March 12, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 31-35, 36-40.

30. D.J. Baxendale | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       7.2       1      0      16      1
         A-     11      0     1.64      11.0      12      0      15      1
2013     A+      9      9     1.10      57.1      34      2      48     11
         AA     16     16     5.63      92.2     110     13      64     22

D.J. Baxendale had a dominant 19-inning pro debut after going to the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arkansas and began his first full season by jumping all the way to high Single-A, where he went 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in nine starts. That earned Baxendale a lot of attention and a quick promotion to Double-A, but he allowed as many earned runs in his first start there as he did combined in nine starts for Fort Myers.

Overall in New Britain he got knocked around for a 5.63 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average in 16 starts to provide a reminder that college pitchers thriving at rookie-ball and Single-A tends not to mean much of anything. Baxendale throws strikes and works mostly in the high-80s with his fastball, so it's not surprising that he ran into a wall against more experienced Double-A hitters after carving up the low minors.

Another worry is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and that became an issue for the first time in New Britain, where he allowed 13 homers in 93 innings. Fly balls and high-80s fastballs are a bad combination, although it's worth noting that Baxendale reached Double-A very quickly at age 22. His raw stuff seems unlikely to ever translate into many missed bats, so Baxendale's control may determine his big-league chances. So far he's walked just 35 batters in 169 pro innings.

29. Lewin Diaz | First Base | DOB: 9/96 | Bats: Left | Sign: Dominican

Last year the Twins' biggest international splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically."

Having an Ortiz build unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reported that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also noted at the time of the signing that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.

28. Miguel Sulbaran | Starter | DOB: 3/94 | Throws: Left | Trade: Dodgers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    11     11     2.51      57.1      57      2      62      9
2013     A-     27     20     2.96     112.2     110      3     101     32

When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers in July for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that the return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League last season Sulbaran had a 2.96 ERA and 101/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings. For comparison, top-10 prospect Jose Berrios had a 3.99 ERA and 100/40 K/BB ratio in 104 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Two years ago the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd overall pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera was shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but before the trade Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Any deal for Butera would have gotten the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but Sulbaran was a nice haul.

27. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Amaurys Minier when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, with some people even making stretched comparisons to Miguel Sano, but last season he showed the folly of hyping every big-money teenage signing. Minier began his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .214 with 29 strikeouts in 31 games.

The good news is that he did manage six homers in 112 at-bats, which is impressive in a league where two entire teams managed only five total homers in the 60-game schedule and the overall slugging percentage was .338. The better news is that Minier turned 18 years old in January and what he did in a 31-game debut doesn't mean much in terms of his long-term potential. Not all teenage prospects come out of the gates slugging like Sano, which is what makes Sano so special.

Minier was technically signed as a shortstop, but he'll never play there and spent last season at third base. There's no real sense in trying to analyze Minier's performance so far and his place on this list is based mostly on the money the Twins paid to sign him and the fact that just about everyone seems to agree he has the potential to be a very good hitter. It may take another year or two before there's much beyond that to analyze.

26. Fernando Romero | Starter | DOB: 12/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      6     1.60      45.0      32      0      47     13

Fernando Romero signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, getting $260,000 as a 16-year-old. After throwing 31 mediocre Dominican Summer League innings in 2012 he moved up to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year for his American debut and dominated similarly inexperienced hitters with a 1.60 ERA and 47/13 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. He held opponents to a .196 batting average, including zero homers in 181 plate appearances.

Of course, Gulf Coast League numbers are rarely accurate predictors of success, particularly when the sample size is 181 plate appearances. At the time of the signing Romero reportedly threw in the high-80s and low-90s, and he's added some velocity since then while filling out his six-foot frame a bit. Like most teenagers his fastball is ahead of his off-speed stuff and Romero hasn't shown whether he can hold up under a starter's workload yet.

In terms of long-term upside he's one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins' farm system, but my general approach to this list is to be conservative with teenagers until there's some sort of track record versus decent competition. Romero won't turn 20 years old until after this season and figures to spend the whole year pitching for rookie-level Elizabethton, putting him several seasons away from even entering into the Twins' plans.

February 14, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

25. Nate Roberts | Left Field | DOB: 2/89 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    153     .336     .444     .547      5     16     21     29
2011     A-     283     .302     .443     .446      4     20     28     48
2012     A-     352     .299     .433     .427      4     25     44     37

Nate Roberts has moved very slowly through the system since being drafted in the fifth round out of High Point University in 2010, in part because the Twins have refused to promote him and in part because he's rarely stayed healthy. He'll turn 24 years old before playing a game above low Single-A and spent back-to-back seasons in Beloit despite hitting .302/.443/.446 there as a 22-year-old the first time around.

That might suggest the Twins don't think much of Roberts' potential, but they gave him a spot in the Arizona Fall League and he hit .446/.565/.662 in 19 games. He led the country in on-base percentage as a college junior and has gotten on base at a .439 clip in the minors, combining patience and strike zone control with an amazing ability to get hit by pitches. Dating back to his final college season Roberts has been plunked 81 times in 235 games.

Along with being an on-base machine Roberts also has 41 steals in 179 games as a pro, but his power has been limited with just 13 homers and he's strictly a corner outfielder defensively. It's tough to get too excited about Roberts' future until he stays healthy and faces more advanced competition, but hopefully the dominant AFL stint convinces the Twins to at least push him aggressively at age 24.

24. Daniel Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    144     .264     .285     .421      4     13      3     30
         A-     144     .238     .289     .315      0      7      7     40
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77

Daniel Santana all but fell off the prospect map following a 2011 season in which he hit just .247/.298/.373 and moved around the diamond defensively at low Single-A, but the switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic stepped up to high Singe-A last year and showed enough promise to think he can have a big-league future. Santana batted .286 with 38 extra-base hits in 121 games, swiped 17 bases, and struck out in just 14 percent of his plate appearances.

With that said, his overall .286/.329/.410 line wasn't particularly impressive and he drew just 29 walks in 547 plate appearances while being thrown out on 11 of 28 steal attempts. In other words Santana is still pretty rough around the edges and there isn't much in his track record through age 22 to suggest he's capable of being more than a bottom-of-the-order bat. He's hit .266/.313/.398 for his career and hasn't cracked a .750 OPS since rookie-ball in 2008.

Defensively, however, Santana gets positive reviews as both a shortstop and second baseman. He alternated middle infield spots with 2011 first-round pick Levi Michael for much of last season, but Santana eventually emerged as Fort Myers' primary shortstop. If he can remain an asset at shortstop Santana could hit enough to be a decent starter there, but right now he seems to be on the utility infielder track.

23. Zack Jones | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       2      0       9      4
         A-     12      0     3.21      14.0       9      1      25      7

Zack Jones had mediocre results in three years at San Jose State, posting a 4.11 ERA in 138 innings spent mostly as a reliever, but his mid-90s fastball and high strikeout rate convinced the Twins to make him their fourth-round pick in June. Jones started eight games in his final college season, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacked a quality third pitch to go with a fastball and slider.

Jones debuted at rookie-level Elizabethon and then moved up to low Single-A Beloit, throwing 20 total innings while working exclusively out of the bullpen. He overpowered hitters, holding them to a .159 batting average and striking out 34 of the 81 batters he faced, but also walked 11. While the Twins are hoping some of the college relievers they drafted in June can become starters, it sounds like Jones and the organization both prefer him in the bullpen.

Even in short outings his control needs a lot of work. He limited walks in his final season at SJSU, but Jones' overall walk rate in college was 4.4 per nine innings and he issued 5.0 walks per nine innings in his admittedly brief pro debut. Still, as a hard-throwing reliever Jones potentially could move very quickly through the minors and has a decent chance to be the Twins' first 2012 draft pick to reach to the majors.

22. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

As part of MLB's new collective bargaining agreement the Twins were allowed to spend a total of $2.9 million on international prospects last year and they gave $1.4 million of that to 16-year-old Amaurys Minier, a switch-hitting infielder from the Dominican Republic. Ranked by Baseball America as the 12th-best international prospect in last year's signing class, Minier is currently a shortstop but is expected to move to third base once his 6-foot-2 frame fills out.

According to David Rawnsley of Perfect Game he "has immense power from both sides of the plate" but "doesn't have the athleticism" to stick at shortstop. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that Minier "has drawn attention for his bat speed and plus power from both sides of the plate" with "one of the sweeter swings in the Dominican." However, he added that "scouts have reservations about his ability to hit in games, so his pitch recognition skills will have to improve."

Three years ago the Twins signed Miguel Sano out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for $3.15 million, but making that type of investment is no longer feasible under the CBA and the $1.4 million they spent on Minier is more than all but three international prospects got in 2012. That doesn't mean he's destined for stardom, but Minier is definitely a high-upside prospect and it's always nice to see the Twins adding a potential impact bat to the system.

21. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+    10      0     1.08      25.0      18      1      26      4
         A-     13     12     4.29      65.0      76      7      40     18
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11

Michael Tonkin is a former 30th-round pick for whom "Jason Kubel's brother-in-law" was once his claim to fame, but he's thrived since moving to the bullpen full time in mid-2011 and last year dominated between two levels of Single-A to emerge as someone to watch. Tonkin racked up 90 strikeouts in 69 total innings while holding opponents to a .209 batting average and three homers, posting a 2.09 ERA at age 22.

Plenty of relievers put up great numbers in the low minors every season, but few are 6-foot-7 with mid-90s fastballs like Tonkin. He's moved methodically through the farm system, finally reaching high Single-A midway through his fifth pro season, but that was in part because Tonkin was trying to stick as a starter early on and now that he's in the bullpen to stay there's the potential to rise pretty quickly.

His time as a starter helped develop a three-pitch fastball/slider/changeup repertoire that misses lot of bats and induces a decent number of ground balls. And for a big guy with a big fastball his control isn't bad either, with 20 walks in 69 innings last season and 2.3 walks per nine innings for his career. It's usually silly to get excited about Single-A relievers, but Tonkin's combination of raw stuff, size, and performance since shifting to the bullpen is very encouraging.


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July 5, 2012

Twins Notes: Doumit, Blackburn, Hendriks, Minier, Mauer, and Plouffe

• Assuming the Twins decide to become sellers at the trade deadline Ryan Doumit likely would have drawn a decent amount of interest from contending teams, but instead they took him off the market with a two-year, $7 million extension that will pay the catcher/designated hitter $3.5 million in both 2013 and 2014. Handing out multi-year deals to 31-year-old non-stars isn't usually a great plan for a rebuilding team, but the price is right and Doumit is a good fit.

I liked adding Doumit on a one-year, $3 million deal this offseason because he essentially replaced Jason Kubel as a quality left-handed bat for a fraction of the price and was also a much-needed alternative to Drew Butera behind the plate in case Joe Mauer struggled to stay healthy again. Doumit has a good enough bat to be useful at DH and a good enough glove to be useful at catcher, and that's the kind of versatility the Twins needed.

He's been exactly what they hoped, hitting .282/.344/.449 versus a .271/.334/.442 career line and proving to be a more palatable defensive catcher than his awful reputation. His defense in the outfield and at first base is a different story, as Ron Gardenhire soured on Doumit there almost immediately and has used him for all of 52 non-catcher innings in the field, but the ability to basically have Mauer and Doumit alternate between catcher and DH has been ideal.

Doumit for $3 million this year was a nice pickup, so Doumit for $3.5 million in 2013 represents the same solid value and paying him $3.5 million in 2014 will hardly cripple the Twins even if he declines at age 33. Jason Marquis got $3 million for seven awful starts and Nick Blackburn is owed $5.5 million next year, so $3.5 million for a .750-.800 OPS hitter who can catch is enough of a bargain to be worth the risk of a multi-year commitment. And they can trade him later too.

• Speaking of Blackburn, yesterday he was dumped from the rotation and demoted to Triple-A for the second time since the Twins misguidedly gave him a four-year contract extension in March of 2010. I hated that signing at the time, noting that the Twins already had Blackburn under team control through 2013 via arbitration and his miniscule strikeout rate limited his upside and made him far more likely to decline than improve.

Sure enough since the Twins guaranteed him $14 million instead of going year-to-year he's got a 5.51 ERA and among all pitchers with 50-plus starts he has the fewest strikeouts per nine innings (4.2) and the highest opponents' batting average (.309) and slugging percentage (.500). Some of that can certainly be blamed on injuries, but that's one of the reasons to avoid making unnecessary commitments to mediocre pitchers you already control for years to come.

Had the Twins smartly chosen to go year-to-year with Blackburn via arbitration they'd have presumably already cut him, if not after his 5.42 ERA and demotion to Triple-A in 2010 than at least after his 4.49 ERA and forearm injury in 2011. Instead they're paying him $4.75 million this season and owe him $5.5 million next season, which would have been his final year under team control via arbitration anyway.

Liam Hendriks will be joining Blackburn in Rochester after struggling for the third time in three chances with the Twins. Hendriks came into the season as the team's top pitching prospect, but that was mostly by default and despite being the Twins' reigning minor league pitcher of the year his long-term upside has always been mid-rotation starter. He was rushed to the majors, much like Chris Parmelee, and is still 23 years old with 16 starts at Triple-A.

Obviously his 6.71 ERA through 12 career starts is ugly, but a 39-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings isn't far off from what you'd expect based on Hendriks' track record. He'll need to show better control because mediocre raw stuff and modest strikeout rates in the minors make it hard to imagine many missed bats, but his biggest problem was serving up 13 homers in 62 innings after allowing three homers in 94 innings at Triple-A. Don't give up on him yet.

• This season's international prospects became eligible to sign Monday and the Twins spent $1.4 million for one of the top-rated hitters in 16-year-old Dominican infielder Amaurys Minier. Ben Badler of Baseball America ranked Minier as the 12th-best international prospect available, saying the 6-foot-2 switch-hitter will likely shift from shortstop to third base and "has drawn attention for his bat speed and plus power from both sides of the plate." Here's a bit more:

He has some noise in his setup, but he has a smooth stroke with good balance and whips the bat head through the zone. With his power, he can put on a good show in batting practice. Scouts have reservations about his ability to hit in games, so his pitch recognition skills will have to improve. Many players with Minier's body type--thick lower half and below-average speed--are already at third base. ... He has a strong arm but will have to work on his infield actions to avoid a move further down the defensive spectrum.

In addition to Minier the Twins also spent $500,000 on 16-year-old Australian southpaw Lewis Thorpe, who Baseball America called the country's top prospect. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement they have $1 million left to potentially spend on international signings.

• Mauer has played 72 of 80 games while hitting .332 with a league-leading .420 on-base percentage and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) total of 2.8 leads the Twins while ranking 10th among the league's position players. If your reaction to his being selected for the All-Star team at baseball's thinnest position was anything other than "of course he made the All-Star team" then you're likely better off booing him at Target Field than reading this blog.

• Parmelee was recalled from Triple-A because he responded to a mid-May demotion by hitting .375/.500/.708 in three weeks there. Since rejoining the Twins he's started a total of four times in 26 games. How that helps him or the Twins in the short or long term is beyond me.

Danny Valencia had 23 homers in 266 games for the Twins. Trevor Plouffe has 18 homers in 39 games since replacing him on May 15. Plouffe has shown no signs of turning back into a pumpkin and Valencia is hitting .245/.286/.410 in 49 games at Triple-A.

• I somehow neglected to include this in my SABR convention recap, but I was at Target Field last Friday night to witness one of the better "security guards chasing an idiot who ran onto the field" moments in recent memory. Shockingly he wasn't part of the SABR group.

• Since the Twins changed catchers nine seasons ago Mauer has been on base 306 more times than A.J. Pierzynski while making 534 fewer outs.

Paul Bargas, the pitching prospect the Twins acquired from the Rockies for catcher Jose Morales in 2010, has died from brain cancer. He was just 23 years old.

Miguel Sano's high error total at third base has the Twins concerned about his defense at low Single-A, but his odds of sticking at third base have never been very high anyway.

• Pitcher wins are hilarious, part infinity: Jeff Gray is 5-0. He's thrown 35 innings with a 4.08 ERA and 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

• If you missed it last week, Dave Beal of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a good article about the Twins' involvement with sabermetrics.

Michael Cuddyer is hitting .233 away from Coors Field for a 31-50 team while earning $10.5 million, but some things never change.

• When he's not riding elevators with me Jose Mijares has a 1.69 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 32 innings for the Royals, which is why cutting him loose for $750,000 never made much sense.

Frank Viola's daughter, Brittany Viola, made the Olympic diving team.

• Along with being one of MLB's best relievers Glen Perkins also has great taste in podcasts.

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