May 8, 2013

Revisiting the best Twins prospects of the 2000s

mauer and morneau rookie

Coming into the season the Twins were universally regarded as having one of the truly elite farm systems in baseball, boasting plenty of star-level talent and impressive depth. I called it the best crop of Twins prospects in my decade-plus writing about the team and nothing has changed since then, as consensus top-25 prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are off to amazing starts and most of system's other significant prospects have played well.

I've written plenty about the Twins' prospects as part of my annual rankings, so there's no sense in revisiting everything a month into the season, but I thought it would be interesting to examine the recent history of Twins prospects. This year the Twins had six prospects in Baseball America's top 100 list, including Sano and Buxton in the top 10 and Oswaldo Arcia in the top 50, but what exactly has it meant to be a Twins prospect in the Baseball America top 100?

I wanted to focus on how prospects were perceived nationally at the time, rather than local hype or how I personally viewed them or how they actually turned out--no Johan Santana, in other words--so I relied on BA's list. On a season-to-season basis prospect crops vary wildly, so not all rankings are created equal, but below you'll find my best estimate of the highest-rated and/or most-hyped Twins prospects since 2000 (minus current prospects) and where they stand now.


1. Joe Mauer: #7 in 2002, #4 in 2003, #1 in 2004, #1 in 2005

Joe Mauer was basically as good as prospects get. He was a multi-sport superstar in high school, got drafted No. 1 overall, had immediate success hitting .400 at rookie-ball, thrived at every stop in the minors despite being young for the level of competition, was named Baseball America minor league player of the year, and reached the majors two weeks before his 21st birthday. Mauer was arguably the best MLB prospect of the 2000s and has obviously lived up to the hype.


2. Francisco Liriano: #83 in 2003, #6 in 2006

When the Giants traded Francisco Liriano to the Twins he was a former top 100 prospect who'd fallen off the list due to arm problems in the low minors, but two years later he re-emerged as the best pitching prospect in baseball. He showed why with one of the most dominant rookie seasons ever, but that was cut short by elbow surgery. Liriano has found some post-surgery success, but he was never the same and is a prime example of the volatile nature of pitching prospects.


3. Justin Morneau: #21 in 2002, #14 in 2003, #16 in 2004

Coming up in the same farm system at the same time as Mauer made Justin Morneau somewhat overshadowed, but he was definitely an elite prospect. Not only did Morneau rank among Baseball America's top 25 prospects in three straight seasons, he put up big numbers at every level in the minors and debuted in the majors a month after his 22nd birthday. Injuries have unfortunately kept Morneau from realizing his full potential, but he obviously lived up to the hype.


4. Michael Cuddyer: #36 in 1999, #18 in 2000, #55 in 2001, #27 in 2002, #17 in 2003

Michael Cuddyer was the ninth overall pick out of high school and cracked Baseball America's top 50 a remarkable five times, peaking at No. 17 the same year Mauer was No. 4 and Morneau was No. 14. He doesn't have an MVP, but Cuddyer has played 13 seasons as an above-average corner outfielder and occasional infielder, hitting .272/.342/.457. Everyone should be thrilled if similarly hyped prospects turned out as well as Cuddyer.


5. Jason Kubel: #17 in 2005, #58 in 2006

Oh, what could have been. Jason Kubel hit .352/.414/.590 with 16 steals between Double-A and Triple-A at age 22, hit .300 in a 23-game September debut, and ranked 17th on BA's list. Then a gruesome collision destroyed his knee, knocked him out for an entire year, and turned Kubel from an athletic, high-average hitter with good speed to a plodding slugger. And yet Kubel has still managed a decade-long career as an above-average corner outfielder not far off from Cuddyer.


6. Matt Garza: #21 in 2007

Matt Garza made just one Baseball America top 100, but that's because he went from first-round pick to the big leagues in one year. After some initial struggles Garza made 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA as a 23-year-old, at which point the Twins traded him for Delmon Young. Young is one of the biggest prospect busts of the 2000s whereas Garza had a five-season run as a solid No. 2 starter, but injuries have derailed him at age 29.


7. Michael Restovich: #50 in 1999, #26 in 2000, #63 in 2002, #37 in 2003

Drafted in the second round out of a Minnesota high school, Michael Restovich was a 6-foot-6 slugger who put up big power numbers in the minors and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects four times. He debuted with the Twins at age 23 after hitting .286/.353/.542 at Triple-A, but never got an extended chance despite generally faring pretty well. He was lost on waivers in 2005, bounced around a ton, and ended up with just 297 career plate appearances.


8. Carlos Gomez: #60 in 2007, #52 in 2008

Carlos Gomez twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 in the Mets' system and was arguably the centerpiece of the Twins' haul for Santana. He debuted at age 21 and was the Twins' starting center fielder at 22, but rushing Gomez through the minors left him as mostly a mess offensively. Traded to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy after the 2009 season and now 27, he's finally becoming an impact hitter to go along with what was always excellent defense.


9. Adam Johnson: #41 in 2002, #85 in 2002

Adam Johnson was the No. 2 pick in 2000 draft out of Cal-State Fullerton, but Baseball America projected him as a mid-first rounder and the Twins were criticized for making a "signability pick." Johnson predictably fared well in the low minors against less experienced competition and cracked the top 50 in 2002, but things fell apart once he advanced past Single-A. He posted a 10.25 ERA in 26 innings as a major leaguer, washing out at age 23.


10. Luis Rivas: #70 in 1997, #55 in 1998, #63 in 1999, #86 in 2000, #93 in 2001

Luis Rivas ranked as a top 100 prospect in five straight seasons, but in the early days of this blog I wrote often about how his actual performance never matched the hype. He never hit well in the minors, yet the Twins made him their starting second baseman at age 21 and stuck with him as a regular for five seasons despite a .262/.307/.383 mark and iffy defense. He played 565 games for the Twins through age 25, but totaled just 83 more games after they finally let him go.


11. Wilson Ramos: #71 in 2009, #58 in 2010, #96 in 2011

While never quite an elite prospect Wilson Ramos typically ranked among the top five catchers and was a good enough prospect for long enough to create questions about how the Twins could make room for him and Mauer in their long-term plans. Ramos was a top 100 prospect three times and debuted with the Twins at age 22, but was traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps later that season. He's still just 25, but looks headed for a lengthy career as an above-average catcher.


12. Glen Perkins: #91 in 2006, #66 in 2007

Glen Perkins starred for the Gophers, made the top 100 twice, and debuted for the Twins two years after they made him a first-round pick. He was billed as a mid-rotation starter and looked the part as a 25-year-old rookie, but then struggled for two seasons as injuries derailed him. Perkins was demoted to the minors at age 27 and returned as a reliever, throwing harder than ever and quickly moving into the closer role.


13. J.D Durbin: #66 in 2004, #70 in 2005

J.D. Durbin threw hard and talked a good game, nicknaming himself "The Real Deal." He debuted in 2004 with all kinds of promise at age 22, but didn't make it back to the majors until 2007 and all that prospect shine had worn off by then. His strikeout rates and overall numbers in the minors never quite matched his hype and once he got to Triple-A poor control further did him in. Last year Durbin spent his 13th season in the minors, compared to 73 total innings in the majors.


14. Deolis Guerra: #35 in 2008

Deolis Guerra is technically still a prospect in that he's only 24 years old and hasn't reached the majors, but between his on-field struggles and recent health problems he's looking like a long shot to have a big-league career. Once upon a time many people felt that Guerra, not Gomez, was the best prospect in the Santana package, but like Gomez he wasn't helped by being rushed through the minors in the Mets' system and has had little success above Single-A.


15. Matthew LeCroy: #44 in 2000

Matthew LeCroy was a first-round pick out of college and crushed minor-league pitching while moving quickly through the Twins' system, debuting as their Opening Day catcher in his third pro season. He struggled offensively and proved to be a liability behind the plate, but after a demotion back to the minors he returned as a good platoon bat versus left-handed pitching at designated hitter, first base, and occasionally catcher.


16. Kevin Slowey: #71 in 2007

Kevin Slowey was an oft-debated prospect because his ridiculously great numbers in the minors didn't match his underwhelming raw stuff. Baseball America tends to skew heavily toward stuff over stats, so the fact that Slowey still made the top 100 shows just how silly his numbers were. He debuted at age 23 after posting a 2.28 ERA and 159-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A, and split the difference by becoming a decent mid-rotation starter.


17. Ben Revere: #59 in 2009

Ben Revere was viewed as a reach in the first round of the 2007 draft, but started to get some prospect hype after he hit .379 at low Single-A in 2008. That was his only year appearing in the top 100, which isn't surprising considering prospect rankings are all about upside and Revere's complete lack of power and arm strength limited that even in optimistic scenarios. He's more or less become the flawed but useful player his minor-league track record suggested.


18. Jesse Crain: #89 in 2004, #63 in 2005

Jesse Crain was a college reliever and second-round pick who moved quickly through the Twins' system, debuting at age 23 after 162 innings in the minors. While the shape of his performance has changed over the years, Crain was a good setup man immediately and has remained so for a decade with a 3.18 ERA that includes just two seasons above 3.60. Relievers are rarely considered elite prospects, but Crain's career has gone almost exactly as hoped.


19. Matt Moses: #81 in 2004, #75 in 2006

Billed as a "pure hitter" coming out of high school as a first-round pick, Matt Moses got by on that reputation for quite a while before everyone finally realized that he couldn't actually hit. He cracked Baseball America's top 100 twice, peaking at No. 75 on a 2006 list that had Jay Bruce, Dustin Pedroia, and Kendry Morales in the next three spots, but never advanced beyond Double-A and hit just .249/.304/.374 in the minors overall before washing out at age 24.


20. Nick Blackburn: #56 in 2008

I disagreed so much with Baseball America ranking Nick Blackburn as the Twins' top prospect in 2008 that I made a bet with the magazine's editor, John Manuel, that Blackburn wouldn't get 70 career wins. I'm feeling pretty safe about the bet now with Blackburn stuck on 43 wins and his career at a crossroads, although in retrospect he did turn out better than I expected even if 819 innings of a 4.85 ERA is nothing special.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 19, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• I'd have pegged Jose Mijares as the perpetrator, not the victim, in a "someone farted in the bullpen" situation.

• I was trying to keep this a secret, but I guess the news is out: I live in Michigan now and have a 6-year-old son.

• I took issue with IMDB's ranking of the top 10 baseball movies of all time, so I put together my own list over at HardballTalk. Despite blogging since 2002 it was my first real foray into making lists for people to argue about on the internet. And boy did they!

Kyle Buchanan of Vulture did some interesting research (with graphs!) about how male movie stars get old and their female love interests stay mostly the same age.

• As a freshman in college I had three roommates I'd never met before and within the first week two of them uttered the same phrase as Oklahoma politician Bill Johnson.

• I have a few openings in my "Hardball Dynasty" league on WhatIfSports and the new season begins next week. If you're interested in joining, please read this first.

• One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, did a lengthy feature on one of my favorite coaches, Gregg Popovich, and not surprisingly it's great.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode a woman named Delilah interrupted the show, decided she liked us, and stayed to chat for a while.

• I didn't think it was possible to be any more into Alison Brie, but then I watched her 22-minute chat with Paul F. Tompkins.

And there's more where that came from.

• On a related note, my favorite moment from the most recent "Mad Men" episode? Please do!

• Of the several million "Mad Men" recaps I read each week Molly Lambert's for Grantland always rate at or near the top.

Justin Bieber on Anne Frank, obviously.

Ben Revere is not off to a good start in Philadelphia and the complaints sound familiar, but his catch Monday night was incredible. Of course, not every attempted great catch works so well.

• I'm getting pretty sick of Glen Perkins trying to ride my coattails to fame.

• Between the weather and the score last Friday night's Twins-Mets game was depressing, but the highlight was what happened when a bat flew into the stands. My new best friend is the guy in the Johan Santana jersey holding an ice cream cone.

• My favorite baseball player is selling his house and it's cheap enough that I think we should all pool our money together and buy the place.

Rasheed Wallace announced his retirement again and I'll choose to remember him like this.

Adam Scott is sick of Adam Scott.

• I joked on Twitter that Carlos Quentin's punishment for charging the mound on Zack Greinke should be having to do the same on Kyle Farnsworth, and Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com looked into Farnsworth's "weapons-grade soup-bones."

Faith Hill is stepping down as the "Sunday Night Football" theme singer, so I've put in a request with the NBC higher-ups to do the right thing and replace her with Mase.

• Oh, no big deal, just Dolph Lundgren singing (and drumming) Elvis on Eurovision:

Amazing.

• I enjoyed this chat between official pitcher of the internet Brandon McCarthy and living legend Carson Cistulli, who also had a good chat with Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic about life as a baseball beat reporter.

Nate Sandell of 1500ESPN.com wrote a good piece about new Gophers basketball coach Richard Pinto being a stat-head.

• My fellow "Chopped" fans will love frequent judge Scott Conant's appearance on "WTF" with Marc Maron. He was great and hopefully it convinces Maron to interview more chefs.

Norm MacDonald's weekly video podcast has quickly become a must-watch and Russell Brand was an especially entertaining guest.

• Link-O-Rama regular Dana Wessel was a guest on this week's "The Sportive" podcast, if you're into that type of thing.

• I watched "The Campaign" on HBO and it was decent, but far more interesting was discovering that the actress who played Will Ferrell's wife was married to both Dennis Hopper and French Stewart in real life. How do you think she describes her "type"?

• My love for Mets right-hander Matt Harvey knows no bounds, unlike my photoshop skills.

Joe Mauer turns 30 years old today and I choose to celebrate by looking at this picture again.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Corey Koskie net worth"
- "Is Miguel Sano that good?"
- "FSN naked girl"
- "Sid Hartman drinking hot chocolate"
- "Is Jon Taffer Jewish?"
- "Jon Taffer in Minnesota"
- "How did Kevin Goldstein get famous?"
- "Men line up Target Field restroom"
- "Twins pitching still sucks"
- "Mila Kunis tired"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Vivrant Thing" by Q-Tip:


This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new GAME SIX shirt, commemorating one of the best moments in Minnesota sports history. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Butera, Gibson, Diamond, Benson, and 612 Brew

aaron hicks three homers

• Making official what was pretty clearly the plan as soon as they followed up the Denard Span trade by also trading Ben Revere, the Twins named Aaron Hicks the Opening Day center fielder. Perhaps if Hicks had a terrible spring training Darin Mastroianni could have worked his way into the gig as a place-holder, but Hicks made that a moot point by hitting .350/.397/.650 with three steals in 18 games, including a headline-making three-homer game.

Hicks is a very good prospect with an all-around skill set that could make him a long-term building block, so I'm extremely excited to see him play. However, by jumping him from Double-A to the big leagues at age 23 the Twins may be rushing his development a bit and are definitely sacrificing their ability to delay his eventual free agency for the maximum amount of time. If he never goes back to the minors Hicks will be a free agent following the 2018 season, at age 29.

Based on service time rules they could've pushed back his free agency by an entire year, gaining an extra season and 162 games of team control, by sending Hicks to Triple-A for as little as four weeks. In that scenario if the Twins called him up in late April or early May and Hicks never went back to the minors he'd be a free agent following 2019, at age 30. Short-term gratification is hard to ignore, but stretching a prospect's pre-free agency years is done regularly by many teams.

Instead of having Hicks for 135 games this year and 162 games in 2019 they'll have him for 162 games this year and zero games in 2019. That math seems straightforward enough, especially considering Hicks is likely to be better as a 29-year-old veteran than as a 23-year-old rookie and the Twins might actually be contending in 2019. It's not about being cheap, it's about maximizing a player's value before he can leave. But it apparently never factored into the Twins' decision.

• One thing that has always made Hicks an intriguing prospect is excellent plate discipline, which he displayed immediately as an 18-year-old at rookie-ball in 2008 and has maintained ever since. He's averaged 98 walks per 150 games as a pro, including 79 walks in 129 games at Double-A last season, which is not a skill set you typically find in speedy, athletic, up-the-middle defenders. Joe Mauer, who knows a little something about plate discipline, took notice of Hicks' approach:

I've been real impressed by him. For a young guy to take pitches and work at-bats is pretty impressive. Even today, I talked to him and told him taking pitches is going to help the guys behind him. He has a pretty good grasp on how to approach an at-bat.

Ron Gardenhire tends to use speedy center fielders and middle infielders atop the lineup even if they lack strong on-base skills, so it's nice that Hicks is actually a patient hitter. By comparison, Revere drew a grand total of 57 walks in 254 games for the Twins. Hicks' high walk rate has also come with lots of strikeouts and mediocre batting averages, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to facing pitchers with better control and no fear of throwing him strikes.

• Back in December the Twins tendered Drew Butera a contract for 2013 and then in January the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year, $700,000 deal, but he'll be making that money in Rochester after being optioned to the minors. On one hand it's encouraging that the Twins finally realized a career .183/.232/.265 hitter probably shouldn't be in the majors. On the other hand it would have been nice to come to that conclusion before signing him to a $700,000 contract.

One-year deals to avoid arbitration aren't fully guaranteed until certain dates this month, so even after signing Butera they could've saved five-sixths or three-fourths of the money by releasing him. Detroit recently did that with Brennan Boesch, saving $1.9 million of a $2.3 million deal, but those deadlines have passed. Gardenhire talked of wanting a stronger bench and removing Butera fits that, but he also talked of wanting Jim Thome and that apparently isn't happening.

Kyle Gibson won't be joining Hicks on the Opening Day roster, as initial reports of him looking great coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to struggles in actual games and the Twins sent him to Triple-A. He'll be limited to 130 innings this season, so there's an argument for not wasting them at Triple-A, but the problem with that line of thinking is assuming Gibson is ready to succeed against big-league hitters when he hadn't even done that yet before surgery.

• What was supposed to be minor surgery to remove a bone chip from Scott Diamond's elbow in December has become a season-opening stint on the disabled list for the would-be Opening Day starter. For now the plan is for Diamond to make his season debut in mid-April, missing the Game 1 matchup versus Justin Verlander and a couple more starts, but the Twins' injury timetables haven't been worth a whole lot in recent years and worrying about elbow issues tends to loom.

• Diamond on the DL and Gibson at Triple-A means Samuel Deduno or Cole DeVries is likely to be in the Opening Day rotation and both of them could get a spot if the Twins decide to send Liam Hendriks back to Triple-A. At the beginning of the offseason Terry Ryan spoke of big plans for fixing the awful rotation, yet the Twins are already turning to the same career minor leaguers who were thrown against the wall to see if they stuck last season as emergency options.

Joe Benson was sent to Triple-A after a lackluster spring training, but even if he'd played well there wasn't much room for him on a roster with Hicks and Mastroianni. Benson is coming off a terrible, injury wrecked season, so he needs to get back on track or risk falling off the prospect radar, but he'd seemingly be the obvious call-up if Hicks struggles or if any of Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit gets injured.

Danny Rams and Cole Nelson were among a handful of minor leaguers released by the Twins. Rams was a 2007 second-round pick with lots of power, but couldn't turn himself into a quality defensive catcher and hit .241 with 543 strikeouts in 406 games while failing to get past Single-A. Nelson and Lester Oliveros were acquired from the Tigers for Delmon Young in 2011--the same day "Gleeman and The Geek" debuted--but the big left-hander from Edina stalled at Single-A.

Anthony Swarzak will join Diamond in beginning the season on the disabled list as he recovers from the fractured ribs suffered in the "horseplay" incident during Twins Fest.

Tim Wood, who was a candidate for the Twins' bullpen and out of minor-league options, has been shut down with a strained rotator cuff.

Matt Capps failed to make the Indians on a minor-league deal and may accept an assignment to Triple-A one year after beginning the season as the Twins' closer.

Scott Baker's comeback from Tommy John surgery has been derailed by a strained elbow and he'll be shut down for at least a month.

• Thanks to everyone who came to the Twins Daily meet-up Saturday at 612 Brew. It was a great turnout and we're definitely planning to host semi-regular events throughout the season. Between the beer and laid-back space 612 Brew is an ideal venue, with the added bonus that the owners are Twins fans and the head brewer is a "Gleeman and The Geek" listener. I'm sure we'll be back there at some point, but in the meantime I highly recommended checking out 612 Brew.

• I didn't think to take any pictures until after the crowd had already thinned out a bit, but ...

twins daily 612 meetup2

twins daily 612 meetup1

twins daily 612 meetup4

twins daily 612 meetup3


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

December 6, 2012

Twins trade Ben Revere to Phillies for Vance Worley and Trevor May

In trading Denard Span to the Nationals last week for pitching prospect Alex Meyer the Twins cleared the way for Ben Revere to take over as the everyday center fielder and leadoff man, sacrificing some of their strong outfield depth to address an organization-wide lack of quality pitching. And now it turns out Terry Ryan and company were willing to take that approach one step further, trading Revere to the Phillies for Vance Worley and Trevor May.

Rather than viewing Revere as the long-term replacement for Span the Twins apparently view former first-round pick Aaron Hicks as the long-term replacement for both of them. And rather than waiting until Hicks was clearly ready to replace them--he just turned 23 years old and played at Double-A this year--they moved early to add a middle-of-the-rotation starter for now in Worley and a high-upside prospect for later in May.

Revere predictably was an immediate fan favorite thanks to blazing speed, batting average-fueled offense, and warm smile, but his upside has always been limited by an extreme lack of power and arm strength. Through two seasons he hit .278, but that comes with zero homers, 33 total extra-base hits, and 57 walks in 1,064 plate appearances. Even while hitting .298 this year Revere had a mediocre .333 on-base percentage and measly .342 slugging percentage.

Stealing tons of bases at a good clip makes up for some of that weak production at the plate and Revere's excellent range in center field means that he doesn't have to hit much to hold significant all-around value. However, his terrible arm takes a chunk out of that still-impressive defensive value and there's only so much room for a young hitter to grow when he can barely reach the warning track with fly balls.

Because of his skill set Revere basically has to hit .280-.300 to be an above-average regular and between his elite speed and contact skills he's a good bet to do that, but even then his ceiling is more or less Juan Pierre. Good player? Absolutely. Indispensable building block? Not really. And he still has work to do before reaching the Pierre level. Revere is a good player and an awful lot of fun to watch, but it's difficult to envision him developing much further.

Revere will be missed, just as Span will be missed, but even with both on the team the Twins weren't going to contend in 2013 and were going to struggle to contend in 2014 and beyond if they didn't find a way to bring in some high-upside pitching. Both trades accomplish that and if Hicks stays on his current trajectory he'll be starting in center field soon enough anyway, with one-time top prospect Joe Benson still looming as another potential option.

Hicks took a big step forward this year, hitting .286 with 13 homers, 45 total extra-base hits, 79 walks, and 32 steals in 129 games at Double-A as a 22-year-old and he's considered a very good defender with an exceptional arm. He'll begin 2013 at Triple-A unless the Twins rush him to the majors to replace Span and Revere, and in the meantime they can turn to Darin Mastroianni (or Benson if he can get healthy and back on track) to keep the position warm.

Mastroianni is a question mark defensively and will almost certainly be a dropoff from Span or Revere in center field, but his .252/.320/.350 line in 186 plate appearances as a part-time player this year wasn't far off from Revere hitting .294/.333/.342 as a regular. Mastroianni also stole 21 bases in limited action and has a decent minor-league track record. He's unlikely to be as good as Revere or Span in 2013, but 2013 rightfully isn't the Twins' focus.

And yet the trade isn't all about the future. Worley missed the final month of this season following surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, but plenty of pitchers--including Johan Santana in his Twins days--come back from that procedure without missing a beat and at the moment he's arguably the Twins' best starter. Even including second-half struggles while pitching with elbow pain Worley has a 3.50 ERA in 278 career innings through age 24.

His secondary numbers aren't quite that good, but a 3.83 xFIP isn't far off--for context, Scott Baker has a 4.07 career xFIP--and Worley has managed 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings despite a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. There are some questions about maintaining that strikeout rate without missing many bats. Worley has gotten a very high percentage of his strikeouts on called third strikes and his swing-and-miss rate is actually below average.

Toss in his elbow issues and Worley is certainly a risk, but he's also just 25 years old with a good track record through two seasons in the majors, currently making the minimum salary, and under team control through 2017. If not for the elbow issues Worley by himself might be a reasonable return for Revere, but the Twins may not even view him as the centerpiece of their haul because May is a good prospect.

Philadelphia's fourth-round pick in 2008, the 6-foot-5 righty led the minors with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011 and came into 2012 ranked 69th on Baseball America's annual prospect list, drawing praise for a mid-90s fastball with "heavy life and great angle." Promoted to Double-A as a 22-year-old this season, May often struggled with a 4.87 ERA and 78 walks in 149 innings and his strikeout rate dipped to a still-strong 9.1 per nine frames.

His stock definitely declined, but May is still a borderline top-100 prospect and still has plenty of long-term upside. May is similar to Meyer in that he's a big, hard-throwing right-hander with potential control issues and that's exactly the type of pitcher the Twins misguidedly shied away from for so many years. Neither of them is a sure things by any stretch of the imagination, but they each give the Twins a chance to hit a home run.

In analyzing the Span trade last week I felt the Twins did well enough under less than ideal circumstances, getting good but not great value for a player they'd normally be building around rather than using to help rebuild. In trading Revere they did even better, getting immediate help in Worley and future value in May while selling high on a player with limited upside at a position where they have quality alternatives.

I'm glad the Twins are focusing on 2014 and beyond, as contending in 2013 wasn't realistic and they so desperately needed an influx of young arms. If either Hicks or Benson develop as hoped Span and Revere won't necessarily be missed for long and Ryan got solid value in an obvious area of weakness. Now the question is whether the bold rebuilding moves will continue with Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau following Span and Revere out the door.

For a lot more on the Revere trade and what it means for 2013, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

November 30, 2012

Twins trade Denard Span to Nationals for pitching prospect Alex Meyer

Reports of the Nationals trying to get Denard Span from the Twins started in mid-2011. Back then the rumored deal involved one of Washington's late-inning relievers, either Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard, coming to Minnesota. When it ultimately never happened speculation about the reasons why included Span's post-concussion health status and the Twins' request for a mid-level prospect also being part of their haul.

Seventeen months later the two sides agreed to a trade that sends Span to Washington in exchange for 22-year-old prospect Alex Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander the Nationals picked out of the University of Kentucky in the first round of the 2011 draft right around the time rumors of their interest in Span began swirling. Meyer was the 23rd overall pick, seven spots ahead of where the Twins selected University of North Carolina infielder Levi Michael.

Meyer signed for $2 million and made his pro debut this year at low Single-A, moving up to high Single-A in the second half. Overall between the two levels he threw 129 innings with a 2.86 ERA and 139-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio, holding opponents to a .211 batting average and just six homers while inducing 52 percent ground balls. Debuting with such strong numbers is particularly encouraging because Meyer's raw stuff has never been in question.

Meyer works in the mid-90s with his fastball, topping out close to triple-digits, and Baseball America's season review of the South Atlantic League's top prospects praised his "wipeout slider in the mid-80s" and noted that his changeup "could become an average third pitch." Most prospect lists aren't published yet, but Baseball America staffers I talked to are confident he'll be in their top 75 and the one prominent list that's out, MLB.com, rated him No. 50 overall.

Keith Law of ESPN describes Meyer as a "potential frontline starter," writing that "his slider is filthy, a bona fide out pitch" and "his changeup has improved to the point where it's probably a future-average pitch." Law's annual prospect list isn't out yet, but he was kind enough to give me a sneak peak and said Meyer figures to be in the 50-75 range. Law also told me Meyer is in the class of the college arms the Twins passed on with the No. 2 pick to take Byron Buxton.

Ideally if the Twins were trading Span for pitching help it would have been for an established big leaguer or at least an MLB-ready prospect, but they were never going to get someone like James Shields for Span without including significantly more value in the deal and MLB-ready pitching prospects with big-time upside are rarely available in trades for non-stars. To acquire a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation upside for Span you likely also have to acquire uncertainty.

Meyer is a huge, hard-throwing pitcher 18 months removed from being a consensus top-20 player in a very deep draft class and performed well in his debut, striking out 139 batters in 129 innings with better than anticipated control. Simply by virtue of being a 22-year-old pitching prospect he's nowhere near a sure thing, but if the Twins' plan was to turn Span into high-upside young pitching they accomplished that about as well as could be expected.

Whether that plan was the right one is another issue, of course. Once upon a time Span was a first-round pick himself, going 20th overall in 2002 out of high school. As he climbed the minor-league ladder his upside began to deteriorate and after hitting .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A in 2007 he looked more likely to be a fourth outfielder than a quality regular. That all changed the next season, as Span hit .340 at Triple-A before a fantastic rookie showing with the Twins.

He hit .294/.387/.432 in 93 games as a rookie and followed that up by hitting .311/.392/.415 in 145 games in 2009. His production dropped off in 2010, as Span hit .264/.331/.348 in 153 games, and his strong start in 2011 was ruined by a concussion that sidelined him for most of four months and left him extremely ineffective when he tried to play. Span entered this year as a huge question mark, but responded with a productive, mostly healthy season.

In all Span hit .284 with a .357 on-base percentage and .389 slugging percentage in 589 games for the Twins, emerging as a prototypical leadoff man with patience, strike zone control, and speed. Among all center fielders with at least 1,500 plate appearances from 2008-2012 only Andrew McCutchen, Josh Hamilton, and Dexter Fowler had a higher on-base percentage than Span and his defensive numbers were consistently well above average.

Span is far from perfect--he lacks power and arm strength, and misleadingly good stolen base totals hide that he's regularly among the MLB leaders in being picked off--but players at up-the-middle positions with .357 on-base percentages and above-average defense are very difficult to find. And, as was usually the case with Span, those players tend to be underrated by people focusing on offense over defense and production without positional context.

He's also 28 years old and under team control for three more seasons at a total cost of $20 million, so in addition to being one of the better all-around center fielders he's one of the biggest bargains. Of course, that's all part of what made Span one of the Twins' few desirable trade pieces and perhaps their most desirable. He's the type of player teams build around, but unfortunately in the Twins' situation he's also the type of player needed to facilitate a rebuild.

Outfield depth throughout the organization made it easier to trade Span, as the Twins have Ben Revere ready to step in as the everyday center fielder, Chris Parmelee ready for a shot somewhere, and prospects like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Joe Benson, and Eddie Rosario waiting in the wings. There's reason to be skeptical of Revere's bat and Parmelee's glove, but the Twins dealt from an area of strength to address a massive weakness.

I'd much rather have traded Justin Morneau or Josh Willingham or even Revere, but none of those players would have been in as much demand as Span and if the Twins' goal was to swap him for a young, high-upside starting pitcher they accomplished it. Meyer immediately becomes the Twins' top pitching prospect, which admittedly isn't saying much, but he's also one of the 30 or so best pitching prospects in baseball.

A lot can go wrong here if Revere fails to develop better on-base skills and/or Meyer fails to develop, period. And the only reason trading Span makes any sense to begin with is that the Twins are so lacking in pitching talent and so shaky in general coming off 195 losses in two seasons, but there's no magic wand that can be waved to make those problems vanish. They dug themselves this hole and Span-for-Meyer is a reasonable step on their climb out of it.

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