February 9, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

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

25. Anthony Slama | Reliever | DOB: 1/84 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-39

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     51      0     1.01      71.0      43      0     110     24
2009     AA     51      0     2.48      65.1      46      5      93     32
         AAA    11      0     3.45      15.2      11      0      19      8
2010     AAA    54      0     2.20      65.1      41      5      74     32

After four seasons of being nearly unhittable at every level in the minors Anthony Slama finally got his first shot in the majors and didn't impress in five appearances, allowing opponents to bat .300/.440/.550 while showing the mediocre raw stuff and shaky control that convinced the Twins to keep him on the farm until age 26. However, a bad five-game debut is hardly damning and while nowhere near overpowering his low-90s fastball and high-70s slider looked decent.

Slama also surrounded that two-week stint in the big leagues with a very strong performance at Triple-A, tossing 65 innings with a 2.20 ERA, .178 opponents' batting average, and 74-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He now has a 1.95 ERA and 345 strikeouts in 249 career innings in the minors, including a 2.46 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A, which should be more than enough to get him another chance to establish himself with the Twins at some point in 2011.

His velocity will never match those great minor-league stats, but Slama is far from a soft-tosser and plenty of big-league relievers have had long, successful careers with similar raw stuff. His window of opportunity will be limited due to his age and the Twins' lack of faith, but hopefully four years of dominating in the minors earns Slama more than four innings to prove himself in the majors. He deserves a legitimate chance to sink or swim, and I still think he can float.

24. James Beresford | Shortstop | DOB: 1/89 | Bats: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK+    211     .246     .345     .285      0      6     25     35
2009     A-     505     .289     .342     .313      0     11     34     70
2010     A-     540     .297     .349     .363      1     25     34     56

International scouting director Howard Norsetter has mused that James Beresford still looks more like "the bat boy" than a big leaguer five years after Twins signed him out of Australia as a 16-year-old, but the 165-pound shortstop has developed into a very intriguing prospect by slowly but surely adding some power at the plate to go along with what has always been an outstanding glove.

Beresford had almost zero power in his first two pro seasons, managing just eight extra-base hits and a .292 slugging percentage in 100 games at rookie-ball. He moved up to low Single-A in 2009 and his power went from non-existent to very poor, and last year Beresford repeated the level while hitting his first career homer and more than doubling his extra-base hit count. He's still in no danger of turning into a slugger, but can at least drive the ball occasionally.

While he was young for low Single-A the first time around asking Beresford to repeat the level last year was odd because he won team MVP honors in 2009 and certainly held his own by hitting .289 with a .342 on-base percentage. He repeated as team MVP last year, hitting .297 with a .349 OBP and upping his slugging percentage by 50 points while cutting his strikeouts by 25 percent. Right now he looks like a bottom-of-the-order hitter, but there's room to grow.

23. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    128     .161     .219     .195      0      4      9     34

His name ranks as the best in Twins' farm system whether he goes by Cartier Goodrum or his nickname Niko, but last year's second-round pick struggled mightily in rookie-ball after signing out of a Georgia high school for $515,000. Pre-draft scouting reports focused on his raw tools and difficulty making consistent contact, and sure enough Goodrum hit .161 with 34 strikeouts in 118 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League.

It's impossible to find any positives within that performance, but Goodrum was drafted for his long-term upside rather than his ability to thrive immediately. Goodrum is a switch-hitter with what Baseball America described as "surprising raw power" and "good hands" while calling him "an easy player to dream on." He's a very long way from the big leagues, so Goodrum's future depends on the Twins' ability to mold his considerable tools into actual baseball skills.

He's athletic enough to play primarily shortstop for now, although no one seems to believe he has any real shot of sticking at the position and Goodrum may wind up shifting to the outfield eventually when his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame fills out. He has above-average speed and a strong arm, so Goodrum should be an asset defensively somewhere as long as his bat proves worthy of being in the lineup.

22. B.J. Hermsen | Starter | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    10     10     1.35      53.1      32      0      42      4
2010     RK+     8      6     3.32      38.0      39      2      39      4
         A-     12     12     5.00      72.0      85      6      46     15

B.J. Hermsen fell to the Twins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft due to a broken collarbone suffered as a high school senior in Iowa and concerns over his bonus demands, but ended up getting second-round money in signing for $650,000. He debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2009 and was nearly unhittable with a 1.35 ERA and 42-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 innings, allowing zero homers while opponents batted just .171.

Hermsen moved up to rookie-level Elizabethton to begin last season and thrived there as well, posting a 3.32 ERA and 39/4 K/BB ratio in 38 innings before earning a midseason promotion to low Single-A. He struggled at Beloit, managing just 46 strikeouts in 72 innings while opponents hit .295 with six homers, but maintained excellent control with just 1.9 walks per nine innings and was among the youngest Midwest League pitchers to start double-digit games.

As a 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander Hermsen has an intimidating mound presence and while in high school his velocity was regularly said to be in the mid-90s, but he's typically worked in the low-90s as a pro and has just 127 strikeouts in 163 career innings. He makes up for the lack of missed bats with pinpoint control and a fair number of ground balls, but it remains to be seen if Hermsen's size and once-touted velocity lead to the development of better raw stuff.

21. Manuel Soliman | Starter | DOB: 8/89 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     DSL    14     14     2.15      71.0      66      0      55     20
2010     RK+    12     12     3.48      64.2      47      5      74     21

When the Twins signed Manuel Soliman from the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2007 he was a third baseman, but after hitting just .199 with a .288 slugging percentage during two seasons of Dominican summer league action he made the move to the mound in 2009 and had immediate success. Despite never pitching before Soliman joined the rotation in the DSL with a 2.15 ERA and 55-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71 innings while allowing zero homers.

Last season Soliman bypassed the rookie-level Gulf Coast League to pitch one level up in the rookie-level Appalachian League, starting 12 games with a 3.48 ERA and 74/21 K/BB ratio in 65 innings as a 20-year-old, including seven no-hit innings in his second outing. He served up five homers, but opponents batted just .201 against him overall and the right-handed Soliman was actually more effective versus lefties (.160) than righties (.222).

He's a long way from potentially entering the Twins' plans and still needs plenty of refinement, but Soliman's raw stuff is good enough to take notice of the early success and his unique lack of pitching experience could leave lots of room for further development. Armed with a low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, Soliman has gone 11-4 with a 2.79 ERA and 129/41 K/BB ratio in 136 innings through 26 career starts and will likely make the leap to full-season ball in 2011.

June 23, 2010

Twins Notes: Mauer, Lowell, Bonser, Neshek, Plouffe, and prospects

• A few weeks ago after Ken Griffey Jr. retired friend of AG.com Jay Jaffe wrote a good article at Baseball Prospectus focusing on his place in baseball history, which also included this list of the best No. 1 overall picks of all time based on Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP):

NO. 1 PICK           YEAR     WARP
Alex Rodriguez       1993    101.0
Ken Griffey Jr.      1987     79.7
Chipper Jones        1990     72.4
Harold Baines        1977     48.4
Darryl Strawberry    1980     46.9
Joe Mauer            2001     34.5

I was surprised to see that only six No. 1 overall picks in baseball history have accumulated as many as 30 career WARP. To put that in some Twins-related context, Corey Koskie and Greg Gagne had 26.0 and 24.6 career WARP, respectively. Joe Mauer is already the sixth-best No. 1 pick ever despite being in the middle of his age-27 season. He won't top Alex Rodriguez and may be a long shot to pass Griffey, but should give Chipper Jones a run for the third spot.

• Last week I examined whether the Twins should trade for Mike Lowell after Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported they were talking to the Red Sox about the veteran third baseman. Rosenthal has since followed up his initial report, adding that the Red Sox are in a "stalemate" with the Twins and Rangers regarding Lowell because they're willing to pay the rest of his $12 million salary, but only if they get a decent player in return.

In other words the Red Sox want to save money or get a decent player. If the Twins are willing to absorb most of Lowell's remaining salary they can likely get him for a low-level prospect. If the Twins are willing to part with a mid-level prospect the Red Sox will likely pay the rest of his salary. Either way, the price is right. Lowell makes sense as a third baseman or DH platoon partner for Jason Kubel, who has a Jacque Jones-like .235/.317/.352 career line off lefties.

• Traded to the Red Sox in December after missing all of last year following shoulder surgery, Boof Bonser spent the first two months of this season on the disabled list, allowed four runs without recording an out in his first big-league appearance in 21 months, and was designated for assignment a week later. Meanwhile, the prospect the Twins got in return, Chris Province, has a 5.66 ERA in 41 innings as a 25-year-old reliever at Double-A. Seems like a fair trade.

• After angering the team by writing publicly about his injury status, Pat Neshek was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A earlier this month, with Ron Gardenhire saying:

He's just like everyone else in the minor leagues now. He's got to pitch his way back up. When there's a need, he'll get an opportunity ... if he's the one throwing the ball good.

Neshek has pitched in four Triple-A games with a 2.00 ERA, .152 opponents' batting average, and 7-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings. So far so good, although I doubt he's gotten much closer to rejoining the Twins and even a 2.00 ERA ranks just third-best in the Rochester bullpen behind Kyle Waldrop at 1.16 and Anthony Slama at 1.60 ERA. Despite that, Rochester is 28-41 and has the worst team ERA in the International League at 5.03.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported recently that the Orioles have been "sniffing around for a shortstop" and Trevor Plouffe "is rumored to have piqued their interest." Plouffe was oddly the only shortstop Stark mentioned by name and that seems like some awfully random smoke if there's zero fire behind it. Over the weekend Plouffe was sent back to Triple-A, where he's hit a career-best .278/.340/.449 in 54 games.

• Last week B.J. Hermsen was four outs from a no-hitter at low Single-A, settling for a one-hit shutout. Friend of AG.com and former part-time MLB.com Twins beat writer Thor Nystrom was in attendance and told me Hermsen was "very solid looking" and "goes after guys." However, he was surprised that Hermsen "doesn't throw hard for his size" and "doesn't have dominant stuff," which matches reports I got before ranking him as this year's 18th-best Twins prospect.

• After signing in September for $3.15 million, Miguel Sano homered on the first pitch he saw in the Dominican Summer League and is hitting .341/.444/.636 in 14 games. What makes that even more impressive is the DSL as a whole hitting .234 with a .315 slugging percentage this year, so his OPS is 427 points higher than the league average. Also worth noting is that Sano has played primarily third base, so any notion of him as a long-term shortstop is already over.

• In less positive prospect news, last year's supplemental first-round pick Matthew Bashore is out for the season following Tommy John elbow surgery and third-round pick Ben Tootle is out indefinitely after shoulder surgery. Bashore signed for $750,000 shortly after the draft, but got into just one game before being shut down and never pitched this year. Tootle looked good in his debut last year, but gave up 17 runs in 18 innings before going under the knife this year.

• Outfield prospect Rene Tosoni is also out for the season following shoulder surgery, which is a shame because he was off to a good start at Double-A after ranking 11th on my preseason list and could have factored into the Twins' plans at some point next season.

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