On Wednesday the Minnesota Twins announced the winners of the Sherry Robertson Award for Minor League Player of the Year as well as the Jim Rantz Award for Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
The Robertson Award was established in 1970, and was named after the team’s first farm director. Since 2002, the award has been handed out to the club’s Minor League Player of the Year, while the Rantz Award — named for the club’s penultimate farm director — was created for the purpose of naming a Pitcher of the Year.
This year’s Robertson Award winner is outfielder Zach Granite, who spent all of 2016 with Double-A Chattanooga, hitting .295/.347/.382 with 18 doubles, eight triples and four home runs while stealing 56 bases in 70 attempts (80 percent success rate). Granite, who turned 24 after the end of the season, was pushed to Double-A despite less-than-stellar numbers in 2015.
Granite started 2015 with Low-A Cedar Rapids, and spent 19 games hitting at a .925 OPS clip before being bumped to High-A Fort Myers. Granite spent 105 games with the Miracle, and hit just .249/.328/.304 with 21 steals on 33 attempts (63.6 percent success rate). Granite was a 14th-round pick for the Twins out of Seton Hall University in 2013, and most likely his advanced age is why he was pushed to Chattanooga in spite of the rough year with the Miracle. And despite that rough year, he rewarded the faith of the organization by putting up a solid season for the Lookouts.
Granite is almost exclusively a center fielder, and has drawn comparisons to Billy Burns in some prospect circles — including Twins Daily’s Jeremy Nygaard.
Granite also appeared from time-to-time in Carson Cistulli’s series “The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects” on Fangraphs. That series is worth a look.
Granite does not appear on MLB.com’s current top-30 Twins prospects, nor did he appear in the Twins preseason list at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, MinorLeagueBall.com or any other reputable prospect outlet.
John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com called him a possible “4/5 outfielder due to speed, defense” in mid-July, while Baseball America called him a “grinder and plus runner and base stealer who has the defensive chops to be a fourth outfielder, and he’s hitting enough at Double-A to make that possible.”
The five previous winners of the Robertson Award, in order were:
- 2015 – Max Kepler
- 2014 – Kennys Vargas
- 2013 – Byron Buxton
- 2012 – Oswaldo Arcia
- 2011 – Brian Dozier
The winner of the Rantz award was left-handed starting pitcher Stephen Gonsalves, who had a remarkable year between two levels in 2016. Gonsalves started with High-A Fort Myers, making 11 starts with a 2.33 ERA, 9.0 K/9 and a WHIP of 0.96 before earning a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. With the Lookouts, Gonsalves posted a stellar 1.82 ERA, with 10.8 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.08.
August was a remarkable month for Gonsalves, as he earned Southern League Pitcher of the Month honors with a 0.28 ERA (32.2 innings pitched, one earned run) with a 10.2 K/9 mark and a WHIP of 0.74.
Gonsalves has always been a bit unheralded, going back to when the Twins selected him with their fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He was introduced with Kohl Stewart — the team’s first-round pick that year — who has carried a bit more prospect steam, but Gonsalves has provided more results in the meantime to justify the club’s selection. Gonsalves was projected to go higher in the draft, but a suspension that cost him a large part of his senior season caused him to drop in the draft. MLB.com initially had him as high as 27th overall on their draft boards, but Gonsalves reportedly didn’t come clean about a teammate’s marijuana usage on a trip out east, and as a result was available for the Twins to grab in the fourth round.
He has more than justified their faith in him.
Prior to the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Stewart and Gonsalves back-to-back at Nos. 7-8 in their prospect rankings, suggesting Gonsalves put up “stupid” numbers at Cedar Rapids and then followed them up after a promotion to Fort Myers. They also mention Gonsalves’ fastball (90-92 mph, up to 95) with a usable spike curveball and a very good changeup with splitter-type action. Like most outlets, they think/thought Gonsalves will be a workable back-end starter, though a solid season this year might make that projection jump a bit.
Gonsalves leapfrogged Stewart for No. 5 in the midseason update for Baseball America, where they said his fastball plays up due to a deceptive delivery, but that he didn’t use his slider or cutter enough. MinorLeagueBall.com called him a No. 3-4 starter if his command and health can hold, which is by no means a slight.
The previous five winners of the Rantz award were:
- 2015 – Jose Berrios
- 2014 – Berrios
- 2013 – Andrew Albers
- 2012 – B.J. Hermsen
- 2011 – Liam Hendriks
The Twins will hand out these awards as part of the 12th Annual Diamond Awards, which will be held on Jan. 26, 2017 at Target Field. The Diamond Awards open up TwinsFest weekend each year.