June 18, 2008

Twins Notes: Liriano, Rincon, Guerra, Lamb, and Buscher

  • Francisco Liriano turned in another encouraging outing Sunday at Triple-A, allowing two runs on five hits over 7.1 innings. With five strikeouts and more fly balls than ground balls he's still not dominating, but Liriano handed out zero walks and has now issued a grand total of 11 free passes over his last eight starts. He walked 13 batters in three starts with the Twins, so that's a huge improvement. During that eight-start stretch Liriano posted a 3.38 ERA and 42-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53.1 innings.
  • Removed from the roster last week, Juan Rincon declined an assignment to Triple-A and will soon be a free agent unless the Twins can make an unlikely trade in the next few days. Rincon is owed $2.5 million either way and clearly feels that his career will be more easily salvaged elsewhere, saying: "I've got to go do something, find another team to make it back to the big leagues." Rincon's steady decline has been chronicled here repeatedly over the past two years, but for anyone who's missed it:
    YEAR      SO%     K/BB     OAVG     xFIP
    2004 32.4 3.4 .181 3.15
    2005 26.3 3.1 .224 3.32
    2006 20.6 3.0 .270 3.73
    2007 18.1 2.0 .273 4.67
    2008 15.0 1.3 .292 5.34

    Rincon's performance has declined across the board each year since 2004, including annual drops in strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, opponent's batting average, and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. Beyond that, his fastball and slider are both down 3-4 miles per hour compared to his prime. He's only 29 years old, but there's little chance of the decision to release Rincon coming back to haunt the Twins in a meaningful way. Agreeing to pay him $2.5 million for this season was the mistake.

    After posting mediocre numbers as a full-time starter in the minors, Rincon shifted to the bullpen with the Twins and ended up making just three starts in 386 total appearances. He struggled initially, but emerged as one of the AL's elite setup men as a 24-year-old in 2003. In 2004 he had a career-year, going 11-6 with a 2.63 ERA, 106-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .181 opponent's batting average over 82 innings.

    He remained an elite reliever in 2005, was still fairly good in 2006, and then struggled in 2007 before completely falling apart this season. For his Twins career Rincon went 30-26 with a 3.69 ERA over 441 innings, including a four-year stretch that saw him appear in 44 percent of the team's games while posting a 2.93 ERA with 318 strikeouts in 319 innings. Rincon's time in Minnesota came to an ugly end, but his run from 2003-2006 ranks among the best by a reliever in Twins history.

  • J.J. Cooper of Baseball America talked to an unnamed scout about teenage right-hander Deolis Guerra, who was acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal. According to the scout, Guerra's velocity being down significantly compared to last season may be due to mechanical changes:
    He's throwing from a higher arm slot than last year. I really think he'll be fine, but I think he has a couple of mechanical things. I think he tried to create some angle to the plate instead of just relying on his changeup being his best pitch. He's trying to be a different guy. I only saw flashes of the changeup I saw last year. It's not as good as it was.

    [...]

    Long-term, he'll be fine. A lot of times a team will wait to make changes with a player they pick up in a trade. They'll do the right things and get him going again. I'll be interested to see the difference between his first-half and second-half splits.

    Guerra was considered by many to be the centerpiece of the Santana deal from the Twins' point of view and prior to the trade BA ranked him as the Mets' top prospect ahead of the trade's other three pieces, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber. Guerra spent last year playing at high Single-A in the Florida State League and is back there again this season. Along with missing 4-5 miles per hour on his fastball, here's how his numbers compare:

    YEAR       IP      ERA      SO%      BB%     K/BB     OAVG     GB/FB
    2007 89.2 4.01 17.8 6.7 2.64 .240 1.42
    2008 63.1 4.83 12.1 10.6 1.13 .266 0.64

    He's still only 19 years old, but that's pretty ugly for someone repeating a level. His strikeouts are down 32 percent, his walks are up 58 percent, and he's shifted from ground-ball pitcher to a fly-ball pitcher. Mulvey and Humber haven't fared much better together at Triple-A. Mulvey has a 3.82 ERA and 64-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71 innings, while Humber has a 5.52 ERA and 39-to-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60 innings. Without Gomez's flashes of brilliance, the trade's early returns would be pretty rough.

  • When the Twins signed Mike Lamb to a two-year deal this offseason the hope was that he'd provide enough of an upgrade offensively to make up for sub par defense. He's predictably shown the lack of range that made the Twins one of only a few teams interested in him as a starting third baseman, but surprisingly has also hit just .224/.263/.302 after batting .281/.342/.464 in four seasons with the Astros. In terms of all-around performance, Lamb has been every bit as bad as Tony Batista was in 2006.

    Batista was mercifully let go after 50 games, but the Twins' investment in him was just $1.25 million. Lamb is owed $3.5 million this season and $3 million next season, and the Twins hold a $3.5 million option for 2010 (with a $100,000 buyout), so he'll almost surely stick around. Beyond the contractual differences, Lamb's track record shows that he's capable of far better production offensively, whereas Batista's track record matched his putrid offense and defense.

    There's still hope for Lamb to turn things around offensively, but it sounds like the Twins will give Brian Buscher a chance to supplant him against most right-handers, with Matt Macri taking over against left-handers. As a left-handed hitter who potentially offers a good batting average, solid on-base skills, and mediocre power with a poor glove, Buscher profiles as very similar to Lamb. Interestingly, that same Buscher-Macri platoon was suggested in this space a month prior to the Lamb signing:

    If the Twins were somehow willing to go with unproven players and perhaps take a hit defensively, a Macri-Brian Buscher platoon at third base could be pretty productive for about $650,000.

    It took $6.6 million and 58 bad games from Lamb for the Twins to give it a try, but the Buscher-Macri platoon remains very capable of being productive offensively at a low cost and it'd be tough for them to be any worse than Lamb defensively. Buscher didn't do much for the first four seasons of his pro career and at 27 years old he doesn't possess much long-term upside, but he's been fantastic since coming to the Twins last year.

    Buscher hit .309/.385/.493 in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, and .319/.402/.514 in 50 games at Triple-A this year. He's shown decent power during that time with 22 homers and 61 total extra-base hits in 645 plate appearances, and has done a great job controlling the strike zone with a 62-to-64 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go with a .312 average. His age and pre-2007 struggles make him far from a sure thing, but if given a chance he could hit much like the Twins hoped Lamb would.

  • First-round pick Aaron Hicks agreed to a $1.78 million signing bonus and will begin his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Fellow first-round picks Carlos Gutierrez and Shooter Hunt have yet to sign, but they're expected to do so eventually and it looks like the Twins will end up agreeing to terms with each of their first six selections. That may not sound newsworthy, but the Twins (and other teams) have lost quite a few high-round picks and future major leaguers because they didn't sign.

    Among the prominent players who were drafted by the Twins from 1990-2003 and declined to sign: J.J. Putz, Jason Varitek, Jeff Clement, Gary Matthews Jr., Aaron Heilman, Paul Maholm, Steve Pearce, Travis Lee, Adam Lind, Emil Brown, Danny Kolb, Brian Lawrence, Josh Bard, and Alex Cora. In fact, during that 14-year stretch the Twins drafted and failed to sign over 30 players who ended up in the big leagues (including multiple All-Stars and several current top prospects).

  • Lamb, Macri, and Nick Punto were also originally drafted by the Twins and failed to sign, but ended up in Minnesota eventually anyway via trades and free agency. Coming out of high school Pat Neshek was drafted by the Twins in the 45th round, but chose Butler University instead of signing and was taken again by the Twins three years later, this time in the sixth round. Along with moving up 39 rounds, Neshek went from a marginal signing bonus to a nice chunk of change.

    Adam Johnson was taken by the Twins in the 25th round coming out of high school in 1997, but chose Cal-State Fullerton over signing. Three years later the Twins selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the entire draft, but unfortunately Johnson proved to be a complete bust almost immediately. After putting up mediocre numbers in the minors, he posted a hideous 10.25 ERA in just 26.1 innings with the Twins and was released at the age of 25.

  • Over at his Minneapolis Star Tribune blog, Joe Christensen passed along an interesting note from the Twins' recent road trip to Milwaukee:
    They are closing the roof here, as another storm is on its way. ... Think about this: The Brewers have kept the roof open for only six of their first 30 home games. That's a harrowing stat for the Twins, with an open-air ballpark being built for 2010.

    There's a group of "ballpark defenders" who come out of the woodwork whenever someone like me opines that it's a mistake to build an open-air venue in Minnesota, but the above stat about Milwaukee seems more relevant than the "average" temperatures and rainfalls that are often quoted to argue that Minneapolis isn't much different than other cities where teams play without roofs. Whatever the case, the Twins will be canceling multiple games or playing in some ugly weather come 2010.

  • In what may prove to be a rare bright spot on the otherwise execrable St. Paul Pioneer Press site, news editor Mike Decaire has started up a new blog called "The Curse of Big Papi." So far it serves mostly as a clearinghouse for Twins content in other places, with Decaire occasionally adding in a few thoughts of his own alongside various links. One good sign: Decaire liberally links to blogs rather than focusing on mainstream sources, which is a must for anyone diving into the vast Twins blogosphere.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    June 15, 2008

    Vote: Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com

    Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, and Elisha Cuthbert each had lengthy stints as title-holders, but the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com throne has been vacant since Cuthbert was stripped of her crown in November of 2006. Since then she's reemerged as a potential candidate to reclaim the title, along with five other first-time candidates. I've been trying to decide on the new OFGoAG.com for 18 months now without being able to definitively make a decision, so let's put it to a vote. First, a refresher on the candidates:

    Or if you'd like to do further research:

    - Keeley Hazell: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    - Elisha Cuthbert: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    - Jenna Fischer: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    - Kate Beckinsale: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    - Mila Kunis: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    - Marisa Miller: Wikipedia ... Google Images ... YouTube Video

    Note: After over 1,600 votes the polls are now closed. Check back Friday for the results.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    June 12, 2008

    Link-O-Rama

  • You know someone is a badass when they not only fought off home intruders, but did so by "striking one with a bed post that he unscrewed from his bed." Noah Herron is like MacGyver, but with slightly better third-down skills.
  • With the offseason giving him a break from losing basketball games every night, Marko Jaric has even more time to hang out with his supermodel girlfriend fiancee.
  • Speaking of dating Timberwolves, recently dismissed NESN host Hazel Mae showed more range than Carlos Gomez by dating former Wolves guard Ricky Davis and SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy.
  • This (not safe for work) video of a woman going insane on the subway is mesmerizing to watch:


    Amazingly, the spectacular "I'm Pressin' Charges" remix somehow manages to be even better:


    My favorite part is the Najeh "Deuce" Davenport cameo, but the remix is 270 seconds of perfection.
  • With the World Series of Poker in full swing, it's time for my annual plea to check out Paul McGuire's must-read Tao of Poker blog.
  • On a related note, when you're playing craps for so much money that Barry Greenstein tells you it makes him physically ill ... well, that means you're Phil Ivey.
  • When asked last week why Keeley Hazell hasn't already cemented Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com status given her seemingly impressive credentials, my response was as follows: "Her being frequently nude is actually the main conflict, crazy as that sounds. A large percentage of the people reading this site do so at work and another sizable fraction of the audience is under the age of 18, so linking to her latest photo spread is sometimes problematic."

    No doubt taking that as a personal challenge, Hazell put on a whole bunch of clothes this week while showing almost zero skin, and still looked stunning.

  • Between this story and this website, it was a banner week for upsetting my mom with e-mailed links.
  • These photos probably ruined whatever slim chance Jessica Alba had of reclaiming OFGoAG.com status, but at least she had the decency to repopulate the planet with a girl to carry on her genes.
  • If you only watch one video of a skateboarder riding testicles-first into a pole, make it this one:


    Even Torii Hunter would probably agree that's marginally dumber than sliding head-first into first base.
  • Quote of the Week, from highly underrated potential Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kate Beckinsale: "I'm the worst wife in the cooking department. I always thought you can't be good at food and sex, but you can always order the food in."
  • Will Leitch recently announced that he's leaving Deadspin to serve as a contributing editor for New York magazine. Leitch is a friend of AG.com, sending thousands of readers here over the years and doing some print work for Rotoworld's draft guides, and he's also arguably the biggest name in sports blogging. For him to leave a blog that pays him a good salary and gets a half-million visitors per day for a magazine is intriguing.

    Buzz Bissinger saw Leitch as the representative for "the internet" when he freaked out at him on HBO, but in truth Leitch has writing chops that go well beyond blogging. My sense is that after three years of producing relative short, humor-driven entries about sporting events and odd news items he wanted to stretch his writing legs again. As Leitch told Michael David Smith of AOL FanHouse in an interview last week: "I'm going to be doing long, 8,000-word features for them, and I'm looking forward to that."

  • Smith recently tried to handicap the field for who'll replace Leitch at Deadspin, offering up a couple dozen names ranging from Deadspin staffers A.J. Daulerio and Rick Chandler to Bill Simmons. Smith understandably didn't throw himself into the mix, but he'd probably be my pick to partner with Daulerio as Deadspin's new tag team. Few sports bloggers produce more content or better content than Smith, and his relatively straightforward writing style would be a good fit alongside Daulerio's humor.
  • OFGoAG.com candidate Mila Kunis even looks cute pumping gas. Oh, and she also cleans up nice.
  • Chris Bosh might be giving Gilbert Arenas a run for the "Most Amusing NBA Player" title:


    Actually, Bosh is funny, but Glen "Big Baby" Davis steals the show about four minutes in.
  • After four years of Twins blogging, friend of AG.com Will Young has decided to take a break:
    Sadly, becoming an adult has given this site a smaller priority in my life every day. ... So I'm not going to write for awhile. Will I never write again? Probably not. I'm sure at some point I'll get the creative juices flowing for a random entry here or there.

    But now that I have a wife to share my free time, house to maintain, a lawn to mow ... I just cannot give this site much of my time. Thanks for helping nourish this hobby for several years and for giving me way more visitors than I ever expected. It has been a lot of fun, but it's time for me to move on.

    Will has a knack for writing excellent articles on Twins history and his game-by-game Win Probability Added charts were a great resource, so he'll be missed tremendously. When it comes to his stepping away from blogging, the good news for me at least is that he's less likely to pass along embarrassing stories from his experience as my roommate at the upcoming Society for American Baseball Research Convention. Or maybe that'll be enough to coax him out of retirement.

  • As Gregg Rosenthal recently discovered, like Al Saunders my playbook is too complicated to copy.
  • Here's a new sports-related product from AG.com reader Jory Dyvig: The Grill Topper.
  • As always on Friday mornings, you can listen to me on KFAN radio at around eight o'clock talking Twins on "The Power Trip Morning Show" with Mike Morris, Cory Cove, and Chris Hawkey. Click here to listen online and feel free to call in with a question.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Ben Harper (minus The Innocent Criminals) doing a stripped-down version of "In the Colors":


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    June 11, 2008

    Twins Notes: Height, Lately, False Hustle, and Sir Sidney

  • Teammates with the Twins' low Single-A affiliate in Beloit, Wisconsin, Loek Van Mil and Chris Cates were recently featured on ESPN as the tallest and shortest players in baseball:


    A 7-foot-1 right-hander who was signed out of the Netherlands, Van Mil has a 2.73 ERA and 32-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29.2 innings as a reliever this season. Cates is a 5-foot-2 shortstop who was taken in the 38th round of the 2007 draft out of the University of Louisville and has hit .269/.348/.301 in 185 plate appearances. While Cates is merely organizational filler, Van Mil cracked my annual list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into last season and narrowly missed doing the same this year.
  • Juan Rincon's future with the Twins has become a popular discussion topic lately, with much of the media coverage and quotes from Twins management making it seem like his struggles are a new thing. As Ron Gardenhire put it last week:
    He's done a lot of great things here so you keep running him out there. He has a track record of getting people out. He's struggled lately, but he's continuing to work.

    Gardenhire's definition of "lately" differs considerably from mine. As noted in this space repeatedly over the past two years, in reality Rincon's pitching has steadily declined each season since 2004:

    YEAR      SO%     K/BB     OAVG     xFIP
    2004 32.4 3.4 .181 3.15
    2005 26.3 3.1 .224 3.32
    2006 20.6 3.0 .270 3.73
    2007 18.1 2.0 .273 4.67
    2008 15.0 1.3 .292 5.34

    That pattern was plenty clear this offseason, yet the Twins tendered Rincon a contract and signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Whether you focus on stuff or results, he's a shell of his former self. Rincon's strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, opponent's batting average, and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching have each declined every year since 2004. Beyond that, his fastball and slider are both down 3-4 miles per hour compared to his prime. There's nothing "lately" about his struggles.

    UPDATE: Rincon has been designated for assignment.

  • Here's an amusing note about Torii Hunter from the Los Angeles Times:
    Torii Hunter has some advice for the Little Leaguers who saw him dive headfirst into first base trying to beat out a grounder Saturday night: Don't try this at home.

    "That was the first time in my entire career I've done that, and it will be the last time--I won't do it again," Hunter said. "The next day, I felt like I had played a football game. My whole body was stiff. Kids, don't ever slide headfirst into first. It's false hustle."

    During their four seasons together with the Twins, Hunter likely saw Nick Punto slide head-first into first base no fewer than 50 times. Oh, and "false hustle" is the exact phrase that I've used in the past to describe Punto's annoying habit.

  • Francisco Liriano's velocity remains significantly below where it was prior to Tommy John surgery, but his outings at Triple-A have gotten increasingly impressive. Liriano tossed six innings of one-run ball Tuesday, striking out seven and handing out just one walk for the fifth time in six starts. He has a 3.35 ERA and 41-to-15 strikeout-to-walk over 51 innings since being sent back to Rochester, including racking up 21 strikeouts over 18.1 innings during his last three starts.

    Liriano's complete inability to throw the ball over the plate sabotaged a rushed comeback attempt and he continued to struggle with command for several starts upon being sent back to Triple-A, so it's very encouraging to see the progress that he's made with his control over the past month. Liriano can have success in the majors again whether or not his stuff ever returns to pre-surgery levels, but consistently throwing strikes becomes hugely important if his fastball continues to clock in at 90-92 miles per hour.

    While he's made great progress at Rochester, it's worth noting that Liriano remains nowhere near his old self. Totaling 41 strikeouts over a 51-inning span is far from exceptional, especially compared to the amazing strikeout rates that he posted prior to surgery, and his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is nearly even after he once ranked among the most extreme ground-ball pitchers in baseball. Liriano looks nothing like the mess we saw in April, but also still looks nothing like the phenom we saw in 2006.

  • After driving in Carlos Gomez with a ninth-inning single last night, Alexi Casilla is now hitting .330 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games since being called back up from Triple-A. Prior to that, he batted just .257 with a grand total of three homers and 23 RBIs in 129 career games at Triple-A. Funny game, that baseball.
  • Over at The Hardball Times, Alex Eisenberg has an interesting breakdown of Twins first-round pick Aaron Hicks' swing mechanics. Here's an excerpt:
    First, you can see the potential just ooze out of Hicks: a lot of athleticism; a frame with plenty of room to fill out; and a swing that can be worked on to produce a lot of power down the road from both sides of the plate.

    Hicks shows fast hands, strong wrists and a fast bat. When he is efficient with his mechanics, his swing can pack a lot of pop. He aggressively turns his hips and lets the ball come to him, though there are times he can get a little handsy with his swing.

    [...]

    Hicks has the components for a powerful swing: the weight transfer, the aggressive hip rotation, the hips and hands turning together (at times) and the sight of seeing the ball jump off his bat. There are smaller things that need to be worked on, but Hicks' tools are phenomenal, and his athleticism should help with any adjustments he needs to make.

    Very encouraging, although Eisenberg's conclusion throws some cold water on things:

    I've seen reports on a need for Hicks to improve his pitch recognition, so the coaches in the Twins organization are really going to have an interesting time turning this tremendous athlete into a complete player. One piece of advice if I were the Twins: Don't teach Hicks to hit the ball on the ground and "take advantage of his speed." Teach him to drive pitches over the outfield wall.

    Unfortunately, counting on the Twins to "teach him to drive pitches over the outfield wall" is like counting on me to skip dessert. For more on Hicks and the rest of the Twins' draft, check out my recap.

  • After pitching horribly for the Twins last season Sidney Ponson latched on with the Rangers this year and went 4-1 with a 3.88 ERA in nine starts, including a complete-game win over the Twins two weeks ago. Unfortunately for Ponson, surprisingly solid pitching couldn't keep him from getting released by the Rangers when his longstanding off-field problems became an issue again:
    He embarrassed the team and himself with an ugly incident at the hotel bar while the team was playing at Tampa Bay. Observers say that when the bartender there tried to cut off a clearly already over-served Ponson, the Aruban right-hander became enraged, challenged him to fight and teammates had to intervene. And Ponson was pitching against the Rays the next day.

    [...]

    Ponson helped out by pitching on three days' rest. But that doesn't excuse him from Friday's near-violent outburst when he learned he was being pushed back a day to accommodate Millwood. Depending on whom you talk to, Ponson may have even challenged manager Ron Washington to fight.

    All indications are that Ponson was a model citizen while going 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA for the Twins, but that someone with his history would even think about drinking while experiencing success for the first time in years says an awful lot about the strength of his demons.

  • Speaking of former Twins pitchers making headlines for something other than their pitching, Matt Garza got into a "shoving match" with catcher Dioner Navarro during his start Sunday. Traded away this offseason as the centerpiece of the package that went to the Rays in exchange for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie, Garza has gone 4-3 with a 4.38 ERA in 11 starts.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    June 10, 2008

    Recapping the Twins' Draft

    By selecting Aaron Hicks with the No. 14 overall pick in last week's draft the Twins used their first pick on a high-school hitter for the eighth time in the past 10 years. Here's the complete list:

    Selecting Joe Mauer first overall in 2001 has worked out brilliantly, but taking B.J. Garbe fifth overall two years earlier was a disaster. A toolsy outfielder from Washington, Garbe batted .235/.305/.325 over eight minor-league seasons, never made it past Double-A, and announced his retirement at the age of 25. Matt Moses is on a Garbe-like path to being a complete bust, sporting a .257/.313/.391 career line in the midst of his sixth minor-league season.

    Denard Span got off to a hot start at Triple-A this year, but is a .285/.353/.354 hitter in six minor-league seasons and looks capable of becoming at best a fourth outfielder in the majors. Trevor Plouffe has a similarly unimpressive .255/.323/.376 career line, although he's improved since moving past Single-A. Chris Parmelee and Ben Revere have both established themselves among the Twins' top prospects, but because neither player has advanced past Single-A the jury is still out on their long-term potential.

    Mauer has lived up to the hype as the No. 1 pick and both Parmelee and Revere look capable of being good players at this point, but the foursome of Garbe, Span, Moses, and Plouffe will likely provide very little combined value given where they were drafted. Of course, mixed in with those eight high-school hitters were a pair of college pitchers in Matt Garza (25th overall in 2005) and Adam Johnson (second overall in 2000). Garza is already a solid big-league starter, but Johnson was a complete bust.

    Hicks was a two-way star in high school and most teams reportedly liked him more as a pitcher, but he made it clear prior to the draft that he wanted to be a position player and the Twins selected him as a center fielder. Teams having to decide whether to groom a top high-school player as a pitcher or hitter is not uncommon. For instance, the Twins made Plouffe a full-time shortstop after taking him with the 20th overall pick in 1999 despite many teams viewing him as having more upside on the mound.

    Baseball America ranked Hicks as possessing the second-best arm strength and third-best fastball in the high-school class, but also pegged him as the second-best athlete. BA's scouting report on Hicks called him "the finest prep outfielder/pitcher prospect in the greater Los Angeles area since Daryl Strawberry in the early 1980s" and compared him to former first-round pick Adam Jones, who's now starting in center field for the Orioles. Here's more of BA on Hicks as a position player:

    As an outfielder, Hicks projects as a five-tool player, and his arm grades out to near 80 on the scouting scale. With his plus speed (6.6 seconds over 60 yards), Hicks is a daring and aggressive baserunner. His speed, easy range and arm mean Hicks will begin his career as a center fielder. Prior to the 2008 season, many scouts had reservations about his hitting ability. A switch-hitter, he's shown improvement by lowering his hands. His hitting mechanics and lightning reflexes permit scouts who believe in him to project him as an above-average hitter with above-average power.

    Between Revere, Span, Garbe, and Hicks the Twins have used four recent first-round picks on athletic, speedy outfielders who came with questions about their bats, although Hicks is generally believed to have far more power potential than anyone expected from Span or Revere. MLB.com called Hicks "one of the more athletic outfielders" in the draft, but added: "He's got a ton of tools, but will he learn how to use them?" Here's the MLB.com scouting report on Hicks:

    Hitting Ability: Hicks generally has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate, but sometimes gets away from it, using his athleticism more than a polished game plan.

    Power: He has raw power potential, showing flashes of it in BP. He's more gap-to-gap in games now, but should develop the ability to hit the ball out of the park as he gets bigger.

    Running: He's a plus runner who ran a 6.6-second 60-yard dash at the showcase. He needs some work on his technique and jumps. He can outrun some throws at the high school level, but will start getting caught stealing once he advances.

    Arm Strength: He's got a plus, plus arm from the outfield and has even shown the ability to throw in the mid-90s from the mound.

    Fielding: He's a plus defender who glides to the ball with very fluid actions. With his plus speed, he covers a lot of ground in center field from gap to gap.

    Physical Description: Hicks is a very athletic, projectable, toolsy outfielder.

    MLB.com's description of Hicks as "very athletic, projectable, toolsy" is essentially the epitome of what the Twins look for in a position player, so in that sense he's a perfect fit. Torii Hunter was described that same way when the Twins selected him out of an Arkansas high school with the 20th overall pick in the 1993 draft, but even with the many high draft picks spent on "athletic, projectable, toolsy" teenage outfielders since then there have been many more misses than hits.

    Interestingly, after taking Hicks with their own first-round pick the Twins then used the compensation picks that they received for losing Hunter via free agency on a pair of college pitchers, taking University of Miami closer Carlos Gutierrez at No. 27 and Tulane University ace Shooter Hunt at No. 31. Much like taking Revere last year, the Twins provided the biggest surprise of the first round by grabbing Gutierrez, who was expected go several rounds later and didn't even have an MLB.com scouting report.

    Gutierrez missed the 2007 season following Tommy John elbow surgery, but unlike Francisco Liriano came back stronger than ever this year, posting a 3.02 ERA, 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .199 opponent's batting average over 48 innings. As the closer for one of the country's best college teams Gutierrez could move through the minors quickly and the Twins' sudden bullpen struggles may have played a part in the selection, although there's talk that the team plans to use him as a starter.

    He was in Miami's rotation pre-surgery, but works almost exclusively with a low-90s sinker and doesn't appear to have the secondary stuff that most teams look for in a starter, as BA notes that "he throws a slider on occasion, but it currently can't be considered average." Giving him a chance to prove the scouting reports wrong as a starter is an interesting idea, but if Pat Neshek struggles to bounce back from his own elbow injury next year Gutierrez may be fast-tracked to the Twins' bullpen.

    Taking Hunt with the 31st overall pick is my favorite draft choice that the Twins made this year, and not just because "Shooter Hunt" is great name. Ranked by BA as the 11th-best prospect in the entire draft class, Hunt was pegged as having the second-best offspeed stuff of any college pitcher. He posted a 2.68 ERA, 126-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .175 opponent's batting average in 101 innings, taking Pitcher of the Year honors in Conference USA. Here's some of his scouting report from BA:

    Batters just can't put the barrel on his lively fastball, which sits at 91-92 mph and tops out at 94, or his hard breaking ball, which features curveball break and slider velocity. A full-time catcher until his junior year in high school, Hunt still is learning the nuances of pitching. He nibbles at the corners and often pitches away from contact rather than attacking hitters. As a result, he had allowed more walks than hits this spring. A sturdy 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Hunt should be more than capable of handling the demands of starting in pro ball. His biggest adjustment will be learning to trust his stuff so he can keep his pitch counts down. He flashes a plus changeup in the bullpen, though he doesn't use it much in games.

    It's not often that the Twins target a pitcher with less than outstanding control, so they must think very highly of Hunt's raw stuff and believe that he'll eventually fit into the organization's strike-throwing mold. Athletic, toolsy high schoolers haven't provided a great return for the Twins recently and save for some prominent exceptions taking college closers in the first round typically provides mediocre value, but balancing Hicks and Gutierrez with a high-upside college starter in Hunt was a good move.

    After making three first-round picks, the Twins used their second rounder on arguably the nation's top junior-college prospect, shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. There are questions about his ability to remain at shortstop long term and his amazing numbers offensively should be discounted somewhat given the level of competition, but it's nice to see the Twins targeting someone for their bat while addressing the organization's longstanding lack of middle-infield depth.

    In the third round the Twins selected right-hander Bobby Lanigan from Gary Dell'Abate's alma mater, Adelphi University. Like Ladendorf he's faced questionable competition while at a Division II school, but Lanigan is 6-foot-5 and BA reports that he throws a low-90s fastball and a quality slider. Puerto Rican high schooler Danny Ortiz went to the Twins in the fourth round, with BA calling him "a sweet-swinging outfielder ... with a projectable bat and a good approach at the plate."

    Perhaps surprisingly the Twins then went fairly heavy on college players, taking San Diego State third baseman Nick Romero in the fifth round, Cincinnati left-hander Dan Osterbrock in the seventh round, New Orleans catcher Jeff Lanning in the eighth round, and Vanderbilt outfielder-second baseman Dominic de la Osa in the 11th round. They even took Gophers left-hander Kyle Carr in the 12th round despite his ugly 6.13 ERA this season.

    BA notes that Romero should be capable of sticking at third base defensively, which is good news given that he led San Diego State in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage this season by hitting .335/.418/.544, although his 49-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't a great sign. Osterbrock went 9-2 with a solid 3.55 ERA while walking just 10 batters in 14 starts, but managed only 74 strikeouts in 99 innings and allowed opponents to bat .283.

    Lanning hit .369 with a team-leading .627 slugging percentage, but threw out just 5-of-32 runners from behind the plate. BA notes that de la Osa "is a free swinger and somewhat streaky, making his bat his main question mark," but he hit .297/.410/.506 with 27 steals while No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez batted .317/.424/.593 in the same lineup. For more on the draft, check out BA's unmatched coverage, MLB.com's in-depth reports, and friend of AG.com Keith Law's analysis at ESPN.com.


    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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