Thursday, January 30, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Kohl Stewart

The 2014 season could be a lot better than the three previous seasons.  The Twins could threaten a .500 record.  They could have a decent offense.  They could have a competent rotation.  Sadly, using the word "could" that frequently means the season could also fall apart badly.  The present is uncertain, but the future looks bright.  The Twins just added a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in June, but he's just 19 and he won't throw an inning as a Twins pitcher in 2014.  That said...

The 11th most important Twins player in 2014 is Kohl Stewart.

Who is he? 

Stewart was the Twins' first-round selection this past June.  He's a teenager and he's miles from Minnesota, but he's a potential top-of-the-rotation starter and he could move quickly due to his repertoire and advanced approach.  While the Twins have shored up their rotation during the off-season, they still do not have a number 1 or even a number 2 starter on staff.  Stewart gives the Twins a chance to develop the front-end starter that is the stuff of dreams for any team.

Stewart was outstanding in his short-season debut last season.  He struck out 24 and walked just 4 in 20 innings.  While the average 19-year-old starter with just 20 pro innings under his belt would spend another season in Rookie ball, Stewart is no average anything.  He needs refinement, but his stuff is good enough to make him ready for Low-A in 2014.  Perhaps he won't start with Cedar Rapids in April, but he might get there sooner than other pitchers at a similar age/stage of development. 

Why is he important?

One word:  development.  Stewart's development is imperative in continuing the progress toward the Twins' long-term future.  He's a four-pitch pitcher at age 19 and as he develops into his "man body" he could really take a step forward with that advanced stuff.  Stewart has a big frame, a fastball that can hit mid-90s and a nasty slider that some prospect experts think is his best pitch.  He also has a curve and a change that are developing. 

In addition to his development, the Twins will hope that Stewart can stay healthy.  Stewart has Type 1 diabetes and he is a pitcher, so his arm will always be a concern.  That said, Stewart played baseball and football in high school and would have taken the reigns from Johnny Football at Texas A&M had he wanted to go that route.  He's clearly an athletic kid and he should be just as likely to make it through a full season as any other pitcher, if not more likely.     

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

I remember hearing Stewart compared to Justin Verlander as a teenager.  I'll take that.  One of the things I like most about prospects is that they have promise until they don't have promise any longer.  That's a dual-edged sword, but it means that you can dream on a player for a very long time.  Prospects also have legend.  Stewart may be years from playing for my favorite team, but his legend will grow over the course of his Minor League career.  I'll enjoy the reports of his good starts and blow off the reports of his bad starts.  I'm a fan; I get to do that. 

The Twins have done a nice job building a competent rotation in the present, so not seeing Stewart in 2014 or 2015 or 2016 doesn't really bother me.  I can catch a couple Minor League games here and there, and hopefully, I'll get to see Stewart pitch in one of those.  I know for certain that I'll watch some of his highlights and I'll definitely read scouting reports and check his stats online.  By the time Stewart is ready, the Twins will have added even more assets and built an even stronger team.  Stewart's legend will be impressive at that point too.  It adds up to an exciting future. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

This is just typical Twins.  The fans have been so conditioned to wait for the future that one of the "most important" Twins in 2014 is a guy who won't see the Majors for half a decade.  Awesome.  How does Stewart help right now?  I want him to develop as badly as anyone, but the fact that the Twins need him so desperately really speaks to how poorly the Twins have addressed one of the most important parts of a successful team:  the "Ace" starter.  The Twins haven't had one since Johan Santana and they gave him away for spare parts. 

Even if Stewart does become the next Johan, many of the current Twins will be gone, if not all of them.  Stewart may reach the Majors quickly, but he won't be an "Ace" right away.  He'll have a couple of growth seasons just like every other young pitcher.  We're talking years and years now.  Who knows what will be different by then?  I really look forward to the Twins' 2021 American League North Title/first-round sweep at the hands of the Las Vegas Rays.

What to look for in '14:

Try your hardest to take his stats with a grain of salt.  Pay closer attention to any reports of his development and how he actually throws his pitches.  Minor League stats matter, but performance in the Minors is more than just numbers.  Often pitchers are working on specific things.  Maybe they aren't using their best offering to try to improve their lesser pitches.  Sometimes they just pump fastballs to keep their arm fresh. 

There are specific elements of his performance that really matter at this stage in his development.  If Stewart improves his velocity, command and ability to repeat his delivery, but does so with a 5.00 ERA, his season is a resounding success.  If Stewart dominates the lower Minors but does so while failing to develop his secondary pitches or losing his command, then the season just looks nice but doesn't mean as much.  If he simply overpowers weak hitters, the Twins will have learned little about Stewart's MLB future.  His development will take time, no matter what he does in 2014.  All that said, Stewart is advanced for his age and should dominate in 2014. 

I'll be back next week with the 10th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

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