 2019 and seemed ready for a breakout season, but the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season and then Lewis tore his ACL in Spring Training of 2021. After all that time away from the game, some initial struggles would be understood, however Lewis is off to a strong start and is 6-for-17 (.353) through four games. — William Boor

Encarnacion-Strand homers twice, drives in 9 (April 8)
There are many, many prospects who are making debuts at new levels in 2022. Very few had a performance like Christian Encarnacion-Strand’s 4-for-5, two-homer, nine-RBI day in High-A Cedar Rapids’ 12-5 win.

The No. 29 prospect wasted no time in his first at-bat of the season, lacing a game-tying single to center in the bottom of the first. After the Kernels re-took the lead in the fourth inning, the 22-year-old came up with the bases loaded and unloaded on the first pitch he saw for his first career grand slam. At this point, Encarnacion-Strand had already set a career high in RBIs with five (his previous high was three), but he wasn’t nearly done yet. The infielder once again swung on the very first pitch of the at-bat, this time crushing a three-run homer to center to earn his first career two-homer game (he only hit four in 22 games last season). To cap off his amazing day, Encarnacion-Strand added an RBI single in the eighth to plate the Kernels’ 12th run of the game. The four-hit game was, unsurprisingly, another career high mark for Encarnacion-Strand.
— Stephanie Sheehan

Sands nearly unhittable in Triple-A debut (April 7)
In his first start of the season and first time pitching at the Minors’ highest level, No. 17 prospect Cole Sands was just about perfect, with seven strikeouts over five one-hit innings with no walks. Fanning the first batter of the game on four pitches was already a good start for Sands, but the 24-year-old only got better. After allowing a one-out single in the second, he struck out six of the next 11 batters and didn’t surrender another baserunner. Sands fired 45 of his 63 pitches for strikes as he looks to build off a strong performance in Double-A last year, when he posted a 2.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts while holding opposing batters to a .203 average across 80 1/3 innings. –Stephanie Sheehan

Duran makes Opening Day roster (April 4)

Jhoan Duran’s triple-digit heat, big curveball and unique “splinker” pitch have utterly overwhelmed hitters all spring, giving the No. 6 prospect in the organization eight strikeouts, one walk and one hit allowed in six shutout innings.

The 24-year-old right-hander is clearly ready to get big league hitters out — now. He’ll have the chance to do that right away, as he confirmed Monday that he will be on the Twins’ Opening Day roster, looking to make his big league debut as a reliever capable of giving the Twins multiple innings.

“Mentally, I came into camp ready to make the team,” Duran said. “Mentally and physically, that’s what I worked for during the offseason, and so I came in with that mindset of making the team, so I’m glad that I made it.”

Duran has been a starter throughout his career, but after elbow issues held him to 16 innings with Triple-A St. Paul last season, this opportunity in the bullpen will help him ease back into a full-season workload. In the meantime, the Twins will benefit from his firepower as one of precious few pitchers in club history capable of easily rearing back for 100 mph.

“All that stuff, it happens for a reason,” Duran said. “Regardless of if I want to think about it or not, it taught me something and it made me stronger, and like I said before, I’m here today, and that’s what I’m thankful for.”

Miranda, Larnach optioned to Triple-A St. Paul (March 30)
There’s seemingly not much left for defending Twins Minor League Player of the Year Jose Miranda to prove in order to show that he can do damage in the Majors, and former top prospect Trevor Larnach followed up his extended look with the Twins in 2021 by putting on an impressive showing in Grapefruit League play.

That’s what made it all the tougher for the Twins to option both to Triple-A St. Paul on Wednesday in their latest round of cuts. Both Miranda and Larnach will remain with the Twins until the Saints begin their season Tuesday.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli noted that the lack of consistent playing time available for both Miranda and Larnach played a significant role in that decision. Miranda remains blocked by Gio Urshela and Luis Arraez on the big league roster, while Larnach is blocked by Alex Kirilloff and Max Kepler in the corner outfield. Baldelli did note, though, that both were in camp competing for MLB roster spots.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone had a straightforward path to making the club based on who else is already on the club, but they made our lives and our conversations very challenging. Because with the way that they played, they make you want to get them up in the big leagues and let them go,” Baldelli said. “But we also have some very, very good players on this roster that are here and established that we are going to be leaning on.”

Miranda, the No. 3 prospect in the organization, had a massive breakout with 30 homers and a .973 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A last season, while Larnach initially got off to a hot start with the Twins before cooling down and eventually finding himself sidelined with a left hand contusion. They’ll figure to be a prominent part of the Twins’ plans at some point this season.

“As frustrating as it could be for those two guys, I think they’re going to get the most out of playing baseball seven days a week at this point,” Baldelli said. “And then, when the time comes, we’ll know where they’re at and what they’re doing. We’ll be paying very close attention to their seasons.”

Cotton, Cano, Duran contribute to K streak (March 29)
The Twins have never really been associated with overwhelming stuff on their pitching staff. It might be time to turn that narrative on its head.

Jharel Cotton, Yennier Cano and Jhoan Duran finished out Minnesota’s 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay at Charlotte Sports Park on Tuesday by striking out the final nine Rays batters in order — nine up, nine down, nine swinging strikeouts.

“I just saw some guys throwing the ball really, really well and [missing] a bunch of bats and [making] a lot of good pitches, both with their fastballs and offspeed,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Did exactly what you were hoping to see late in the game from the guys that you bring in, and let them work.”

Duran, the No. 6 prospect in the organization, got the final three outs with a combination of fastballs that touched triple digits and near-untouchable “splinkers” that dive towards the dirt in excess of 90 mph, as he’s done all spring.

The effort brings his Grapefruit League stat line to seven strikeouts, one walk and one hit allowed in five scoreless frames, and Baldelli indicated that the 24-year-old could certainly be a candidate for the Opening Day bullpen, where he could fill the need for two-inning or three-inning stints that will be all the more important with the abbreviated ramp-up for starters ahead of the regular season.

“He can easily go multiple innings for us,” Baldelli said. “I think he can fit in a number of roles. It depends on how he goes out there and pitches. I can see different scenarios where he’s with us in the big leagues at the beginning of the year, or near the beginning of the year. But again, we’re not there yet.” — Do-Hyoung Park

Lewis will start season in Triple-A (March 26)
Royce Lewis is coming to the Twin Cities — but as a Triple-A player.

The 22-year-old top prospect’s first Minor League assignment since 2019 will come one step away from the big leagues on the organizational ladder, as the club’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline was optioned to Triple-A St. Paul on Saturday as part of a round of roster cuts that also saw top prospects Austin Martin, Spencer Steer and Aaron Sabato reassigned to Minor League camp.

Lewis’ last competitive action came during the 2019-20 offseason, when he was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League following a difficult season across High-A Fort Myers and Double-A Pensacola to the tune of a .661 OPS in 127 games. He spent the ’20 season at the alternate training site and missed all of ’21 with a torn ACL, meaning it’s difficult for the Twins to have any idea what to expect, results-wise, once the season begins.

With Carlos Correa in the fold to play shortstop at the big league level, there’s no pressure on Lewis to perform right away after two full seasons away from competitive play — and whenever he shows he’s ready, he’ll be one short drive away from Target Field.

“He’s going to get a good amount of time on the field this spring, but nothing is going to be able to replicate the feeling of going out there for a full season against good players at the Triple-A level, and showing that he’s ready,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’ll show us when he’s ready.” — Do-Hyoung Park

Martin hits first big fly of camp (March 21)
The Twins have always known that Austin Martin, their No. 2 prospect, could hit for plenty of average, with excellent bat-to-ball skills. The question, then: Can he develop some more power? The Twins were hoping to tweak his swing to decrease his leaning over the plate and his striding toward it, with the hope that it would help the No. 36 prospect in baseball improve upon his .382 slugging percentage from 2021.

Monday offered a glimpse of what that might look like. After hitting only five homers through 93 games in Double-A last season, Martin got all of a pitch from Orioles right-hander Keegan Akin and deposited a towering blast over the fence in left-center in the fifth inning of Minnesota’s 10-8 loss to Baltimore.

“He’s just trying to learn something every day and work on his skills,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s certainly not satisfied with where he’s at in his career right now and how he is as a player and the things that he can do. He’s a very good player as is, but he knows he still has work to do. He’s handled everything to this point really well, just as we would have hoped.” — Do-Hyoung Park

Duran’s electric stuff could play out of bullpen (March 19)
Jhoan Duran, the Twins’ No. 5 prospect, missed the majority of last season with a right elbow strain, limited to 16 innings across five appearances with Triple-A St. Paul. He returned to the mound with a vengeance on Saturday. The 24-year-old threw a pair of pitches clocked by Statcast in the triple digits at 100.4 and 100.2 mph as he tossed two perfect frames with two strikeouts as the final pitcher on the mound for the Twins’ 1-0 loss to the Red Sox.

Though Duran has started throughout his Minor League career, manager Rocco Baldelli noted that the right-hander would be a candidate for shorter stints out of the bullpen considering the big fastball and the unique hybrid “splinker” that generates huge swings and misses — and that would certainly make sense, too, considering the limitations of Duran’s workload last season. He could certainly make an impact on the Twins’ bullpen sooner rather than later with a solid start to the season.

“Duran has eye-opening stuff,” Baldelli said. “We all know that, but to see him back out there healthy in game action and doing different things with different pitches, he has four pitches and throws 100. He’s throwing 96 mph whatever-you-want-to-call-its. Splits. Pretty impressive.” — Do-Hyoung Park

Royce Lewis rolls into Twins camp eyeing MLB job (March 16)
Royce Lewis the person has not changed much since last you saw him. He’s still enthusiastic. He’s still confident. He’s still got a head full of positive vibes. Royce Lewis the player, however, has brought a little extra to Spring Training. Story >

First-round pick Cavaco carted away after rolling ankle (March 9)
Shortstop Keoni Cavaco, the Twins’ No. 11 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, was carted away from the Twins’ back fields on Tuesday afternoon after rolling his ankle and later walked with the assistance of crutches. He doesn’t have a fracture and is considered day to day, according to a source.

Cavaco was the Twins’ first-round selection at No. 13 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, but has struggled in his two professional seasons, particularly with strikeouts, as he’s racked up 127 whiffs in 332 at-bats across 88 games, including nearly a month missed with a concussion last season while with Low-A Fort Myers.

Woods Richardson, Canterino match up in intrasquad scrimmage (March 8)
The Twins played their first intrasquad scrimmage of Spring Training with a big-name pitching matchup on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium, featuring Top 10 prospects Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 4) and Matt Canterino (No. 10) on the mound for two simulated innings apiece.

Though Twins No. 18 prospect Alerick Soularie got to Woods Richardson for a pair of line-drive singles to left-center field, the young right-handed acquisition from the Blue Jays generated a bevy of ground balls with his mix of plus secondary pitches, complemented by a fastball that sat around 92-93 mph — not substantial velocity, but an encouraging sign after his heater had ticked down last season, when his affiliated play was disrupted by a trip to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics.

Canterino was exceedingly sharp — as he was in his last live appearance — featuring a fastball that sat 95-97 mph and an array of powerful breaking pitches, including his power curveball around 86 mph that generated whiffs to go with the relatively new changeup a tick below that and the slider in the high 80s.

Though early in the spring, the velocity and movement on those pitches continue to indicate an encouraging recovery from the persistent right elbow issues that plagued Canterino throughout the 2021 season and limited him to 23 innings.

Fireballer Cano turning heads early (March 5)
The Twins might not need to look too far to add velocity to their bullpen. Hard-throwing Cuban right-hander Yennier Cano took the stadium mound in Fort Myers, Fla., for a live session on Saturday and topped out at 98 mph with his fastball, sitting around 95, while showcasing a slider in the high 80s and a changeup as part of an arsenal that could bring him to Minneapolis in the near future.

Cano is an older prospect at 27 due to his experience pitching in Cuba before he arrived in the Twins’ organization during the 2019 season. He dominated Double-A with a 1.47 ERA, 28 strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings last season before he was promoted to Triple-A St. Paul, where he dealt with walk issues while his strikeout rate dipped.

Still, the powerful stuff and physicality have been apparent through that time, and his ability to add velocity to a Twins bullpen (and pitching staff) largely devoid of power should earn him his first big league callup at some point this season.

Petty, Raya show pop in fourth live sessions (March 4)
Top prospects and roommates Chase Petty and Marco Raya were back on the mound on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex on Friday, when each threw live for two ups — just over 30 pitches apiece — as part of their fourth live sessions of the spring. Petty and Raya were among early arrivals this spring as they learned alongside fellow youngster Louie Varland in targeted work before the start of full-camp activity.

Petty faced nine hitters and allowed a hit to three as a massive group of Twins player-development personnel looked on. Though velocities weren’t available, the Twins’ No. 7 prospect and 2021 first-round MLB Draft selection struck out a pair as he faced a lineup that mostly featured younger recent draftees.

Raya, the Twins’ fourth-round selection in 2020, got his work done against eight hitters, striking out a trio while also issuing three walks as he looked to locate his offspeed pitches at the bottom of the zone. The club’s No. 27 prospect per MLB Pipeline hasn’t made a live professional appearance yet after he had to build himself back up from an arm issue last season.

Martin and Woods Richardson face off in live BP (March 3)
The first day of organized Minor League camp at the Lee County Sports Complex on Thursday featured a steady stream of live batting practice in the stadium, headlined by a premier showdown between Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, two of the top four prospects in the organization.

The pair of arrivals in the 2021 Trade Deadline deal with the Blue Jays smiled at each other after Woods Richardson unleashed a wicked changeup — regarded as one of the best in the system, per MLB Pipeline — to strike out Martin in the pair’s second matchup. The first faceoff between the teammates ended in a groundout to shortstop.

Woods Richardson, ranked No. 4 in the organization by the final MLB Pipeline rankings of last season, sat 92-94 mph with the fastball and touched 95 mph while focusing on his offspeed pitches for much of his first “inning.” He didn’t see much live action in the second half of 2021 due to his placement on Team USA for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and he will likely see a more gradual buildup to his ’22 season as a result.

The Twins’ No. 2 prospect Martin, who also faced Dereck Rodriguez, Danny Coulombe and Matt Canterino among others in live batting practice, has been working with the Twins to add power to his swing without sacrificing too much of his plus contact ability after he hit .270/.414/.382 in Double-A last season. He’s expected to focus mostly on shortstop and the infield in the early stages of Spring Training.

Canterino throws first live session of spring (Feb. 25)
In the very brief time Matt Canterino saw the mound in 2021, he utterly dominated hitters, coasting to a 0.78 ERA across Class A and High-A with a remarkable 45 strikeouts and four walks in 23 innings. And then came one elbow injury and then another, sidelining the Twins’ No. 10 prospect for the majority of the season.

Fortunately for Canterino and the Twins, MRIs didn’t reveal any structural damage, and once he completed his slow recovery around November, Canterino was able to have a relatively normal offseason. That helped him build back up for Friday, when he threw his first live session of the spring at Minnesota’s facility in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I had butterflies in my stomach, so I guess it’s good that I still care about it, right?” Canterino said. “I definitely had to settle myself down after a little bit and go back. I kind of got outside of my pitching routine a little bit, so I got outside of myself for a second, but once I settled back in, I felt really good and really normal and felt comfortable with that, and that was awesome.”

Even though it was only a 16-pitch session, it marked Canterino’s first live pitches in six months, dating back to the Aug. 15 start that ended his ’21 season. The former second-round Draft pick doesn’t know what kind of workload ’22 has in store, but he’s focused on continuing to wield his new-look changeup as a true weapon and doing what he can to stay on the field.

If his track record is any indication, the results should follow.

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