Friday, January 29, 2010

TEAM #7 – Minnesota Twins

Expect a breakout 2010 from Aaron Hicks

Our 2010 Prospect eGuide is less than two weeks away. If you have enjoyed this series, then check out the details here: .

The Minnesota Twins are our #7 team. They earn that ranking primarily as a function of two things: 1) Their top three prospects can go head to head with most any trio in baseball and 2) There is a tremendous amount of depth in the ‘B+/B/B-‘ grade range. But there is a downside, as few of their top prospects, outside of Gibson, are anywhere close to making a contribution at the Big League level in 2010 or 2011. Of brighter note, the system is well-balanced between position players and pitchers, as well as between high-ceiling and high-floor types. The last few drafts have been solid, and their International Scouting is becoming about as productive as anyone. They still seem to target too many guys with the ceiling of bullpen material for my liking, but all-in-all this is one of the perennially stronger organizations in baseball, as we haven’t had them in the second division in over seven years.

Grade A

1) Aaron Hicks, CF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 54; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 53; Speed 48)

Hicks was one the drafts fastest risers on Draft Day 2008, with some debate as to whether he’d be drafted as a hitter or a pitcher. The Twins snared him at #14, and he debuted in the GCL, posting the #2 Performance Score. Still just 19yo, the Twins sent him to the pitching friendly MWL in 2009, where he posted the #12 Performance Score in that circuit. While a relatively raw, highly-athletic, ‘toolsy’ type that usually gives us pause, Hicks has already demonstrated some performance skills. Despite being one of the younger players in the MWL in 2009, he posted league average or better numbers across the board. The only negative about Hicks is that he needs time. His raw tools are evident. They already translate into reasonable production, and should explode as he picks up the finer points of the game. With a Torii Hunter like upside, look for him to open 2010 in the FSL.

2) Kyle Gibson, RHP -

We had Gibson as the best collegiate pitcher, not named Strasburg, in last June’s draft, right up until he was shut down with a stress fracture in his forearm. Despite this, he still went into draft day at #11 on our board and fell to the Twins at #22. The scouting community tends to knock him because he doesn’t have a true dominating out-pitch, but he adds a low-90s fastball to a potentially plus Slider and Change, then combines that with tremendous pitchability and a High baseball IQ. Add to that, at 6’6”, 208lbs and only 22yo, there is still upside projection in his frame. The negative is that Gibson profiles as ‘only’ a #2 type pitcher at his peak. For us however, the more important thing is that he has one of the higher-floors among all pitchers in the Minors. Gibson looked recovered in instructionals and should open the season at Hi-A.

Grade A-

3) Miguel Sano, 3B –

Sano was widely regarded as the best Latin American talent available this past summer, and was widely thought to be signing with the Pirates until difficulties between the team and his representation created a rift. The Twins happily stepped in and signed him for $3.1MM, and even got his paperwork approved in what was one of this year’s most exhaustive investigations. He is a large, strong, attacking type of hitter that projects to have above average hit skills across the board--with potentially plus power. Although he has been a shortstop growing up, the Twins plan on using him exclusively at 3B. If he outgrows that, his strong arm will profile nicely in RF. His ceiling is enormous. Signing any 16yo kid from Latin America is a gamble, but—to us, Sano looks like the best of those gambles this year. Look for the Twins to have him debut in the GCL this summer.

4) Ben Revere, CF (2009 – Power 28; First Base Rate 77; Discipline 79; Speed 77)

We thought it was a bit of a reach pick when the Twins made Revere a first round selection in 2007—admittedly not the first time, and we were surprised when he posted the top Performance score in his GCL debut that year and followed that up with the Top score in the MWL in 2008. Now facing the more advanced pitching of the FSL, in 2009, we got a bit more of what we expected from Revere, as he posted the League’s #9 score. It’s not that we don’t like Revere, he possesses plus contact skills, plus speed, and excellent plate management skills. Essentially, we have two problems with him: 1) His power is virtually non-existent (3 HRs in nearly 1000 professional ABs) and isn’t likely to develop into much more than a 4-5 home run per year skill; and 2) while he uses his speed to cover a lot of outfield ground, he has a weak arm and isn’t an instinctual CF. While there is little doubt that he could become an effective ‘disruptive’ force at the top of the order, unless he can stay in CF, he is little more than a 4th OF--that’s a fairly high risk. While there is a significant upside to Revere, we expect a Juan Pierre type player to be the more likely outcome. Revere will advance to AA in 2010.

Grade B+

5) Wilson Ramos, C (2009 – Power 57; First Base Rate 39; Discipline 76; Speed 32)

The strength of the Twins system can best be defined by the fact that we are down to the #5 position on the list, and we are still talking about prospects that appear to be better than even-money to be everyday Big League starters. Originally viewed, as a defense first catching prospect, Ramos has quietly developed an offensive game that is capable of playing every day in the Majors, as he posted a top 20 Performance in the ESL. Ramos possesses average power skills, and above average strike zone management skills. Defensively, he shows solid ‘receive’ skills with a plus arm. On the downside, he ‘runs like a catcher’, and likely only has below average contact skills. Ramos was solid in Venezuela this winter, showing that he is likely near Major League ready. Expect him to begin 2010 in AAA, with a shot at making the Twins sometime in 2010.

6) Adrian Salcedo, RHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 78; HRrate 50; Control 77)

After finishing the 2008 DSL season with the #3 Performance Score, Salcedo went one better in 2009, posting the top score in the GCL. Sometimes it is difficult to not get over-excited about rookie league players, and we have to admit having that issue here. Sacledo is a physical beast as an 18yo at 6’4”, 175lbs. He has significant upside projection, already possesses a low 90s fastball that could be a mid-90s offering before he is done. His fastball may be only his second best pitch, as he also possesses a tremendous curve. While certainly still a developing offering, his change shows potential. The best part is that he has a high degree of pitchability, with impeccable command. No pitcher in the system has a higher upside than Salcedo, who has the makings of a future front of the rotation stud. That being said, Salcedo won’t get his first taste of full-season A-ball until this Spring, so we are still a ways off.

7) Angel Morales, CF (2009 – Power 74; First Base Rate 36; Discipline 35; Speed 74)

Morales broke onto the prospect radar screen, with a monster APY season in 2008, that netted him the League’s Top Performance score. He followed that up with the #9 Score in the MWL this past season, and his detractors are still disappointed. Morales is a highly-athletic, ‘toolsy’ player, that has produced. His power skills are potentially plus, and his speed is above average. Defensively he has the range to man center and the arm to be a plus defender in right. Few people in the system have Morales’ upside—that of a power hitting right fielder that plays gold glove defense. The downside is that Morales still has pitch recognition problems and his overly-aggressive approach led to a 25.6% strikeout rate in 2009. This will have to continue to improve in order for him to have success as he moves up the ladder. Look for Morales to play 2010 in the FSL—as a 20yo.

8) Chris Parmelee, 1B (2009 – Power 77; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 37; Speed 36)

Parmelee was a first round selection in 2006, and has developed pretty much along the lines that were expected of him—even if not what was hoped for. Lacking any real mobility Parmelee is likely destined for firstbase, even though his arm and bat could play as a corner OF. This makes the bar slightly higher for him, and highlights his continued tendency to miss good fastballs (22.4% strikeout rate). With potentially plus power and the patience to take a walk, Parmelee has the skills necessary to become a solid average Major League firstbaseman. Still just 21yo, he will open up 2010 in AA, so there is still plenty of time. While we aren’t tremendously disappointed by his development thus far, we just haven’t seen enough yet to get excited about either—yet.

Grade B

9) Oswaldo Arcia, LF (2009 – Power 78; First Base Rate 47; Discipline 76; Speed 77)

After posting a top 15 Performance Score in the 2008 DSL, Arcacia led a talented group of former DSL alumni, in the 2009 GCL, by posting that League’s Top score. With plus power potential, plus plate discipline, above average speed and solid contact skills, Arcia provides a complete offensive package. Defensively, he possesses solid corner outfield skills, but, an only average arm may precipitate a move to LF as he matures. The only downside to Arcia is that he is already an amazingly polished hitter for an 18yo, and doesn’t offer a lot of additional projection. He has the ceiling of an above average everyday Major League corner OF, and will see his first taste of full-season A-ball in 2010.

10) Max Kepler-Rozycki, OF –

Kepler is the highest profile position player to ever come from Europe, and should soon be battling Alex Liddi as the best European position player prospect. Kepler has a true five-tool potential, with tremendous upside, but is significantly raw. Once again pointing to Liddi, while Liddi had a solid debut season in the GCL, it took four years, before things all started to come together. It is not unreasonable to expect a similar development curve for Kepler—although Kepler is coming in with a higher profile. Kepler possesses above average power potential, plus speed and solid contact abilities. His defense is his most advanced skill. Expect his strike zone management skills to take the longest to develop, as he has not seen comparable pitching to what he is about to face. The Twins will take their time with Kepler, likely starting him in the GCL this summer.

11) Deolis Guerra, RHP (2009 – Dominance 41; Stamina 70; HRrate 48; Control 65)

Guerra will unfortunately always carry the burden of being the key player involved in the Santana trade. It’s a heavy cross to bear, and Guerra hasn’t worn it well. In 2008, the first year after the trade, he posted his worst season as a professional. However, if one eliminates his past—both the good and the bad, and just focus on the 2009 season, we find that he posted the #11 Performance Score in the FSL, before posting the #4 Score in the ESL. Guerra doesn’t turn 21yo until a week after the 2010 season begins, and he will likely be opening back in the ESL. There is plenty of upside remaining here, but there are also significant concerns, as his fastball is only a 90mph pitch and his best out-pitch is his change. While his command has improved, it still is only average at best. While we feel that he will never become the pitcher the Twins thought they were potentially getting in the Santana deal, he still can become a solid mid-rotation starter.

12) David Bromberg, RHP (2009 – Dominance 63; Stamina 73; HRrate 49; Control 42)

Not a tremendously high ceiling prospect, Blomberg does offer an intriguing mix of a developed repertoire and sound pitchability. Though he doesn’t possess a true wipe-out offering, he has managed to strikeout batters at a 9.5 batters per 9IP rate during his career. He doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, yet has finished with top ten Performance Scores in each of his last three seasons. While he isn’t likely to become anything more than a back of the rotation starter, Bromberg is the type of pitcher that fills out rotations and eats innings over long careers. He’ll start 2010 in AA as a 22yo, and looks poised to join the Twins sometime in 2011.

13) Danny Valencia, 3B (2009 – Power 66; First Base Rate 38; Discipline 65; Speed 31)

The Twins have been positioning Valencia to be their regular thirdbaseman for two seasons now. Possessing above average power and solid strike zone management skills…we have come to the end of his positive credentials. Defensively he is below average. From a speed standpoint he’s worse than that. He has consistently played a year or so below what he should have played—inflating his mediocre statistics. In a nutshell—if the Twins want to make him their everyday thirdbaseman, it is certainly their prerogative, but Valencia has a reserve player/pinch hitter ceiling. Don’t get us wrong, he’ll likely get his chance—perhaps as early as this spring, but don’t expect the results to be pretty.

Grade B-

14) Joe Benson, CF (2009 – Power 52; First Base Rate 79; Discipline 31; Speed 61)

There are some players that you just never quite get the fascination with. Benson is one of those players for us, as he is a nice prospect, but certainly one without significant upside…one that has always danced around the fringes of true ‘prospectdom’ but never quite broken through. 2009 provided more of the same, as Benson posted a solid season, but still fell just outside of the top 25 scores in the FSL. With potentially plus contact and speed skills, there is material to work with here. Benson has average power and a strong arm, so, with the likes of Revere and Hicks in the system, a move to RF is likely on the horizon. He has the ceiling of an average, everyday, Major League RF. However, none of that is likely to happen if he can’t cut down on his strikeout rate that has been a steady 24% over the course of his career. 2010 will find Benson in AA.

15) Carlos Gutierrez, RHP (2009 – Dominance 32; Stamina 53; HRrate 50; Control 40)

We get the Gutierrez infatuation, as his sinker is one of the Minor’s best, if not the best. What we question is whether that is enough to make a successful Major League career. That being said, Gutierrez is one of the hardest analysis for our computer models, because how he pitches is so unique. What we do know is that there have been few pitchers that fan less than 6 batters per 9IP, while walking nearly 4 that go on to successful careers. We agree with the Twins that he will have better success as a starter than as a reliever, but we remain skeptical for either one. Look for Gutierrez to return to AA to begin 2010 for at least one-half season.

16) Matt Bashore, LHP –
We had Bashore rated as a late second round pick on draft day, about a round later than where the Twins selected him. We saw him pitch frequently this spring, and he cuts an imposing figure on the mound. We see him as a back of the rotation innings eater, but one who has a high-floor, but a low-ceiling. Bashore possesses a low-90s fastball, with three solid secondary offerings—all of which he commands well. The downside is that none of them profile as an out-pitch. After minor off-season surgery, Bashore hopes to be ready this Spring. When he debuts, it is likely to be in the FSL.

17) Billy Bullock, RP (2009 – Dominance 75; Stamina 25; HRrate 50; Control 39)

Unlike us, the Twins aren’t reticent about drafting college relief pitchers, and Bullock is just the latest. We had Bullock as a third round talent, but the Twins tabbed him in round two. Bullock is a two-pitch pitcher, and neither of them is significantly off-speed. His mid-90s fastball is what he typically uses to blow past hitters. Facing less developed talent in the APY and the MWL, he racked up nearly 12 Ks per 9IP. At 6’6”, 235lb, his appearance adds further intimidation. The downside is that he often times doesn’t know where the pitch will end up. The Twins believe that Bullock could be there closer one-day. Until he gets a chance against more advanced hitters, it is all speculation. Look for him to start 2010 in the FSL, with an outside chance of making it to Minnesota by September.

18) Trevor Plouffe, SS (2009 – Power 50; First Base Rate 41; Discipline 64; Speed 35)

The Twins first round pick in 2004, passed the 2500 Minor League AB mark last season…a number that doesn’t usually portend significant Major league success. Plouffe’s problem is that none of his skills are better than average, and a few of them—like lack of speed and marginal defense, don’t play well at his position. Offensively he doesn’t show enough with the bat to profile anywhere else. This pretty much leaves him as a utility type option at the Major League level as his upside. The Twins management still believe in him, and although he is likely to begin 2010 in AAA, he is expecting his first Big League shot before the end of the season. At only 23yo, there is still time for Plouffe, but the time is running short.

19) Josmil Pinto, C/DH (2009 – Power 80; First Base Rate 55; Discipline 64; Speed 29)

We have to put Pinto on this list, although defensively the only position he truly profiles at is ‘hitter’. That didn’t stop the portly Pinto from posting the APY League’s Top Performance Score. With plus power potential, and above average contact and plate discipline skills, there is little doubt about Pinto’s ability to hit. But there is absolutely no speed and no defensive ability. Pinto will get a shot at full season A-ball in 2010, but he will have to continue to hit the cover off of the ball to have any chance at all.

20) Tyler Robertson, LHP (2009 – Dominance 39; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 51)

Robertson is a low-ceiling lefty, that gets by with an advanced four-pitch repertoire, centered around a plus curve. His fastball is a high-80s offering, and that limits the effectiveness of his change. Worse yet, his control is barely average, not what you would want for a pitcher with the lack of Robertson’s pure stuff. Still he still managed a Top 20 Performance score in the FSL in 2009. Robertson, doesn’t have much upside beyond that of a back of the rotation starter. He doesn’t even possess a high probability of achieving that. Robertson will begin 2010 in the ESL.

21) Alex Burnett, RP (2009 – Dominance 70; Stamina 26; HRrate 49; Control 57)

After a disappointing 2008, the Twins shifted Burnett to the bullpen this past season and he responded well. With a low- to mid-90s fastball, and an average change, he has the stuff of a late inning bullpen guy. The downside is that Burnett’s breaking ball is a fringy offering at best. Closing is still relatively new to Burnett, and at 22yo we will give him some time to grow into the role. If he is going to be successful he will have to improve his control and develop some semblance of a breaking ball. He’ll take his act to AA in 2010.

22) Rene Tosoni, RF (2009 – Power 69; First Base Rate 46; Discipline 41; Speed 48)

While Tosoni possesses no exceptional skills, he also has few weaknesses—a formula that he rode to a Top 25 Performance score in the ESL in 2009. There isn’t a high upside with Tosoni, as while he possesses the defensive skills to play any of the three outfield positions, his bat doesn’t profile at a corner, and his base-running is lacking for center. He shows equal versatility in much of the infield, where, while his bat may play in the middle, his defense does not. While we don’t envision Tosoni as a starter in the Big Leagues at any position, there is a playable bat with tremendous defensive versatility, that would make a valuable 24th man. He’ll advance to AAA to open 2010, and with another solid effort, he could earn a roster spot by September.

Grade C+ Prospects –

23) Juan Portes, UT; 24) B.J. Hermsen, RHP; 25) Liam Hendriks, RHP; 26) Tom Stuifbergen, RHP; 27) Ben Tootle, RHP; 28) Jeff Manship, RHP; 30) Michael Tonkin, RHP; 31) Loek Van Mil, RP; 32) Daniel Santana, SS; 33) Brad Tippett, RHP; 34) Derek McCallum, 2B.

Grade C Prospects –

James Beresford; Cesar Ciurcina; Estarlin de los Santos; Rob Delaney; Brian Dozier; Pedro Guerra; Chris Herrmann; Steve Hirschfield; Luke Hughes; Edgar Ibarra; Bobby Lanigan; Steve Liddle; Jose Lugo; Mike McCardell; Jose Morales; Jorge Polanco; Jason Pridie; Daniel Rams; Renzo Reverol; Steve Singleton; Anthony Slama; Brad Stillings; Tobias Streich; Kyle Waldrop; Dakota Watts; Blayne Weller.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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