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.
The crop of youngsters looking to make their mark in 2012 are Evan Bigley, Logan Darnell, Kyle Gibson, Chris Herrmann, Nate Roberts, Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin. Outside of Gibson, and maybe Herrmann, many of these names are likely unfamiliar to all but the most hardcore Twins fans. What follows then, will be a brief introduction to some of the Twins’ top Minor League prospects.
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.
PS: For those of you interested in listening to another Twins podcast, I recently started one.