You may not have realized it by looking out your window at the new snow this morning, but the Twins’ Opening Day is just two weeks from today. That means it’s probably time to start taking a more serious look at how the team is rounding in to shape in Fort Myers.
Although Spring Training has officially been in gear for about a month, it’s usually pretty pointless to pay a lot of attention to individual performances during the first couple of weeks of Grapefruit League games. Veteran hitters are just shaking the rust off and working on specific things, such as hitting to this or that specific field or hitting particular pitches. Established pitchers use each early outing as an opportunity to refine deliveries or work on specific pitches. Results are of secondary concern.
But as the team gets down to it’s final dozen games or so, the hitters start wanting more plate appearances in the games and the pitchers start using all their pitches as they focus more on getting outs. We should also see with some level of certainty how the starting pitching spots are firming up as the Twins adjust their rotation so that they have pitchers lined up they way they want to open the season. Their final 10 Spring Training games will start this Thursday against the Yankees.
It’s a good thing, too, that we can conveniently discount performances up to this point, because a lot of those performances have been less than awe-inspring thus far. If you were inclined to predict the season’s outcome based on the first few weeks of Spring Training results, it would be pretty difficult to find cause to believe the 2013 Twins will be much better than last season’s version.
While it’s encouraging to see Justin Morneau looking like his former MVP-level self and Aaron Hicks looking like a legitimate Major League centerfielder in the making, every fan has known all along that it’s the pitching rotation that had to improve significantly if the Twins are to have a chance to show significantly improved results this summer and there hasn’t been too much to get excited about in that area yet.
With Scott Diamond certain to start the season on the Disabled List, there are two rotation spots up for grabs among several of the Twins’ young arms. Kyle Gibson was expected to contend for a spot, but he’s already been sent across the parking lot to minor league camp, so he’ll be starting his season in Rochester. Liam Hendriks is another contender, but he’s struggled in most of his appearances. Hitters have averaged .295 against him and have hit him up four home runs in his 15 innings of work. His WHIP is a lackluster 1.40.
But here’s the kicker… Hendriks arguably has had a better spring, statistically speaking, than any of the three “locks” for Twins rotation spots, Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Those three haven’t been as prone to giving up gopher balls as Hendriks, but through the past weekend, hitters are batting better than .300 against each of them and Worley’s 1.83 WHIP is the best of the trio.
On the other hand, if you want to look for encouraging signs for the Twins among their starting pitching corps, you can take a look in the direction of Cole DeVries. DeVries has only thrown 10 innings in his three starts, but he’s not giving up many hits (.121 batting average against), has not given up any home runs, has a tidy little 0.70 WHIP and, if you’re in to small sample size ERAs, he’s sporting a 0.90 in that category, too. Of course, “small sample size” caveats apply to all stat lines at this point.
Another rotation candidate that’s been at least moderately impressive is a guy who has only thrown one inning for the Twins this spring, Samuel Deduno. While he hasn’t been in camp for the past couple of weeks, Deduno has been getting work in the rotation for the Dominican Republic’s entry in the World Baseball Classic, where he’s had some success. In fact, he was the starting (and winning) pitcher for the Dominicans in their victory over Team USA last week.
Because Deduno is not on the Twins’ 40-man roster at this point, the team would have to make a roster move to keep him when they move north to start the season. Since they hope to have Diamond available by mid-April, it’s quite possible they’ll only need their initial fifth starter for one game before Diamond is activated. That being the case, Hendriks should still be considered the leading candidate for that spot.
So here’s what the rotation seems to be setting up to look like, to my eyes:
Opening Day starter: Vance Worley (started Sunday, will likely start again Friday and have his last Spring Training Start Wednesday, March 27… five days before Opening Day)
#2 starter: Kevin Correia (starting today, leaving remaining starts March 23 and 28)
#3 starter: Mike Pelfrey
#4 starter Cole DeVries
#5 starter: Liam Hendriks (may only be needed for one start, March 7, before Diamond is activated in mid-April)
That’s all pure speculation on my part, of course. The point is merely that, with two weeks remaining before the scheduled Opening Day, now is when these pitchers need to start showing me something more than they have already… something to make me believe they’ll make up a better rotation than the disaster we saw on the mound last season.
We are about at what could be considered the half-way point of the Twins’ Spring Training, believe it or not. We’re hitting that point a little early this spring because of the way the World Baseball Classic has caused an elongation of the process. But regardless of how we got here, with all of the question marks the Twins had when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers, it’s as good a time as any to check in to see if any of those questions are any closer to being answered.
Will the Twins rotation be better?
Of course, the smart-ass answer to that is that it could hardly be worse than it was last season, so it almost has to be better. But based on early appearances, the “real” answer is also, “yes, it will be better.” Of course, it’s way too early to predict how much better.
With Scott Diamond as yet untested in games, all we’ve really been able to see are the newly acquired pitchers (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia) and the young pitchers trying to translate minor league success in to Major League careers (Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson). To be fair, holdovers from last season such as Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno also have to be considered in the mix, but unless those guys show something that makes everyone believe they’ve significantly improved, the fact remains that if they’re part of the Twins rotation for a significant part of the season, it probably means the answer to this question is that the rotation has not improved enough to make a real difference in the Twins short-term fortunes.
The good news is that, on balance, the leading candidates for rotation spots have not looked too bad in their first few outings. Worley looks like what we expected him to be, a legitimate mid-rotation arm. Pelfrey isn’t yet hitting his normal pre-Tommy John surgery velocity, but he hasn’t had any sort of medical setback that we feared he might have given his accelerated rehab schedule. Corriea missed a little time to be with his wife for the birth of their new son and showed some rust in his first game back on Thursday, but he hasn’t been getting rocked the way you might have expected if you believed all the harpoons directed toward him by writers and fans since signing with the Twins. Finally, both Hendriks and Gibson have had ups and downs but have generally demonstrated why they’re considered legitimate rotation options to start the season with the Twins.
Scott Diamond is scheduled to get his first Spring Training start on March 18 so we may not know until the final week of camp whether he’ll be ready for the Opening Day roster. That said, if the Twins had to open the season with a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Correia, Hendriks and Gibson, I could live with that and feel somewhat confident that said rotation would lead to better results than we saw in 2012, despite the obvious shortcoming of being without a lefty until Diamond returns.
Who’s going to be the centerfielder?
The Twins entered Spring Training telling us that three players would compete for the CF job… their 4th outfielder from 2012, Darin Mastroianni, and two young outfield prospects trying to make the Opening Day roster for the first time, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson.
The competition going in seemed set up in a way that made job Hicks’ to lose. He’s definitely the player with the highest ceiling and it was just a matter of whether he would prove to the decision-makers that he’s ready for prime time, despite never playing an inning of AAA baseball. If he failed to impress, Mastroanni was likely to get the job, by default. Benson’s only real shot to win the job would be if Hicks and Mastroianni both failed miserably and/or don’t survive Spring Training healthy.
Thus far, it’s been all about Aaron Hicks. He already has three home runs after leading off both Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico’s WBC team and Thursday’s game against the Phillies with home runs. The former wasn’t “official,” of course, since it came in an exhibition game, but the latter came against Cliff Lee.
UPDATE: Almost before I could get this article posted, Hicks hit ANOTHER home run in that Phillies game Thursday afternoon. At this rate, he’s going to screw up his chances to open the season as the Twins’ leadoff hitter by showing too much power. That said, two words of caution for Twins fans who might be tempted to read too much in to Spring Training power displays: “Luke Hughes”.
UPDATED UPDATE: Hicks has hit a THIRD home run in that Phillies game. Just… wow.
There’s still a lot of games to play before Opening Day and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a rookie to start hot and then begin tightening up at the end of the spring as the pressure of knowing he’s really playing for a spot in a Major League starting line up hits him. Still, you definitely have to say that Hicks has grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands.
Who’s going to get the middle infield jobs?
It was generally assumed that three of the four infielders competing for middle infield spots would move north with the Twins, while one headed for Rochester. However, while Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon appear to be the early leaders in the race for starting positions at 2B and SS, respectively, it is now looking like both Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar could stick, as well. Carroll brings a veteran presence along with the versatility to play multiple positions. Escobar, though, has been impressing coaches with his glove and, it turns out, could serve as an “emergency” catcher. His bat, frankly, may not be much more of a threat than Drew Butera’s, but he would provide much greater utility around the field than Butera would. This decision could come down to the wire in late March, so stay tuned.
In the end, none of the questions have truly been answered yet, but we can definitely see the roster starting to take shape. The first round of roster cuts could be announced almost any time, now that the minor league camp has opened up and pitchers are starting to get stretched out to four innings or so. Still, with several players still participating in WBC games, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for young players to impress someone.
For now, the two most important things Twins fans need to hope for are (1) that the potential rotation members continue to improve as Spring Training rolls on, and (2) that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return from the WBC healthy.
That is a list of 23 players, I would feel comfortable considering these the 23 best Twins prospects in the Twins system. Of these 23 players, six appear more frequently on lists, and higher up on lists, than any of the others: Oswaldo Arcia, Byron Buxton, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Alex Meyer, and Miguel Sano. No real surprise there, these are the six players that both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus included in their recent Top 100 (101 for BP) lists. Paul and I talked about those players at some length in the recent episode of Talk to Contact, and compared where each of those two sites had the players listed. If you have a copy of Seth Stoh’s Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013 you can find several additional prospect lists in there. Again, the same six names generally top those prospect lists in some order, with Buxton and Sano at the top, and the other four usually clumped together.
The other names on the list, I think, then are much more interesting, as they are less likely to have drool all over them from prospect hungry Twins fans looking toward the not-to-distant future when the Twins might not be terrible again. Of the 17 other players included on FantasyRundown.com’s list, the most recognizable names are probably Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, J.O. Berios, and Max Kepler. Those four players will usually round out the Top 10 lists for most Twins prospects, and in fact, in the Top 15 Twins Prospect list that Fangraphs released yesterday, three of those four appeared in their top 10. Trevor May was the one on the outside (12), and in his place in the top 10 was middle infielder Jorge Polanco, who is not even listed above, and has yet to play full-season baseball for the Twins. Eventually the list over at BP will be updated and the Fangraphs rankings will be included and not only will Jorge Polanco be added, but Travis Harrison, a promising third basemen who also has yet to play full-season ball will be on the list as well.
Get to know some of the names on this list, they’ll be a big part of the Twins future, and when you get tired of watching the Twins lose in 2013, you can follow these players through the Minor Leagues.
*The following prospect lists were used in compiling the list of Twins prospects listed above:
Baseball America – Long-term Rankings
SeedlingstoStars.com – Long-term Rankings
Scout.com – Long-term Rankings
TopProspectAlert.com – Long-term Rankings
BaseballProspectus.com – Long-term Rankings
FanGraphs.com – Long-term Rankings
ScoutingBook.com – Long-term Rankings updated as of 02/06/13
ProjectProspect.com – Long-term Rankings
BaseballInstinct.com – Long-term Rankings
ESPN.com’s Keith Law – Long-term Rankings
Prospect361.com – Long-term Rankings
TheBaseballHaven.MLBlogs.com – Long-term Rankings
BullpenBanter.com – Long-term Rankings
MLB.com – Long-term Rankings
DeepLeagues.com – Long-term Rankings
ThroughtheFenceBaseball.com – Long-term Rankings
TheDynastyGuru.com – Top 150 Dynasty Lge Fantasy Prospects
Prospect361.com – Top 100 Longterm Fantasy Prospects
CBSSports.com – Top 100 Longterm Fantasy Prospects
With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter. With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road. The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels. In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles. An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.
Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions. Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.
Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter. I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.
Rafael Perez (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago. He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008. He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate. Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.
Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal. Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009. There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season. I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.
Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery. Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation. Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.
Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season. Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.
Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract. Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012). Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.
Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience. If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond. But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves. The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.
Scott Diamond(15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day. If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st. But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated. There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.
Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it. He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).
When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.
Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees. There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*. This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.
*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999. Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.
Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster. As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.
I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization. Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.
Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)
Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system. Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado. In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100. Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.
International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)
It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him. If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.
So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization. With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing. That bodes well for the future and Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.
All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference. If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.
It has taken me a little longer than expected to put up a post here about my trip up to Minneapolis for TwinsFest. That’s because it took me a little longer than anticipated just to get home from TwinsFest.
The plan was simple:
Drive up to Minneapolis Saturday morning
Go to TwinsFest Saturday afternoon
Go to Hubert’s Saturday night for the TwinsDaily-hosted social event
Sleep a few hours at my hotel
Go to brunch with my Knuckleballs “family” Sunday morning
Drive home Sunday afternoon
Yes, I got a later start than I expected Saturday morning, due, to some degree, to staying at the local sports bar with my family alonger than I’d planned Friday night, but I made it to my Eagan hotel by 1:00-ish. It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t brought my camera with me, which is kind of a big deal for me (some of you may have noticed I enjoy taking pictures when I travel). I got to the hotel early enough that they didn’t have a room ready for me to check in to. They were more than happy to take my credit card information, of course, so all I would have to do would be pick up my door card when I got back from downtown that night.
After taking the Light Rail from the Mall of America to the Metrodome, I wandered around the place for a bit. I ran in to several familiar faces, caught up with a few friends and listened in to some of the interviews taking place on the 1500ESPN stage.
Before long, I made my way to the “Down on the Farm” area and chatted a while with the folks at the CR Kernels’ booth, including General Manager Doug Nelson.
I didn’t do the autograph thing this year, but I did enjoy seeing some of my own boyhood heroes signing. Rollie Fingers, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins were at one station on the main floor of the Dome and seeing them all together made me smile.
As TwinsFest was getting set to close down for the evening, just before 6:00 pm, I wandered across the street to Hubert’s for the little social event planned there by the good people at Twins Daily. I wasn’t sure how many people to expect to see, but the guys were promising free beer, so I really didn’t need much additional incentive to show up. My plan was to stick around long enough to talk with a few people I don’t get to see often, then part at an hour appropriate for someone of my advanced years. It was a reasonable plan.
I’m not sure how many people the Twins Daily guys were expecting, but it seemed like a great turnout to me. People came and went, but I’m almost positive at least 100 different people showed up. It’s a considerable understatement to say I had a great time. I got to spend time talking to a few people I have met before at other blogger gatherings and a lot of people I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before. We talked Twins, we talked Kernels, we talked about writing. We watched the Timberwolves blow a lead and lose.
Time really just flew by and the next thing I knew, it was after 11:00 and I was finally getting around to eating… at a totally different place, where a number of us had moved to as things wound down at Hubert’s.
Fast-forward a couple of hours and I finally made it back to my hotel where, it turns out, they lock the doors to the lobby at 11:00 pm. Of course, you can let yourself in with your room key… and they assume all guests would actually HAVE a room key. It took a little longer than expected, but I did eventually get checked in to a room for what was left of the night.
By 10:00 am Sunday, I was sitting down for brunch at Chammp’s in St. Paul with fellow Knuckleballers KL and Babs (and her hubby, Andrew). I can’t say I was 100% on my game, at that point, but I’ve been much worse.
It was just starting to spit a little something when we left the restaurant, though I wasn’t sure whether it was rain, sleet or snow. Before I got out of the Twin Cities area, heading south, things were a much worse. By the time I reached Albert Lea, I’d pretty much seen it all: Freezing rain. Some ice. A bit of snow. Cars and trucks in ditches. Cars and trucks actually leaving the road and driving in to ditches. In short, I saw enough to know I didn’t want to join them, so I pulled in to my old home town and found a hotel room.
Not only did I find a hotel room, but the hotel had a nice little sports bar/restaurant attached to it! The waitress/bartender was kind enough to find the Iowa-Purdue basketball game on one of their TVs for me while I enjoyed an excellent quesadilla and a beer or two before heading back to my room for the night.
When I looked out the window of my hotel room early Monday morning, I couldn’t see my car. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone’s car. Fog had pretty much engulfed us. Not being all that interested in getting on a slick interstate with no visibility, I had breakfast and spent a couple hours working in my room before checking out.
By then, you could see maybe 200 yards in front of you on the interstate, so it wasn’t too bad. I had to make two more stops of an hour or two each to deal with work-related phone calls, but finally rolled in to my garage around 4:00 pm… almost exactly 24 hours after I SHOULD have been home.
While things didn’t exactly go as planned, it was definitely worth the trip just to have a chance to see so many friends Saturday and Sunday.
We don’t all agree on everything Twins-related. In fact, some of us rarely agree on anything Twins-related. But we all have a mutual interest in the Twins. In fact, for most of us, it’s probably more accurately called a mutual passion for the Twins.
I don’t know how the upcoming Twins season will turn out, but it’s great to know we’ll all share the experience together.
I’ll wrap up with a handful of additional photos I did manage to take with my phone-camera.
Over the past couple of months, a number of smart, informed people who spend a lot of time analyzing young baseball players have been publishing their lists of top Twins prospects. Since I’m not nearly as smart or informed about these players as others are, I’ve held off on publishing my own rankings.
But I’m going to put my rankings out there today, for two reasons. First, I’ve now had time to read and consider the opinions of a lot of those smarter, more informed people and use the research and analysis they’ve done to help solidify my own opinions. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we’re still getting through a holiday season when many people are not bothering to go online and read blogs like ours, so if I write something really stupid, it’s less likely than usual to be noticed.
So without further delay, here’s my list of top Twins prospects heading in to the new year:
Byron Buxton (OF) – It’s risky to elevate a player this high when he has yet to complete his first year of “full season” professional baseball, but the Twins first round pick from 2012 (and 2nd overall pick) was named top prospect of both rookie leagues, Gulf Coast and Appy, last year by Baseball America and that’s pretty hard to ignore. He doesn’t have the power of Miguel Sano, the consensus top Twins prospect for the past couple of years, but his potential as a centerfielder gives him an edge over Sano, who’s still a work in progress defensively. While Buxton could stay behind for extended spring training, I’m not sure he really has anything left to prove in Rookie leagues. He should spend most of the year in Cedar Rapids (A).
Miguel Sano (3B) – Dropping Sano a spot from last year is simply a reflection of Buxton’s arrival rather than any red flags with regard to Sano. I saw Sano play several games in 2012 and saw nothing that would keep me from continuing to believe that he should someday claim a spot in the heart of the Twins batting order. We all know he can hit, but until I watched him several times, it didn’t really sink in to me just how well he runs the bases, as well. Midwest League pitchers seemed to pitch around him at times (for good reason), so it will be interesting to see how he fares against better pitching in Fort Myers (A+).
Alex Meyer (P) – Acquired from the Nationals in return for Denard Span, Meyer immediately became the Twins’ best hope for a top of the rotation starting pitcher within the next couple of seasons. It has become evident that having a true ace… a pitcher who can miss bats consistently… gives a team a much better chance to compete for championships and Meyer has the potential to give the Twins such a weapon for the first time since Johan Santana was dealt to the Mets. It’s not going to happen right away, though, as Meyer didn’t exactly overwhelm hitters in the handful of starts he got at high-A last year. The Twins have invited him to open Spring Training in the Major League camp, but that almost certainly is simply to give the staff an initial look at the new guy. He may open the season at New Britain (AA), but I won’t be surprised if the Twins will keep him in Fort Myers (A+) to start the season with the hope that he’ll earn a quick promotion.
Oswaldo Arcia (OF) – Arcia has been projected to be a future corner outfielder for the Twins, as he’s shown power and the ability to hit line drives in to the gaps, while demonstrating solid corner outfield skills with his legs, glove and arm. Arcia split time in 2012 between Fort Myers (high A) and New Britain (AA) and actually hit better at the higher level, where he put up a .328/.398/.557 split. Arcia really hadn’t been projected to arrive in Minnesota until at least 2014, but with the departures of Span and Ben Revere, the question now is whether Arcia’s path to The Show will be accelerated. I assume he’ll start the season in Rochester, but if he plays well there, look for him to be promoted to Minnesota if/when there are injuries or the Twins start trading away veterans like Justin Morneau or Ryan Doumit toward mid-season. To my mind, Arcia is the “position player” prospect most likely to make the earliest significant offensive impact on the Twins Major League roster.
Aaron Hicks (OF) – Hicks was the Twins first round draft pick in 2008 as a high school player and his progression through the minor leagues has not been without some challenges. After a solid rookie league year after signing with the Twins, he spent the following two seasons at Class A Beloit, partially due to injury and partially due to unsatisfactory performance. In 2011, he had another lackluster season at Fort Myers (high A), leading his name to be dropped from many “top prospect” lists. In 2012, however, he put up a solid .286/.384/.460 split at AA New Britain and that was good enough, apparently, to restore the organization’s confidence in Hicks to the point where GM Terry Ryan felt comfortable trading away Span and Revere. I think it would be best for Hicks to spend some time at AAA this season, but it sounds like he’ll be given the opportunity to win the Twins CF job in Spring Training.
Kyle Gibson (P) – Another first round (2009) pick of the Twins, Gibson’s career has been one full of promise… and injuries that seem intent on quashing that promise. A college injury resulted in his dropping to the Twins with the 22nd pick and after zipping through high-A, AA and AAA during the 2010 season, Gibson’s career was derailed by Tommy John surgery midway through his 2011 AAA season. He threw just over 28 innings across three minor league levels toward the end of 2012, with encouraging results and performed relatively well in the Arizona Fall League. There’s little doubt that he’ll get an opportunity to pitch for the Twins in 2013, but the Twins intend to limit his innings somewhat, so it may be 2014 before we see what Gibson can really do at the Major League level. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to be a mid-rotation starting pitcher for years to come. I’d like to see him open in Rochester (AAA), but won’t be surprised or disappointed to see him with the Twins to start the season.
Eddie Rosario (2B/OF) – Since being drafted in 2010 out of his Puerto Rican high school, Rosario has put together 2 and a half seasons of solid work, hitting about .300 and tallying an even .900 OPS. Those would be pretty encouraging numbers for a centerfielder, which is what Rosario was drafted to play. But in 2012, the Twins asked Rosario to learn to play 2B in Beloit (A) and while his defense in the infield is still a work in progress, if he can successfully develop Major League level skills at 2B, his abilities with the bat could mean the difference between a “solid” CF and an “All-Star” 2B. This makes Rosario one of the most interesting players to watch as he takes his talent to Fort Myers (A+) this season.
Jose (J.O.) Berrios (P) – Until Alex Meyer was acquired from the Nationals, Berrios was arguably the Twins’ best hope for a future top of the rotation pitcher. That probably says as much about the overall dearth of top pitching in the Twins organization as it does about Berrios, but nonetheless Berrios made a very impressive debut after being a supplemental first round pick by the Twins this past June. Berrios threw only 30.2 innings for the Twins two rookie league teams, starting four of the 11 games in which he made appearances. He struck out 49 batters in those innings, however, while walking only four and pitching to a WHIP of only 0.620. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Twins push the 18-year-old Berrios through the system. We may get an indication of their intent by watching to see if they send Berrios to Cedar Rapids (A) in April or keep him in Florida for extended spring training.
Max Kepler (OF) – Kepler was signed as a teenager out of Germany and given the highest signing bonus ever for a European ballplayer the same offseason the Twins signed Miguel Sano. Kepler was not as developed as a ballplayer as Sano, however, and as a result, Kepler was spending his second short season at Elizabethton (rookie) in 2012, while Sano was playing his first year of full season ball in Beloit (A). In 2012, Kepler finally showed some of the promise the Twins saw in him before signing him, hitting just a couple clicks below .300, putting up a .925 OPS and hitting 10 home runs in 59 games. He reportedly has the skills to play some CF, but with the other CF prospects the Twins have in the pipeline, he’s probably more likely to fill a corner OF spot. Kepler will turn 20 years old a few weeks before he likely opens 2013 in the Cedar Rapids (A) outfield.
Trevor May (P) – The 10th spot is probably not the right ranking for May, who was part of the return the Twins got for sending Ben Revere to the Phillies. In all likelihood, May should be ranked a few spots higher or several spots lower, depending on which version of this 23 year old pitcher shows up. If he’s the fireballing hurler who struck out between 12 and 13 hitters per nine innings at some stops of his minor league career and caused him to be a consensus “Top 100 overall prospect” at one time, he would project to join Alex Meyer at the top of a future Twins rotation. But if he’s the pitcher who walked almost five hitters per nine innings and posted a 1.450 WHIP for Reading (AA) in 2012, he would join the ranks of several other arms in the Twins organization that project to potentially fill back of the rotation spots in Minnesota down the line some time. I would think he would open the season at Rochester (AAA), but wouldn’t be shocked or even disappointed if the Twins let him open in New Britain (AA).
It’s a good sign for the Twins and the relative depth of their organization that a number of my picks for spots 11 through 15 this year have been ranked, by me and/or others, as top 10 Twins prospects previously. Each of these players have the potential to make significant contributions to the Twins sooner or later. Trying to distinguish these five guys from one another in a way to rank them 11-15, though, is just too much for my limited knowledge to do, so I’ll just list them alphabetically, along with where I would expect them to open the 2013 season.
Joe Benson (OF) – Rochester (AAA)
Travis Harrison (3B) – Cedar Rapids (A)
B. J. Hermsen (P) Rochester (AAA)
Chris Herrmann (C) – Rochester (AAA)
Randy Rosario (P) – Elizabethton (Rookie)
There’s a lot of baseball talent on this list and a number of other Twins prospects have a lot of potential, as well. It should be a fun year to follow all of the Twins’ minor league affiliates in 2013.
On Monday I did a quick run down of the pitchers currently on the Twins 40-man roster. Today I will take a look at the position players, including five catchers, nine infielders, and seven outfielders. Several of these players will not be on the roster when the Twins head north to start the season.
Catchers (Age, Position, Highest 2012 Level) Drew Butera – 29, 3rd Catcher, MLB – If Butera is still on the 40-man roster when the Twins break camp, the Twins are doing it wrong. With Mauer and Doumit handling most of the catching duties, the Twins’ third catcher should be more versatile than Butera (and have some value as a bench bat), pitching ability notwithstanding.
Ryan Doumit – 31, C/RF/DH, MLB – Ryan Doumit might never pass for an average defensive catcher, but his ability to slot in at RF and DH allow the Twins to move Mauer and Morneau around and if he hits like he did in 2012 (.275/.320/.461, 18 HR and 75 RBI) the Twins will continue to reap the benefits of his very reasonable contract extension.
Chris Herrmann – 25, C/LF, MLB – Herrmann lucked into a September call-up when Mauer and Doumit were both a little nicked up and he struggled offensively while he was up. Herrmann was off to a pretty decent Arizona Fall League performance but an injury ultimately derailed his season in Peoria. Herrmann is pretty rough as a catcher, but he has a great arm, and like Doumit, has the ability with the bat to play well as a corner outfielder.
Joe Mauer – 29, C/DH/1B, MLB – Joe Mauer’s 2012 went a long way to erase 2011 from fan’s memories. He led the league in OBP and if you don’t consider his 2009 MVP season, Mauer was back to being Joe Mauer. He will probably never hit 29 home runs again, especially in Target Field, but the Twins’ flexibility with Mauer has allowed them to keep his bat in the lineup almost every day.
Josmil Pinto – 23, C/DH, AA – Pinto has virtually no shot to make the 25-man roster having barely played any ball above High-A. The Twins like his bat, but if he’s going to stick as a catcher he’s going to have to catch a lot of breaks. As Aaron Gleeman said in a recent podcast (I’m paraphrasing heavily), if he’s already splitting time at DH in the lower levels, he could easily be stuck at 1B or DH by the time he’s ready to put on a MLB uniform.
Infielders Jamey Carroll – 38, Utility Infielder, MLB – At 38 years-old Carroll is long past his prime as a baseball player, that the Twins might have to use him as a starting infielder in 2013 gives you a pretty good idea about how bad they’ve been at producing middle infield talent with their farm system in the recent past. Carroll lived up (mostly) to his solid defensive and on-base percentage track record in 2012, but if this team is really building toward the future, Carroll needs to be relegated to utility infield duties by mid-season to give the youngsters more opportunity.
Brian Dozier – 25, SS, MLB – 2012 started off so well for Dozier. Coming off a red-hot 2011 campaign, Dozier had a great spring and after crushing the ball to start the year in Triple-A the Twins called him up to be their everyday shortstop. From there things went poorly. Dozier hung on for 84 games hitting just (.234/.271/.332) while playing sub-par defense before the Twins sent him back down to Triple-A. Dozier wouldn’t be the first MLB regular who failed in his first Big League opportunity, but some of the luster has worn off and he’ll need another strong spring – offensively and defensively – to play his way back into the good graces of upper management. He should be on the 25-man roster to start the season, if for no other reason than to make sure 2012 was not a fluke.
Eduardo Escobar – 23, Utility Infielder, MLB – Escobar was obtained from the White Sox in the deal that sent Fransico Liriano to Chicago. Escobar played sparingly with the Sox over the past two seasons playing all over the diamond (3B, 2B, SS, and LF), but he isn’t a true shortstop. Between Dozier, Carroll and Florimon, Escobar is probably the odd man out, starting the year in Rochester.
Thomas Field – 25, MI, RF, MLB – Claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies, Field has primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, but has spent time at second base as well. He doesn’t have a big bat, even in the Minor Leagues (.264/.359/.414 across five seasons), but he seems to be proficient with the glove. I don’t expect him to make the 25-man roster, and he’s a guy I could easily see the Twins removing from the 40-man roster to make room for a free agent signing. EDIT: Per MLB Trade Rumors, Thomas Field has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim.
Pedro Florimon – 25, SS, MLB – Florimon is entering his second full season in the Twins organization after being claimed from the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Florimon played in 43 games with the Twins and hit poorly but showed flashes of spectacular defense, as is Florimon’s MO. After suffering through a combination of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, and Brian Dozier at SS the past couple of seasons the Twins like Florimon’s defensive upside, but he’ll have to hit better than .219 to beat out Brian Dozier and earn the starting spot at short.
Justin Morneau – 31, 1B/DH, MLB – Entering the final year of his 6 year/$80 million dollar contract, Morneau will earn $14 million dollars in 2013. Morneau finally seemed to put his concussion behind him in the second half of 2012 and when he’s healthy he is still a valuable offensive weapon. He plays above average defense at first base, and if he has another strong half of a year and the Twins are out of contention by the All-Star break, the Twins could easily flip him for a prospect this summer.
Chris Parmelee – 24, 1B/RF, MLB – Parmelee does not have much of anything left to prove in Triple-A after hitting a blistering .338/.457/.645 batting line in 2012, but he’s yet to have sustained success with the Minnesota Twins. He had a red hot September in 2011, but with almost 3x as many plate appearances in 2012 he hit like a Pedro Florimon, with a little more power. The Twins will need to find regular at-bats for Parmelee in 2013, but with a crowded outfield, Mauer and Morneau splitting time at first, and a solid rotation at DH, there just is no room for Parmelee on the roster as it is currently constructed. I do not expect the Twins to trade Parmelee, especially with Morneau unlikely to return in 2014, and Parmelee might have to log a few more months in Rochester before a spot opens up for him on this Twins team.
Trevor Plouffe – 26, 3B, MLB – Was Plouffe’s six-week power surge for real? Did his thumb injury keep him from succeeding at the tail end of last season? Or was the real Trevor Plouffe something in between, a guy with questionable defensive ability and occasional power to left field? Terry Ryan said on Monday night in an interview on 1500ESPN that the Twins want to bring in some third base competition for Plouffe this winter, but the Twins have bigger holes at shortstop and in the pitching rotation, so it seems highly unlikely that that Twins will bring in anyone that could really threaten Plouffe’s hold on the starting third base job.
Daniel Santana – 22, SS/2B, High-A – Santana is widely considered as the best shortstop prospect in the Twins system, but without any playing time above High-A, he’s not making the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. Santana could move quickly through the system in 2013, probably starting the year in AA, and if he continues to play well and hit he could easily be in Rochester before the season’s end. Santana just turned 22 years old, so even if he is not Big League ready until 2015, he’d still be just 25 years old. A lot of upside here, but like many of the Twins’ best prospects, he’s a long way from donning the Twins uniform.
Outfielders Oswaldo Arcia – 21, RF, AA – Arcia took another big step forward in 2012 posting one of the best batting lines of his career in a full season at Double-A. Along with Double-A teammate Aaron Hicks, Arcia should be roaming the outfield in Rochester to start 2013, but if the Twins deal Span, Revere or Willingham he could potentially be looking at a MLB tryout in Spring Training. As a corner outfielder he’ll need to continue to hit at Triple-A to retain his prospect value, but if he succeeds he could be a Twins regular as early as 2014.
Joe Benson – 24, CF/RF, AAA – 2012 was a lost year for Benson. After a solid 2011 season he was rewarded with a September appearance with the Twins and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he flashed his defensive value and speed, along with a beautiful head of hair. In 2012 Benson started the year at Triple-A, struggled and was demoted to Double-A, struggled more, was injured, rehabbed in the Rookie League and at High-A, and then struggled again at Double-A before ending the year back on the disabled list with a knee injury. I think the Twins will put Benson back at Double-A to start 2013, but he could quickly join Arcia and Hicks in what would be a really fun outfield for the Rochester Red Wings.
Aaron Hicks – 23, CF, AA – Formerly the Twins #1 prospect, Hicks was rated as high as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the 2010 season, but by 2012 he had fallen all the way off the Top 100 list. Then, as if motivated by his removal from the list, Hicks had a great 2012 and vaulted his way back up Twins prospect lists and sits firmly behind Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton as one of the Twins’ best Minor League ballplayers. Hicks hit .286/.384/.460 in 129 games in Double-A last year, and he also hit well from both sides of the plate, something he’d struggled to do for the past couple years, so much so that there was talk that Hicks give up his switch hitting ways. Hicks combines a high-upside bat with spectacular defense and a great arm. He likely has all the defensive ability of Ben Revere, but with a bat that could profile well even as a corner outfielder. If the Twins move Willingham, Span or Revere this winter, Hicks is likely to be the best fit to fill in, but I would be a little more comfortable if he had some time in Triple-A to build on his 2012 success before handing him a starting job in Minnesota.
Darin Mastroianni – 27, CF/RF/LF, MLB – I feel like a broken record here, but if the Twins move one of their starting outfielders this winter, Mastroianni is probably the immediate beneficiary in terms of playing time. While he’s perfectly suited in his role as a fourth outfielder, he would likely be exposed offensively if given an increased workload. His defense is good enough for him to play everyday, but his bat would suffer. Mastroianni’s speed and versatility give him an advantage over Chris Parmelee for a 25-man roster spot, but if the Twins are dead set on finding room for Parmelee, Mastroianni could be squeezed.
Ben Revere – 24, RF, MLB – A year ago Twins fans were clamoring for Revere to earn a full time spot in the Twins outfield, and despite his weak arm, the Twins installed him as their everyday right fielder. Revere has the range and defensive ability to play center field, but Ron Gardenhire is a manager that frequently defers to his veterans, and even after another year of watching Revere make spectacular plays in the outfield, Gardenhire is unlikely to swap roles with Span and Revere. The biggest takeaway from 2012 for Revere was his offensive improvement. He’s always going to be a guy who’s batting average will sit around .300 with plenty of infield hits, and he won’t take a lot of walks, but if he continues to develop extra base power, he’ll be a Denard Span lite (which the Twins would be happy to have in center field if – again- they move Span this winter).
Denard Span – 28, CF, MLB – Span has been the Twin most frequently listed on MLB Trade Rumors, and if the Twins are really looking to bring back a quality starting pitcher, his team friendly contract makes him the most likely candidate to go. After battling concussion issues in 2011, Denard Span played 128 games in a mostly healthy 2012 campaign and his offensive season was almost identical to his career averages. The Twins hold a team option on Denard Span for 2015, so if the Twins keep him around, he could still be with the team when they have a realistic opportunity to contend for the AL Central. Span is a valuable player even if the Twins are bad again in 2013, but with so many holes in their starting rotation it is hard to see Span sticking around until Opening Day.
Josh Willingham – 33, LF, MLB -2012 was a great year for Josh Willingham. His best as a major leaguer and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his 35 home runes, 110 RBIs and a .260/.366/.524 batting line. Willingham is unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2013, but even if he’s the player he was in Washington and Oakland, he’s a valuable corner outfielder and the Twins best power hitter (though a healthy Justin Morneau could certainly give him a run for his money). Willingham is likely locked into his left field role again in 2013, even if the Twins move Span and bring up a talented youngster. He doesn’t play great defense, but as Babs likes to say, it looks like he’s trying really hard out there, and effort goes a long way in earning forgiveness from the fans (something Delmon Young never got the hang of).
So there they are, TWENTY ONE TWENTY position players. The Twins are unlikely to carry five catchers on the roster once Spring Training breaks, and of the five, Drew Butera is the most likely candidate to be removed. Of their nine infielders, I think the Twins could remove Escobar or Field without too much concern of another team claiming either player (or not), and of the two, I think Field is the most likely to be waived. It would be tough for the Twins to sneak any of their outfielders through waivers and these seven are likely to remain unchanged in the near future. Mastroianni could become expendable if either Arcia or Hicks join the 25-man roster, but that is likely to happen only if the Twins move one of the current MLB incumbents, likely Span or Willingham, should that scenario arise.
The Minnesota Twins are sending seven players to the Arizona Fall League (AFL). For those of you that are unfamiliar with the AFL, it is a six team league in (big surprise) Arizona that generally features some of the top prospects from the Minor Leagues. Of the seven players the Twins sent to the AFL in 2011, three have played a significant role for the MLB club this season, Cole De Vries, Scott Diamond and Brian Dozier.
Evan Bigley, 25, Right Field, Started 2012 at AA New Britain, Currently at AAA Rochester
Evan Bigley was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Dallas Baptist University, alma mater of former Minnesota Twin and current Baltimore Oriole Lew Ford. Bigley started the year back in Double-A, his third consecutive year in New Britain, and while his batting average was slightly higher than it was in 2011, his on-base skills were exactly the same as they were the year ago (.311 OBP). However, in 2012 he was hitting the ball with a lot more authority, slugging almost 70 points higher in 2012 before being promoted to Rochester. Bigley has struggled to adjust to AAA pitching, hitting just .211/.241/.328, the worst batting line of his Minor League career. As a corner outfielder in the Twins system Bigley is going to need to adjust to high-level pitching or he’ll quickly become an afterthought in an organization filled with high-upside outfield talent like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Joe Benson.
Logan Darnell, 23, Left Handed Starting Pitcher, AA New Britain
Logan Darnell was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Kentucky. Darnell profiled as a reliever coming out of the draft, but the Twins have used him exclusively as a starter the past two seasons. In 2011, despite mediocre numbers, Darnell moved quickly through the system advancing from Low-A Beloit all the way to AA New Britain. He’s spent all of 2012 at New Britain and really struggled to find success. While his ERA is down in 2012 (5.21 from 5.28), his WHIP, HR/9 and BB/9 all went up while his SO/9 and SO/BB rates went the other way. Darnell is on pace to pitch more than 150 innings for the 2nd consecutive year, so he certainly has the arm strength to remain a starting pitcher, but if he cannot find greater success against talented hitters he’ll need to move to the bullpen to extend his career.
Kyle Gibson, 24, Right Handed Starting Pitcher, Started 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Currently at AAA Rochester
Kyle Gibson was the Twins’ first round draft selection (22 overall) in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri and went from High-A Fort Myers to AAA Rochester in his first year in the Minor Leagues in 2011. In 2011 Gibson pitched fairly well in the first half of the year before being shut down with elbow inflammation before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery. Gibson rehabbed for the first 2/3 of the 2012 season spending time with the Twins Gulf Coast and High-A squads before returning to Rochester earlier this August. Reports on Gibson are that he’s throwing the ball as hard, if not harder, than he was before his surgery and his control is as good as it has ever been. Gibson was rated as high as the number 34 overall prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season, and if he pitches well in the AFL could have a chance to compete for a spot in the starting rotation when the Twins leave Spring Training in 2013.
Chris Herrmann, 24, Catcher, AA New Britain
Chris Herrmann was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Miami (along with teammate David Gutierrez, who did not sign in 2009,but signed in 2010 when the Twins drafted him again). Herrmann spent most of 2011 in New Britain and has been there for the entire 2012 season. Herrmann is probably the Twins best hitting catcher in the system, but he’s also been getting playing time as an outfielder and DH in order to keep his bat in the lineup for the Rock Cats. He’s hitting .268/.342/.385 with a career high 10 HR and 23 2B. The Twins will likely be watching how Herrmann calls games in the AFL and how his bat plays against some higher-level pitching.
Nate Roberts, 23, Corner Outfielder, Low-A Beloit
Nate Roberts was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of High Point University. High Point University has only produced 1 Major League Players, RHP Cody Allen, who made his Major League debut in 2012 for the Cleveland Indians despite being drafted a year after Roberts. Roberts is repeating Low-A Beloit in 2012 after spending all of 2011 there despite posting a .302/.443/.446 line in his first year above rookie ball. Roberts has posted another impressive line in 2012, .306/.438/.438, but he’s 23, about a year older than the average player in the Midwest League, so with his success at Low-A he’ll likely be promoted to Fort Myers for the 2013 season, regardless of how he preforms in the AFL.
Caleb Thielbar, 25, Left Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at High-A Fort Myers, Currently at AAA Rochester
Caleb Thielbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 18th round of the 2009 draft. Thielbar failed to get past Low-A in the Brewers system and found himself playing Independent Baseball in 2011 for the Saint Paul Saints. The Twins plucked Thielbar from the Saints at the end of 2011 and he made 3 appearances for the Fort Myers Miracle before the season came to an end. According to Seth Stohs of TwinsDaily.com, Thielbar throws between 88 and 91 MPH with a good slider/curve. As a 25 year old starting the 2012 season, Thielbar was two years older than the average High-A Florida State League player. He’s moved quickly through the season posting SO/9 rates of 11.7 at High-A, 9.4 at AA, and while he is struggling a little bit at AAA, he’s still managing 7.1 SO/9, a strike out rate that would make half of the Twins’ current bullpen green with envy. Thielbar will likely need another year at AAA before he has a chance to be a realistic option for the Twins, but as a 25 year old with just barley a year in the Twins’ system, the Arizona Fall League gives the Twins additional opportunities to see what Thielbar can really do.
Michael Tonkin, 22, Right Handed Relief Pitcher, Started 2012 at Low-A Beloit, Currently at High-A Fort Myers
Michael Tonkin was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of the 2008 draft. Tonkin signed quickly and spent the end of 2008 and all of 2009 in the Gulf Coast League. In 2010 Tonkin split time between the Elixabethton Twins in the Appalachian League, and ended the season with the Low-A Beloit Snappers. Tonkin was promoted to Fort Myers about midway through the 2012 season and he’s continued to strike out more than 12 batters per 9 innings. According to Kevin Goldstein, Tonkin has a big fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a low 80s slider that helps him reach those lofty strike out numbers. It will certainly be worth following Tonkin in the Arizona Fall League against significantly more advanced hitters. A solid showing in the AFL and Tonkin could start 2012 in AA as a 23 year old.
And that’s about it. I’m certainly not an expert in the Minor Leagues or scouting, but hopefully this gives you a little bit of information about the Twins 2012 Arizona Fall League participants.
The last time the Twins were any good (2010) they were swept out of the post season once again by the New York Yankees. The Twins finished that season with 84 wins, 4th best in all of baseball. They were rewarded for their success with the 30th selection in the 2011 draft. With that pick they selected Levi Michael.
At the time of the draft Levi Michael and the University of North Caroline Tar Heels were playing their way into the College World Series (where they promptly made a two game exit). Levi Michael was in the midst of a fairly strong junior season (.289/.434/.434 (BA/OBP/SLG)), but he dealt with an ankle injury early on in that season which nagged him for a good part of the year. His sophomore season at UNC was his best, hitting .343/.484/.575 and ranked as the 13th best hitter in the ACC. While Michael was never projected to be a power hitter, his on-base skills (more walks than strikeouts 47/41) and his speed, coupled with pretty decent range on the defensive side of the ball made him one of, if not the top shortstops in the draft.
Selecting Levi Michael was a departure from the Twins’ usual draft strategy of drafting toolsy high schoolers (think Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks) and college arms (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers), and was their first college position player taken since Travis Lee in 1996.* Perhaps the Twins selected Michael understanding that he was one of the best players available to them with the 30th pick and they certainly had a system void of shortstops with high upsides.
The Twins signed Michael late for $1.75 million and despite not having a chance to play competitive baseball for the Twins in 2011, they started him at High A playing a combination of shortstop and second base for the Ft. Myers Miracle. Going into 2012 Baseball America rated Michael as the Twins 6th best prospect. TheTwins’ rationale at the time had to be that Levi Michael was a polished college player who should not have much trouble adjusting to professional baseball, and could rise quickly through the Twins MiLB system.
In 87 games for the Miracle, Michael has struggled to get his offensive game going. He is hitting just .237/.333/.309. He has continued to showcase a strong understanding of the strike zone at High-A, walking in more than 11% of all plate appearances. Unfortunately, he is not getting on base enough to steal bases and he has not shown any of the power he did in college, with just 15 extra base hits so far this year (his OPS of .642 does not even rank him in the top 100 of the Florida State League). Michael’s batting line is held down mostly due to a poor 1st half where he batted just .216/.317/.293. He’s been much better in the second half so far (.275/.365/.339) and he’s cut his strike out rate nearly in half down to 12.8% from 22.6%. However, as a switch hitter he’s still struggling mightily against right handed pitching, with an OPS of just .608, almost 100 points lower than against left handed pitching. At 21 years of age Levi Michael is the 3rd youngest player on the Miracle Roster, and almost two full years younger than the average Florida State League player, so even if he spends all of 2012 and part of 2013 in Ft. Myers he would still be a full year younger than the average player when he joins the Double-A Rock Cats.
While his bat is still adjusting to the professional game, Michael is making most of the plays at both SS and 2B and leads the Miracle in games played and Fielding% at both positions. Michael’s future in the middle infield is still up in the air as the Miracle have him splitting time between the two positions, spending slightly more time at short. I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about his defensive abilities beyond the tidbits I have listed above. I have not seen him play in person, and I do not know if the errors he is committing are because he is getting to balls outside of his range and not making plays, or because he is just booting balls on routine plays. Any help in this area would be greatly appreciated.
The biggest take-away on Levi Michael is that it is still early. He is in his first year of professional baseball and he is one of the youngest players on his team. He is going to face plenty more ups and downs in his career. Compared to the Twins’ current shortstop, Brian Dozier, Michael has posted essentially the same line in his first year of High-A baseball that Dozier posted in his first full year at the same level, but Michael is two years younger and did not have the extra two years in the Twins system that Dozier had. The future might not look bright right now, but Levi Michael is still the best middle infield prospect in the Twins system not named Eddie Rosario.
*The Twins whiffed on Lee in 1996, failing to sign him in the two weeks following the draft. He eventually signed a $10 million dollar 4-year contract with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks and was their starting first basemen in their inaugural season in 1998 (and came in 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting). Lee posted a career bWAR of 5.3.