Twins Prospects: What a Difference a Week Makes

UPDATE (2/13/2012): We have yet another prospect list to include in the discussion… Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has released his “Top 101″ list and while he apparently thinks more of Miguel Sano (#12) than either Mayo or Law do, he has only one other Twin, Rosario (#87) on his list. Twins that dropped off his list since last year include Hicks (#51 in 2011), Gibson (#55 in 2011) and Revere (#62 in 2011… perhaps Revere no longer meets his criteria for “prospect” status). – JC

It almost goes without saying, but if you need more evidence that judging an organization’s minor leaguers is an inexact science, at best, all you need to do is compare prospect rankings of even the most reputable sources.

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com released his “Top 100″ prospects list and it wasn’t good news for the Minnesota Twins. Only two players in their organization, consensus top Twins prospect Miguel Sano (#23) and Aaron Hicks (#72) made the list. Since there are 30 MLB teams, logic would tell you that to be considered as having an “average” number of highly ranked prospects an organization should have at least three players among any “Top 100″ list.

Predictably, there were a few articles popping up within both mainstream media and social media that discussed the sad state of the Twins minor league talent levels.

Fast forward to yesterday morning and we had a new “Top 100″ list from ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subcription required). Surprise! The Twins post FOUR players on Law’s list, with Eddie Rosario (#50) and Oswaldo Arcia (#85) joining Sano (#28) and Hicks (#80). Placing four in Law’s “Top 100″ might indicate the Twins organization is a bit above average. Funny how an organization can improve so much over the course of a couple of winter weeks without playing a single game, isn’t it?

So which is it? Is the Twins organization straggling behind the competition when it comes to developing high end prospects or are they a bit above the norm? I suppose we could await Baseball America’s “Top 100″ list to break the tie, but that’s really not necessary. The answer is “yes.”

Aaron Hicks

What’s that you say… that wasn’t a “yes or no” question? I know that. After all I posed the question. But the answer really is that the Twins organization is both a bit below and a bit above the competition.

Why below? Because three of the four players Law thinks highly of are at least two years (and more likely at least three years) away from being Big Leaguers, and the fourth (Hicks) fell like a rock in Law’s rankings from 10th in 2011 to 80th in 2012. Not exactly cause to be optimistic that he’ll be leading the Twins to the playoffs any time real soon.

In addition, in an era when top-end starting pitching has become obscenely expensive on the open market, making “growing your own” an absolute necessity, the Twins have zero pitchers in any “Top 100″ list released to date this year. Sure, they had a bit of bad luck with Kyle Gibson’s injury a year ago, but you don’t get extra points for bad luck.

On the other hand, the Twins obviously intended for this imbalance to occur. While you never can be 100% sure how any 16-21 year old will mature, mentally or physically, there’s usually a reason top draft picks and international signees get big bucks… they are the most likely to become top prospects and, ideally, star players. And the Twins have been focusing on position players above pitchers in the high rounds of the draft and in their international scouting.

So now four of those players appear to be among the top prospects in baseball, which should indicate that the organization’s plans are working out roughly the way they hoped. How comfortable fans should feel about that conclusion is, I suppose, another topic for reasonable debate.

The Twins had some bad luck and some bad drafts a few years back (as the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III has done a good job of reviewing on his blog). So unless you count Gibson, there simply isn’t a “big impact” player in the organization that’s going to be stepping in to a leadership role with the Twins this year or even in 2013… maybe not even by 2014 unless Hicks gets things turned around.

The bottom line is that there is reason for some optimism that help is on the way, but it’s tempered by the fact that such help is likely on the distant horizon, rather than anything imminent. There’s a solid group of young players with the potential to be productive Major League ballplayers making their way up in the organizational ranks and that includes a lot of players over and above the guys you see on any “top prospect” list.

For now, and likely for the next couple of seasons, the Twins will need to continue filling out their Major League roster with mid-level free agents and other teams’ cast-offs. But if Twins fans can be patient, there is the potential for the next wave of stars to be very good.

I know… Twins fans being patient? Not likely.

– JC

P.S. If you want to know more about the Twins prospects mentioned above and about 150 others in the organization, it’s not too late to order your Minnesota Twins 2012 Prospect Handbook. Head on over to SethSpeaks.net for the link and order your copy. I’ve got four copies myself, so what are YOU waiting for?

4 thoughts on “Twins Prospects: What a Difference a Week Makes

  1. “the Twins obviously intended for this imbalance to occur. ”

    I doubt it. I think the Twins focus on getting the best players, regardless of where they play. And they have consistently drafted pitchers. In addition to Gibson, recent drafts first round choices have included college pitchers Bashore, Hunt, Wimmer and Gutierrez. They just added Hudson Boyd, a high school pitcher, to that list last year.

    “The Twins had some bad luck and some bad drafts a few years back”

    No more than normal. The Twins first round choices for three straight years from 1998-2000 were Ryan Mills, BJ Garbe and Adam Johnson. That didn’t prevent them from winning division championships. Mostly the evaluation of “failed” drafts is just impatience with how long it takes high school players to develop. Plouffe was drafted in 2004, the same year as Glen Perkins, and he has just reached the big leagues.

    What is true is that they have been drafting in the lower half of the first round. Those guys aren’t usually hyped to the point they are added to top 100 lists the day they are drafted. Until they do something in the minor leagues to grab people’s attention, they are not going to rise above the crowd. And, for all the complaints about how slow the Twins are to promote players, their best prospects are often among the youngest players in their league.

    These lists are fun, but they don’t have much meaning. Afterall, the Twins just signed Sean Burroughs to a minor league contract and he was at the top of most of these lists right up until he failed to live up to the hype at the major league level. And he is not that unusual. Its also not unusual for players to bypass these lists entirely.

  2. I’ll just agree to disagree on your first couple of points, TT, but as for it not being unusual for players to bypass these Top 100 lists entirely, I have to say I REALLY disagree, unless you’re just talking about players who bypass the lists and go on to productive MLB careers.

    Obviously, that happens, but I believe most of the players who become superstars or even stars in the Big Leagues… in other words, the players teams need to have extended runs of competitiveness… do not completely bypass these “top prospect” lists.

  3. “I believe most of the players who become superstars or even stars in the Big Leagues… in other words, the players teams need to have extended runs of competitiveness… do not completely bypass these “top prospect” lists.”

    That is no doubt true. Most of those players are not going to develop quickly enough to bypass the lists entirely. On the other hand, you will find all sorts of stars who were left off these lists for periods during their minor league careers. Usually in the low minors, but also later when they failed to develop quickly enough to match the hype.

    For instance Torii Hunter made the BBA list at number 79 in 1997. That was the only time he was on their list. Chris Parmelee was on the list in 2007 along with Glenn Perkins, for the second time, and Kevin Slowey. But Scott Baker, Brad Radke and Joe Nathan never appeared on the BBA lists at all.

    In 2008, Carlos Gomez, Delios Guerra and Nick Blackburn made the list. In 2009, it was Ben Revere and Wilson Ramos. In 2010, it was Hicks, Gibson and Sano.

    If you really want to see a clunker from the Twins perspective look at the 1992 list. They had six players on the list: David McCarty, Pat Mahomes, Midre Cummings, Willie Banks, Alan Newman and Todd Ritchie.

    So if the standard is that a player showed up on a list at some point in his career, even if at the last minute like Blackburn, then you are right. But looking at one year’s list isn’t going to tell you much.

  4. Interesting topic. I only have one conclusion to draw from these lists, and that is that the number of players a team has on the list tells you nothing-nothing whatsoever- about the organization’s skills at drafting. Here are a couple of interestinf facts:

    On MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects, 50 of them were drafted in the first round between 2007 and 2011. By my calculations, given that the Twins only once during those years drafted higher than the #20 slot, (Hicks at #14 in 2008?) as many as 45 of those 50 players had zero chance of being a Twins prospect.
    As for draft strategy, I can’t help but side a little more with Jim’s notion of more “purposeful” drafting as opposed to TT’s best player available notion. In 2011, of the 50 players drafted, I believe 27 were left-handed pitchers. A coincidence maybe, but it sure wreaks of purpose, don’t you think?