February 23, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Ben Revere | Center Field | DOB: 5/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     RK     216     .325     .388     .461      0     16     13     20
2008     A-     374     .379     .433     .497      1     28     27     31
2009     A+     517     .311     .372     .369      2     19     40     34

Any prospect would look great while leading the minor leagues in batting average like Ben Revere did in 2008, but hitting "only" .311 last season showed why his long-term upside is limited. That mark still ranked second in the Florida State League, yet Revere couldn't even crack a .750 OPS thanks to just 34 walks, two homers, and 19 total extra-base hits in 121 games. The good news is that Revere's blazing speed and excellent contact rate should allow him to maintain lofty batting averages.

The bad news is that even if he hits .300 in the majors Revere's secondary skills would basically make him Juan Pierre. In fact, their minor-league stats were very similar at this stage. Both spent age 21 at Single-A. Pierre hit .320/.366/.390. Revere hit .311/.372/.369. Pierre homered once, stole 66 bags, and had 38 walks versus 37 strikeouts. Revere homered twice, stole 45 bags, and had 40 walks versus 34 strikeouts. Being the next Pierre certainly isn't a bad thing, but it's not really a great thing either.

And right now that appears to be Revere's ceiling, which doesn't leave much room for error if he's only able to hit, say, .280 in the majors. Any thoughts of Revere developing the power to move beyond Pierre territory to comparisons with a higher level of speedy, weak-armed center fielders like Kenny Lofton or Johnny Damon have been all but extinguished and pitchers will never be afraid to throw him strikes, so the most likely way to improve his outlook would be upping his walk rate from bad to mediocre.

4. Miguel Angel Sano | Shortstop | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

Considered by many to be the premier international prospect available last year and one of the most advanced bats to come out of the Dominican Republic in a long time, Miguel Angel Sano saw multiple teams end their pursuit once MLB was unable to confirm his age. Instead of signing along with the rest of the top international players in July he waited until September, choosing the Twins over the Pirates and several other teams for a $3.15 million bonus that was lower than expected.

Of course, $3.15 million is still by far the highest bonus that the Twins have handed out internationally and ranks as the second-most any team has ever given to a Latin American prospect outside of Cuba. Investing in international prospects is incredibly risky, but the Twins should be applauded for spending the money to land Sano and ultimately his signing bonus is less than Nick Punto makes per season. And at the age of 16 the consensus is that Sano has almost limitless upside offensively.

In fact, praise for his bat is strong enough that no one seems to care that he has little shot of sticking at shortstop (or even third base). He's already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, which obviously led to the doubts about his age, but even if he's actually 18 or 19 the signing is a worthwhile risk. Had he been eligible for the draft Sano almost surely would've been a first-round pick and perhaps a top-five selection. He's yet to play a minor-league game, so believe it or not his spot on this list is actually sort of conservative.

3. Wilson Ramos | Catcher | DOB: 8/87 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     A-     316     .291     .345     .438      8     26     19     61
2008     A+     500     .288     .346     .434     13     38     37    103
2009     AA     214     .317     .341     .454      4     20      6     23

Promoted to Double-A as a 21-year-old after thriving in the low minors, Wilson Ramos missed around two-thirds of the season with finger and hamstring injuries while continuing to show tons of promise in the 54 games he was healthy enough to play. Ramos hit .317 with 20 extra-base hits in 205 at-bats for a .795 OPS in a league where the average mark was .717 and the average hitter was 24. Oh, and he's also a catcher who gunned down over 40 percent of steal attempts for the second straight season.

Ramos has never walked much and basically swung at everything last year, drawing six free passes in 214 trips to the plate. At some point he'll have to be more patient to take full advantage of his offensive potential, but a 21-year-old hacking away versus Double-A pitchers is expected and Ramos did hit .317 while cutting his strikeout rate in half. Plus, after the season he went to the Venezuelan Winter League, where in addition to batting .332 with 12 homers and 14 doubles in 54 games he drew 21 walks.

Solid defensive reviews, excellent throw-out stats, and consistently strong batting make Ramos one of the best catching prospects in baseball. He's a career .294 hitter and has shown plenty of pop despite pitcher-friendly environments and being young for every level. Ramos has played just 54 games above Single-A and catching prospects have a notoriously high flameout rate, so there's no need to question where he'd fit on a team with Joe Mauer quite yet, but a healthy, productive 2010 would change that.

2. Kyle Gibson | Starter | DOB: 10/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2009-1

Initially a consensus top-10 pick who Baseball America ranked as high as the fourth-best player in last June's draft, Kyle Gibson fell into the Twins' lap with the 22nd pick after a late-season dip in velocity led to the discovery a stress fracture in his forearm. Once he received a clean bill of health Gibson held out for top-10 money, eventually signing for $1.8 million literally minutes before the August 18 deadline and too late for the 6-foot-6 right-hander to make his pro debut.

Despite pitching through the injury in a hitter-friendly environment that averaged over 11 runs per game, Gibson was 11-3 with a 3.21 ERA and 131-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106.2 innings during his final year at the University of Missouri. He works primarily in the low-90s with his fastball and also features a pair of plus off-speed pitches in a changeup and sharp slider, throwing everything with great command and some sinking action.

He doesn't quite project as a dominant ace, but just about everyone seems to agree that he's capable of becoming a strong No. 2 starter and should move very quickly up the minor-league ladder. Thanks to their willingness to gamble a bit on what proved to be a short-term injury the Twins were able to nab an experienced college starter who'd been projected as a top-10 pick for several years, and Gibson fits the organization's preferred strike-throwing mold with better raw stuff than their usual control artists.

1. Aaron Hicks | Center Field | DOB: 10/89 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK     204     .318     .409     .491      4     18     28     32
2009     A-     297     .251     .353     .382      4     22     40     55

Prior to the 2008 draft Baseball America called Aaron Hicks "the finest prep outfielder-pitcher prospect in the greater Los Angeles area since Daryl Strawberry." Most teams liked Hicks as a pitcher, but the Twins picked him 14th overall as a hitter and he made an immediate splash by batting .318 with power and patience at rookie-ball after signing for $1.8 million. Rather than jump straight to full-season action last year the Twins kept him in extended spring training until June and then sent him to low Single-A.

Hicks played 67 games alongside No. 6 prospect Angel Morales in Beloit's outfield, but failed to match his great debut by hitting just .251 with four homers. The good news is that his glove received positive reviews in center field and he drew 40 walks in just 297 trips to the plate, proving that the surprisingly strong plate discipline he showed in rookie-ball was no fluke. In fact, he had the second-highest walk rate of any hitter in the Twins' entire minor-league system. As a 19-year-old in his full-season debut.

Rarely is such a patient approach found in a teenager, let alone a teenager billed as a "five-tool talent." He has plus speed with an absolute cannon for an arm and is expected to develop 20-homer power as a switch-hitter, which along with a strong walk rate would make him pretty close to a perfect all-around player. At this point Hicks is far more about projection than performance, but his OPS was solidly above the Midwest League average as a 19-year-old and any way you slice it his upside is tremendous.

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