Minor Leaguers: Dreaming Against the Odds

Last week, I posted my choices for the Top 10 Twins Minor League Prospects. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the organization’s minor leaguers, by any means, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a big fan of minor league baseball. I am.

I live in an Iowa community (Cedar Rapids) that is home to a minor league team… the Kernels… that is the Midwest League affiliate of the Angels. The Midwest League, for those not familiar with it, is a “Low Class A” league, which means that most of the players are in the early stages of their professional careers. You see a lot of 19-23 year olds who physically don’t look a whole lot different than what you might see playing ball on college and even high school ballfields around the country.

Everyone understands that the odds are stacked against these kids. A select few will ever get so much as a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues and fewer still will have substantial Major League careers. But the dreams are still there. Why? Because it does happen… guys do make it to the top. It’s not just the high draft picks and big-bonus international signings, either. Players that are playing in Cedar Rapids and Clinton and Burlington and Beloit for barely enough money to pay for pizza once or twice a week do get their chances to grab the brass ring.

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I read this news item from the Kernels’ web site. When the Angels open their Spring Training camp in Tempe AZ, all of the media and most of the fans will be focused on newcomer Albert Pujols, but I’ll be following a few other guys more closely.

Mike Trout

Of the 60 players invited to the Angels Big League camp, 34 of them are former Cedar Rapids Kernels and while I can’t say I remember a lot about each and every one of them, I do attend enough games that I can say with certainty that I’ve watched all of them play ball here. Some, like Ervin Santana, have already had pretty fair MLB careers, some have some lofty expectations (that would be you, Mike Trout) attached to them, but many others are anxiously looking forward to an opportunity to make the most of this shot to impress the Angels’ brass and beat the long odds they faced when they were Kernels.

All of this got me wondering if the Twins had a similar number of former Beloit Snappers showing up in Ft. Myers when camp opens there. After all, I make a pretty significant effort to see as many games as I can when the Snappers come to Cedar Rapids, so I’m likely to have seen almost all of whatever group of Snapper alums there will be in the Twins camp.

It certainly would have been nice if whoever posts the news to the Snappers’ website had done this work for me like Andrew Pantini did on the Kernels’ site, but alas, such was not the case. So I did a little research on my own. In doing so, I was reminded that through 2004, the Twins’ MWL affiliate was the Quad Cities River Bandits.

In any event, with the addition of Joel Zumaya, the Twins will have 65 players in the Major League camp to start Spring Training and it turns out that 24 of those players spent time with either Quad Cities or Beloit as they worked their ways up the Twins organizational ladder.

Liam Hendriks

The group includes the following former River Bandits (with year in parens): Justin Morneau (2001), Joe Mauer (2002), Scott Baker (2003), Nick Blackburn (2003-04), Glen Perkins (2004), Denard Span (2004); and these former Snappers: Trevor Plouffe (2005), Anthony Swarzak (2005), Luke Hughes (2005), Kyle Waldrop (2005-06), Brian Duensing (2006), Joe Benson (2006-08), Chris Parmelee (2006-08), Alex Burnett (2007), Jeff Manship (2007), Tyler Robertson (2007), Danny Valencia (2007), Brian Dinkelman (2007), Rene Tosoni (2007), Danny Lehmann (2008), Ben Revere (2008). Liam Hendriks (2009-10), Brian Dozier (2010), and Oswaldo Arcia (2011).

I did see an awful lot of one additional current Twin during his time in the Midwest League. Alexi Casilla spent parts of 2004 and 2005 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels prior to the Twins swapping JC Romero to the Angels for Lexi. As a matter of fact, an additional 16 players that will be in the Twins Major League camp spent time riding the buses from one MWL stadium to another while playing for other organizations.

Will all of the prospects that will start Spring Training sharing a Big League clubhouse with Joe Mauer and Carl Pavano become significant contributors to the Twins this year (or ever, for that matter)? Of course not. But they each have reached a very important milestone… an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Adrian Salcedo

Of course, not all of the best and brightest Snappers of recent years will be in the Big League camp. Anyone making a trip to Ft. Myers will have to slip over to the minor league fields to check out Aaron Hicks (2009-10), Angel Morales (2009-10), James Beresford (2009-10), Danny Rams (2009-10), BJ Hermsen (2010-11) and Adrian Salcedo (2011) .

But 2012 could shape up to be a banner year for the Snappers as a number of the organization’s top prospects could suit up for Beloit at some point this season, including Eddie Rosario, Levi Michael, Travis Harrison and the Twins’ consensus top prospect Miguel Sano.

The prospect of watching these players, as well as the latest crop of Angels prospects that will be suiting up for our local Kernels, has me just as anxious for the Midwest League season to get started as I am to see the Big Leaguers take the field.

No, it isn’t enough to keep me warm while I deal with temperatures that are preceded by minus signs, but at least it’s something to look forward to.

- JC

P.S. If I’ve sparked your interest or curiosity about the Twins minor leaguers, if you’re planning on making the trip to Ft. Myers for Spring Training, if you are thinking about a road trip to check out one of the Twins’ minor league affiliates in action this season, or if you just like to know more than your friends about these guys, you REALLY need to order Seth Stohs’ Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook for 2012. It’s full of information about over 150 Twins prospects, plus several other feature articles… and it’s available for order now! Click here and order yours today.

T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

- JC