February 16, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Tom Stuifbergen | Starter | DOB: 9/88 | Throws: Right | Sign: Netherlands

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    13     13     3.28      79.2      79      4      69      6
2010     A-     19     17     2.98      93.2      99      5      88     23

Tom Stuifbergen signed with the Twins out of the Netherlands as an 18-year-old in 2006 and missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, but bounced back to be a member of the Dutch pitching staff coached by Bert Blyleven in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. At the time he had never thrown a pitch above rookie-ball, yet Stuifbergen matched up with Ubaldo Jimenez and tossed four shutout innings versus the Dominican Republic in the tournament's biggest upset.

After playing in the WBC he spent 2009 at rookie-level Elizabethton, posting a brilliant 69-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings while inducing 64 percent ground balls, but Stuifbergen also missed some time with elbow problems. Last season was a similar story, as the 6-foot-4 right-hander fared very well at low Single-A with a 2.98 ERA and 88/23 K/BB ratio in 94 innings, but missed a chunk of the season with more elbow issues.

Clearly staying healthy is key for Stuifbergen, who's appeared in just 40 pro games, but even in limited action a 169/33 K/BB ratio in 188 innings is impressive and he's still just 22 years old. His raw stuff isn't overpowering, but Stuifbergen throws strikes, misses a fair number of bats, and induces grounders in bunches. Right now Nick Blackburn seems like a decent comparison, but if he can stay healthy for a while and add some velocity he could have mid-rotation upside.

19. Chris Parmelee | First Base | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     A-     289     .239     .385     .496     14     27     52     83
2009     A+     501     .258     .359     .441     16     44     65    109
2010     A+      93     .338     .430     .463      2      5     13     11
         AA     463     .275     .341     .389      6     33     43     70

Through his first four pro seasons Chris Parmelee stood out in a system full of toolsy, athletic hitting prospects because his game was about power and patience, but last year at the Twins' urging the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft totally overhauled his approach. It accomplished what the Twins had in mind, as he hit .285 between high Single-A and Double-A after coming into the season as a .250 hitter and also struck out 43 percent less often than his career rate.

Unfortunately, as his contact and average increased Parmelee's power vanished. He homered just eight times in 133 games and his Isolated Power was 42 percent below his career mark. His walk rate also fell by 22 percent. Add it all up and despite a 35-point uptick in average and 43 percent fewer whiffs his on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS were all lower than each of the previous two years. In other words, the change in approach made him worse.

Or at least it did in 2010. Clearly the Twins felt that, despite solid overall production in the low minors, Parmelee's original approach made him unlikely to succeed in the majors. And they're probably right, as most of the majors' best low-average, high-power hitters actually hit above .280 in the minors. On other hand, regardless of the approach being used if Parmelee can't rediscover his power everything else will be a moot point. Power is the non-negotiable part.

18. Alex Burnett | Reliever | DOB: 7/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-12

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     28     25     3.76     143.2     151     12      84     36
2009     A+     18      0     1.99      22.2      14      0      26      7
         AA     40      0     1.79      55.1      36      2      52     19
2010     AAA    14      0     5.49      19.2      26      1      18      8
         MLB    41      0     5.29      47.2      52      6      37     23

Alex Burnett thrived while transitioning from starter to reliever at high Single-A and Double-A in 2009 and last April the Twins bypassed several more experienced relief prospects to call him up when they needed immediate bullpen help with injuries to Clay Condrey and Jose Mijares. He found success right away, throwing 31 innings with a 26-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.30 ERA through mid-June, but then fell apart and kept struggling after a demotion to Triple-A.

Burnett allowed 20 runs in his final 16 innings with the Twins and had a 5.49 ERA in 20 innings at Triple-A after posting a 1.85 mark between Single-A and Double-A in 2009. It wasn't pretty, but Burnett's low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider combination showed plenty of potential and it's important to remember that he was a 22-year-old in his second season of relief work. Plus, with a 4.54 xFIP in his 48-inning debut Burnett pitched better than his 5.29 ERA shows.

He'll get another chance to establish himself in the majors this year, perhaps right away, and is capable of becoming a key component of the Twins' bullpen long term. Burnett has thrown a total of 98 innings in the minors since becoming a reliever, posting a 2.57 ERA and 96/34 K/BB ratio while allowing just three homers. He obviously needs to bounce back and iron out some rough spots, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a late-inning role down the stretch.

17. Carlos Gutierrez | Reliever | DOB: 9/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     16      0     2.10      25.2      23      0      19      7
2009     A+     11     10     1.32      54.2      37      1      33     22
         AA     22      6     6.19      52.1      62      6      32     24
2010     AA     32     16     4.57     122.0     136      7      81     50

Carlos Gutierrez began his college career as a starter, but moved to the bullpen after Tommy John surgery and served as the University of Miami's closer in 2008 before the Twins selected him 27th overall with the compensatory draft pick received for the Angels signing Torii Hunter. In the three seasons since then Gutierrez has moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but his success as a starter has been limited and he projects as a full-time reliever.

Because of the frequent role changes it's difficult to get a handle on Gutierrez's upside by way of his numbers. He's been dominant at times and awful at others, but the overall performance is mediocre with a 3.93 ERA and 171-to-105 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 259 innings. However, as more or less a one-pitch pitcher Gutierrez should fare better when working exclusively as a reliever and that one pitch is a sinker that induced 60 percent ground balls at Double-A.

Once the Twins cease trying him as a starter Gutierrez has a chance to move very quickly and perhaps even join the big-league bullpen this year, but I'd like to see him thrive in a relief role for a few months before assuming he'll make a late-inning impact. Right now Gutierrez's upside is based more on the praise for his "power sinker" than his actual performance, but mid-90s velocity and a 60 percent ground-ball rate are pretty solid building blocks for relief success.

16. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    153     .286     .346     .343      0      7     13     27

American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki met while starring together in the Berlin ballet and their son, Max Kepler, signed with the Twins out of Germany as a 16-year-old in July of 2009, getting an $800,000 bonus that ranks as the largest ever given to a European position player. When he wasn't busy getting his driver's license and going to high school in a foreign country, Kepler held his own while debuting in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

He showed limited power, but hit .286 with a decent walk rate and, most importantly for a raw 17-year-old, continued to impress with his physical tools. Asked to assess Kepler's first season Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff focused primarily on his work ethic and success "navigating the baseball life on and off the field," but also pointed to his "unbelievably athletic body ... pretty swing, terrific bat speed, and strength." In other words, so far so good.

For now at least Kepler projects as a potential center fielder, but that may change quickly once his 6-foot-4 frame fills out and he played all three outfield spots in rookie-ball, where Baseball America named him the ninth-best prospect in the upside-filled GCL. He's likely still a season or two from facing full-season competition, so thinking about how Kepler might look roaming the outfield at Target Field is very premature, but if he gets there the ceiling could be sky high.

  • Ian

    Why is Burnett on your prospect list? He’s not a rookie, due to over 45 days of service time.

  • http://aarongleeman.com aarongleeman

    I don’t base the list on service time. I only go off the at-bat and inning limits for Rookie of the Year.

  • chris

    i do not like these guys here aside of Burnett and Kepler.

    Gutierrez is not too young anymore. Parmelee has not shown much in his 4yrs.
    Stuifbergen is nice. But too much injuries and i feel his upside is very limited.

  • David

    In recent years the Twins haven’t fared as well drafting position players as they have drafting pitchers in the first round. Revere and Span are okay, but Plouffe and Parmelee are arriving at the station and heading down the track, respectively, on the Bustville Express. And I remain insulated from the Hicks Hype until he learns to hit left-handed; his ceiling, if he’s forced to bat right exclusively, is much lower.

  • mike wants WINS

    I just hope the Twins let Guttierez pitch from the pen all year this year. They wasted a year having him start. The opposite of the White Sox approach with Sale. EVERYONE knew he’d be a reliver, why not have him be a reliever. These guys only have so many pitches in their arms, don’t waste them in the minors.

    Some upside in these guys…..would be nice if I felt confident the Twins could develop hitters. Outside of Morneau, it’s hard to think of a guy that they developed into a legit, year after year answer, that wasn’t the number one overall pick in the last decade. They’ve had some guys flash for a year or two, or be inconsistent, but no 7 year answer guys (and Cuddy just hasn’t been good year after year, he falls in that inconsisten group). Maybe teams don’t develop 7 year answers, maybe my expectations are off.

  • Jeff H

    Ugh. I know we aren’t to the top of the list yet, but it would nice to read about a Twins prospect once in awhile and see something like “Absolutely murdering the ball in AA” or “A free swinger with unquestioned raw power”. Instead, it seems like the only power prospects we ever have in our organization are guys that “haven’t been retrained yet” to be Twins hitters, or are too young to rule out their FUTURE possibility of developing power. It’s a miracle we ever produced someone like Justin Morneau, but that was 7 years ago, and I can’t remember a pure power hitter since (I don’t think that’s what Valencia is)

    Do this list for other organizations, and this list would be littered with a Mike Stanton-type guy at the top, with Nelson Cruz “4-A” type players in the middle and Rob Deer-type free swingers spread throughout. People harped on money and signing bonuses with the Pohlads forever, but I really believe it’s always been a bigger issue with philosophy than funds.

    And yes, I am thrilled about the Miguel Angel Sano signing, but that’s still a LONG way off from paydirt, and it leaves a gap of about a half-decade where we couldn’t even produce a power hitter of Delmon Young’s caliber!

  • Ian

    Seems to be a lot of negativity here. Most farm systems aren’t littered with Mike Stanton type guys or Nelson Cruz “4A” type guys. KLaw ranked the Twins #7 in his recent rankings and BA should put the Twins in the top 10 as well.

    Incidentally, the 30 yr old Cruz has two 20hr seasons and slugs .439 away from Texas stadium. The Twins were 5th in runs last year and top 5 in nearly every offensive category, despite playing in a HR reducing park. They had 10 players get 300 PA, 6 of those were developed by the Twin farm system. As for “free swinger with unquestioned raw power,” the Twins did have Wilson Ramos and you’ll be reading about Joe Benson and Oswaldo Arcia soon.

  • Shane

    Seconding Ian’s comment. Also, there is hope for Parmelee and Gutierrez to have excellent seasons this year given that they have had to make these adjustments. Stuif is one of 6 pitchers that I really want to watch this season. He with those other five (Holbrooks, Soliman, Salcedo, Hermsen, and Watts) could make for a total rehaul of that much-maligned by other bloggers and blog commenters (although with little merit) pitching staff in the future. The success of the majority of those six could make 2 of the big four at the top likely trade-bait *this season*.

  • Clyde

    Well done Aaron for keeping Gutierrez outside the top 10. Since his arrival at AA, he has been extremely inconsistent and more often bad than good (even in the bullpen). He still may harness control of the sinker and obtain at least an average secondary pitch, but he has to show more consistency at his age to be considered a top ten prospect. He was really impressive in his one inning of work at AFL rising stars game so, he can do it on occasion. Here’s to hoping he gets it all together.

  • Shane

    Looks like, outside Sano, the top 18 prospects are either pitchers or outfielders (and who knows where Sano will end up a few years as well). Hopefully the depth there can be used to provide some big-league help this year and to balance out the list of prospects with some infielders!

  • Zach

    Well said Ian. Baseball drafts are an imperfect science but the Twins have graduated a fair amount of players they’ve drafted to the bigs with relatively good organizational success over a recent and decent time span…

  • Scott

    Keep in mind that they did actually tweak Morneau’s swing slightly several years ago. I’ve read that he sacrifices some power to be a more “complete” hitter. I think he could be a 45-homer guy and bat .275. Not surprising that they are trying to do the same with Parmaelee.

  • Ian

    I think another point worth mentioning is how strong our system is despite the Twins having only one pick inside the top 20 since Mauer (Hicks, #14 in 08) and the team very rarely going over slot when drafting a player.

  • pk

    Disgruntled AG.com readers should see;
    Kansas City Royals or Pittsburg Pirates.

  • birdofprey

    For those of you who are negative about the Twins organization, do yourselves a favor and re-read the posts from Ian, Shane, Scott and others. You’ll see that they have backed their viewpoints up with facts. Real, honest-to-goodness facts. We can all probably agree with the “fact” that the system has a shortage of infielders and power hitters at the high end of the system. But I don’t believe for a minute that it’s a “fact” that this is a sign of incompetence on the part of either the drafting or development people.

  • mike wants wins

    bop, fact is, they haven’t had a 3B developed in the system since Koskie. They went years w/o even a glimmer of a 3B, hopefully Valencia is that guy. Their LF was acquired in a trade. Their 2B is a free agent signing. Their SS before that was acquired in a trade, as was their 2B the year before. They’ve basically developed two infielders, the M&M boys in nearly a decade. Those are facts. Neither Cuddeyer or Kubel is consistently in the top half in the league as an all around player. I can post their WAR if you want, relative to other corner OFers. The team has done a very good job of scoring runs, but it’s not because they’ve drafted and developed players on a consistent basis. Some of it is through trades.

  • Zach

    Mike, thanks for explaining to everybody how baseball works. If anybody was confused, it’s now understood that the Twins also have traded for and signed players on their roster, like every other team. Your last statement is oxymoronic: “The team has done a very good job of scoring runs, but it’s not because they’ve drafted and developed players on a consistent basis. Some of it is through trades.” I don’t think all these trades are being completed with FA signings, therefore, players they are drafting are directly affording them the ability to acquire players that can do this for them via trade.

    Somebody want to show me a consistently well-rounded farm system that produces equally distributed talent to all positions…

  • mike wants WINS

    Like I said in my first post, it’s possible my expectations are too high for their ability to draft consistently across the lineup. The beauty of Target Field (and now having almost no games on free tv) is that the Twins have more money to sign and trade for and retain players. I’m hopeful they do a good job on all those fronts, even if I won’t be able to watch the games anymore. I’m sorry that some of you take criticism of the team so personally. It certainly isn’t meant that way.

    This discussion has been about their ability to draft and develop players. They’ve had no LFer in their system that they drafted start as a LFer more than 1 year in a row since Jacque Jones. They’ve had no legit 3B start more than 1 year in a row since Koskie. They’ve had no SS since Guzman, and no 2B they drafted for a long time. That’s half the hitters that are also fielders, for most of the last 5+ years. For a team that supposedly relies on its farm system, that’s not the kind of ratio that I would expect. Like I said, I’m hopeful that the new revenue streams help fix this. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some weaknesses in the system. It’s hard to find a 2B or SS in the system right now. From what I’ve read, though, there is a real shortage of SS in all of MiLB right now, so that situation is not unique to the Twins.

  • toby

    Hey, my other team is the Pirates and I can say in all honesty: The Twins F.O. pisses me off exponentially more frequently than the Bucco F.O., and that’s taking into account the pointless Lyle Overbay signing.

    To be sure, I don’t have a ton of complaints about the Twins scouting/drafting over the last few years, but you can’t just wish away the historic problems with development Mr. Wins points out. If we assume that the vaunted “Twins way” is a good thing and think about what it emphasizes and deemphasizes, would we not expect the Twins farm system to produce proportionally MORE MLB-quality players at the non-first base infield positions than anywhere else besides pitcher, given what is traditionally assumed to be desired there? Has it?

  • mike wants WINS

    Mr. Wins made me laugh out loud at my desk….good thing I’m on mute for this call.

  • Shane

    There just aren’t a ton of young stud middle infielders in major league baseball, so the lack of proportionality shouldn’t be that surprising–it is true for the majority of teams. Until one looks and finds a bunch of teams that have true proportional development, this just all seems like much ado about nothing, honestly. I am not saying it isn’t an issue, but it shouldn’t be that surprising. The Twins do really seem to perhaps push middle infielders too slowly through the system (Casilla is the exception, but he was very good in the minors), Tolleson, Singleton, and Plouffe are examples there.

  • birdofprey

    I am willing to reluctantly concede that the Twins may have a weakness regarding scouting/drafting/developing middle infielders. But this does not translate to more general conclusions because their strengths are numerous. For example, 14 pitchers were drafted ahead of Gison, 11 before Wimmers, and so on. BA will not rank very many pitchers from these drafts ahead of those guys.

    And now that the budget has increased, I believe the system, already ranked as a top ten in quality, will get even stronger, and when middle infielders like Sano, Goodrum, Polanco, Rhodes, and others hit full-season leagues, any arguments that the Twins are sub-par will look silly.