March 29, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

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

5. Liam Hendriks | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Right | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+     3      3     3.71      17.0      19      0      13      1
         A-     11     11     3.51      66.2      73      3      62     15
2010     A-      6      6     1.32      34.0      16      0      39      4
         A+     13     12     1.93      74.2      63      2      66      8
2011     AA     16     15     2.70      90.0      85      5      81     18
         AAA     9      9     4.56      49.1      52      0      30      3
         MLB     4      4     6.17      23.1      29      3      16      6

Liam Hendriks signed with the Twins out of Australia as an 18-year-old in 2007, but missed all of 2008 and half of 2009 following knee and back surgeries. He returned in 2010 with a fantastic season between two levels of Single-A, throwing 109 innings with a 1.74 ERA as a 21-year-old, and then thrived between Double-A and Triple-A last season while winning Twins minor league pitcher of the year honors and making his big-league debut in September.

Statistically he was the best pitcher in the Twins' system in both 2010 and 2011, going from low Single-A to the majors during that time despite not turning 23 years old until last month. That includes a 3.36 ERA, 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just five homers allowed in 139 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but unfortunately Hendriks' strikeout rate dipped dramatically once he got to Triple-A and his raw stuff isn't quite as impressive.

Hendriks is the prototypical Twins pitcher with excellent control and off-speed pitches that receive positive reviews, but his average fastball clocked in at just 89.9 miles per hour. Toss in an unspectacular, deteriorating strikeout rate with a neutral ground-ball rate and he looks like more of a strike-throwing No. 3 starter than a top-of-the-rotation guy. Kyle Gibson's injury makes Hendriks the top pitching prospect by default, but he should be MLB-ready soon.

4. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    213     .294     .343     .438      5     16     16     28
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60

Miguel Sano was the biggest name in Elizabethton's lineup, but rookie-ball teammate and 2010 fourth-round pick Eddie Rosario actually led the Appalachian League in homers and slugging percentage while hitting .337. They each topped 20 homers in the 68-game season after a grand total of one Appalachian League hitter had 20 homers in the past 20 years. Rosario can't compete with Sano's raw power, but should have far more defensive value.

At which position is unclear, because after playing Rosario in center field last season the Twins have moved him to second base in the hopes that he can fix their longstanding inability to develop middle infielders. Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch are the only second basemen in Twins history with an OPS above .750 in multiple seasons, which along with the organization's strong outfield depth certainly makes Rosario in the infield a worthwhile experiment.

Last year's record-setting slugging probably overstates Rosario's long-term power potential, but the 20-year-old left-handed hitter clearly has plenty of pop and moving up to full-season competition at low Single-A should provide a clearer picture of his all-around upside. So far he's hit .319 with 26 homers and 39 steals in 118 games after Baseball America's pre-draft report called him "the best pure hitter" in Puerto Rico and compared him to Bobby Abreu.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     297     .251     .353     .382      4     22     40     55
2010     A-     518     .279     .401     .428      8     41     88    112
2011     A+     528     .242     .354     .368      5     41     78    110

Aaron Hicks' stock has gradually slipped since the Twins drafted him out of high school in 2008 and the expectations of a No. 14 pick shape how he's perceived. On one hand Hicks is a speedy 22-year-old center fielder with good range and a strong arm, led the system with 78 walks last year at high Single-A, and has a .377 career on-base percentage. On the other hand he's a .266 hitter, hasn't developed power, and struggles from the left side of the plate.

His upside certainly looks lower now than two years ago, but it's too early to write Hicks off as a bust. His defense, speed, and patience are all impressive, although it's possible he's actually too passive at the plate. And while the lack of pop is disappointing he's hardly in Ben Revere territory. Hicks had a .126 Isolated Power and 41 extra-base hits in 443 at-bats for Fort Myers. Revere had a .058 Isolated Power and 19 extra-base hits in 466 at-bats there in 2009.

Compared to Revere at the same age and level Hicks hits for twice as much power and draws twice as many walks. Revere is faster and has more range, but Hicks is also considered a strong defensive center fielder and has a vastly superior arm. Revere's flaws were just more easily hidden by lofty batting averages and even now Hicks has more all-around upside, but he absolutely needs more pop or consistency switch-hitting to look like a potential star again.

2. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A+     327     .285     .414     .403      5     18     46     74
2010     A+      96     .294     .375     .588      4     16      8     21
         AA     423     .251     .336     .527     23     50     39    115
2011     AA     472     .285     .388     .495     16     48     56    109
         MLB     74     .239     .270     .352      0      7      3     21

Joe Benson was pressed into major-league duty by the Twins' many injuries and predictably struggled while making the leap from Double-A to the majors at age 23, but prior to an ugly September he was very impressive in New Britain. Whether he should have been essentially repeating Double-A after spending most of 2010 there is a legitimate question, but he showed improvement while hitting .285 with good power, better patience, and fewer strikeouts.

Benson's inability make consistent contact is the biggest red flag in an otherwise well-rounded game, but while he whiffed 21 times in 74 plate appearances for the Twins his Double-A strikeout rate improved from 27 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2011. Overall in 213 games at Double-A he's smacked 39 homers and 98 total extra-base hits for a .241 Isolated Power. By comparison, Harmon Killebrew has the top Isolated Power in Twins history at .258.

Benson isn't the second coming of Killebrew, but should have 25-homer pop with plus speed and center field range with a right field arm. His all-around upside isn't far off from Michael Cuddyer, who manned right field for the Twins from 2006-2011. Cuddyer hit .282/.373/.478 in 279 games at Double-A, compared to .269/.363/.510 for Benson. Cuddyer also crushed Triple-A pitching after that, which Benson will finally get a chance to do this season.

1. 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
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77

Miguel Sano has lived up to the hype and then some so far, emerging as one of baseball's elite prospects three years after the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for a record $3.15 million bonus. As a soon-to-be 19-year-old who's yet to advance past rookie-ball Sano's odds of going bust are considerably higher than most top prospects, but his upside is incredible and his early production has been jaw-dropping.

Sano was 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds when the Twins signed him and is now at least 240, which is why his remaining at shortstop was a pipe dream and even sticking at third base may be a stretch. It would be nice to have a slugging third baseman instead of a slugging right fielder or first baseman, but if Sano's bat develops as hoped he'll be MVP-caliber anywhere on the diamond and join Justin Morneau as the only Twins with multiple 30-homer years since 1987.

He's struck out 137 times in 127 games and hasn't walked much, but that's expected from a raw teenager and Sano has hit .300/.364/.572 in pitcher-friendly environments. Last year he blasted 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games, slugging .637 in a league that slugged .404. Anyone who sees Sano inevitably comes away saying the same two things: He's massive and the ball explodes off his bat. And he's the best Twins prospect since Joe Mauer.

  • Daddy

    After more than a year of being frustrated with the Twins organization, that single paragraph on Sano made be (no joke) do a fist pump. And I’m alone in this room. Not to get too excited . . . but, at this point, I’ll take what I can get as a Twins fan.

  • Max

    Aaron: I heard someone (maybe Rob Antony) on the radio within the last week say Sano weighed in at 246lbs. He looks cut and very natural in the field at 3B.

  • JR Cigar

    Some nice building blocks for the future with Rosario and Sano. Hope they can remain infielders. Now, the Twins absolutely have to pick a “can’t miss” prospect with their #1 pick near the top of the first round in this year’s amateur draft. Need to stockpile talent like KC has done.

  • Jeff

    Not that I’m a baseball geek enough to be familiar with all of the other teams’ farm systems, but after reading that it is a bit surprising that they were ranked near the bottom. I guess I would have figured they’d be more in the middle. It’s hard to imagine any teams are significantly stronger in hitting (or worse in pitching).

  • Dave

    I’ve got a question on Sano:

    Where would he rank if he’s not actually almost 19, but rather is almost 22? I’m not saying he is, I’m just curious how much of a difference age makes when evaluating hitters in rookie ball. I imagine his numbers would be impressive no matter what age he is, but would he still be #1 if his age is off by 3 years?

  • Josh

    If Sano is 3 years older, his stock would drop significantly, but he’d still be an excellent prospect. Hopefully he is exactly what we’ve all believed him to be.

    I’m very curious to see if the Rosario experiment works out. I think it was a smart move, and if he can handle to position defensively, he’ll move through the system rapidly I think. It’d be VERY exciting if he hits like Abreu, that’s for sure.

    If Benson can cut down on the K’s this year, I expect him to become a mainstay in the Twins lineup for years. Potentially a combination of Cuddyer’s hitting with Span’s defense only with a better arm? That’d be rather nice to slot into RF for the next 5 years, I think.

  • http://knuckleballsblog.com JimCrikket

    I agree the Rosario experiment is well worth trying, what with Hicks and Benson ahead of him in the OF. That said, I can’t help but wonder if it should have been Revere that the Twins tried to move to 2B. A 2014-15 lineup with Rosario, Benson and Hicks in the OF & Sano, Levi Michael, Revere and Parmelee (or Mauer?) in the IF would be kind of interesting.

  • curt

    Will Sano and Rosario be in Beloit this year?

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

    Just got back from Spring Training, got to observe quite a bit of Sano and all these guys in the rankings really. Sano is big, like stands out in the crowd easily big. Also saw him misplay a ball or two at third, but has an absolute CANNON. Keep in mind he’s only 18 and still learning. Also got to watch Rosario doing infield drills with TK and Paul Moliter. He’s definitely learning the position on the fly, but his athleticism to make the plays they were asking him to make was very evident.

  • Ben

    It’s nice to see Benson finally getting some love. I still think that Hicks is the Stephen Hill of our minor league system. Never done anything on a field but has great measurables.

  • Peter

    That Mr Bill Smith was building them Twins some good trade bait to get some slightly below average overpaid relief pitching come next July, nah, wait…

  • Ramblia

    Hope those boys can develop quickly enough (and be helped along by the organization) to join a healthy Mauer and Morneau. The window for Sano and Mauer playing together seems to be in about 3 years- would you agree?

  • Brian

    I think Hicks’ upside has gone from Carlos Beltran to Carlos Gomez with plate discipline. Not that a top 10 defensive OF’er who can hit 0.230/0.300/0.350 doesn’t have value at the major league level, but I think that’s what we’re looking at in a couple of years. I hope I’m wrong.