Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.
5. Ben Revere | Center Field | DOB: 5/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-1Any 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: DominicanConsidered 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: VenezuelaPromoted 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: 2009-1Initially 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: 2008-1Prior 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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Monday, February 22, 2010
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6
Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.
10. Billy Bullock | Reliever | DOB: 2/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2009-2Going heavy on college pitchers in last June's draft included snagging University of Florida reliever Billy Bullock in the second round. Initially a starter, Bullock moved to the bullpen last year and became the Gators' closer while posting a 2.64 ERA and 50-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings. His control is spotty and no one seems to think much of his off-speed stuff, but Bullock also regularly works in the mid-90s with his fastball and was frequently dominant for one of the best teams in the country.
Keith Law of ESPN.com called him "the top college closer in this draft class" and Bullock dominated in the low minors after signing for $522,000, saving 11 games with a 2.41 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings between rookie-ball and low Single-A. Because of their preference for polished strike-throwers the Twins typically lack high-upside power arms in the minors and Bullock was frequently projected as a top-50 pick before falling to them at No. 70 overall, so he's a very nice addition to the system.
Harnessing his raw stuff and developing better off-speed pitches will be key for Bullock, but 35 walks in 82 innings between college and the low minors last year shows that his control is at least reasonably decent and ultimately his fastball is what got him drafted. Early success this season could put Bullock on the fast track to Minnesota, but whether or not he's able to continue simply overpowering everyone once he gets to Double-A or Triple-A will be the big test.
9. Matthew Bashore | Starter | DOB: 4/88 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2009-1Selected last June with the supplemental first-round pick the Twins received for losing Dennys Reyes via free agency, Matthew Bashore signed for $750,000 but appeared in just one game at rookie-level Elizabethton before being shut down with an elbow injury. He had bone chips removed, but is expected to be fully healthy for spring training and will likely begin this season at low Single-A. If healthy Bashore has a chance to move quickly through the Twins' system because of his extensive college experience.
A three-year starter at Indiana University, the 6-foot-3 left-hander tossed 95 innings last season with a 4.07 ERA and 108-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He won't light up any radar guns, but Bashore has an above-average fastball with the plus command that the Twins always target in starters and was one of the better pitchers in the Big Ten while going 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA in conference play. Bashore finished his Hoosiers career tied for the school record with 248 strikeouts.
John Manuel of Baseball America has compared Bashore to fellow Big Ten left-hander and Twins first rounder Glen Perkins. Their pedigrees and repertoires are definitely similar, but Perkins had far better college numbers, was generally a more consistent Big Ten performer, and reached Double-A midway through his age-22 season. Bashore turns 22 in April, so given his brief pro debut it'll be tough to follow the same path, but assuming no more elbow issues his overall upside certainly seems Perkins-like.
8. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19In less than four years Danny Valencia has gone from 19th-round pick to the presumed third baseman of the future in Minnesota, which is remarkable given that his minor-league production has been closer to good than great. He's hit .299/.354/.480 with an average of 16.5 homers per 500 at-bats, which while certainly a solid performance is hardly the stuff of an elite prospect even without accounting for the fact that Valencia is already 25 years old and accumulated nearly 2.5 strikeouts for every walk.
He's had strong batting averages at every level, but Valencia doesn't possess especially great power, strikes out quite a bit, has averaged just 45 walks per 600 plate appearances, and had an ugly 37-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 71 games in his first taste of Triple-A. To be clear, Valencia is a good, solid prospect. However, the notion that he has obvious star potential or is even a sure thing to become an above-average regular in the majors just isn't supported by his track record.
Certainly many prospects fare better in the majors than they did in the minors, but usually that group doesn't include guys who post an .833 OPS despite being relatively old for each level and reach the big leagues at age 25. That he's touted as the long-term answer at third base may say less about Valencia and more about how bad the spot has been since Corey Koskie or how few of the Twins' quality hitting prospects are MLB-ready. He looks like a .270 hitter with 15-homer pop, few walks, and a decent glove.
7. David Bromberg | Starter | DOB: 9/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-32Named the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 after leading his league in strikeouts for the third straight season, David Bromberg has gone from 32nd-round pick to one of the system's top arms despite not fitting into the preferred strike-throwing mold. In fact, from rookie-ball to the majors he led the entire Twins organization in walks last season with 63 in 153.1 innings. Of course, he also ranked second to only Scott Baker with 148 strikeouts and opponents hit just .230 with six homers off him.
Moving up to Double-A figures to provide a big test for Bromberg's run of league-leading strikeout totals and overall performance, because his low-90s fastball isn't overpowering and fairly neutral ground-ball rates suggest the homers will start flying eventually. He can offset what will likely be fewer missed bats and more homers with improved control, and ultimately that may be the key to whether or not Bromberg can develop into more than a potential mid-rotation starter.
At just 22 years old there's plenty of time to cut down on walks and at 6-foot-5 there's seemingly plenty of room to project increased velocity, which along with a big-breaking curveball leaves the right-hander with as much upside as any Twins pitching prospect short of perhaps 2009 first rounder Kyle Gibson. However, recently the Twins have been kind of hit (Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano) or miss (J.D. Durbin, Shooter Hunt) with their few starter prospects who, like Bromberg, aren't strike-throwing machines.
6. Angel Morales | Center Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3After a monster 2008 at rookie-ball Angel Morales moved to low Single-A for his first full-season action and got off to a brutal start while battling multiple injuries. He turned things around by hitting .340 after July 1, led Beloit in homers and steals, and finished with an OPS that was 12 percent above the league average, including 40 extra-base hits in 115 games for a .189 Isolated Power that ranked 62 percent above par for the Midwest League. And he did all that as a 19-year-old.
Morales' flaws were also on full display, as he rarely walked and struck out 104 times in 418 trips to the plate. Whiffing in 25 percent of his plate appearances actually represented improvement from Morales striking out 32 percent of the time in rookie-ball, but his inability to make consistent contact and control the strike zone are definitely worrisome. Of course, an unrefined approach at the plate is common for a teenage hitter and the former third-round pick's other tools are very impressive.
His power potential is immense, with 28 homers and 68 total extra-base hits in 559 at-bats during the past two seasons despite playing in extremely pitcher-friendly environments, and Morales' speed has led to 27 steals per 150 career games and a reputation as a solid defender in center field. He could eventually slide over to right field full time, especially if he remains with the Twins, but Morales also has a very strong arm. He's certainly far from a finished product, but Morales oozes upside at age 20.
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