2017 Twins Off-Season top 60 Prospect List: 31-35

You can find the introductory segment in this series, including my criteria for eligibility to be a prospect and the list of the 2016 top 40 players who graduated as prospects or are not in the system, here.    Here is my 2016 Twins off-season top 40 prospects list (summary of 1-40) for reference.

This is the countdown for players ranked 51-55th in the system. You can find players 56-60 here, players 51-55 here, 46-50 here, 41-45 here, 36-40 here, and all segments in the series here.

35. John Curtiss (--)
DOB: 4/5/1993; Age: 23
Positions: RHP
Bats: R, Throws: R
Height: 6'4", Weight: 200 lbs
Acquired:  Drafted in the 6th round in 2014
Professional Experience: 4; Highest level: A+ (2016)
ETA: 2018

John Curtiss was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft out of the University of Texas.  The Southlake,TX native graduated in 3 years with a double major in History and English. He was a reliever in Texas and missed all of 2013 with a Tommy John and thoracic outlet syndrome surgeries in the summer of 2012.  He returned in 2014 as the Texas closer, pitching in 28 games (made one start) for 43-1/3 innings allowing 15 walks (3.1 BB/9) and striking out 33 (6.9 K/9) finishing the season with a 2.28 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He was one of the relievers the Twins tried to convert as a starter and he continued 2014 in Elizabethton where he pitched 9 games (6 starts) for 31.1 innings, striking out 41 (11.8 K, 31.8 K%) and walking 7 (2.0 BB/9, 26.3 K-BB%) for a 2.30 ERA, 2.03 FIP and 1.28 WHIP (.400 BABIP).  Curtiss, who is also a budding Country music singer songwriter, started the 2015 season in the Cedar Rapids rotation; however he suffered a concussion on early April that bothered him most of the season and he lost 2 months.  He went to the GCL Twins' bullpen for a 5 game rehab assignment where he effective but wild under much younger competition (5 G, 8 IP, 7.9 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 1.13 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, .304 BABIP). His numbers at Cedar Rapids were a total loss  (16 G, 7 GS, 46 IP, 8.6 K/9, 2 BB/9, 6.07 ERA, 5.16 FIP, 1.57 WHIP, .371 BABIP).  He repeated Cedar Rapids, as a reliever this time in 2016 with much better results and concussion-free. He pitched only in 6 games for 8 innings, striking out 17 (19.1 K/9, 58.6 K%) and walking 2 (2.3 BB/9, 51.7 K-BB%), with a 0.00 ERA, 0.35 FIP and 0.50 WHIP (.222 BABIP).  This was good enough to move to A+ Fort Myers where he pitched in 38 more games (53 IP), striking out 68 (11.6 K/9, 30.6 K%) and walking 23 (3.9 BB/9, 20.3%) He finished with a 3.06 ERA, 2.10 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP (.326 BABIP).  The Twins still see him as a potential starter so he was sent to the Arizona Fall League to get additional innings.  He participated in 11 games and pitched 12-2/3 innings in relied with solid results (2.84 ERA, 3.14 FIP, 12.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 33.3 K%, 25.9 K-BB%, 1.34 WHIP and .400 BABIP)

He throws a plus to plus plus fastball with terrific movement that sits at 94-96 and flashes 97-98 and an average 84-86 mph slider, along with an average change up.  Because of the three picture mix the Twins were thinking that he still has starter potential; not sure what the new heads of the Twins' baseball would think about Curtiss who is a close to MLB-ready reliever at this point.

Likely 2017 path: In the Chattanooga rotation or bullpen

34. Dereck Rodriguez (--)
DOB: 6/5/1992; Age: 24
Positions: RHP
Bats: R, Throws: R
Height: 6'1", Weight: 180 lbs
Acquired:  Drafted in the 6th round in 2011
Professional Experience: 6; Highest level: A+ (2015, 2016)
ETA: 2019

Dereck Rodriguez was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School, Miami Gardens, FL.  Rodriguez, the son (and namesake, Dereck is his middle name) of Ivan Rodriguez was drafted as an outfielder by the Twins and converted to pitcher in 2014.  As a hitter he competed his 3-season professional career hitting .216/.279/.336 with 6 HRs, in 132 games (375 PA).  His first season as a pitcher, 2014, he started in extended spring training and moved to Elizabethton pitching as a reliever in 17 games (25-2/3 IP), striking out 19 (6.7 K/9, 18.5 K%) and walking 8 (2.8 BB/9, 10.7 K-BB%) finishing with 1.05 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 1.05 WHIP (.260 BABIP).  He also started 2015 in Extended Spring Training, with a single game break to pitch 2 innings in relief for the Miracle.  He moved to Cedar Rapids on June 2nd where he started 2 games with disaterous results (9 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 3 WP) and was demoted to Elizabethton where he salvaged his season.  He started 12 games (66-1/3 IP), striking out 61 (8.3 K/9, 22.4%) and walking 11 (1.5 BB/9, 18.4 K-BB%), ending up with a 2.85 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 1.13 WHIP (.307 BABIP). That season he won the Appalachian League pitcher of the year award.  He started last season in Cedar Rapids starting 18 games, 101 IP, and had 93 strikeouts (8.29 K/9, 21.2 K%) and 11 walks (3.39 BB/9, 12.6 K-BB%) with 5.08 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 1.35  WHIP (.308 BABIP).  He was promoted to the Miracle rotation in August where he started 5 games (31-2/3 IP), striking out 18 (5.1 K/9, 14.4 K%) and walking 2 (0.6 BB/9, 12.8 K-BB%) with a 2.56 ERA, 4.04 FIP and 0.98 WHIP (.250 BABIP).  He continued onto the Puerto Rican Winter League where he pitched out of the bullpen in 13 games and 16-2/3 innings, walking 5 and striking out 13, holding opponents to a .206 opponent average and finishing with a 1.02 ERA.

Pitching was not exactly new to Rodriguez who was also his High School's closer.  He has 3 pitches:  An above average fastball that sits at 91-93 and touches 95, and changeup and a slider/cutter that is average but improving. His command and control, feel for the game, durability and mount presence are also above average.  He plays younger than his age, so there is room for improvement.  The Twins like him as a starter, but the bullpen could potentially be his vehicle to the majors, because his staff would play much better there

Likely 2017 path: starting the season in the Fort Myers rotation

33. Michael Theofanopoulos (--)
DOB: 8/5/1992; Age: 24
Positions: LHP
Bats: L, Throws: L
Height: 6'1", Weight: 185 lbs
Acquired:  Drafted in the 30th round in 2014
Professional Experience: 3; Highest level: A+ (2016)
ETA: 2018

Michael Theofanopoulos was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of the 2014 from the University of California, Berkeley after his Senior season.  The California native was a starter and sporadically played the outfield.  As a hitter he finished with a .283/.361/.453 slash line but he only appeared in 27 games (53 AB).  As a pitcher he appeared in 27 games, 23 of them starts, pitched 104 innings, struck out 77 (6.7 K/9) and walked 58 (5.0 BB/9) ending up with a 1.63 WHIP and 5.02 ERA, results that do not exactly cry "Draft me".  Why did the Twins take a chance on Theofanopoulos, who was the roommate of their 24th round draft pick Golden Bears closer Trevor Hildenberger? Because he had an elite curveball that ranked among the top ones at the collegiate level, but his fastball was average and with lack of control.  Theofanopoulos continued as a spot started in the GCL were he pitched in 11 games (5 starts) for 27-2/3 innings, striking out 30 (9.8 K/9, 22.4 K%), and walking 10 (3.3 BB/9, 14.9 K-BB%), with 4.23 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 1.63 WHIP (.363 BABIP), numbers much better than his collegiate.  The next season he bypassed Elizabethton and moved to Cedar Rapids and after a single start in which he gave up 3 runs in 3 innings, to the bullpen.  The 2015 season he pitched in 37 games (68-1/3 IP) struck out 74 (9.8 K/9, 25.2 K%) and walked 29 (3.8 BB/9, 15.3 K-BB%), finishing with a 3.82 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 1.42 WHIP (.350 BABIP) another step in the right direction for the still very raw lefty.  Last season he started again in the Cedar Rapids pen pitching in 21 games (32-1/3 IP) with 45 K (12.5 K/9, 33.6 K%) and 16 BB (4.5 BB/9, 21.6 K-BB%) for and 1.67 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 1.05 WHIP (.236 BABIP). He was promoted to Fort Myers where he pitched in 23 games (33 IP) with 39 K (10.6 K/9, 27.7 K%), 18 BB (4.9 BB/9, 14.9 K-BB%), 2.73 ERA, 3.68 FIP, and 1.27 WHIP (.282 BABIP.)

Theofanopoulos was drafted as a project and has been proven a worthwhile one, improving every season.  His fastball plays better in the pen and is up to 92 mph.  His command and control have improved to average and continue to improve.  In addition to his slow curve that is now a plus plus pitch, he added a faster slurve that flashes plus.  Has also been getting a better feeling to pitching, trying to use his fastball to set up his out pitches (a tactic that will bear even more fruits as the fastball command improves) that was translated into a nice increase in strikeout.  As his fastball command goes so will Theofanopoulos and there is a lot of hope here.

Likely 2017 path: starting the season in the Fort Myers pen with a mid-season promotion to Chattanooga.  Potential to start the season in Chattanooga depending on how many LHPs will be in the Twins' pen after Spring Training.

32. Rainis Silva (21)
DOB: 3/20/1996; Age: 20
Positions: C
Bats: R, Throws: R
Height: 6'1", Weight: 185 lbs
Acquired:   International Free Agent signing 2012
Professional Experience: 4; Highest level: A (2016)
ETA: 2019

Rainis Silva was signed by the Twins as an international free agent from Venezuela on July 9, 2012.  The Barquisimeto, Venezuela native received an $175,000 bonus.  He has been in my top prospect lists for the third time in a row and this is his worst ranking.  Silva is an exceptional catcher with the skills to catch in the majors right now, with a great game calling capacity, excellent defense and strong arm, averaging 35-40% CS.  His problem has been his bat, which in 4 seasons now has been consistently bad.  His career slash line is .238/.295/.293 and his OPS variation (.539 in DSL in 2013, .636 in the GCL in 2014, .635 in Elizabethton and .572 in Cedar Rapids in 2015, and .551 in Cedar Rapids in 2016) were driven by his isoP that has varied from .024 to .097.

Why is Rainis Silva even in the list, no matter how good his fielding is, since he has no power and he is hitting so lightly?  First of all he is still 20 years old.  Secondly, he actually hits LHP very well now and he improved.  Here are his OPS against LHP by year and league: .539 in DSL in 2013, .521 in the GCL in 2014, .940 in Elizabethton and .889 in Cedar Rapids in 2015, and .754 in Cedar Rapids in 2016.  So something clicked for him in 2015 and continued to work in 2016.  Those OPS numbers are more than acceptable for a catcher, albeit in a platoon if necessary.  The hope is that something will click for the 20 year old when facing RHPs as well and reach his potential as solid every day bat with elite defense in the C position, otherwise his ceiling would be that of a platoon player.

Likely 2017 path:  In the Catching rotation at Fort Myers.

31.Jermaine Palacios (8)
DOB: 7/19/1996; Age: 19
Positions: SS/3B
Bats: R, Throws: R
Height: 6'0", Weight: 145 lbs
Acquired:   International Free Agent signing 2013
Professional Experience: 3; Highest level: A (2016)
ETA: 2019

Jermaine Palacios was signed by the Twins as an international free agent from Venezuela on July 7, 2013.  In 2014, as a 17 year old he hit .270/.404/.399    in 225 PAs in the DSL (league average OPS: .671), as an 18 year old the first half of 2015 he hit .421/.472/.589 in 106 PAs in the GCL (league average OPS: .649) and .336/.345/.507 in 149 PAs as 2.5 year younger than the average Appalachian League Player (league average OPS: .731).  In 2015 Palacios did not walk much (BB% 8.5 in GCL and 2.1 in Appy) and did not strike out much (10.4% & 13.8%.)  He did make meaningful contact (.421 and .336 batting average.).  Last season he was promoted to Cedar Rapids, started very cold (.471 OPS in April and .514 OPS in May) and started warming up (.613 OPS in June and .714 OPS in July) as the weather did, before his season ended on July 17 with a fractured left (glove) hand.  His overall slash line was .222/.276/.287 and .306/.346/.367 for July.  As discussed, he does not walk much or strikeout much, but for some reason in addition not to making much contact early in the season, his isoP dropped from .171 and .168 in his two 2015 stops to 0.065, and his BABIP took an about 200 point tumble to .253 from the .375 and .464 in his 2015 stops (it was .333 in 2014.)

Palacios dropped a lot from his top-10 ranking a season ago and the reason is that I now believe that he can go either way and not only because of the fractured wrist.  His BABIP needs to be in the .330-.350 area or better for him to be successful and will likely rebound, the jury is out to how much.  It could potentially be weather related, since Cedar Rapids was likely the coldest place the Venezuelan has played in last Spring and that his bat bettered with the temperature.  On the other hand, the isoP drop even in June and July is concerning, as is the wrist, question marks that Palacios can put to rest with a good season in 2017.   One of the positive things that happened to Palacios last season is that his defense improved so much that it looks like he will stick at shortstop, instead of being a man without a position.

Likely 2017 path:  Starting Fort Myers shortstop, depending on the health of his wrist.

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