February 15, 2009

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40
10. Jose Mijares | Reliever | DOB: 10/84 | Throws: Left | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2006 A+ 27 5 3.57 63.0 52 10 77 27
2007 AA 46 0 3.54 61.0 40 7 75 48
AAA 5 0 6.23 8.2 9 3 6 5
2008 RK- 7 0 0.82 11.0 10 0 16 1
A+ 5 0 2.61 10.1 7 0 8 3
AA 11 0 2.93 15.1 16 2 17 7
MLB 10 0 0.87 10.1 3 0 5 0

Signed out of Venezuela in 2002, Jose Mijares ranked No. 28 on my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects three years ago. A disappointing 2007 season full of walks and homers followed and Mijares' prospect stock fell even further when he broke his pitching elbow in a car accident last winter. He returned to the mound in July by getting his feet wet at rookie-ball and Single-A before a promotion back to Double-A in August, posting a 2.21 ERA and 41-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.2 innings overall.

That earned Mijares a September call-up to Minnesota, where he was thrust into a late-inning role and allowed just one run in 10 appearances, including a four-up, four-down outing in the one-game playoff loss to Chicago. Mijares' stuff has never been in doubt and he's racked up strikeouts at every level, but poor control and too many homers led to mediocre overall results prior to last season. He has a 3.71 ERA in 85 career innings between Double-A and Triple-A thanks to 60 walks and a dozen homers.

However, he showed improved control in the minors after returning from the broken elbow and faced 34 major-league hitters without handing out a single free pass with the Twins. As a fly-ball pitcher he'll always be susceptible to the long ball, but a low-90s fastball and high-70s slider can make Mijares a dominant reliever if he consistently throws strikes. Whether he opens 2009 in Rochester or Minnesota the 24-year-old southpaw will be setting up Joe Nathan very soon if he builds on his 2008 success.

9. Jeff Manship | Starter | DOB: 1/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-14

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2006 RK- 2 0 0.00 5.2 3 0 10 1
A+ 4 3 2.08 8.2 7 0 12 2
2007 A- 13 13 1.51 77.2 51 4 77 9
A+ 13 13 3.15 71.1 77 5 59 25
2008 A+ 13 13 2.86 78.2 68 0 63 20
AA 14 14 4.46 76.2 90 8 62 24

An elite high-school recruit whose career at Notre Dame was delayed by Tommy John elbow surgery, Jeff Manship came back with a strong sophomore season and was selected by the Twins in the 14th round of the 2006 draft. Signed for third-round money in the form of a $300,000 bonus, Manship made his full-season pro debut in 2007 and went 15-6 with a 2.30 ERA and 136-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 149 innings between two levels of Single-A.

He stayed back at Fort Myers to begin last year, but was promoted to Double-A after posting a 2.86 ERA with zero homers allowed in 13 starts. Manship hit the first real roadblock of his career at New Britain, going 3-6 with a 4.46 ERA while serving up eight long balls in 14 starts, but still posted a solid 62-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.2 innings. With a career-high 155.1 innings already under his belt, Manship made nine more starts in the Arizona Fall League, including the championship game assignment.

Manship has gone from Tommy John survivor to innings eater, logging 341.1 frames over the past two years without any injury concerns. His strikeout rate has been modest since moving past low Single-A, but he's walked just 2.3 batters per nine innings as a pro while always inducing a high percentage of grounders. Manship is already 24 years old despite not yet debuting at Triple-A and no longer has the upside he did coming out of high school, but is close to arriving in the majors as a mid-rotation starter.

8. Tyler Robertson | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2006 RK- 11 10 4.25 48.2 54 2 54 15
2007 A- 18 16 2.29 102.1 87 3 123 33
2008 A+ 15 15 2.72 82.2 78 3 73 31

Taken by the Twins out of a California high school in the third round of the 2006 draft, Tyler Robertson ranked No. 3 on last year's version of this list after a very impressive full-season debut at low Single-A as a 19-year-old. He moved up to high Single-A last year and was almost as effective, but struggled to maintain peak velocity and was eventually shut down for the season in July due to shoulder problems that some people associate with his unorthodox throwing motion.

Robertson avoided going under the knife and is expected to be healthy for 2009, but questions about his delivery and velocity will no doubt linger after he rarely cracked 90 miles per hour last year and too often worked in the mid-80s. However, that didn't stop him from posting 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranked eighth in the Florida State League among the 50 pitchers who logged 80-plus innings. And all seven of the guys with a higher strikeout rate were at least two years older than Robertson.

Along with the missed bats and success against significantly older competition Robertson also stands out from a performance standpoint because he's induced a grounder on 53 percent of his balls in play while serving up just eight homers in 234 innings. If he can stay healthy and get back to throwing in the high-80s and low-90s on a consistent basis Robertson's numbers suggest No. 3 starter potential, but it remains to be seen if the skeptics are right about lack of velocity catching up to him eventually.

7. Anthony Swarzak | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-2

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2006 A+ 27 27 3.27 145.2 131 8 131 60
2007 A+ 3 3 2.30 15.2 14 0 18 5
AA 15 14 3.23 86.1 78 6 76 23
2008 AA 20 20 5.67 101.2 126 12 76 37
AAA 7 7 1.80 45.0 41 4 26 14

Anthony Swarzak got off to a slow start in 2007 before being slapped with a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's substance abuse policy, but had a 2.67 ERA and 69-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80.2 innings at Double-A after returning. Despite that strong showing at New Britain the Twins sent him back there last year and he was awful, going 3-8 with a 5.67 ERA and .304 opponent's average in 20 starts before an undeserved promotion. And then of course he went 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA at Triple-A.

Those pretty numbers make it seem like something clicked for Swarzak once he got to Rochester, but in reality his success there came via an awful lot of smoke and mirrors. His strikeout rate actually fell 15 percent compared to what he did at Double-A and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was sub par at 26-to-14 in 45 innings. Swarzak thrived in his first taste of Triple-A because 74 percent of his balls in play were converted into outs, whereas that number was 66 percent at Double-A and 68 percent for his career.

His strikeout percentage has declined with every step up the organizational ladder, going from 26.2 at low Single-A and 21.8 at high Single-A to 18.6 at Double-A and 13.8 at Triple-A. To some extent that's due to moving quickly through the system and reaching Triple-A as a 22-year-old, but that trend casts doubt on Swarzak's ability to be more than a mid-rotation starter. The raw stuff is certainly there to miss more bats and he's still got plenty of time to develop further, but his ceiling has lowered.

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

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2006 RK 211 .311 .365 .505 8 21 15 34
2007 A- 271 .302 .374 .500 11 26 28 54
A+ 250 .291 .332 .422 6 16 16 48
2008 A+ 251 .336 .402 .518 5 28 27 43
AA 287 .289 .334 .485 10 30 18 70

Danny Valencia fell to the Twins in 19th round of the 2006 draft after posting relatively modest numbers at the University of Miami, but he's topped his college production as a pro to emerge as the team's best bet for a long-term answer at third base. Valencia predictably thrived at rookie-ball after signing and hit .302/.374/.500 in 66 games at low Single-A during his full-season debut, but dropped to .291/.332/.422 following a midseason promotion to high Single-A.

He stayed back at Fort Myers to begin last year and conquered the level by hitting .336/.402/.518 in 60 games, but again saw his production dip following a midseason promotion. Of course, his second-half decline was still plenty impressive, as Valencia slugged .485 at Double-A as a 23-year-old. He has a .305/.361/.485 line through 304 games, including .313/.367/.469 at high Single-A and .289/.334/.485 at Double-A, which along with a solid glove makes Valencia a very nice third-base prospect.

However, mediocre plate discipline and a high strikeout rate without huge power make him far from a sure thing and he may not have a particularly high ceiling. With that said, he definitely looks capable of developing into an all-around asset and a nice run at Triple-A could make him an option for the Twins as soon as the second half. In four seasons since Corey Koskie left Twins third basemen have hit just .260/.315/.373 with 34 total homers, so .280/.330/.450 or so from Valencia would look awfully nice.


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