February 25, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Alex Wimmers | Starter | DOB: 11/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A+      4      4     0.57      15.2       6      0      23      5

Prior to the Twins taking him with the 21st overall pick in last June's draft Alex Wimmers won back-to-back Big Ten conference pitcher of the year awards at Ohio State by going 9-2 with a 3.27 ERA as a sophomore and 9-0 with a 1.60 ERA as a junior. He perfectly fits into the Twins' preferred pitching mold as a strike-thrower with strong off-speed stuff, but the 6-foot-2 right-hander is hardly a finesse pitcher and racked up 273 strikeouts in 216 innings at OSU.

Wimmers lived up to his pre-draft billing as one of the year's most advanced pitching prospects by jumping all the way to high Single-A after signing for $1.33 million about a week before the deadline. Despite taking two months off between OSU and his pro debut he went 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 23-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts at Fort Myers, including five no-hit innings in his third outing.

He likely doesn't have as much long-term upside as fellow first rounder and college righty Kyle Gibson, but Wimmers figures to move quickly through the Twins' system and could be in the mix as a middle-of-the-rotation starter as soon as 2012. His fastball clocks in at 88-92 miles per hour, but Wimmers has drawn more praise for his outstanding changeup and John Manuel of Baseball America called him "the closest thing to Brad Radke in this draft."

4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka | Shortstop | DOB: 7/84 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Japan

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     JPN    522     .300     .357     .463     13     45     36     68
2009     JPN    531     .260     .360     .427     14     43     67     76
2010     JPN    690     .346     .423     .482     11     51     76

Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a 26-year-old veteran of seven seasons in Japan, but for the purposes of these rankings he's a "prospect" by virtue of Rookie of the Year eligibility. By out-bidding the 29 other MLB teams the Twins secured Nishioka's exclusive negotiating rights for a $5.3 million "posting fee" and then signed him to a three-year, $9.25 million deal with an option for 2014, making the total commitment either $14.5 million for three years or $18.3 million for four years.

Nishioka hit .346 to win the batting title last season, but that was fueled by an unsustainably amazing .395 mark on balls in play and he came into the year as a career .280 hitter. Based on his track record the Twins should be happy if Nishioka can bat around .275 while maintaining the solid plate discipline he showed in Japan. He's unlikely to have much pop, as even sluggers in Japan have seen their power vanish in MLB and Nishioka's career-high there is 14 homers.

He stole 32 bases per 150 games in Japan and won their equivalent of a Gold Glove award at both shortstop and second base, but the Twins will take a look at him in spring training before deciding which of Orlando Hudson or J.J. Hardy he'll replace in the middle infield. His defense and base-running will be key, because as a hitter Nishioka projects to be similar to Hudson or Jason Bartlett as a .275/.335/.375-type bat Ron Gardenhire will likely slot into the No. 2 hole.

3. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     80     .344     .463     .547      3      6     14     17
         RK-    161     .291     .338     .466      4     18     10     43

Miguel Sano was considered one of the top hitting prospects ever produced by the Dominican Republic when he signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old in late 2009 for a $3.15 million bonus that ranked second all time for a Latin American prospect outside of Cuba. His pro debut didn't disappoint, as Sano crushed summer league pitching and then moved up to rookie-ball, where he joined stud Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez as the only 17-year-olds to top an .800 OPS.

He struggled to control the strike zone in the Gulf Coast League, but the average pitcher there was three years older than Sano and swinging at everything is to be expected given his age and inexperience. Plus, it's just tough to find any fault in a 17-year-old hitting .307/.379/.491 while being pushed aggressively in his pro debut. Sano is years away from entering the Twins' plans even if everything goes well, but the first step was a good one and his upside is huge.

Sano was signed as a shortstop and saw about one-third of his action there last year, but no one seems to believe he has any chance of sticking at the position once his 6-foot-3 frame fills out and there's even some doubt about whether he'll be able to handle third base once he's an adult. Ultimately position and defensive value are a secondary concern, because Sano's bat is what makes him a special prospect, but it'd sure be nice to have a slugging infielder in 2015.

2. 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
2010     A-     518     .279     .401     .428      8     41     88    112

After a somewhat disappointing full-season debut as a 19-year-old at Beloit in 2009 the Twins had Aaron Hicks repeat low Single-A last season and the 2008 first-round pick responded by upping his OPS by 100 points. He's yet to show the power many projected coming out of high school, which combined with a high strikeout rate and .279 batting average makes for modest-looking production, but Hicks' plate discipline is incredible for such a young, toolsy player.

Hicks drew 88 walks and posted a .401 on-base percentage in 115 games. No other prospect in the Twins' system topped 60 walks or a .375 OBP and by comparison Delmon Young had a grand total of 85 non-intentional walks in 353 games as a minor leaguer. And it wasn't a fluke, as Hicks drew 68 walks in 112 games through his first two seasons.  For someone who'll play the entire 2011 season at age 21 that's a remarkable and crucial skill around which to build.

As for everything else, Hicks is largely still learning how to turn his immense physical tools into actual baseball skills, but he has 20-steal speed with the range to be a standout center fielder and an arm that had most teams targeting him as a pitcher. If the power arrives or he can cut down on the strikeouts--both of which can perhaps be accomplished if the switch-hitter ditches a few walks for more overall aggression--Hicks has a chance to be a special all-around player.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A+      7      7     1.87      43.1      33      2      40     12
         AA     16     16     3.68      93.0      91      5      77     22
         AAA     3      3     1.72      15.2      12      0       9      5

Kyle Gibson starred at the University of Missouri and was widely considered top-10 talent, but fell to the Twins with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft when a late-season dip in velocity led to the discovery a stress fracture in his forearm. It proved to be a minor injury and Gibson signed for an above-slot bonus of $1.85 million literally moments before the deadline, delaying his pro debut until 2010.

He was aggressively assigned right to high Single-A, where a 1.87 ERA and 40-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings earned a speedy promotion to Double-A. Gibson posted a 3.68 ERA and 77/22 K/BB ratio in 93 innings there and moved up to his third level of the season in time to make three starts at Triple-A. He finished with a 3.04 ERA, .245 opponents' batting average, and 118/36 K/BB ratio in 142 innings overall as a 22-year-old in his first pro season.

Gibson's low-90s fastball isn't overpowering and his 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings are modest for a top prospect, but his control is excellent and he allowed just seven homers in 152 innings while inducing 56 percent ground balls. Unspectacular velocity and the lack of missed bats may keep Gibson from having true No. 1 starter upside, but he looks capable of developing into a strong No. 2 starter and could be MLB-ready by the All-Star break.

  • Brian
  • Kurt

    You say Wimmers is hardly a finesse pitcher because of his outstanding K rates in college. Fact is, his fastball is extremely average and his K/9 will drastically drop as he moves closer to the majors. Anybody that tops out at 92 is absolutely a finesse pitcher.

  • David

    Those top four prospects are as exciting of a top four as I think the Twins have had in a while.

  • Kram

    Good 4. Exciting stuff. If you look at a few of those moves and how they differ from the old regime (Sano, Gibson, Nishioka) one has to at least consider ole Billy Smith knowing what he’s doing. Or at least be willing to take some calculated risks.

  • mike wants WINS

    Keith Law (former front office employee in Toronto) often states that the GM isn’t really the one that you should judge for drafts. Most draft decisions are really driven by the scouts. GMs make the trade and roster and the AAA to MLB promotion decisions. I don’t know how the Twins’ organization works, but I’d guess that is likely true there.

    BA commented that very few top prospects have ever repeated low A. I think Reggie Sanders was mentioned as one that did. Take that for what it is worth, but it does raise questions about Hicks and/or the Twins. That said, BA does still believe in Hicks eventually being good. What are his splits for switch hitting? Does that always make sense, to stay a switch hitter? As I said on Seth’s site, I think Hicks still is a MLB OFer some day. It’s just that expectations for him got so big, that it seems like he’s not doing well, even though he is.

    Gibson/Wimmers make me think the Twins could/should make a mutli player deal for a hitter of some kind (RH DH, CF, 2b/SS) involving a pitcher or two. I know others lover the depth, but guys sitting in AAA don’t win you championships. They reduce your risk, but they don’t win you any MLB games. Mauer is a generational player, if healthy at catcher, maybe the best hitting catcher ever. I’d surround him with other great players, and not worry about some future that may never come. (and no, I would not trade great prospects for role players, that’s not what I’m talking about).

  • Arnold4321

    So 2 of our top 5 prospects are RH finesse starters who top out at 92. We have 4 of those players on the MLB roster, and they have combined for 0 playoff wins, because RH finesse starters who top out at 92 get crushed by good, patient lineups (i.e, the Yankees). It’s more of the same for this organization – slightly above average, but not serious World Series contenders.

  • Kopy

    Good patient lineups crush finesse starters who top out at 92 – if they make mistakes. Sure, if they leave a ball up in the zone over the plate it could be crushed easier. However, if they have good control, that won’t happen often. Obviously, they have good control, or they wouldn’t be where they are now. Of course, we’ve all seen some of the Twins’ starters struggle at times, and I’m not defending them; I’m just being optimistic about the prospects.

    I would take control over velocity every time. We’ve seen guys like Jesse Crain throw amazing heat right down the pipe, and we’ve watched it go over the fence. I don’t know if Greg Maddux ever threw faster than 92 MPH in his life. He was a RH finesse pitcher. Also, finesse pitchers don’t rack up pitch counts as easily because they often pitch to weak contact. Normally, this wouldn’t matter, but if your manager is going to pull you at 100 then it does.

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    MWW – Hicks has had some extreme RH/LH batting splits, last year he hit .362/.449/.664 with 21 XBH’s (6 HRs) as a RH in 116 At-bats, and .248/.383/.339 with 20 XBH’s (2 HRs) as a LH in 307 At-bats. That’s markedly better power and overall output in 1/3 of the At-Bats from the RH-side. He wants badly to be a switch hitter over his MLB career and he’s praised for having a quick bat and solid mechanics from both sides, but its widely speculated that if he was hitting only RH, he’d be much farther up the ladder at this point, and those numbers give credence to that notion.

  • Dave T

    Two of those top four were signed because of the big bonuses that the Twins paid. This is not your father’s Twins organization.

  • Ian

    Arnold – we aren’t losing in the post season b/c our RH finesse starters are getting rocked. In the last two postseasons (6 games) against the Yanks, the Twins started a lefty 3x – Liriano once and Duensing twice. Both were rocked. The righties were Pavano twice – one very good outing and a not so good – and a solid start by Blackburn. Baker pitched well in relief of Duensing. (For his career, Baker actually has slightly better stats against the Yankees than his career norms). Our power bullpen arms like Crain and Nathan, not so much. And our offense combined to put up numbers that would make Carlos Gomez blush. Our pitching philosophy isn’t the problem and, frankly, has been very successful in letting the Twins compete over the years.

    As for Aaron’s rankings, I think they look good for the most part. I like Revere over Benson but understand those who don’t. I’m probably more excited about Nishioka and am less inclined to worry about his career line since he’s 24. We have some nice high ceiling guys, lots of projectable pitchers, and some good trading depth in the OF if we need it. The Twins have been flexing their muscles in international signings the last few years which I think is fantastic and will pay big dividends for us down the road. It’s a good farm system.

  • mike wants WINS

    Steve, thanks. That’s kind of my question, when does someone say, “that’s nice that you want to be a switch hitter, but we think you should a a RH batter only”? I don’t know that answer.

  • mike wants WINS

    And, I’d guess that teams let guys switch hit longer than they should, but I don’t have evidence of that one way or the other. I have this impression of baseball “people” as very change avers, and confrontation averse (like the stuff with Michael Young being mad about switching positions….or any other good player being asked to do what is good for the team). But again, I only have what little evidence fits in my brain on stuff like that, and have no idea if MLB is as change averse as I think it is.

  • TPetter

    “Most draft decisions are really driven by the scouts.” The #3 and #4 prospects weren’t drafted by the Twins. The scouts deserve some credit but most of it should go to the GM for getting them here.

  • Arnold4321

    Ian, Duensing is a LH finesse pitcher. My point is that the prototypical Twins high-round draft pick – finesse pitcher who throws strikes but projects as a #3 starter – doesn’t get you too far in the playoffs. I’d like them to see someone with ace potential in the high rounds every now and then. To me it’s a sad thing when the top prospect in your entire organization projects as a mid-rotation starter – especially considering the current rotation is full of them, so he has nowhere to go. Again, best prospect we have = #3 starter. This drafting philosophy – combined with the minor league babying of these pitcher’s arms to the point where their arm explodes if they throw more than 100 pitchers – leads to the mediocre pitching staffs – and early playoff exits – the Twins have year in and year out.

  • mike wants WINS

    Arnold4321 – since there are about 15 “aces” on the planet at any one time, how many do you think are even projected that way in the minors? Do you think there are a lot of ace potential guys available when they draft? I’m not going to ever claim the Twins are perfect at developing players (especially hitters), but I don’t know what people are expecting.

  • mike wants WINS

    TPetter, we’ll disagree on that. I’ll take the word of a guy that used to work in a front office, when he states most GMs have little to nothing to do with acquiring amateuer talent. Do you think Bill Smith even saw Sano in person before he was signed? Most of the credit for the draft (and demerit) should go to the scouts.

  • Arnold4321

    Mike, I can tell you this, there aren’t many RH starters who top out at 91-92 who are aces in this league. How about a guy who can crank it up there and miss bats? How bout a high school kid who might be raw but might be special? How about a lefty? They just keep drafting the same exact type of pitcher: RH, college guy, low velocity, good command. They are content with starting pitching mediocrity – almost like they encourage it. Even the pre-draft scouting reports on Gibson and Wimmers had them pegged at “midrotation”. Sets the bar pretty low right from the get-go – how about a little ambition?

  • toby

    Like Dr. Wins (promotion!), I’ve been really curious how a RHB Hicks would hit RH pitching since 2009′s unspectacular numbers and splits. (BTW, does anyone know of a replacement for minorleaguesplits.com? I am dying without it and have no knowledge of how to ) Obviously you want to give him as many reps as possible hitting LH, but why not have him hit RH vs. RHP a little during spring training and see how it goes. Better to make a transition in the low minors than while flunking out at AAA, right? I mean, is there any practical purpose to going out there hitting LH if you can perform better while at a platoon “disadvantage”?

    Aaron, I have a question about Hicks’ skill set and prospect skill sets in general. I spend a fair bit of time lurking at bucsdugout, which is chock-full of regular posters who almost to a man strike me as significantly more sabr-savvy than the average denizen of the twins blogosphere (with certain glowing exceptions, naturally). One of the “heavy hitters” over there has frequently pointed out that prospects that display what he calls “old-age” skill sets in the minor leagues, which include having very high OBP/zone control but not much in the power department (that is, the sort of skill sets deteriorated but still valuable MLB veterans might have), have been demonstrated to not pan out as big league players at the rates one might expect given the theoretical utility of such a skill set in MLB, whereas guys with “young” skill sets, including high BABIP and power in the minors have a better chance of becoming stars because they can learn “old age” skills. When reading about this and Pirates prospects, I always think of Hicks and it worries me a bit. Are you familiar with any work that’s been on this? Obviously Hicks still has power upside, speed to burn, etc., but still.

  • toby

    The thing is Arnold, without very high draft picks, the Twins can’t draft the Jamison Taillons. They could draft high school guys with slightly less upside and a nothing floor like Stetson Allie, but that’s a risk and will require a bunch of money to keep him outta college. Gibson was a phenomenal pick at that point in the draft. He’s #34 on BA’s top 100, Allie is #79. Allie’s ceiling is obviously higher, but there are tradeoffs and the Pirates are much better positioned to take on a high-risk, high-reward, big signing bonus guy than are the Twins.

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    Toby – with Hicks, as a RH-Bat, everything “young” and “old age” that you talk about exists. Take a look at that .664 Slugging Percentage and 1.113 OPS. He’s got those skills, some of the “young” ones just haven’t quite translated over to the LH-side…yet.

  • phil

    So will Wimmers be in New Britian this year? Hendriks?

    Will Hicks be in Beloit? I gotta get down there to see a game.

    Will the AAA outfield be Benson, Revere, and Tosoni?

  • mike wants WINS

    phil, that would be a nice AAA outfield to watch, I’d think. Speed, power, defense….that’s a nice AAA batch to have in the wings. OTOH, I wonder if Tosoni and Benson won’t start in AA….I wouldn’t do it, but I would not be shocked if the Twins did.

  • michael

    Benson will repeat AA

  • Ian

    Arnold – Not quite sure what you want. The Twins aren’t failing in the postseason b/c of their finesse pitchers. And just b/c our pitchers aren’t hitting 95 doesn’t mean they aren’t good strike out pitchers. Baker had a better krate than, among many others, CC, Hughes and Greinke.

    In the last decade, the Twins have had 3 pitchers in the minors that some could say could be true aces – Santana, Liriano and Garza. (Santana and Liriano both came to the Twins from other organizations and weren’t highly regarded at those times). Garza, like Gibson, slipped to the Twins at the 25th spot in the draft. Santana became a true ace, Liriano maybe and Garza probably fell short. Aces are tough to find. People tend to overrate fireballers anyway. Josh Beckett, for instance, has been a much worse pro than Brad Radke.

    The Twins have also drafted guys who can crank it up like Shooter Hunt, Gutierez, Rainville, Crain, Hermsen and JD Durbin. They’ve signed a bucket-load of young international pitching prospects including Salcedo who could project as a true ace.

  • Arnold4321

    The Josh Beckett who’s won 2 World Series, and 1 WS MVP?

    The Twins dumped Garza because he didn’t fit their mold of finesse-throwers, or something stupid like that.

    I’m just saying I’d like to see the Twins adjust their approach to the top of the draft. The Twins approach is like Moneyball, well respected, consistent, all that, but ultimately responsible for absolutely no playoff success to speak of. There’s more out there than soft tossing college righties. By god we have way too many of them as it is.

  • WalterSolbcheck

    Yeah, Beckett was a bad example there.

  • toby

    Steve,

    Yup, absolutely understand that re: Hicks RHed v. LHP, which is why I want the Twins to do *something* to evaluate him/let him work on hitting RH v. RHP. But his LH numbers are the pretty much exactly what Vlad at bucsdugout was talking about: low BA, high OBP, low SLG (.248/.383/.339). That kind of line in the low minors — I believe it was much worse in 2009 — evidently doesn’t bode well, because the walks dry up against quality pitching that doesn’t fear you bat. Now OBVIOUSLY it was his age 20 season and he’s therefore got plenty of time to figure it out from the left side, but the RHB Hicks doesn’t seem to need any more time, right, so what are they/he afraid of losing? Mike’s comment that baseball is change averse strikes me as politely understating a sad truism.

    Hicks aside, my question was also intended as a general one for Aaron looking for any links/pointers to studies that have been on this, since apparently they have indeed been done (i.e. this was not presented as “old school wisdom” [there's no patience whatsoever for it over there] or some such thing), but the result of typing players statistically and looking how similar low minors skill sets translate (or never get the chance to translate) into MLB numbers.

    Arnold: the playoffs are a microscopic sample size crap shoot. Even if you choose to believe otherwise, what’s been the bigger problem, Twins pitching or anemic Twins offensive production?

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    gotcha q;) … AAA outfield will probably have Tosoni and Revere, along with Roberts and a few others. Benson will be in AA to start, Dolenc and Bigley are other names I remember them having in the New Britain OF last year. Ft. Myers probably has Hicks and Morales. I’m looking forward to Oswaldo Arcia and Nate Roberts in Beloit’s OF, I like his skills a lot. Outfields will definitely be fun to watch at all levels this year!

  • Ian

    Arnold – Yeah, for all his hype, Beckett has had a pretty pedestrian career. He’ll be 31 next season. He’s managed two 4.0 WAR seasons, Radke had six. Incidentally, career wise, Radke compares well against other big name pitchers like Burnett, Lackey and even Cliff Lee. Lackey and Lee have, of course, often been called finesse pitchers.

    Pitcher A career avg: 12-11, 204ip, 113 ERA+, 3.45 WAR
    Pitcher B career avg: 11-7, 153ip, 112 ERA+, 2.27 WAR

    Pitcher A finished top 10 in wins (1x), IP (6x), ERA+ (2x), pWAR (5x), whip (6x), krate (0), K/BB rate (9x)

    Pitcher B finished top 10 in wins 4x), IP (1x), ERA+ (1x), pWAR(0), whip (4x), krate (4x), K/BB rate (3x)

    The Twins pitching philosophy is sound and has worked very well. They have a bunch of solid pitchers who can keep their team in the game. They’ve lost in the postseason b/c of hitting (or lack thereof), not starting pitching.

  • birdofprey

    I recall that 14 pitchers were taken ahead of Gibson in the 2009 draft, and Wimmers was around the 11th pitcher taken. Of those 25 pitchers that theoretically should be better than the sloppy seconds the Twins had to settle for, I predict that 1) Less than 15 of them throw above 93, and 2)Less than 10 of them will have better careers than Wimmers and Gibson. By the way, isn’t 92mph better than average in MLB?

  • David

    Miguel Sano is pretty amazing. He would have been a young high school junior last year. Instead, he was playing rookie ball. I’m really excited to watch Sano’s development.

  • brian

    Arnold is right, it’s just that it’s not what we want to hear. Without the ace, we are a regular season team. Hitting and defense will never carry through the playoffs. Never have, never will. Statistics always catch up. A dominant pitcher has been the missing link. It’s OK to discuss the draft and the future of the team with excitement without the phony false hopes.

  • Kurt

    Arnold4321 – You have sung my praises sir, and I believe you to be a great Baseball mind. I’ve also bashed the organization from shying away from high upside power arms that have control issues (Kershaw, Gallardo, Jimenez) type players, and I will continue to do so until this pitch to contact, don’t walk players with your 89-91 mph fastball philosophy changes.

  • phil

    So all this talk about playoff winning being linked to true aces made me do a bit of research. I looked at the world series champs for the last 10 years, and checked to see how many pitchers they had in the top 10 in WPA:

    2010 San Fran – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2009 NYY – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2008 Phillies – Cole Hamels, 9th in ERA+. No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for ERA+ or K/9.

    2007 Red Sox – Matsuzaka 8th and Beckett 9th in K/9. Beckett 7th in ERA+. No pitchers in top 10 for WAR.

    2006 Cardinals – Carpenter 6th in WAR and 4th in ERA+. None in top 10 of K/9.

    2005 White Sox – Buhrle 7th and Garland 9th in WAR. None in K/9 or ERA+

    2004 Red Sox – Schilling 3rd in WAR. Martinez 7th in K/9. Schilling 6th in ERA+

    2003 Marlins – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2002 Angels – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2001 Diamondbacks – Johnson and Schilling 1st and 2nd in WAR, 1st and 3rd in K/9; 1st and 2nd in ERA+.

    I’ll leave the analysis for others.

  • DK

    Kurt, you think the Twins have been honestly passing up opportunities to acquire (for instance) Clayton Kershaw? You think Ned Colletti’s been calling up Bill Smith over the years and saying “We’d love to find a way to give you guys Kershaw” and Bill Smith’s been saying “No thanks, we shy away from that kind of pitcher”? Kershaw was the 7th pick in the 2006 draft. The Twins picked 20th. The Twins had no chance to draft him. The most prominent power arms in the draft just aren’t available with consistency where the Twins draft in the mid-to-late first round. Although, remember that Gibson himself was projected to go much higher in the 2009 draft, and only dropped to the Twins because of injury concerns.

  • Sven

    Aaron -

    What is your thought on Aaron Hicks giving up switch hitting and focusing on batting righthanded? He has extreme splits between R/L for a switch hitter so far!

    I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think he would have a better bat giving up switch hitting.

  • toby

    Phil — yesterday I had started typing something requesting that someone with the skills do exactly that sort of thing, but just figured “screw it, it won’t affect that kind of thinking anyway.” Still, great work. And here’s what you’ll hear in response if you get a response: “Yeah, but all those teams had a true ‘ace-type-guy’ who could really bear down when the chips were on the line and give a truly great performance. Just look at X’s performance in game Y and Z of the 20XX ___ Series.” People want to believe in magic, but the argument is circular when the proof for needing “true ace” pitching to win in the post-season is that player X pitched well in a successful postseason and is therefore that type, while anyone who did not come throw is therefore not that type.

    DK’s exactly right. But also: any guys with huge, ace upside power arms who ARE available by the time the Twins picks rolla round tend to be much less polished, have control issues, etc., and are viewed as having much lower/nothing floors. There is risk in drafting Kershaws and Taillons, of course, but nothing like the guys with equivalent arms but messy mechanics and/or no control and/or no secondary pitches, etc., and that’s who’s available in the later part of the 1st round.

  • BC

    Re: fastball velocity concerns from a few. My short point before I go on below is that Salcedo and Hendriks (#9 and #8 on AG) have a shot at being ‘aces’ despite throwing low-90s fastballs. The long version:

    In Johan’s 2006 Cy Young-winning season with the Twins (rWAR = 7), his average fastball velocity was 93. But remember, of course, his ~80 mph changeup is probably his best pitch, and that mid-80s slider was pretty good too.

    In 2008, his first with the Mets, he finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and had a 6+ rWAR season despite his fastball velocity having declined to 91mph.

    ’09/10, injuries have set in a bit and his fastball velocity continues to decline (along with K/9 rates), but he’s still been productive for the Mets (avg’ing 4 rWAR over these two seasons) posting 130 or greater ERA+

    So sure, his K/9 rates have declined with that FB velocity over time, but an “ace” like him has a strong arsenal of pitches that allow him to continue to be effective.

    AG’s #9 Salecdo has put up ridic. K/9, K/BB, FIP + low HR totals despite “only” throwing 90 to 94 on his FB. Scouting info is hard to find on this guy so far, but I’ve heard he’s got a nice mid-80s breaking pitch and a changeup that could be a plus pitch.
    #8 Hendricks has great command of 4 or 5 pitches despite throwing “only” in the low 90s for his FB. Same success stat-wise, some great performances. His thing will be staying healthy…

    But my point is that these 2 guys — who fall in AG’s top 10, but not the top 5 — have a shot at being “ace” material, plus Wimmers and Gibson have a good shot at being #2 or #3 material.

    Seems safe to say Gibson’s worst case is a mid-rotation (3/4), his most likely case is probably a classic #2 guy, and he has a shot at being an “ace” in time…

    When the Twins won the WS in 91, their pitching staff was good, not great, top to bottom. A guy made the list here or there in a top-10 regular season pitching categories, but no more than 1 or 2 guys in WHIP, ERA+, K/9, etc. Sometimes, you catch lightning in a bottle during the playoffs and all goes well for your starters, where your staff happens to all pitch like “aces” at the right time.

    I think AG has made that point before — perhaps in reference to ’91 or ’87. Written enough and don’t want to dig up the post, but if someone can find it, beautiful.

    Agreed with those who have made nice points about where the Twins pick in terms of mid/late round slotting.

    Some good points on both sides… interesting discussion overall.

  • Kurt

    DK- I understand that the opportunity to pick said players has not really presented itself for the Twins, however, it is well known that the team does in fact favor finesse, pitch to contact arms. And to be quite honest with you, if the Twins picked 7th in the Kershaw draft, I’d be willing to bet a whole lot of $ that they pass on him. Just my opinion, though.

  • Kyle B

    You may be right Kurt, but you may be wrong.

    Around the time Terry Ryan stepped down as GM and the Twins shook up their FO, I recall either Mike Radcliff or Deron Johnson saying we need more power arms in our system. Sure enough, the next draft we draft guys like Billy Bullock and Ben Tootle. Now I’m not saying the Twins changed their whole philosophy on pitchers. It may have been an acknowledgement they need more of a “variety” in the system.

    Hey, what do you know? I found a Strib article quoting Johnson saying thy need more velocity…. http://www.startribune.com/sports/twins/47265967.html

  • CJ

    I’d like to see somebody show me multiple scenarios where the Twins passed on a pitching prospect that was highly touted as an ace for a finese strike thrower. The only instance that comes to mind was when they picked Mauer ahead of Prior, even though Mauer wasn’t a pitcher. Obviously that worked out in their favor so you can’t really use it against the front office other than to say they prefer finese to power.

    I’m sorry but I completely disagree with the idea of drafting “high-upside with known issues” in the early rounds and hoping to fix is better than going with more known commodities who are finese. The early rounds of a draft should be used to guarantee a team gets the most MLB talent they can, guys that will actually make a impact in the big leagues. There aren’t many teams out there than can tap into their minor leagues year after year and bring up quality MLB pitchers, even if they are mid-rotation guys. Use international signings, secondary draft picks and trades to look for the high upside guys that need a little work, those picks aren’t going to set the franchise back if they bomb out.

    I want the Twins to win playoff games as much as the next guy, it’s silly to think otherwise. But the worst thing for a franchise and their fan base is to become the Royals or the Pirates. Average Twins fan has been spoiled over the last decade, and it’s perfectly reasonable to want more than division titles, but not at the expense of becoming irrelevant. The best way to have playoff success is build a rotation of quality guys and have them pitch like aces for 4 weeks in October.

  • Kurt

    Kyle B – Yes, indeed the Twins appear to have begun taking risks on some power arms. It’s extremely encouraging to say the least. But, Arnold said it best when he said this:

    “Mike, I can tell you this, there aren’t many RH starters who top out at 91-92 who are aces in this league. How about a guy who can crank it up there and miss bats? How bout a high school kid who might be raw but might be special? How about a lefty? They just keep drafting the same exact type of pitcher: RH, college guy, low velocity, good command. They are content with starting pitching mediocrity – almost like they encourage it. Even the pre-draft scouting reports on Gibson and Wimmers had them pegged at “midrotation”. Sets the bar pretty low right from the get-go – how about a little ambition?”

    I’ve been trying to find those exact words to sum up how I feel about their fixation on college guys with good command. We all need to see more attempts at adding power arms, and I’ll say this, their dislike with Liriano (our only power starter and only starter that is really worth anything) tells me that this organization still feels the way to win is with low velocity, control guys. Go tell that to the Giants who just pitched their way to glory with nothing but power arms leading the way.

  • Kurt

    “The best way to have playoff success is build a rotation of quality guys and have them pitch like aces for 4 weeks in October.”

    Really? I thought the best way was to actually have an ace that pitched in October like he has all his career or season.

    World Series pitchers:

    2010 – Lincecum
    2009 – Sabathia
    2008 – Hamels
    2007 – Schilling
    2006 – Carpenter

    I’m not going to continue, but clearly they are all power arms.

  • Kurt

    “So all this talk about playoff winning being linked to true aces made me do a bit of research. I looked at the world series champs for the last 10 years, and checked to see how many pitchers they had in the top 10 in WPA:

    2010 San Fran – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2009 NYY – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2008 Phillies – Cole Hamels, 9th in ERA+. No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for ERA+ or K/9.

    2007 Red Sox – Matsuzaka 8th and Beckett 9th in K/9. Beckett 7th in ERA+. No pitchers in top 10 for WAR.

    2006 Cardinals – Carpenter 6th in WAR and 4th in ERA+. None in top 10 of K/9.

    2005 White Sox – Buhrle 7th and Garland 9th in WAR. None in K/9 or ERA+

    2004 Red Sox – Schilling 3rd in WAR. Martinez 7th in K/9. Schilling 6th in ERA+

    2003 Marlins – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2002 Angels – No pitchers in baseball’s top 10 for WAR, ERA+, or K/9.

    2001 Diamondbacks – Johnson and Schilling 1st and 2nd in WAR, 1st and 3rd in K/9; 1st and 2nd in ERA+.

    I’ll leave the analysis for others.”

    Phil – I’m going to assume this was MLB total including relievers, because in which case, no, the starters won’t be top 10 in K/9. I’m not going to look it up, but I’m pretty confident that Lincecum was top 10 in K/9 last year. This discussion is about starting pitching only.

  • jasper

    I think that drafting extreme strikethrowers is an unique way to exploit a gap in the market. If OBP is life, preventing walks should be job one. I’m totally behind the logic of drafting polished college pitchers and high-upside athletic young hitters. No other organization has been able to mint as many mid-rotation strikethrowers. If someone of Baker or Slowey’s ilk commands $10M per on the open market, there will always be heavy demand in the trade arena for these guys. If our front office can leverage this bevy of fast-moving arms into championship talent, or squanders it on Matt Capps remains to be seen. I have great respect for the Twins’ player development regime, but their spoils of their brilliance is turned over to a feeb.

  • Kyle B

    Kurt – I know what you mean. I look forward to watching a power arm over a finese guy, but not if he is wild or bad.
    Point is I believe the Twins look at all angles and don’t discriminate against power arms as much as poeple think. I prefer power, but not if he turns out to be a worse pitcher.

    Some Giants:
    Lincecum – 2006 #10 overall pick. No chance to get him.
    Cain – Yes, we could have had him, but took Span instead… I’d prefer Cain.
    Bumgarner – 2007 #10 overall pick. No chance to get him.

    Many peoples reasoning is the Twins don’t have the chance to get most of these guys simply because of draft position (We don’t suck enough). And the ones that turn out to be awesome who are drafted late, well, no one saw it coming like Jonathan Sanchez. No one knew he could be like this, hence he was drafted in the 27th round in 2004.
    There are pitchers who throw 91 mph to surpass expectations too.

  • Ian

    By all accounts, Liriano was as good as any pitcher in baseball last year. And he got rocked in game 1, squandering a three run lead in the only game our offense bothered to show up for.

    Our offense put up a .610 OPS for the series and we scored 7 runs in three games. Which was one more run than we managed in 3 games in 2009 and the same amount of runs we managed to score in our Oakland series in 06. If we avg 2 runs a game, pitching isn’t the problem.

    And, surprise, the pitchers that have failed us most in our postseason run haven’t been our “finesse RH” pitchers. They’ve been our lefties and our power bullpen arms.

  • DK

    Kurt, you picked a few really bad examples if your argument is that only “power pitchers” make good World Series pitchers.

    Carpenter averaged 91.4 MPH on his fastball in 2006.
    Hamels averaged 90.4 MPH on his fastball in 2008.
    Schilling averaged 89 MPH in 2007.

    Those three guys are/were all excellent pitchers. None of them were high velocity guys those years. (For comparison, Scott Baker averaged 91.4 MPH on his fastball in 2010.)

  • Kurt

    “And, surprise, the pitchers that have failed us most in our postseason run haven’t been our “finesse RH” pitchers. They’ve been our lefties and our power bullpen arms.”

    Huh? Pavano, Duensing, Bonser, Blackburn, and Radke all have posted losing efforts in the last 3 postseasons. All finesse guys.

  • Ian

    Kurt, I’ve been trying to point out that our “RH finesse” guys aren’t the problem. Duensing’s a lefty, which is supposed to be better than a righty against the Yanks yet he and fellow lefty Liriano have both been rocked by them.

    Second, Pavano (4.15era), Bonser (3.00), Blackburn (1.59) and Radke (3.60) have all pitched well enough for the Twins in the postseason. They might have gotten “L” b/c of an amazing lack of offense that has averaged 2 runs a game over our last 3 postseason series.

    Also, sorry to all if that “surprise” post came off as condescending.