Spencer Steer’s twin breakout prospects are one step up from the big leagues

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Baseball requires a term when players have a breakout season and then follow up with an even bigger breakout season.

“Back-to-back breakout” sounds very boring. “Super breakout” can be a bit dramatic. “Post-breakout breakout” might it? “Double breakout” perhaps?

Whatever it’s called, twin prospect Spencer Steer does.

And there the Twins promoted the 24-year-old from Double-A Wichita to Triple-A St. Paul, putting him one step away from the big leagues.

Steer was his first three years at the University of Oregon, where he batted .297 with .401 percent on base but hit just 12 home runs in 163 college games. Baseball America ranks him as the 192nd player available in 2019 MLB Draft, called the 5-foot-11 infielder a “superior utility type player” who is “not very good and doesn’t have a loud tool.”

It was an accurate scouting report, but the Twins saw something else in Steer.

“We love his bat-for-ball skills and the ability to hit for the average and to control the attack zone,” Twins player development director Alex Hassan said. “We felt there was room for improvement in the ability to drive baseball.”

He drafted him in the third round, 90th overall, and then worked to unlock more on the swing that was definitely intended for contact.

He was good at his 2019 professional debut, batting .280 with a .385 percentage on a junior base, but his strength was the same as in college with just four homers in 64 games. Things began to change for Steer in 2020, when COVID-19 eliminated the minor league season and left the prospect of working with coaches exclusively behind the scenes, without official game action.

“Spencer has been one of those players who can be coached during his time with the Twins,” said Hassan, who was recruited by the Twins in 2018, a year after retiring as a player. “From the moment he joined our system, he has been really thirsty for knowledge and learned exactly what needs to be done to improve.”

By all accounts, Steer is one of the most popular among the Twins prospects in 2020, with team officials talking about the recent swing and pop changes, but it’s hard to see the progress he’s made without numbers to support. . Late last May, with the little boy back in action, Steer was able to share his work behind the scenes. And the boy did.

Steer reached 10 homers in 45 games at High-A Cedar Rapids to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A Wichita, where he scored 14 homers in 65 games. It was a breakout season, which dramatically altered set skill, turned weakness into strength, and in doing so broke through any “utility player” ceiling. And the Twins believe there is even more upside to unlocking.

“His offensive focus has been centered primarily on the bottom of the swing,” Hassan said. “When he came, he was very spread out and didn’t put the back of his body under the load. His hands and the path of the bat were solid, but he wasn’t using the ground effectively to transfer energy during loads and swings.

In a whopping 24 homers in 110 games, Steer has sacrificed some contact skills and attack zone control, which are common when trying to damage a swing. He still maintains a good approach, with 55 runs and 110 strikes in 488 plate appearances, but is far from the same number of strikeouts and runs in his college and 2019 pro debuts.

So far this season, Steer has combined the best of these two worlds, tapping into even more power while reducing strikeout rates, which is rare for any prospect. Back in Double-A Wichita, he batted .308 with eight homers and 14 doubles / triples in 34 games for an eye-popping .602 percentage slugging that was 174 points above the Texas League average. That earned her a promotion to Triple-A St. Louis.

“He speeds up his base in preparation and focuses on engaging in a better and stronger position at the beginning of the load,” Hassan said, “which we feel is not locked into speed and impact to drive the ball in the air more effectively.”

Steer has reduced his strikeout rate from 22 percent last season to 15 percent this season, which is not far from the 12 percent strikeout rate in college when he barely showed any strength. In drafting Steer in the third round, the Twins believe they can take a high-contact single hitter and turn him into a high-contact power hitter, and it could be even better than anyone could have hoped.

Better yet, Steer has maintained the defensive flexibility that many people once described as a major league utility player. He bounced around the diamonds for Wichita, playing regularly at third base, second base and shortstop. He’s just an emergency shortstop option in the big leagues, but Steer is an MLB -caliber defender in third base and second base.

infield depth has been a significant organizational strength for the Twins in the majors and junior high, so it’s not obvious how or when Steer might fit into their plans. He performed well in two seasons and 100 total Double-A games and did not deserve a Triple-A promotion. But the infield depth chart above him is a bit appalling.

Carlos Correa is the Twins ’starting shortstop, with Royce Lewis in line to take over the long-term. Jorge Polanco has his number two base locked and controlled by the team until 2025. Starting third baseman Gio Urshela is 30 and may only be out for a year, but the Twins have Lewis, Austin Martin, José Miranda and Christian Encarnacion-Strand as prospects. options exist.

Miranda, the minor league player who became king this year, was called May 2 to replace Miguel Sanó’s slugging right hand, but his first taste in the majors was not good. Steer lacks Miranda’s experience on first base, but he’s a better, more Versatile Fielder in general, and he hit .304 with a .595 slugging percentage against lefties since the start of last season.

Sorting out infield prospects with the right hand will be important for the Twins. He needs to consider who can help him now and during this season with who he wants to build in the long run. It would certainly be a good issue, but there won’t be room for everyone and it’s unclear where Steer is associated with some of the higher prospects.

But clearly, Steer has been a very good prospect with higher-than-expected prospects, and his job is to be a potential everyday player, whether with the Twins or elsewhere as a sought-after trading chip.

“He did a lot of work and deserves all the praise because he turned himself into a legitimate league prospect,” Hassan said.

And now he was knocking on the door to the department.

(Photo: Ed Bailey / Wichita Wind Surge)