Rocko’s Modern Life was an acid trip of a cartoon that ran from 1993 to 1996. 

The show wasn’t about acid trips, per se, but it was a how-to guide for avoiding bad trips. 

I mean I think that’s what it was. I was ten years old in 1993. Was all I could do just to ingest the beautiful madness. Sometimes felt uncomfortable enough to change the channel or even (gasp) turn off the TV. 

I say “uncomfortable” here because Rocko’s Modern Life was never boring, so it must have been discomfort that made me lukewarm on the show, which carries a 7.9 rating on IMDB. If you go check it out now, you’ll see traces of the influence it’s had in the worlds of Spongebob, Morty, and more. 

Man, this intro is careening down an unpaved path, huh? 

You can also see modern-life influences at work when watching Rocco Baldelli manage the Twins, is where I’m trying to go. 

Minnesota does things its own way, and it’s working. The Tampa-like feel to their machinations is plain as day. While it makes fans a little uncomfortable to sign a pile of creaky veterans named Homer, Piñata and Dick Mountain or to cut CJ Cron when you don’t have a first baseman on the roster, that’s life in modern baseball. 

If even one of those old arms is healthy in October, it’ll keep Rocco from having to begin a playoff game in Yankee Stadium with Randy Dobnak on the bump. I imagine I wasn’t the only one changing the channel to dodge the discomfort that night. 

Weird story short, things are looking up in Minnesota, where the system is stocked with bats and arms in both the upper and lower minors. 

 

Player | Age on 5/1/2020 | Highest Level Played | ETA

1. SS Royce Lewis | 20 | AA | Mid 2021

2. OF Trevor Larnach | 23 | AA | Mid 2021 

3. 1B Alex Kiriloff | 22 | AA | Mid 2021

The prospect world is all revved up to meet Royce Lewis at the crossroads in 2020. He’s either going to reduce his leg kick, make more contact and flag a ride back to the top of everyone’s list, or he’ll keep swinging for the fences and getting creamed by minor league pitching. 

I’m trying to avoid giving Trevor Larnach the he-was-kind-to-me bump, but what can I say? He was. And not just to me. On fan appreciation day, when the players were expected to take photos and sign autographs with all the fans who poured onto the field after the game, Larnach was cool with everybody. Happy to be there. Jhoan Duran too. It’s not easy to watch a guy be an adult with the fans and avoid giving him a little bump in trust. A lot of the players were kids, reticent to engage, grouping off in cliques to pass the time insulated from the awkwardness of strangers. I’m more like them than I am like Larnach, standing alone looking at a line of several hundred people and taking the time to smile, sign and pose with all of them. Teammates came by to hang with him here and there. He was mostly alone but surrounded. Dude has a gravity about him. Sorry for the tangent. My writing-brain was just struck by the whole thing. I teach college-age humans, and few are as comfortable and confident as Larnach. Dude was coming off a College World Series win when he was with the Kernals, so maybe he was still carrying some extra BDE from that, but I dug his whole vibe. Confidence is hitting, and vice versa. That and a million other little things related to who a human is at a base level. 

Larnach will hit. Might not be a superstar at peak, but he will hit early and often. 

After a tough summer fighting a wrist injury, Alex Kiriloff caught fire in the final month—a burst that could be connected to his wrist feeling better. 2020 is a big year for his perceived value. If he comes out hot, people will handwave a disappointing 2019. If he struggles, they’ll start connecting data points and dropping him down their lists. 

 

4. RHP Brusdar Graterol | 21 | MLB | 2019  

5. RHP Jordan Balazovic | 21 | A+ | Mid 2021

6. RHP Jhoan Duran | 22 | AA | Mid 2021

He’s not the most decorated pitching prospect, but Brusdar Graterol’s bonifides are on par with just about any young arm’s. He’s been dominant while young for the level thanks to high-nineties heat with life and a nasty slider. If not for a tricky elbow and a big-league need that pushed him to the bullpen in 2019, Graterol might be on the fast track to the front of Minnesota’s rotation. As is, he’s in a limbo zone of sorts because he could be super valuable in relief this year but could use some seasoning if they want him to start. 

A helium-filled 2019 has Jordan Balazovic comfortably inside top hundreds. He’s only played in pitchers’ parks as a pro and gets so much out of his fastball he hasn’t developed much of a repertoire, but the numbers are impressive nonetheless. If that success carries over to AA, we could see him in the show as a pen piece this year like Graterol in 2019. 

I could copy and paste the above for Jhoan Duran, except that his fastball is a repertoire unto itself (four-seam, cutter, sinker), and it’s more likely we see him than Balazovic this year, in part because I suspect he’ll be a great fit in relief right away. I can’t wait to see that cutter on the big stage. Might have something of a Lance Lynn here, and maybe the outcomes beat the analytics year over year like Lynn’s have.

 

7. OF Misael Urbina | 18 | R | 2024

8. SS Keoni Cavaco | 18 | R | 2024

In some circles, 2018 bonus baby Misael Urbina ($2.75 million) is seen as a speed play. I’m not sure he’ll be all that fast at peak as he’s already well developed physically, and he’s not quicksilver-fast now. 19 steals in 50 games looks great on paper, but it’s not easy to get thrown out eight times in rookie ball. If you watch him run the 60-yard dash as slightly younger dude, you’ll see it takes him a minute to reach top speed. No big deal, really, but this is not CJ Abrams or Xavier Edwards we’re talking about here. The bat, however, is intriguing., I think Urbina can see spin. He walked in 10.6 percent of his plate appearances while striking out just 6.5 percent of the time. I want him where he’s cheap but am reticent to buy high because I think 20-30 steal upside is baked into his price. 

Keoni Cavaco could’ve missed this loaded list after striking out 38 percent of the time in the Gulf Coast League, but he was 1.5 years younger than the average competitor and is behind his peers on reps and quality of competition. In other words, Cavaco faces a long path to his best baseball self, but that dream is toolsy and beautiful and demands a healthy measure of patience. He’s kind of a cipher for dynasty styles: players who love the big topside and don’t churn during downturns will prioritize Cavaco, and players who prize near-term bounce will ignore him unless he’s dropped so low they can’t ignore the potential value. I’ll probably pass. I doubt he’ll play until short-season ball late in summer, and there’s just too many good players to wait half a decade for a guy to start hitting. 

 

9. OF Gilberto Celestino | 21 | AA | 2022

10. OF Emmanuel Rodriguez | 17 | NA | 2024

Signed by Houston for 2.25 million in 2015, Gilberto Celestino is what the Twins have to show for Ryan Pressly (along with RHP Jorge Alcala). His carrying tools are defense and speed. Not a fantasy bonanza at first glance, I realize, but so far his plate skills look good enough to play everyday at peak, making his one of the cases where elite defense bumps the profile up for me because it’ll help get him on the field, and we need speed in the game. As a bonus for optimists, Celestino has picked up some experience against advanced pitching as a member of the Domincan Republic’s tournament teams. Here he is making a nice play in center. 

The Rocko’s Modern Life thing to do at the ten spot would involve Wander Javier and Dusty Colorado, but Javier struck out 33.9 percent of the time while batting .177 in the Midwest League. He’s still got time, so I’m not writing him off, and I’m not writing about Ryan Jeffers or Bailey Ober or Brent Rooker here, though all could make a case and would belong on a lot of teams’ top tens. 

Instead, I’m going to lean in and say I like Emmanuel Rodriguez’s swing, love the fact that he signed for 2.7 million, and like that the early word has his best ‘tool’ as feel for the game. It’s mostly guesswork on the international front. I cringe when reading confident takes about the mid-20’s hit-tool futures of 16-year-old kids who can probably count the great breaking balls they’ve seen in game action on one hand. Vision and hand-eye are the great deciders. The bar to clear to become a good major league hitter is almost superhuman. Is Rodriguez that? We won’t know for a long time, but all the signs we have at present point toward a hype-filled future. 

  1. jbona3 says:
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    Itch, thanks for the prospect work – what are a couple comps for Larnach’s ceiling in your estimation?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      You’re welcome and thank you, jbona3!

      Tough question in part because Minnesota plays in pitchers parks and leagues until AAA, and in part because I never think in anchoring (comps) so I’ve got to jog a bit to get my mind there.

      We could see Larnach change the conversation around his topside with the AAA baseballs. He’s yet to fully access the over-fence-power he figures to have at peak, but his 148 wRC+ (a number he’s basically held his whole time as a pro across four levels) would’ve been 9th in the majors, ahead of Pete Alonso’s 143.

      That’s obviously not honest math, as it’d be foolish to expect any prospect to maintain numbers that would make him a top ten hitter in the big leagues, but I think it’s a little better talent context than the 13 homers he hit in 2019.

      I think he’s something like a 300/400/500 guy at peak. I also think he’ll maximize the cleverness of his organization, giving him another layer of upside that’s hidden by the show-up-and-hit-against-a-stranger nature of the minors. Some hitters get worse as familiarity settles in; some get much better as they get a lizard-brain feel for their opponents to go along with the analytics.

      Wow that’s twice in a week I’ve said way more about Larnach than I meant to. Sorry for all the words! Maybe I should’ve just said 2019 Kris Bryant seems an acceptable peak comp and let you get back to your day!

      • jbona3 says:
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        Itch all the words were really valuable – I prefer the context over just the Bryant comp (though that’d be nice), so it’s much appreciated!

        Based on his physical size (6′ 4″, 210) I think there’s power upside he’s yet to tap into; he can also put on some muscle with better and more focused training and nutrition than in college. I’m interested to see where is k% settles in this season as he acclimates to AA, to your point.

  2. Harley Earl says:
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    Somewhat surprised you didn’t go with Rooker here. But with Kirilhoff moving to 1B, I kind of wonder where Rooker fits now. He’s got legitimate power but no place to play. :o(

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Good call on that: I swapped Rooker in and out of there a few times for the same reasons. Also the big K rate, tho that’s not an instant disqualifier these days.

      • Harley Earl says:
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        Love reading your stuff Itch. Keep up the good work!!!

        • The Itch

          The Itch says:
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          Thanks, Harley!!

          The encouragement is perfectly timed! I’m the little engine that could at the moment. So close to cresting team-list mountain!!

  3. goodfold2 says:
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    we’re in the 5th round, i’m about to have 2 picks right next to each other again and then 1 more in the 6th round. so far i’ve gotten bracho, fraley, m.thompson (WSOX) and kochanowicz (LAA). here are the probable best hitters left, how you ranking these if any stick out:
    muzziotti, rojas (PHI), j.noel (CLE, power over hit guy), a.pie (TB), e.duran, j.smith (NYY), beard, o.lopez, d.brown (TOR), preciado, mean (SD), pages (LAD, big power guy), t.fletcher and those 3 guys you had much higher than anybody else moquete, burgos, romeri (STL), r.castro (PIT), toribio (SF), acosta (CIN), e.garcia (MIL). deaveaux (LAA).

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Hi goodfold2!

      Looks good so far!

      Acosta is kind of a must for me this year at his price of free ninety free, but you might be able to wait on him.

      Pages and Muzziotti stand out as guys who should maybe be gone by here. So that’s 1,2,3 for me in whatever order gives you best chance to get all three, probably Pages, Acosta, Muzziotti, tho I might just take Acosta because I really don’t want to miss him.

      I like Garcia, Duran, Pie, Smith and Noel, and as you said, Moquete.

      Strong list here!

      • Harley Earl says:
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        Who is this Acosta guy you are talking about? Would help if there were first names sometimes!!

        • The Itch

          The Itch says:
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          That’s my bad and something I’ll work to stop doing in the future.

          Jose Acosta of the Reds:

          https://redsminorleagues.com/2019/09/11/2019-reds-minor-league-hitter-of-the-year-jose-acosta/

          https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=acosta013jos

          Only pasted links because there’s enough Jose Acostas that he can be kinda tough to find. Might be providing a little extra cover for a guy who’s under the radar for good reason. He’s no lock to transition well to full season ball, but he’ll be scary if he does.

          • goodfold2 says:
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            my list had “acosta (CIN)” in it. wasn’t like i said a guy on OAK with no first name and OAK had multiple guys on it with that last name. CIN’s system he’s already done. he has acosta a lot higher than others do also. i went pages/kochanowicz (LAA)/j.soriano (LAA) with my last 3 picks. now on last pick of the draft and it’s these guys vs preciado (SD) or hedbert perez (MIL) or p-mart (CUBS, who you had pretty high). both of hedbert/preciado the other newer prospect guy likes and prospects live likes. they recently put out a very long 1st year list (more updated and deeper than their months ago 1st year player mock draft). koch/soriano are both seemingly the best SP left from PL’s list and soriano is fairly high in other spots. since i typed above all of these went (not in this order): acosta, pie, deveaux. PL is giving preciado a 55/45 upside/realistic which is higher than anybody i can find from lists they’ve done. when it comes to CLE/SD and to some extent TB’s guys they are so freakin deep that they have 50 or higher upside guys like 20 spots down, which is like 3 times better in some cases than some other team’s lists.

            • goodfold2 says:
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              if i hadn’t gone (and already had) so much OF depth compared to other spots for hitting this would seem muzziotti a fairly easy answer, his 50/45 (from the good hit tool likely and defense to keep a job) is safe. now with this (just the best shown):
              MI: bracho, paredes, barreto (not minors elig, but is on a league min for 3 more years deal), w.perez (DET), a.tejeda (TEX)
              CI: vientos, padlo (nice to see one of my guys that lost major value come back up lately), e.rios (LAD). w.craig
              OF: adell, kirilloff, fraley, trammell, pages, t.ornelas, victor 2nd

              if a CI guy had the same ceiling/floor in the guys left i’d just go him (schunk i wanted to go a few rounds ago but nabbed pitching), here it’s only MI/OF with these levels left. and i went OF twice already from best player left being that (fraley,pages).

  4. D Fresh says:
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    I’m in Cedar Rapids, IA. Who should I keep an eye out for this year? Kernels or other teams. Thanks!

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