July 7, 2010

Checking in on the Twins’ top prospects (and a possible Cliff Lee deal)

Twins prospects are suddenly a popular topic with everyone wondering what type of package the Mariners may accept for Cliff Lee, so I thought it would be worthwhile to check back in on my preseason top five prospects to see how they're faring and how it could impact a potential trade for the ace left-hander. In no particular order ...

Miguel Sano is a very, very long way from the majors, but the early returns on last season's record-breaking $3.15 million investment are looking pretty great for the Twins. Sano debuted weeks after his 17th birthday, homered in his first professional at-bat, and hit .344/.463/.547 in 20 games in the Dominican Summer League to earn a quicker-than-expected promotion to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League ... where he singled in his first at-bat earlier this week.

Rarely does a 17-year-old making his professional debut show good plate discipline and hitters from the Dominican Republic are especially known for hacking at everything, yet Sano drew 14 walks in just 80 plate appearances. Now, two of those walks were intentional and given how thoroughly Sano destroyed DSL pitching several others were probably of the quasi-intentional variety, but his simply not having an immediate aversion to free passes is a pleasant surprise.

• On the other hand, Wilson Ramos has been totally overmatched by Triple-A pitching, posting a hideous 41-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio while hitting just .208/.244/.319 in 52 games. Ramos showed reasonable enough plate discipline in the low minors, but since advancing to Double-A last year he has 14 walks and 64 strikeouts in 106 games. He's making contact at a palatable rate, but the total lack of patience is disturbing along with a .427 career slugging percentage.

Ramos remains a very solid prospect largely due to projecting as a good defensive catcher, but it was always wishful thinking to assume he was even close to an MLB-ready impact bat and that notion now looks silly. With that said, he's still just 22 years old and has fewer than 450 plate appearances above Single-A, so there's no need to sour on Ramos too much. However, if the Mariners view him as an acceptable centerpiece for a Lee trade, it would be very tempting.

• Much less tempting is a report that the Twins have offered both Ramos and Aaron Hicks for Lee, which is far enough above other rumored offers for Lee and previous midseason hauls for impending free agents that I'll assume it's off base. Hicks has been somewhat disappointing since a great debut at rookie-ball in 2008 and his .256 batting average in 143 games at low Single-A is a concern, but he also has 92 walks and 51 extra-base hits in those 143 games.

Few truly excellent prospects have .256 batting averages in the low minors, but his strikeout rate isn't absurdly high and a speedy 20-year-old center fielder drawing 92 walks in 638 plate appearances qualifies as an exceptional skill from which to build. Even with Hicks' stock falling a bit he's still a notch above the quality of prospect I would feel comfortable parting with for a half-season rental and compensatory draft prospects. His upside is just too high.

Ben Revere led the minors with a .379 batting average when he was at the same level and the same age Hicks is right now, but his OPS has dropped 200 points in the two seasons since then. Even coming back down to earth Revere has still hit .311/.372/.369 in 121 games at high Single-A last year and .307/.380/.361 in 64 games at Double-A this year, but the difference is that he lacks the patience and power potential to have the same type of room for growth.

In the past two years Revere has a .375 on-base percentage and .365 slugging percentage, while Hicks has a .363 OBP and .396 SLG. Almost identical, except Revere has done that with a .310 batting average and Hicks has hit .256. Obviously it's better to hit .310 than .256, but in terms of projecting future value Revere will have to bat .300 to make a major impact whereas Hicks could do so at even .275 because he'll tack on significantly more walks and power.

Kyle Gibson went through a brief rough patch at Double-A last month, but has bounced back with three straight impressive starts in which he allowed a total of two runs in 20 innings. He hasn't been nearly as dominant at Double-A as he was at high Single-A to start the season, as his ERA has nearly doubled, his strikeouts are down 10 percent, he's induced 15 percent fewer ground balls, and his opponents' batting average is up 20 percent.

However, some deterioration is expected as a player moves up the minor-league ladder and that mostly just shows how great Gibson was at high Single-A, because a 3.56 ERA, 51-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 54 percent ground-ball rate in 61 innings at Double-A is still plenty strong from a 22-year-old. It's tough to project him as a future ace based on his performance so far because his strikeout rate isn't great, but one step below that seems doable.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'd probably shift the order around somewhat, but my preseason top five prospects would still be my midseason top five prospects. In terms of what I'd feel comfortable parting with in a Lee trade, my focus would be trying to sell Seattle on a deal built around either Ramos or Revere. Ramos because he's a bigger question mark than widely assumed and probably destined to be traded at some point anyway, and Revere because his upside is basically Juan Pierre.

If the Mariners are willing to take Ramos or Revere plus a mid-level prospect or two the Twins would be smart to pull the trigger. And if they're willing to include underrated reliever Brandon League along with Lee it would even make sense for the Twins to give up Ramos and Revere. I'd balk at anything beyond that, including a Hicks/Ramos package. Lee is amazing, but getting him for half a season guarantees nothing and that's just too much long-term value lost.

33 Comments »

  1. How many 22-year olds are thriving in AAA this year? Ramos is never more marketable than now, with that question mark that piques hope.

    Having said that, let’s remember it’s Lee plus two first-round picks. The Twins won’t give Lee AJ Burnett numbers. I’d do Revere/Ramos for Lee in a heartbeat and listen to the cash register ring.

    Comment by Milo Minderbinder — July 6, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

  2. Great post, Aaron. Since this rumor hit the nets I was hoping someone would lay out some assessments on these prospects. I (like many others, I bet) don’t follow the minor leagues very closely, and don’t really know how to evaluate prospects or project their long-term value.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Joe — July 6, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

  3. Completely agree sir. Hicks cannot be a part of this deal. Twins need to do everything in their power to keep his name off the list. We are much better off swaying them with Ramos and Kevin Slowey and his fly ball tendencies in that big park with their great outfield defense. If they don’t want pitching then we give them Revere because like you said his ceiling is Pierre not Crawford.

    Comment by Kurt E — July 6, 2010 @ 10:53 pm

  4. Sano was 2 for 3 with a walk, double and 2 RBI at GCL…

    can we not trade Slama or Waldrop??? Both so amazing…and Gardy seems not to want them in his team???

    Comment by chris — July 7, 2010 @ 12:30 am

  5. I don’t understand why people are so protective of Hicks. What, so the Twins can be marginally better in 2015? That’s great. Kubel, Pavano, O-Hud, Thome, Guerrier are all free agents next year. Delmon and Frankie are up for arbitration. Who knows what this team will look like in 2 years, next year even. With this season, a few things are known. The division is extremely winnable; our starting pitching has been subpar; if the Twins do make the playoffs, they will play a team from the East, against whom they have struggled; with the current roster (especially the way they’ve been playing most of the year), the Twins’ chances of advancing in the playoffs is very very slim. We KNOW these things; we don’t know how good Hicks is going to be. It sure doesn’t look like he’s going to be the “five-tool” monster he had the potential to be. I’m not saying get rid of the bum, but if the Mariners insist on, say, Hicks/Ramos, I just don’t understand why we wouldn’t pull the trigger on a known commodity that gives us a shot in the playoffs just so we can hold on to a player that may or may not help us in 2015, when for all we know the Twins could be an also-ran.

    Comment by Arnold 4331 — July 7, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  6. Aaron –

    How do you evaluate the two picks we get in addition to Lee. I have read that next year’s draft is an especially strong draft (for what that’s worth). Getting a compensatory and supplemental pick in the first round may be worth a low level prospect alone, don’t you think? Do you think the Twins are better off with, say, Shooter Hunt, or with 2 1st round pick in the draft next year?

    Comment by MHFESQ — July 7, 2010 @ 8:48 am

  7. Arnold 4331-Your right, we don’t know what the roster will look like. Thats kind of the point, you need to keep as many of your top prospects as you can so you can keep a good team year in year out. Replacing from within is much cheaper/easier than trying to sign free agents everyone has access to. Dealing away two of your top 5 prospects for a half season and a couple of picks may not be the best move. Also its not guranteed to be first round pick. Theoreticaly say the Yankees go for Crawford and Cliff Lee in the offseason and get both. If tampa misses the playoffs and the twins make it the twins would get a sandwhich round pick and 2nd round pick and Rays a first and sandwhich round as they finished worse the previous year. That scenerio is not all that unlikely.

    Comment by ThatGuy — July 7, 2010 @ 8:50 am

  8. ThatGuy – You’re exactly right. I’d add that there are a few things we know about the 2015 Twins as well: They are already on the hook for $23 million for Mauer. Most if not all of the rest of the current roster will have been replaced. They will still be outspent by larger market teams from the coast.

    All of this adds up to: maintaining the organization’s ability to mount a competitive team by replacing from within will continue to be a necessity.

    ….which does NOT mean that we shouldn’t go after Lee. Just that there is a limit to what we should be willing to give up.

    Comment by Justin — July 7, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  9. Don’t count those 2 picks as a sure thing. Ask Toronto how that worked out, they lost Burnett and ended up getting a sandwich pick and the Yanks 3rd rounder.

    Comment by John — July 7, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  10. I guess it comes down to how bad do you want a World Series. Some fans would rather see the team “competitive” year in and year out. That’s fine. Me, I’d like a World Series, and I’m willing to sacrifice a few wins down the road for a shot at one now. Basically, do you prefer a run like 1985-92, where they made the playoffs twice, had some lean years, but won 2 titles? Or 02-09, where we made the playoffs 5 times and won a total of 1 series?

    There’s definitely some value to looking toward the future. We’ve been doing that for what, 15 years now? At some point, though, that future has to be now. I’d really like to hang on to Hicks too, but I’d also LOVE a big-game ace on this club too.

    Comment by Arnold 4331 — July 7, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  11. Maybe we can trade Ramos for Oswalt straight up.

    Comment by Jose Hernandez — July 7, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  12. ThatGuy-

    I was under the impression that in the situation you describe (the Yankees signing both Crawford and Lee) the better pick would go to the team with the higher rated “A” player. I don’t know the Elias numbers currently, but the last list posted at mlbtradrumors had Lee @ 90, Crawford @ 83. Anyone know the rule here for sure?

    Comment by Matt in SoDak — July 7, 2010 @ 11:30 am

  13. Matt – I believe you are correct -> http://sonsofsamhorn.net/wiki/index.php/MLB_Rules_and_Procedures

    But if Lee signs with the Yankees (or some other high-payroll team), they are likely to finish the season with a pretty good record, and that pick will be something like 25-30 (which isn’t great). I don’t like this proposed deal of Hicks and Ramos, but If I could see the future and discovered it got us to the World Series, I’d be okay with it. But at this moment, I think those 2 names in a deal is way above the value given in similar trades from the recent past.

    Comment by Steve L. — July 7, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  14. Arnold-

    Here’s the issue – Lee would only be here for a half season + one postseason and he by himself only slightly increases the odds of winning the World Series in any given season. I’ll go through the math behind why that matters so much in a second. But first…

    Let’s say the Twins have a 50/50 shot of making the playoffs without Lee and a 75% chance with him. Further, let’s say the Twins have a 15% chance of winning the AL without Lee and a 25% chance of winning with Lee (they would still be inferior to the AL East teams but better than the AL West, so let’s call them even odds). Finally, let’s assume they have a 50/50 chance of winning the World Series if they make it without Lee and a 2/3 chance of winning if they make it with Lee (NL is inferior to AL). If you work out those odds the Twins would have a 4% chance of winning the World Series without Lee and a 13% chance of winning the World Series if they add Lee. So Lee adds 9% to the Twins’ chance of winning the World Series in one season, and the absolute chance is still only about 1/8, which is nothing close to the scenario you envision where adding Lee = championship. Is a 9% increase in those odds worth giving up 2 of your top 3 prospects? I (and many others) don’t think so. Put it this way – would you trade 5 straight years of missing the playoffs altogether for a 9% greater chance of winning the World Series this year (just pointing out the risks – obviously I am pulling a 5 year playoff drought out of my ass to illustrate a point)? Again, I wouldn’t – the increase in the odds for one season just isn’t enough. You can quibble with the above numbers but the conclusion will be the same even if you move them around – one player doesn’t significantly change the odds of winning a championship in a single year.

    Here’s why so many people are focused on the fact that Lee is a free agent at the end of the year. If the Twins had Lee for 3 years instead of just 1 with all the same odds as above, he would add 22% to the Twins’ chance of winning the World Series at least once in that 3 year span (from 10% to a 1/3 chance). In my opinion, that IS worth paying handsomely for, but that’s not the position we’re in.

    The overall point is this: it’s unlikely you will win the World Series even if you have the best team; even with Cliff Lee the Twins aren’t the best team, so their odds are even lower; one player can only slightly improve those odds over the second half; Cliff Lee would only be here for the second half.

    Comment by thegeneral13 — July 7, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  15. General13:

    Good analysis, but it still leaves out a few factors. Making the playoffs is a big deal in itself, at least financially. And the further they go, the more money they make, which they could then use in any number of ways, one being paying over slot for a couple of players falling in the draft b/c of monetary demands. Those compensatory picks can be quite valuable.

    Also, what are the odds that Hicks or Ramos develop into a ML player? A star? A superstar? Hicks has skills and potential, but his stats aren’t currently eye-popping. He could be a bust, and the chances he is are greater given how far he still is from the majors. We’re not talking about an advanced prospect like Domonic Brown. Ramos is coveted as a good catching prospect, but he’s not the overall prospect that guys like Posey or Santana are, or as big a hitting prospect as Montero.

    I tend to agree that the Twins should refrain from dealing both Ramos and Hicks, but I’d do a deal built around either. Unlike AG, I would do Ramos and Revere, who is not a consensus top 100 prospect.

    Comment by BR — July 7, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  16. General,

    Thanks for the in depth analysis. Of course I could squabble with your numbers, but I’ll say, though, that a guy that gives you a 10%, or 20%, or whatever (that’s a whole lot of value for one guy, by the way) better chance to win a Series 1 year is probably worth the expense of 2 players who may not ever play for the Twins, or who may turn out to be only average MLBers, or who will be good players on bad teams, or who may get traded down the line anyhow. I could be wrong, Hicks/Revere could be huge stars in the league. But if the Twins think the pieces are in place this year – and maybe they don’t, based on the first 3 months of the season – but if they think they are 1 or 2 guys away from a deep run, it’s a move they should make.

    Comment by Arnold 4331 — July 7, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

  17. Having said that, let’s remember it’s Lee plus two first-round picks.

    Not necassarily…If say, the Yankees sign Lee this offseason and another higher rated type-A, the compensation would markedly less, as would it be if by some means, a losing organization with a top-15 pick signs him.

    Comment by Steve Johnson — July 7, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  18. I don’t understand why people are so protective of Hicks.

    Hick’s is a very toolsy outfielder who has consistently demonstrated a disiplined approach at the plate. I suppose if a “tools” prospect could have one polished skill in the lower minors that would be a good predictor of future success, it would be patience.

    Comment by Steve Johnson — July 7, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

  19. BR: Agree completely – my analysis was simplified and you bring up good points. We also seem to have a very similar view on what the Twins should be willing to give up. I’d probably do Ramos and Revere, as well, and while it would make me squirm, I think it would be worth the risk. I am no prospect expert, just a consumer of what the purported experts have to say, but based on what I’ve read Hicks sounds like he has too much upside given the power/patience combo and defensive tools. I don’t think you can include a potential frachise player, even if there’s only a 5% chance of that happening, for a short-term rental.

    Arnold: I agree that’s a whole lot of value for one guy, and I tried to be generous to Lee to illustrate that even an uber-stud doesn’t increase your odds that much if it’s just for one season. You have to have sustained excellence to actually give yourself decent odds of winning a World Series – “going for it” in one year is highly unlikely to do anything other than drain your farm system. But I hear your point and do agree that he is worth a fair amount – I think it’s just Hicks that I’m balking at (would balk at Gibson and Sano too).

    Comment by thegeneral13 — July 7, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  20. Id guess if you ran a monte carlo simulation with run differential as the constraint lee would probably only increase their odds of winning the world series 3-5% or so. Consistently making the playoffs and hoping the team gets hot is the best chance the twins have of winning the WS. The 87 and 91 WS teams are a testament to the randomness of baseball playoffs. Both those teams were very average, certainly not the best teams in baseball. Both got hot in the playoffs and now those teams are stuff of legends.

    Comment by Ted k — July 7, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

  21. I am intensely interested in how this Cliff Lee saga will be resolved. Rumor is that the Mariners are now asking teams to top the Ramos/Hicks offer (which is, of course, unconfirmed), and ESPN is reporting that Seattle wants two blue chip prospects plus a third young player. Astounding. Cleveland got Matt LaPorta for CC Sabathia. I cannot imagine that a team will give in to such high demands. But I cannot wait to find out what happens.

    For the Twins, I wonder if now might not be the time to move on. What would Oswalt cost them? And now I see that Chicago might be interested in moving Ted Lilly, who has a $6 million option for next season. What would that cost?

    Also, is there any chance that Pavano stays in MN? I now look forward to his starts quite a bit, and I would like to see him stay here long term. Is it at all realistic to think that he might sign for three or four years at $8-10 million per? Could the Twins afford that? What is he likely to sign for this off season?

    Comment by Ted — July 7, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  22. Just looked, and Pavano is projected to be a Type A free agent this off season. So, if the Twins offer Pavano arbitration and he leaves, and if they trade for Lee or Lilly or Oswalt and do the same, then they could really dominate in next year’s draft. I wonder what a team such as the Twins would do with so many draft picks.

    Comment by Ted — July 7, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

  23. being a Twins fan for close to 40 years, I could not have forseen the talent the Twins have on the roster this year. Two MVP’s, 3 GG’s a 3 time batting champ and numerous other tools. Heck, we were happy to have a star or two like Santana and Torii. So, with that being the current makeup of our club, I would think that this is the perfect storm to get a guy like Lee. When Ramos and Hicks are the stars of this team Mauer will be on the decline, Justin, Hudson, Hardy, Cuddy and probably Young will all be long gone. I doubt you will ever see this much talent on a Twins team in the next 20-30 years. We have never had 2 MVP’s and/or 3 GG’s on this team at one time in the histroy of the Twins.

    Comment by Large Canine — July 7, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  24. LOL Ted, the Twins would use all those draft picks and take college finesse pitchers and toolsy highschool outfielders!!!!!!

    Comment by Kurt E — July 7, 2010 @ 8:39 pm

  25. Just heard on baseball tonight (I know, but I don’t have MLB Network) that the Twins have formally offered Slowey and Ramos. Thoughts? I like it, but it does not seem enough given what the Mariners are rumored to be asking from other teams.

    Comment by Ted — July 7, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

  26. Aaron is probably right. Remember he called the Young – Garza trade pretty accurately. What worries me is that Bill Smith always seems to Zig when he should Zag and vice versa. And Ted, one of the guys that got Cleveland to accept LaPorta for Sabbathia is now Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik.I think the Twins will have their work cut out for them in dealing with this guy.

    Comment by joe a — July 8, 2010 @ 12:20 am

  27. I guess we have to decide what we’d rather have..compare it to football. Would you rather be like the Bears with a Superbowl win and being pretty average every year or the Vikings, competitive year after year without a championship?

    Comment by Pat S. — July 8, 2010 @ 1:53 am

  28. The would you rather have a championship and be bad, or consistently good without a championship analogy is horrible. If lee guaranteed a championship of course the twins should trade whatever for him. But he doesnt. Not even close. Lee wouldnt guarantee the twins a playoff birth. The playoffs are way too random. 3 years ago the braves traded a lot for mark texiera and missed the playoffs by a large margin. The next year the angels traded for mark texiera even though they were going to win their division easily because they were no doubt not content with just a playoff birth. That team lost in the first round. Adding a player is not some magical recipe to success.

    Comment by Ted k — July 8, 2010 @ 3:22 am

  29. This is a divergence from trade talk and comments about the recognized Twins’ prospects. An unknown Venezuelan who has been in the organization for two years (DSL and GCL) has exploded in the Appalachian league. He just turned 19, is a switch hitting outfielder, and he currently leads the Appy in hitting (.409), HR (6 in 66 AB), and RBI (16 in 16 games).

    Anyone have more info on this under the radar prospect named Oswaldo Arcia?

    Comment by Obie Holmen — July 8, 2010 @ 7:30 am

  30. Obie: This guy ranked Arcia as the Twins 35th prospect entering the season: http://joshsopinion.blogspot.com/2010/01/top-50-twins-prospects-2010-35-oswaldo.html

    Comment by Ted — July 8, 2010 @ 8:05 am

  31. One thing most people are forgetting – We take on Lee’s salary when/if we acquire him. I’m not sure of his exact salary but let’s say we have him for the last 2 months of the season. That’s about $5 million we save the Mariners, too.

    I know it’s nothing major but 5 million bucks could put Seattle over the top when it comes to signing their next free agent. Or it can buy a team a lot a signing bonuses when it comes to prospects (Dominican, Venezuelan, etc).

    Comment by Kyle B — July 8, 2010 @ 9:32 am

  32. we all talk about lee and just forgot that the twins will not even making the playoffs..they are losing day in and day out,….

    Comment by chris — July 8, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  33. @ Kyle B,

    Lee’s salary is only $9 million this year.

    Comment by Brian — July 8, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

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