November 29, 2006

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 36-40
35. Doug Deeds | Left Field | DOB: 6/82 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-9

YEAR LV AB AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2004 A+ 435 .294 .364 .448 5 45 43 86
2005 AA 493 .304 .382 .479 16 52 56 119
2006 AA 440 .282 .383 .470 14 52 70 107

In a system full of good pitchers and toolsy position players, guys like Doug Deeds tend to get lost in the shuffle. A ninth-round pick out of Ohio State University in 2002, Deeds batted .294/.364/.448 at high Single-A in 2004 and .304/.382/.479 after moving up to Double-A in 2005. At 23 years old with full seasons at both Fort Myers and New Britain, it seemed natural that the Twins would promote Deeds to Triple-A last year. Instead, Deeds actually spent the entire 2006 season back at Double-A.

He batted .282/.383/.470 in 133 games, ranking third among Eastern League hitters in OPS, yet failed to receive even a late-season promotion to Triple-A despite Rochester's need for bats after much of their lineup was promoted to Minnesota. Given Deeds' track record, it's telling that the Twins let Deeds essentially waste a year of development by repeating a level he had already conquered. I suspect the front office doesn't think much of him as an eventual big-league option, which is a shame.

Deeds doesn't have big-time home-run power and he's not an athletic speedster, but does have good plate discipline with enough pop to be dangerous, and is thought to be a capable defender at first base or either corner-outfield spot. That doesn't make him a future star, but in an organization lacking quality hitting prospects he's a guy who could be a solid left-handed bench bat or even platoon starter if given the opportunity.

34. Brandon Roberts | Center Field | DOB: 11/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: Reds

YEAR LV AB AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2005 RK 274 .318 .386 .438 4 19 24 44
2006 A+ 532 .293 .349 .355 4 23 36 82

Originally taken by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, Brandon Roberts hit .318/.386/.438 in rookie-ball after signing, got off to a slow start at high Single-A in 2006, and was traded to the Twins for Juan Castro in mid-July. I called the trade a perfect "example of addition by subtraction" at the time, but it has a chance to be more than that after Roberts remained in the Florida State League and hit .316/.370/.396 in 71 games with Fort Myers.

Roberts' overall hitting line of .293/.349/.355 in 131 games is nothing to get excited about even in the pitcher-friendly FSL and a complete lack of power means he'll never be an impact hitter, but his world-class speed makes him an intriguing prospect anyway. Roberts has 82 stolen bases in 199 pro games, including 50 steals in 2006, and has reportedly learned to take advantage of his speed enough defensively to be above average in center field long term.

Roberts is no higher than the No. 3 speedy, slap-hitting center-field prospect on the organizational depth chart and it's difficult to get overly excited about someone who could somewhat accurately be described as the next Jason Tyner, but at 22 years old he has a chance to be a decent major leaguer. Roberts is no more of a clear replacement for Torii Hunter than anyone else in the system, but he at least might be a rich man's Tyner after hitting lefties (.315) better than righties (.289) last season.

33. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19

YEAR LV AB AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2006 RK 190 .311 .365 .505 8 21 15 34

Danny Valencia didn't put up any huge numbers at the University of Miami, hitting .300/.355/.471 as a sophomore and .324/.382/.475 as a junior, but the Twins saw something they liked and grabbed him in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. Valencia signed quickly rather than return to school for his senior season and reported to rookie-level Elizabethton, where he played primarily first base with some third base mixed it.

It remains to be seen where Valencia's long-term home is defensively, but it's clear that the Twins drafted him for his bat. Valencia hit .311/.365/.505 with eight homers and 13 doubles in his first 48 pro games, ranking among the pitcher-friendly Appalachian League's top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. An experienced college hitter beating up on rookie-league competition isn't particularly rare or impressive, so it'll be interesting to see how Valencia does in his first full season.

Typically a tools-oriented organization that leans toward pitching and high schoolers, the Twins have done relatively well grabbing a few college hitters like Valencia, Whit Robbins, and Erik Lis in the middle rounds over the past couple years. Valencia gives a nice boost to a system lacking impact bats, although he's considerably less valuable if playing third base passably is ruled out. At 22 years old and with big-conference college experience, he could move quickly.

32. Brian Duensing | Starter | DOB: 2/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2005 RK 12 9 2.32 50.1 49 4 55 16
2006 A- 11 11 2.94 70.1 68 3 55 14
A+ 7 7 4.24 40.1 47 4 33 8
AA 10 9 3.65 49.1 51 6 30 18

While at the University of Nebraska, Brian Duensing missed most of 2003 and all of 2004 because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He bounced back to go 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 2005 and the Twins selected him in the third round that June. Duensing debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and posted a 2.32 ERA and 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.1 innings, although those numbers are less impressive than they initially appear given his younger, less experienced competition.

As most teams do with a polished college hurler, the Twins promoted Duensing aggressively in his first full season, with stops at low Single-A and high Single-A before two months at Double-A to finish the year. Duensing certainly held his own, posting a 3.49 ERA in 160 total innings, but his secondary numbers show a pitcher who was far from spectacular. Duensing tallied just 118 strikeouts, failing to whiff as many as 7.5 batters per nine innings at any level, and gave up more hits than innings pitched.

In particular his numbers after moving beyond Beloit were well below par, as Duensing allowed 98 hits, including 10 homers, while handing out 26 walks in 89.2 innings between Fort Myers and New Britain. The Twins were smart for being aggressive with Duensing and he deserves credit for holding his own post injury, but soon he needs to show that he's more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. As a soon-to-be 24-year-old with an iffy strikeout rate and .273 opponent's batting average, I'm skeptical.

31. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1

YEAR LV AB AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2004 RK 237 .283 .340 .380 4 13 19 34
2005 A- 466 .223 .300 .345 13 31 50 78
2006 A+ 455 .246 .333 .347 4 34 58 93

Free-agent compensation left the Twins with seven of the first 100 picks in the 2004 draft and they used all but the first of them (20th overall) on pitchers. Interestingly, some felt that the lone position player they grabbed, high schooler Trevor Plouffe, had more of a long-term future on the mound. The Twins liked him as a shortstop, handing him a $1.5 million bonus and starting him at rookie-level Elizabethton, where Plouffe batted a solid .283/.340/.380 in 60 games.

Unfortunately, it's been all downhill since. Plouffe batted just .223/.300/.345 at low Single-A in 2005, received a promotion to high Single-A that he didn't deserve, and hit .246/.333/.347 there last season. Being moved so aggressively out of high school means Plouffe is still just 20 years old, which is the main thing on his side at this point. He's also considered a quality defender at shortstop, which is why back-to-back sub par seasons at the plate haven't wiped him completely off the prospect map.

Along with that, another thing in Plouffe's favor is that he has good plate discipline for such a young hitter, walking in nearly 11 percent of his plate appearances over the past two seasons. His power isn't horrible for a middle infielder and he doesn't strike out an insane amount, which means if Plouffe can simply find a way to boost his batting average into the realm of respectability he still has plenty of time to salvage a career that's at a crossroads. I'm not overly optimistic or willing to write him off just yet.


November 28, 2006

Winter Meetings Preview

In an effort to whet everyone's appetite in preparation for my trip to the Winter Meetings next week, my NBCSports.com column today focuses on the needs of each American League team and who they might target when the general managers get together in Orlando Monday.

What's Cooking: American League Winter Meetings Preview (NBCSports.com)

Regular readers of this blog won't find anything particularly noteworthy in the Twins write-up, but here it is anyway:

Minnesota Twins

Team Needs: With Brad Radke most likely retiring and Francisco Liriano out for the season following Tommy John surgery, Minnesota needs starting pitching behind Johan Santana. The Twins' lineup, which ranked second-to-last among AL teams in homers, could use some pop from left field or designated hitter.

Possible Targets: A small payroll limits the Twins' options in free agency, so they'll be active as usual in the trade market, with Jason Jennings already mentioned as a possible target. If they do fill openings on the open market, they figure to re-sign Rondell White or go after similar veterans from the scrap heap like Kevin Millar, Ryan Klesko, Matt Stairs, Miguel Batista, and Mark Redman.

I go through a similar run-down for the other 13 AL teams as well, so check it out. On a personal note, I'm proud to say that not only is today's column featured prominently in the NBCSports.com baseball section, it's actually the featured front-page story (as of 11 this morning, at least). For a site that has been almost entirely football since it launched, that's welcomed progress (plus, it's pretty cool).


November 27, 2006

I'm Going to Disney World

For the first four years of this site's existence I rarely went anywhere, save for a random long weekend somewhere or my annual trek to the SABR convention, so it's a bit of shock to my system that I'll soon be packing for my second trip in a month's time. A few weeks ago I headed to New York on business and, stemming directly from that, Sunday afternoon I'll be flying to Orlando to cover baseball's annual Winter Meetings for NBCSports.com.

The week-long event features thousands of representatives from every major-league and minor-league organization, as well as agents, media members, job-seekers, and assorted "baseball men." I'm not entirely sure what to expect, although Alex Belth's wonderful essay about attending the Winter Meetings in New Orleans back in 2003 gives me at least some idea of what I'm getting myself into. Belth began his piece by calling it "one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had" and went on to write:


Smack dab in the middle of the hotel lobby is a squared-off bar area that is raised up off the floor by a couple of feet, carpeted and outfitted with tables. The room is populated with up to several hundred men--agents, scouts, front office assistants, kids looking for jobs, and of course, the members of the media. Essentially, it is a big cocktail party. Groups of guys cluster together and chat. It's the kind of scene where you see a guy pull another guy aside and say, "Step into my office." The rest of the men stand around nervously, as if they were limo drivers at the airport waiting to pick someone up.

It is an inherently tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. The mood isn't dour, it's just forced. After all, this isn't a social gathering, this is business. The teams are in the business of signing players and making trades; the agents are in the business of selling their clients, and the media's business is to be up in everybody's business. As a result, everyone is checking everybody else out. This is amusing. When I first walked in, I was getting the once over too. Some guys shot me suspicious, dark looks, as if to say, "Now who the hell is this?" Others looked at me more openly, with curiosity, as if to say, "Who the hell is that?"

The attention doesn't last long, but it is steady. Once one guy determines you are nobody that interests them, another guy is staring at you. And this isn't just me, of course. This is what the entire room is doing to everyone. It is a very strange feeling, watching a room full of guys checking each other out, eyes darting from face to face. The overall effect has the awkwardness of a seventh-grade dance, except there aren't any girls.

As someone who was awkward at many seventh-grade dances, it should be right up my alley. Belth goes on to describe the "objects of desire" as "more famous men" who basically get gawked at constantly like they're supermodels. He also talks of "reporters doing laps around the bar, looking for their next lead" and "agents on their cell phones arranging meetings." My plan, for now at least, is to be somewhere in between.

In fact, my primary goal is to simply take in the atmosphere, much like Belth did a few years ago, and report back about what exactly goes on at these things. To flip around the old saying, this is my first rodeo, so I have no delusions of breaking big stories or getting scoops. Instead, I'll try to be the ultimate fly on the wall (or limo driver waiting to pick someone up at the airport) and take good notes as it all goes down in front (or at least within ear-shot) of me.

Of course, with so many big names around, I'll also be trying to secure a few interviews for NBCSports.com, which is why I'll be equipped with a video camera in addition to pen and pad. Terry Ryan will be there, as will Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, John Schuerholz, Ken Williams, Walt Jocketty, Brian Cashman, Omar Minaya, Kevin Towers, Dave Dombrowski, and the rest of his 29 counterparts. I'll be pestering them all to come on camera with me, so we'll see if it's possible to go 0-for-30.

While GMs are undoubtedly the headliners, I'm looking forward more to meeting some of my favorite writers. ESPN.com figures to send guys like Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Keith Law, while FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal will surely be pumping out his usual dozen columns per day with all the latest rumors. Beyond that, this will be my first chance to actually meet the Minneapolis Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III, whom I've called the "Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com" for years.

I'm hopeful that being "online friends" with LEN3 will compel him to shield me from Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (and Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune, if he's there), but if not there should be some good footage of me being beaten to death by a rolled up newspaper in the hotel bar. I also hope to meet some of the Baseball Prospectus gang, who are now veterans of the Winter Meetings after once upon a time coming into the experience with the same deer-in-the-headlights look I'll surely have.

For anyone else reading this who's planning to be there--whether you're a big-time mainstream media member, lowly blogger, faceless front-office slave or none of the above--please drop me an e-mail. Not only would I enjoy meeting up with you in Orlando--I hear there might be some late-night drinking involved, in which case the first one is on me--I might be able to get you some camera time. You know, assuming all the GMs aren't lining up to talk to me.


November 23, 2006

Turkey Time

Since the fact that most of you seem to read this site from work means that no one actually stops here on holidays and weekends (relatively speaking, of course) and I could use a little time off, I'm skipping out until Monday. I'll have at least one legitimately big announcement to make early next week, so until then feel free to hang out and speculate in the comments section, eat a lot of turkey, and read my latest column over at NBCSports.com.

Oh, and since it's Thanksgiving and all ... thanks again.


November 22, 2006

MVP! MVP! MVP?

Yesterday afternoon I got an instant message from someone whose job allows them to know such things before everyone else, telling me that Justin Morneau was about to be named the American League MVP in a couple hours. I was certainly very surprised, but after getting over that initial shock and later seeing the official announcement that he'd indeed won the award, my reaction was more or less: "Oh well, that's nice at least."

As I've written here any number of times in any number of ways over the past couple months, I don't think Morneau was even the most valuable player on the Twins in 2006, let alone anything close to the most valuable player in the entire AL. In fact, I think he was the third-most valuable player on the team and, at best, the 10th-most valuable player in the league. I would have voted for Derek Jeter and if given a choice, I personally would have liked Joe Mauer or Johan Santana to win the award.

With that said, I'm certainly not upset that Morneau won. If the voters were going to give the award to someone who clearly wasn't the actual MVP, I'm happy that the pick at least comes from my favorite team. Plus, I came to the conclusion several years ago--somewhere between Miguel Tejada stealing the AL MVP from Alex Rodriguez in 2002 and Bartolo Colon robbing Santana of the AL Cy Young in 2005--that it was pointless to get worked up over the opinions of 28 newspaper beat reporters.

Santana became just the eighth pitcher of all time to win the MLB "triple crown" by leading both leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, yet was totally absent on seven ballots. Similarly, five of the 28 people deemed worthy of determining who receives the league's most important award didn't think the only catcher in baseball history to lead MLB in batting average was among the AL's top 10 players, leaving Mauer completely off their ballot.

The single most ridiculous of those five Mauer-less ballots without question comes from Joe Cowley, who covers the White Sox for the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley somehow couldn't find a place for the MLB batting champion on his ballot, but did see fit to include a different catcher: Chicago's own A.J. Pierzynski (whom Cowley no doubt relied upon for juicy quotes throughout the season). For those of you wondering, here's how the two catchers compare:

                 G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     RUN     RBI
Mauer 140 608 .347 .429 .507 .936 86 84
Pierzynski 140 543 .295 .333 .436 .769 64 65

Mauer beat Pierzynski by 52 points in batting average, 96 points in on-base percentage, and 71 points in slugging percentage, all while coming to the plate 65 more times. Mauer also caught the league's second-best pitching staff and threw out 38 percent of would-be basestealers, while Pierzynski caught a staff that surrendered 111 more runs and threw out just 22 percent of basestealers. Faced with that overwhelming evidence, Cowley gave Pierzynski a 10th-place vote and left Mauer off his ballot.

John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also left Mauer off his ballot, yet found room for Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, whose OPS was 67 points lower than Mauer's without even accounting for the massive difference in their defensive value. Joe Roderick, who covers the A's for the Contra Costa Times, left Mauer off his ballot while giving a second-place vote to Oakland's Frank Thomas and a 10th-place vote to Tejada, who won his aforementioned 2002 AL MVP with the A's.

Even Jason Williams, who covered Mauer all season for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, narrowly found room for him on his ballot with a 10th-place vote. Among the nine players Williams deemed more valuable than Mauer were four designated hitters. That's right, one of two Twins beat writers given a vote for AL MVP felt that four guys who didn't even play defense were more valuable than a Gold Glove-caliber catcher who batted .347. For better or worse, these are the people who made Morneau MVP.

It couldn't be any clearer to me that Morneau is far from deserving of the AL MVP, but it's just as clear that a large percentage of the baseball-watching population--including the actual decision-makers in this case--don't see things the same way. That used to upset and frustrate me a great deal--to the point that today's entry once would have focused on laying out the case against Morneau--but these days it just means I don't pay a whole lot of attention to season-ending awards.

I wholeheartedly congratulate Morneau on a tremendous season that Twins fans will remember for a long time, but offer significantly less congratulations for being deemed the most valuable player in the league by 28 people who're paid to report on AL teams for local newspapers. After looking at some of the odd, biased, and downright illogical choices on their ballots, I tend not to trust or even value their reality. In my reality, Morneau took a relatively clear backseat to both Mauer and Santana in 2006.

If that makes me a bad Twins fan and a horrible person, so be it. Of course, I'll still take it.


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