By Do-Hyoung Park – www.mntwins.com
Following the Twins’ first-round selection of North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato on Wednesday, the club added plenty more pop with Tennessee outfielder Alerick Soularie in the second round and Hawaiian high school outfielder Kala’i Rosario in the fifth round. In between, they nabbed the easy, projectable mechanics and four-pitch mix of high school right-hander Marco Raya in the fourth.
Johnson expects the Twins to have no trouble signing all their selections, and considering that they selected toward the end of every round and only had four picks in the five-round Draft, he felt fortunate that the board played out the way it did, allowing the Twins to snag both Raya and Rosario.
“We talked about all those different scenarios going into today, and we felt like this was one of the very best outcomes that we could have had,” said Johnson. “These are all players that we targeted that were high on our board, and we’re extremely excited about the guys we drafted today.”
Now that the two-day main event is over, the Twins will prepare their pitches for the vast pool of non-drafted free agents and look to fill out as much of an incoming class as they can manage. In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at the three newest members of the organization:
In a fun twist of fate, the journey that brought Soularie to the Minnesota organization actually began in earnest at Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, Fla., home of the Twins’ Double-A affiliate.
When Soularie transferred to Tennessee from San Jacinto Community College before the 2019 season, he was fortunate to join the staff of head coach Tony Vitello, who had known Soularie since seventh grade. But without a track record against the better pitching of the Southeastern Conference, he wasn’t a lock for a starting spot despite his highly regarded bat and superb footwork in the outfield.
And then, “the homer” happened. It was a three-run shot to dead center field against Louisiana-Monroe on March 1 during the Cox Diamond Invitational at Blue Wahoos Stadium. It was so loud that Vitello and his staff still talk about it to this day.
“It was the loudest I’ve heard a bat. Every one of us talked about how it sounded like a buck shot,” Vitello said. “When he first got here, he wasn’t a no-doubt starter for us. And in Pensacola, when he hit that home run, that was the moment. He never left the lineup again. We put him in the middle of the lineup. Really, from that point on, he was arguably our best hitter.”
Much like Sabato, Soularie is known for making hard contact at the plate with strong command of the strike zone. Though Soularie was undrafted out of Atascocita High School in the outskirts of Houston, the 20-year-old outfielder hit .402 as a freshman at San Jacinto and carried those strong numbers into his two-year career at Tennessee against the stronger competition of the Southeastern Conference.
Over the last two years, Soularie hit a combined .336/.448/.586 with 16 homers and, notably, more walks (49) than strikeouts (47), showing off consistent line-drive contact to all fields with some power upside and an advanced eye at the plate, particularly in identifying breaking balls early out of the hand, according to Vitello. Soularie was named to the 2019 All-SEC First Team and was also listed as a third-team All-American by D1Baseball.com.
Soularie was ranked No. 105 on MLB Pipeline’s board and played center field at San Jacinto and left field at Tennessee, but he also has infield versatility at both second base and first base. Vitello acknowledges that Soularie’s raw tools in the outfield aren’t impressive, but he makes up for it with strong footwork, instincts and a fast exchange that helps those skills play up. Johnson said Soularie probably ends up in a corner spot but could eventually play all three outfield positions.
Johnson and assistant scouting director Tim O’Neil joked that this would be their first Draft before which they didn’t visit California — but somehow, they ended up in Laredo, Texas, for a day.
That day, Johnson woke up in Nashville, flew to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, took a connecting flight to San Antonio and made the five-hour round-trip drive to Laredo and back. Area scout Trevor Brown had flagged Raya relatively early in the spring, and Johnson was able to sneak in the trip during the second week of March, just before the Twins pulled their scouts off the road due to the pandemic.
“That trip obviously paid off,” Johnson said. “He’s a tremendous worker, tremendous competitor.”
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis spoke highly of Raya’s “advanced pitchability” on MLB Network following the 17-year-old right-hander’s selection thanks to a fastball that already touches 94 mph, complemented by two distinct breaking balls — a curve and slider — as well as a changeup. He’s got some high spin on his pitches, too, as is well documented in his work with pitch-tracking equipment that he shares on his Twitter profile.
The advanced raw stuff is helped by clean mechanics featuring good lower-half usage and a powerful finish. The Twins have also noted that the 6-foot, 165-pound Raya still has room to grow into his frame and add more strength as he progresses through the Twins’ beefed-up player development machine.
“He’s a great piece of clay for our player development to mold and to build,” Johnson said. “We think he checks a lot of boxes for us. For a high school pitcher, great foundation to evolve into a starter. Tremendous competitor. He’s a solid athlete and again, we’re really excited to get him in the fourth round.”
Here’s part of MLB Pipeline’s scouting report for Blaze Jordan, who was drafted at No. 89 overall by the Red Sox on Thursday:
“Few players in the 2020 Draft can do more damage to a baseball than Jordan, whose legend began to grow when he won his first national home run derby at age 11 and belted a pair of 500-foot homers at another when he was 13.”
But the Twins didn’t draft that hyperbole-laden power from Jordan. Why, then, is this relevant? Because Rosario beat the powerful Jordan in the finals of the home run derby at the 2019 Area Code Games. Despite representing the team nicknamed the “Bomba Squad” and all that, the Twins’ scouting contingent didn’t attend that derby, though they did plenty of scouting on Rosario, MLB Pipeline’s No. 182 prospect, over the course of the event otherwise.
“I think they might use different balls for that, so we don’t go to that,” Johnson said. “We’ve never seen one swing at the home run derby. We’re more into the games and how they’re being played, and I’ve seen some of the stuff on the internet about how far [Rosario has] hit balls. Obviously, we’ve seen that, too, in person, during the games.”
Chalk up the 17-year-old Rosario as another basher that could play a role in a future Bomba Squad 2.0 thanks to what MLB Pipeline’s scouting report describes as “plus-plus power” that anchors the skill set of the 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder from the Big Island of Hawai’i. Rosario does work with baseball coach Kaha Wong — father of Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong — in the islands, and the elder Wong gave “rave reviews” of Rosario as a player, Johnson said.
“He’s strong,” Johnson said. “He’s got a good swing. Much in line with the three hitters we took, these guys are hitters who can do a lot of damage with the baseball and all have a chance for real power. To get him in the fifth round, we felt really good about it.”